By now you know all about last year’s biggest hits and the names behind them, like Drake, The Weeknd, Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber and, of course, Adele. In fact, those artists’ songs are still all over the radio and on streaming playlists as we enter the third week of 2016, and many of them will be duly recognized during the upcoming awards season honoring last year’s big accomplishments.
But what about those 2015 gems that didn’t quite make a splash, either on your playlists or on the Billboard or iTunes Charts?
Every year brings us a new crop of good music, in fact very good music, that for one reason or another isn’t mined by mainstream radio or video channels, and their low-ranking national chart positions usually reflect that lack of exposure. Labels often abandon promoting a record after that initial fail and shift their focus to other more promising projects.
Yet, just because a track didn’t make it big during the year of release doesn’t mean complete doom for that song or its artist. As proof, some of 2015’s biggest hits were tunes that had been released in prior years but initially flopped, only to be given new life last year. Examples include Fetty Wap’s “Trap Queen,” which had been released in April 2014 to no avail. It was picked up eight months later by a different label and ultimately became the fourth biggest hit of 2015.
Another one of last year’s biggest hits, “Take Me To Church” by Hozier, was a carryover from late 2014, but was initially released in September 2013. Not only did it end up being a big hit in Hozier’s home country of Ireland and here in the U.S. after a year on the market, but in more than two dozen other countries as well.
So what will be this year’s “Trap Queen” or “Take Me To Church”?
I’ve combed through last year’s Billboard charts and found fifteen songs that made the weekly Hot 100 chart, but never made it to the top half. They were bottom dwellers that, in some cases, never even rose above the chart’s bottom position (#100).
Maybe all they lacked was that one large-market radio programmer (or in today’s world, a radio station conglomerate) to place them in heavy airplay rotation. Or maybe they lacked that eye-popping music video that could resonate with enough people to make it go viral.
Whatever the reason, I believe that some of these songs are actually good enough in quality that, given another chance, could be bigger hits in 2016.
So check them out and see if you agree. For your listening pleasure, I’ve included a Spotify playlist of the fifteen I selected along with some honorable mentions. Feel free to give your opinions in the comments section below or on Facebook.
In no particular order:
“Baby Blue” – Action Bronson feat. Chance the Rapper.
Action Bronson is a heavy-set Wu-Tang-influenced rapper from Flushing, Queens, NY. Chance the Rapper (Chancellor Bennett) is a critically acclaimed rapper from Chicago who cites Kanye West, James Brown and Prince among his influences. Together, Bronson (who sounds a lot like Wu-Tang Clan’s Ghostface Killah) and Chance got together and recorded this clever pop-rap confectionary. It only touched the Hot 100 for one week (#91), but should have placed higher.
“100 Grandkids” – Mac Miller.
This rapper out of Pittsburgh, PA turns 24 years old in a few days and he’s a veteran of sorts, having achieved a #1 album four years ago. This song is from his third album and may be the only song in history to have the number 100 in its title that also peaked at #100 on the Hot 100 chart. That’s a dubious distinction at best, and one that Miller would probably not like to have. The track, which serves as a medley of two songs, deserved a better chart fate than that.
“Omen” – Disclosure ft. Sam Smith.
This throwback dance/disco gem was a second union between the English electronic dance duo known as Disclosure and fellow Brit Sam Smith (after 2012’s “Latch”). To me, this one was as worthy of being a hit as “Latch,” but it stopped at #64 last summer. No worries, it gets plenty of spins on my playlist, in fact I turn it up loud when it does.
“What Kind of Man” – Florence & the Machine.
A number 88 peak on the Hot 100 would suggest that this indie band’s dog days are not over. To the contrary, “What Kind of Man” would stand up to any of the group’s other tunes and became only their third Hot 100 single. Lead singer Florence Welch gives a convincing performance – as usual – and turns this near-anthem into a must-listen for anyone daring to stretch their musical boundaries beyond today’s standard pop fare.
“Bills” – LunchMoney Lewis.
“I’ve got mouths I’ve got to feed, so I’m gonna make sure everybody eats.” So go the lyrics to this fun uptempo novelty song from Lewis that should’ve been a much bigger hit than it was here in the U.S. No song on this list (and very few in general) will get you jumping like “Bills.” People in Australia got it, as they took it to #1 there. It only stopped at #79 here, which is not bad for a début single by an unknown artist. But something tells me a 2016 re-release and better promotion would chart this one much higher.
“Adore” – Cashmere Cat feat. Ariana Grande.
A Johnny Gill interpolation (of “My, My, My”) by Grande helped carry the infectious hook for this mid-tempo groove by Norwegian DJ Cashmere Cat. USA Today ranked this among Grande’s best vocal performances yet. I would have to agree, even if the American public didn’t, as its #93 would suggest.
“American Oxygen” – Rihanna.
“Breathe out, breathe in.” An article in the most recent Elle magazine cited a study by The NPD Group, a market research firm, that named singer Rihanna the most marketable celebrity in the world. The Elle headline read, “Rihanna can pretty much convince you to buy anything.” Well, she couldn’t convince you to buy this mature, quasi-patriotic single from her upcoming album Anti. Released in April 2015, the song about the unattainable American Dream (for some) only got as high as #78, helping make 2015 the first time in ten years that the Barbadian superstar did not have a song rank at #1 on the weekly Hot 100.
“Goodbye” – Who is Fancy.
By now, people are starting to figure out just who “Who is Fancy” is. He’s 24-year-old Jake Hagood from Arkansas who, in early 2015, released his first single, “Goodbye.” The bombastic dance track only got to #98 in May, but signaled that there’s likely much more to come from this talented, flamboyant singer.
“Ulay Oh” – How I Became the Bomb.
The meaning behind this intense love song is about as complex as it gets. It’s featured in a performance art piece about famous performance artist (Marina Abramović) who, in a real-life 60-second surprise reunion with another famed performance artist (and former lover) named Ulay, is overcome with the emotion of not having seen him in many years. As for the musicians, don’t expect to find a Wikipedia entry on How I Became the Bomb, the artist(s) who recorded “Ulay Oh,” just enjoy the video, which went viral last year, below:
“Everyday” – A$AP Rocky ft. Rod Stewart x Miguel x Mark Ronson.
A cleverly placed Rod Stewart vocal loop for a hook? Brilliant. A quality hip-hop track with a surprising change-of-pace tempo midway through to justify the rock legend’s presence? It doesn’t get much better than that. This superstar collaboration deserved a better chart peak than #92.
“Not For Long” – B.o.B feat. Trey Songz.
Remember six years ago when rapper B.o.B gave us the mega smash hit “Nothin’ on You” featuring Bruno Mars, and you thought B.o.B. – not Mars – would be the one who blew up? Yeah, that was a long time ago. Mars had the biggest hit of 2015 (“Uptown Funk!”) and B.o.B is still trying to reclaim that magic of 2010. This song should have brought him a little closer to it, but a #80 peak suggests otherwise. Good stuff though.
“Like I Can” – Sam Smith.
Almost anything British soul crooner Sam Smith touches these days turns to gold – either here or in his home country. But by the time he released “Like I Can” from his excellent album, In the Lonely Hour, Americans were probably ready for something newer. The song only got to #99 here, but reached the top ten in Britain. No matter, the song is still a fan favorite – judging by the thousands of screaming fans who sang along when Smith performed it at Lalapalooza here in Chicago last August. It likely would’ve charted higher had it been released earlier. I guess timing is everything.
“Coffee” – Miguel feat. Wale.
This fantasy-like love song with a vulgar sub-title cleverly mixes sweetness with brashness in its lyrics, without most listeners even knowing it. It was a very worthy first single from Miguel’s Wildheart album, and it’s #79 peak certainly didn’t do it justice.
“I Need Your Love” – Shaggy feat. Mohombe, Faydi & Costi.
Jamaican singer/rapper Shaggy attempted a comeback last year with this quality reggae-fusion song featuring three relative unknown guests. It peaked at #66 in July, but certainly deserved a higher fate. It would have done so if this were, say, 2001. Good start, though, towards that comeback, Shaggy.
“One Man Can Change The World” – Big Sean.
From a rapper who gave us big rude hits like “Dance A$$” and “I Don’t Fuck With You,” came this surprisingly touching rap ballad, and a damn good one. Big Sean’s huge left turn may have been too much for fans who’d likely rather hear him denigrate women and rap about big asses than pour out his heart about lost loved ones. This poignant song was inspired by, of all things, the love of his grandmother. Yes, apparently a different standard applies when the woman who is the subject of the song changes. Regardless, it would’ve been nice to see this one get better chart love than #82. Keep trying Big Sean.
And now the Honorable Mention list:
“Cheyenne” – Jason Derulo. Derulo followed his top-five megahit “Want to Want Me” with this chart clunker. It peaked at #66, but – in my opinion – it was better than “Want To.”
“Good Lovin” – Ludacris feat. Miguel. Miguel’s hook and the accompanying melody made this one good, but Ludacris’ slightly better than mediocre rap is likely what held it to a #91 peak.
“Yoga” – Janelle Monae. Channeling her inner Jane Fonda, Monae took this to #79 last fall. The only bad thing about it was an ill-timed reference to her “areola.” (Actually, is there ever a good time for that reference in a song about exercise?) Otherwise, the song deserves honorable mention for being, well…good.
“Love Is Your Name” – Steven Tyler. Ageless rocker Steven Tyler converted to country for this solo hit (my guess is he couldn’t get his Aerosmith band mates to co-sign the group’s name to its twangy guitars and shuffling beats). But this is a great song, one that should’ve peaked higher than #75.
“Liquor” – Chris Brown. Say what you want about Mr. Brown and his reputation, he puts out great quality music year after year, even if they don’t get past #61 on the charts. This one, which suffered that chart fate, was no exception.
“Failure” – Breaking Benjamin. Aside from the typical four-chord power-pop structure in its chorus, this was the closest thing to hard rock that anything came in 2015.
“Fairly Local” – Twenty One Pilots. Everyone is all over the current top-five single “Stressed Out,” but this one, which peaked at #84 last year, deserves at least a few more listens in 2016.
“Ghost Town” – Adam Lambert. If Lambert couldn’t ride his American Idol fame to chart superstardom when the show was relevant, then he likely won’t with this quality 2015 EDM entry and others like it. But that doesn’t mean he should stop trying.
“Dance Like We’re Making Love” – Ciara. She keeps trying to recapture her 2003-04 glory with release after release. Some of her songs since then have had respectable chart runs, some haven’t. This one fell in the latter category, peaking at #100 last summer. Yet its sensual nature and catchy chorus suggested a better chart performance was on the horizon. Maybe next time, Ciara.
“100” – The Game feat. Drake. Another artist who saw his heyday in a previous decade, The Game actually gave us a quality product in 2015. It was also one of Drake’s many collaborations, but one of the good ones.
“Roots” – Imagine Dragons. Remember “Radioactive”? Seems like so long ago now. But this 2015 song, which peaked at #77, is a worthy addition to the band’s repertoire.
And that’s it.
To hear these songs and more bottom dwellers from 2015 that should get a chance in 2016, check out my special Spotify list by clicking here.
And please let me know what you think, either in the comments section below or via social media (but preferably here).
As always, thanks for all the love and support.