The 50 Best Samples, Covers and References of 2017: Critic's Picks

From left: Chris Carrabba of Dashboard Confessional, Justin Bieber, Kehlani & Akon
Getty Images; Design by Jessica Xie

From left: Chris Carrabba of Dashboard Confessional, Justin Bieber, Kehlani & Akon

One of the biggest problems with all 2017 end-of-year lists is that they can't help but pretend that the year occurred in a historical vacuum -- as if you can talk about the year in music without talking about the entirety of music history that led up to that point.  But you can't, really: Music doesn't exist a year at a time, it's in constant dialogue with all that's come up before, while laying the groundwork for what's to come in the years to follow.

With that in mind, we've taken the time to salute the 50 most interesting such exchanges to occur in 2017 -- the best samples, covers, and extended references to music's past to appear in the last 12 months. Whether they lovingly recreated a song's entirely or merely borrowed a lyric, these songs drew from and reinforced our relationship with pop's history, while enriching it for future years to come. And they made for some of the most fun music of the year, too.

Read on below, and check out our Spotify playlist featuring both the old and the new songs at the very end. 

50. NEW SONG: The 1975’s “By Your Side”

SONG COVERED: Sade’s “By Your Side" (2001)

The 1975 were one of several artists to take on Sade's perennial in 2017, and befitting a band of their widescreen pop influences, they pretty much nailed it -- retooling the ballad more than rebooting it, with a slightly soupier, dubbier feel that maintains the original's entrancing sway, and could've fit in somewhere in the middle of last year's I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It.

49. NEW SONG: Benjamin Gibbard’s “I Don’t Know”

SONG COVERED: Teenage Fanclub’s “I Don’t Know" (1991)

Can't out-jangle Teenage Fanclub, and to his credit, on this highlight from his LP-length cover of the band's 1991 crit favorite Bandwagonesque, Death Cab for Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard doesn't try. Rather, he pulls back on the original's intensity for a more contemplative groove, accenting the song's lyrical indecision and melodic twistiness.

48. NEW SONG: RJMrLa’s “Hennebeeto”

SONG SAMPLED: Snoop Dogg’s “Gin and Juice" (1993)

Snoop Dogg's signature G-funk anthem is hardly the most creative sample source for a West Coast rapper to draw from, but RJ doesn't lift the production wholesale -- instead, he only takes elements from it, stripping the most recognizable synth hooks and whistles and leaving it as only a ghostly echo of the original beat. It comes off as a fond, decades-old, memory of the original, an affection long ingrained rather than casually recalled.

47. NEW SONG: Beach Slang’s “Nothing Can Change You”

SONG COVERED: Tommy Keene’s “Nothing Can Change You" (1989)

Power-pop cult favorite Tommy Keene passed this year at age 59, without ever really getting the widespread critical or commercial attention his immaculate college-rock confections deserved. Modern-day disciples Beach Slang remember, however -- and though (like most of the band's covers) this version of his late-'80s gem is too in love with the original to add much of its own to the discussion, in Keene's case, that level of reverence is affecting enough.

46. NEW SONG: Vince Staple’s “Homage”

SONG REFERENCED: Rick Ross’ “Hold Me Back" (2012)

"Where the fuck is my VMA? Where the fuck is my Grammy?" asks perpetually underrecognized rapper (and newfound Detroit techno enthusiast) Vince Staples on this Big Fish Theory cut, enlisting the most insistent hook of Rick Ross' career for extra borrowed indomitability. No Grammy or VMA love followed this year, but hey, at least you nearly took home the Should Be Bigger Bracket championship, Vince.

45. NEW SONG: Camila Cabello’s “Crying in the Club”

SONG REFERENCED: Christina Aguilera’s “Genie in a Bottle” (1999)

Camila hoped to borrow a little of that TRL-era breakout hit magic for her proper solo bow, "Crying in the Club," dipping into the pre-chorus melody to Xtina's first Hot 100-topper on her own refrain. Didn't quite work as hoped -- "Club" stalled outside the top 40 -- but if one part of the song still sticks with listeners at year's end, it was probably this lift.

44. NEW SONG: The Blow’s "Greatest Love of All”

SONG COVERED: Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love of All” (1985)

Iconic enough that it should be virtually uncoverable -- even though the song itself was first a George Benson original -- signature Whitney anthem "Greatest Love of All" was essentially turned inside out for northwest indie-poppers The Blow's warped rendition. Over squelching synths and a practically invisible beat, the duo discover a sensuality in the chorus almost totally unsuggested by its most famous version, particularly on the soft-spoken "I found the greatest love of all inside of me."

43. NEW SONG: Queens of the Stone Age’s “Un-Reborn Again”

SONG REFERENCED: Georgia Satellite’s “Keep Your Hands to Yourself” (1986)

When he's not embodying the ugly side of star excess, Queens frontman Josh Homme is a pretty solid rock practitioner. Here, he very briefly flashes into the "No huggy, no kissy" line from Georgia Satellites' late-'80s chartbuster -- subtle and unexpected enough that you might wonder if you just imagined it on first listen -- invoking a generation's worth of rock radio memories in the process.

42. NEW SONG: Chris Stapleton’s “The Last Thing I Needed, First Thing This Morning”

SONG COVERED: Willie Nelson’s “The Last Thing I Needed, First Thing This Morning” (1982)

Of all the artists working in contemporary country, is there anyone you'd trust more than Chris Stapleton to cover this brutal wake-up call of a Willie Nelson ballad -- and have it sound even more heartbreaking (and hungover) than the original?

41. NEW SONG: MNEK’s “Paradise”

SONG SAMPLED: Ultra Nate’s “Free" (1997)

Locating the lingering melancholy of Ultra Nate's late-'90s club classic, MNEK translated the anthem's righteous liberation into simply wishful thinking: "Your love's like a fantasy/ Nothing like what I saw on the news yesterday." Kudos to the British singer/songwriter for pulling double duty on the '90s diva-house revival this year, also revitalizing Arehta Franklin's floor-slaying "A Deeper Love" for his and Riton's "Deeper."

40. NEW SONG: Mokita and Maty Noyes' “Goodbye”

SONG REFERENCED: Third Eye Blind’s “Semi-Charmed Life" (1997)

Third Eye Blind's biggest hit endures 20 years later as a millennial singalong, so no surprise to hear these two younger pop artists smartly repurpose the song's chorus as the downer refrain to their "Goodbye" collaboration. 3EB's insistence for "something else" was a demand, Mokita and Maty's here is a desperate plea.

39. NEW SONG: Nine Inch Nails' "I Can't Give Everything Away"

SONG COVERED: David Bowie's "I Can't Give Everything Away" (2016)

When Nine Inch Nails performed this beyond-haunting version of the final song to appear on a (non-posthumous) David Bowie LP, it felt almost like closure -- or as close as any of his fans (including Trent Reznor himself) were likely to get. Just after Nine Inch Nails debuted their live rendition, it was revealed that the mix had been released via an anonymous SoundCloud account months earlier, a mysterious maneuver the Starman would've enjoyed almost as much as the cover itself.

38. NEW SONG: TLC’s “It’s Sunny”

SONG SAMPLED: Bobby Hebb’s “Sunny" (1966)

TLC hedged their bets with this high point of their underwhelmingly received self-titled comeback, interpolating both Earth, Wind and Fire's timeless wedding staple "September" and Bobby Hebb's less-eternal '60s AM gem "Sunny." Of the two lifts, its the latter that really gratifies, particularly when the trio bow out and let Bobby's original have its say for a brief chorus, ensuring that there's certainly not a cloud to be found on the recording.

37. NEW SONG: HEALTH’S “Blue Monday”

SONG COVERED: New Order’s “Blue Monday" (1983)

Memorably used in the trailer to action flick Atomic Blonde, HEALTH actually turned down the kinetics of the original for a breathier, more atmospheric version that leaves the song's famous mechanical drumbeat sounding more like a rapidly beating pulse than ever. Smart move, especially considering that Orgy already went the other way with it 20 years earlier.

36. NEW SONG: Vic Mensa’s “Homewrecker”

SONG SAMPLED: Weezer’s “The Good Life” (1996)

When choosing four bars of yearning, emotionally bent Weezer riffage to loop for a downbeat deep cut, amateurs probably go to the "Say It Ain't So" intro, but Vic Mensa wisely opted for the graceful slow-down bridge of Pinkerton single "The Good Life" for his The Autobiography standout "Homewrecker." Rivers Cuomo himself shows up to sing the outro, because of course he does.

35. NEW SONG: Ty Dolla $ign feat. YG’s “Ex”

SONG REFERENCE: 112 feat. The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Only You" (Remix) (1996)

You could probably count the number of '90s R&B hits that Ty Dolla $ign didn't sample, cover or reference in 2017 on one hand, and while his nostalgia often became exhausting, occasionally he got it on the money. This commandeering of 112's peak Bad Boy hit was probably his year's highlight, largely because it manages not to overwhelm the rest of the song's nighttime-cruise feel, and because "Only You" (Remix) is such a goddamn classic.

34. NEW SONG: Low Cut Connie’s “Controversy”

SONG COVERED: Prince’s “Controversy" (1981)

For those of us who were still spending 2017 internalizing the death of Prince the May prior, the affectionate disco-rock stomp of Low Cut Connie's excellent "Controversy" cover assisted lightly in the mourning process. The song's incredulous lyrics ("I just can't believe all the things people say") made it a pretty appropriate soundtrack to the 2017 news cycle, as well.

33. NEW SONG: Famous Dex feat. A$AP Rocky’s “Pick It Up”

SONG SAMPLED: Cissy Houston’s “Nothing Can Stop Me” (1975)

A throwback soul sample like you don't really hear in hip-hop very often anymore -- one that doesn't even run through the whole song, but just kinda grounds it and gives it a platform to jump off from, helping make "Pick It Up" one of the more enjoyably unpredictable songs on rap radio (or at least rap playlists) in 2017.

32. NEW SONG: Japandroids' “Fire in the Western World”

SONG COVERED: Dead Moon’s “Fire in the Western World” (1992)

If you needed further evidence that Canadian super-rock duo Japandroids can turn anything into a stadium anthem -- or whatever the underground equivalent is -- this off-kilter post-post-punk jam becomes a rager to wave the flag for at Red Rocks in the Droids' hands, invigorating enough to sound the alarm for the enter Western hemisphere. 

31. NEW SONG: M.I.A., "P.O.W.A."

SONG SAMPLED: The Marcels' "Blue Moon" (1961)

Over five decades later, M.I.A. resurrected one of the most famous nonsense hooks in music history to chop up and loop for the backbone to her "people power" paean, running through the song like a live wire, imbuing it with extra energy and tension. Not exactly what The Marcels likely had in mind back in '61, but that's pop's eternal transmutability for you.

30. NEW SONG: Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile’s “Untogether”

SONG COVERED: Belly’s “Untogether” (1993)

Modern-day guitar heroes Courtney Barnett and Kurt Ville's Lotta Sea Lice collaborative album occasionally got too relaxed for its own good, but the uber-chill vibe could also be sublime -- as on this lovely closing rendition of Belly's "Untogether." It's hard to imagine two other artists who'd even think to cover the song in the first place, let alone to do it with such affection and familiarity it feels like two longtime friends telling the same inside joke.

29. NEW SONG: Yo Gotti feat. Nicki Minaj’s “Rake It Up”

SONG SAMPLED: Too $hort’s “Freaky Tales" (1987)

Veteran Tennessee MC Yo Gotti reached to the other end of the country to borrow the slow-and-low thump of Bay Area legend Too $hort's classic "Freaky Tales" for his Hot 100 top 10-crashing strip-club banger, resulting in one of the year's most addictive radio fixtures. Of course, the freakiest tales here are saved for special guest Nicki Minaj: "Lil' bad Trini bitch but she mixed with China/ Real thick vagina, smuggle bricks to China."

28. NEW SONG: Yumi Zouma’s “She’s Electric”

SONG COVERED: Oasis’ “She’s Electric” (1995)

You think the "Yellow Submarine"-like ridiculousness of Oasis' "She's Electric" would make it the toughest song for dream-pop outfit Yumi Zouma to take on with their album-length tribute to the Britpop greats' (What's the Story) Morning Glory? LP. But the band manages to invert the song's simplistic melody and stretch its lyrical absurdities out to near-haiku poeticism, while imbuing the "She's electric/ Can I be electric too?" chorus plea with a gauzy urgency the Brothers Gallagher could never have contemplated.

27. NEW SONG: Kehlani’s “Undercover”

SONG REFERENCED: Akon’s “Don’t Matter" (2007)

While the title of Kehlani's SweetSexySavage LP calls back to TLC's '90s masterpiece, album highlight "Undercover" gets an assist from the chorus to Akon's "Don't Matter," a smash hit a decade later. The lift gives the song extra second-hand sweetness, and admit it -- it'd been way too long since you'd thought about Akon's lone solo Hot 100-topper.

26. NEW SONG: 2 Chainz’s “Trap Check”

SONG SAMPLED: T.I.’s “ASAP" (2004)

Pretty Girls Like Trap Music, and we all know who to thank for that -- T.I., who invented the stuff, at least according to his own version of genre history. Good of fellow Georgian 2 Chainz, then, to pay homage to the progenitor at the end of his "Trap Check," where he lets the beat to T.I.'s underrated "ASAP" take over for the final half-minute, adding to the loose sense of fun on one of the most enjoyable rap albums of the year.

25. NEW SONG: SZA’s “Normal Girl”

SONG REFERENCED: Drake’s “Controlla” (2016)

Midway through her Ctrl deep cut "Normal Girl," SZA takes an unexpected turn into the "You like it... When I get... aggressive..." verse from Drake's Views hit "Controlla," not only paying Young Aubrey back for all the lyrics he's borrowed wholesale over the years, but recontextualizing his perpetually borderline-scummy pillow talk from the other side. It's over before you know it, and it makes one of the most detailed R&B albums in recent memory that much rich

24. NEW SONG: Charly Bliss’ “All I Want For Christmas Is You”

SONG COVERED: Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” (1994)

OK, maybe it's not the reason that Mariah Carey's holiday classic was able to finally get into the Hot 100's top 10 this year. Still, couldn't have hurt to have this pop-punk Charly Bliss cover providing an essential reminder that the song's eternal delectability translates across genres and generations, without a single note's sweetness getting lost in translation.

23. NEW SONG: The Shins’ “Rubber Ballz”

SONG REFERENCED: Electric Light Orchestra’s “Can’t Get It Out of My Head" (1974)

Heartworms, the Shins' most animated album in... ever?... contained this '70s AM pop throwback whose chorus is always about a beat or note away from copying the melody and rhythm to ELO's classic ballad "Can't Get It Out of My Head," even acknowledging the hat-tip by tooling the refrain around the phrase "Can't get her out of my bed." Pretty slick, James Mercer, though songwriters are still being sued over far less these days.

22. NEW SONG: Cloakroom’s “You Don’t Know How it Feels”

SONG COVERED: Tom Petty’s “You Don’t Know How it Feels" (1994)

Of all the musical tributes to pour out following the death of all-time rock great Tom Petty, Indiana sludgers Cloakroom's "You Don't Know How It Feels" ended up the most effective by cranking the slow jam down a couple notches further, digging their nails all the way into the song's narcotic creep. It's loving and amusing and surprisingly emotional, particularly on the song's newly thrashing instrumental bridge.

21. NEW SONG: Dashboard Confessional’s “Love Yourself”

SONG COVERED: Justin Bieber’s “Love Yourself” (2015)

Dashboard Confessional made their sneak-return to Spotify this year with the four-song Covered and Taped EP, a mini-set of renditions of contemporary favorites that proved the outfit had stayed plugged in to contemporary music during their long recording hiatus. Though Julien Baker and Sorority Noise were the more predictable choices, the most enjoyable redo is of Justin Bieber's Billboard Year-End 100-besting ballad "Love Yourself" -- delivered through Chris Carrabba's peerless whine, it's convincing enough as a Dashboard number to make you wonder if Bieber and co-writer Ed Sheeran went through emo phases of their own.

20. NEW SONG: Eminem’s “The Heat”

SONG SAMPLED: Mark Wahlberg and John C. Reilly’s “Feel My Heat" (1997)

Diminishing returns with Eminem and Rick Rubin's recent obsession with '80s arena-rock sampling, particularly on Em's latest set Revival, but this sample of Mark Wahlberg and John C. Reilley's -- erm, Dirk Diggler and Reed Rothchild's -- hilarious fictional studio demo from 1997's Boogie Nights is doggedly irresistible. It's the only one of Marshall's recent spandex-era lifts with any degree of self-awareness about how meatheaded it's being.

19. NEW SONG: Mariah Carey feat. YG’s “I Don’t”

SONG REFERENCED: Donnell Jones’ “Where I Wanna Be” (1999)

Nobody's a better study of pop and R&B history than Mariah Carey, and she flashes her prodigiousness on this 2017 single by taking a cameo-length detour into the chorus to Donnell Jones' classic turn-of-the-millennium ballad ("When you love someone, you just don't treat them bad..."), quickly returning to her own composition before the reference becomes overbearing. If you don't know it, great, moving on -- but if you do, it'll freeze where you stand, if it doesn't level you outright.

18. NEW SONG: 21 Savage’s “Bank Account”

SONG SAMPLED: Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson’s “Flashbulbs” (1974)

While most people tend to focus on the nursery-rhyme-effective chorus as the biggest strength of 21 Savage's solo smash -- understandably -- the real key to "Bank Account" is in the delicate twinkle of its production, as arresting as anything he's rapped over, and borrowed from Coleridge-Taylor Perkison's "Flashbulbs" instrumental (from 1974's oft-sampled The Education of Sonny Carson soundtrack). Co-produced by Savage himself, by the way.

17. NEW SONG: Sky Ferreira’s “Easy”

SONG COVERED: Commodores’ “Easy” (1977)

A hit soundtrack mostly of retro favorites -- don't get too many non-Guardians versions of those anymore -- saw one quasi-new contribution from underground favorite Sky Ferreira, who offered a powerful take on the Commodores' beloved Sunday-morning groover "Easy" for the flick. Ferreira invests in the vocal like someone who relates to it a little too closely, given her rocky history with the pop machine and lyrics like "I wanna be free to know the things I do are right," it's not hard to see why.

16. NEW SONG: Halsey’s “Alone”

SONG SAMPLED: Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis Jr.’s “Nothing Can Stop Me” (1976)

Halsey's sophomore album hopeless fountain kingdom brought with it a newfound musical sophistication; hard to imagine her leaning this hard on a lush '70s soul sample on debut Badlands and even harder to imagine her writing the song to match, a mid-tempo strutter with the deep emotions and towering chorus of a peak Spinners hit.

15. NEW SONG: Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Almost Like Praying”

SONG REFERENCED: West Side Story’s “Maria" (1956)

Points for both inventiveness and timeliness on this one; it'd have been far simpler for Lin-Manuel Miranda to fashion his charity single for Puerto Rico around a more obviously topical West Side Story interpolation like "America," but he went for "Maria" instead -- which had its own relevance, obviously, but also required twisting a love ballad's refrain into something mournful and defiant. It's exponentially more indelible as a result, making for the rare charity single that's both rousing and disquieting, and not so easy to shake off after hearing once.

14. NEW SONG: CHVRCHES' “Call It Off”

SONG COVERED: Tegan and Sara’s “Call It Off" (2007)

One of the year's more unheralded achievements was The Con X: Covers, the Tegan and Sara-presented tribute album to their sterling 2007 LP, with a roster of stunning diversity offering a wide range of spellbinding takes on the album's timeless pop confessionals. The best might've been saved for last, with synth-pop trio CHVRCHES offering a booming, cavernous take on the forever-devastating "Call It Off," giving the stripped-down ballad the sonic majesty it had always implied with the power of its feeling.

13. NEW SONG: Rapsody’s “Jesus Coming”

SONG SAMPLED: Otis G Johnson’s “Time to Go Home" (1978)

The closer to Rapsody's Grammy-nominated Laila's Wisdom LP sees the MC rapping over a croaked gospel hook and no beat to speak of, brilliantly parceled out by the great 9th Wonder and masterfully danced around by Rapsody until it sounds like she's in conversation with the sample, even if it's really just her talking to her own subconscious. It's dazzling virtuosity and overpowering soul in one, and among the most arresting moments found in 2017 hip-hop.

12. NEW SONG: Jax Jones feat. Raye's “You Don’t Know Me”

SONG SAMPLED: Booka Shade’s “Body Language" (2005)

Not a ton of modern mainstream EDM producers out there checking for German duo Booka Shade's acclaimed 2006 house standard-bearer Movements, but apparently the U.K. remembers: Jax Jones set a splendidly teasing Raye vocal over the percolating beat to the set's "Body Language" single and had a top 5 hit across the pond with it. Shoulda made it to these shores, too, if radio wasn't busy reheating old trop-house grooves for the third straight year.

11. NEW SONG: Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow (Money Moves)”

SONG REFERENCED: Freak Nasty’s “Da Dip” (1997)

Is there a particular reason why Cardi, um, dips into the hook to Freak Nasty's main contribution to '90s popular culture in the second verse to her breakout hit? What, does she need one?

10. NEW SONG: Kendrick Lamar’s “The Heart Pt. 4”

SONG REFERENCED: James Brown’s “Dont Tell A Lie About Me and I Won't Tell the Truth on You" (1974)

Kendrick essentially used the title refrain to James Brown's '70s funk missive to trumpet his arrival back to popular music in 2017, as the spoken-word lead-off to his "The Heart (Part 4)," properly foreboding for the magnitude of impact he would have in the year to come. Geraldo Rivera in particular would've been well-advised to bunker down shortly after.

9. NEW SONG: The xx’s “Say Something Loving”

SONG SAMPLED: The Alessi Brothers’ “Do You Feel It - Reprise" (1976)

The yearning soft-rock reprise to The Alessi Brothers' "Do You Feel It?" (tacked on the end of their "Seabird" single above) provided The xx with the musical core to their jaw-dropping "Say Something Loving," a romantic drama more panoramic than we ever knew the trio to be capable of previously. Now The xx are even selling "Before it slips away" jackets, and if you've fallen for the song, you're probably ordering one right now.

8. NEW SONG: Cameron Hurley’s “Girls”

SONG COVERED: The 1975's “Girls" (2013)

Yes, that's The 1975 covered in the style of Blink-182 with disarming bullseye accuracy by Cameron Hurley -- who just  kinda does this sort of thing -- demonstrating that all mopey alt-rock sung by heterosexual male post-teens truly exists on the same unbroken continuum. Good for making the peace with your younger and/or older brothers.

7. NEW SONG: JAY-Z’s “The Story of O.J.”

SONG SAMPLED: Nina Simone’s “Four Women" (1966)

One of the standout features of JAY-Z's rapturously acclaimed 4:44 -- which understandably didn't get the same buzz as the more narrative-oriented headlines -- was just how jarring it was to hear a hip-hop record of this stature be so obviously sample-based, an artifact of an era largely left in the dust by evolving sonic trends and necessary financial consideartions. So many of 4:44's lifts were poingant it's hard to choose one, but let's go with the newly inducted Rock and Roll Hall of Famer's Nina Simone's "Four Women," which finds its way into "The Story of O.J." as a proud link with black music history and a reminder of how the struggles that inspired Simone's anthems persist today.

6. NEW SONG: Migos’ “T-Shirt”

SONG REFERENCED: D4L’s “I’m Da Man (2005)

The death of Atlanta rapper Shawty Lo in late 2016 didn't have the same national impact as many of the other notable passings the music world has suffered in the past two years, but it's hardly surprising that ATL natives the Migos would feel its reverberations. The trio paid tribute to the rapper born Carlos Rico Walker on the hook to one of their biggest hits of 2017, throwing back to Shawty Lo's D4L days with their "Seventeen five, same color T-shirt" refrain, swiped from the '00s group's "I'm Da Man" -- keeping the late MC's music alive the whole year, even if most of the kids rapping along to it had no idea what they were reviving.

5. NEW SONG: Future’s “Mask Off”

SONG SAMPLED: Carlton Williams’ “Prison Song”

When we look back on the Year of the Flute in hip-hop, it will undoubtedly center around the brain-burrowing loop at the heart of Future's top 5-crashing Hot 100 smash "Mask Off." That quivering hook was taken from Carlton Williams' "Prison Song" -- a brilliant, if not quite unprecedented, spot by producer Metro Boomin -- and its balletic grace afforded Future a mainstream accessibility his future-psych jams rarely manage.

4. NEW SONG: Portugal. The Man’s “Feel It Still”

SONG REFERENCED: The Marvelettes’ “Please Mr. Postman”

A well-heeded lesson for any alternative group looking to cross over in a big way: When in doubt, go girl group. Portugal. The Man borrowed the intro melody to The Marvelettes' "Please Mr. Postman" -- a 1961 No. 1 hit which has poked its head out in the center of pop music every decade or so since, without fail -- on their own refrain to eventual radio wrecker "Feel It Still," a callback so effortless and insidious they might've gotten away with it if they hadn't openly copped to it on their own. One lift they haven't owned yet, though? The squawking sax part in the post-chorus is real reminsicent of Ace of Base's "All That She Wants."

3. NEW SONG: DJ Khaled feat. Rihanna and Bryson Tiller’s “Wild Thoughts”

SONG REFERENCED: Santana feat. The Product G&B’s “Maria Maria”

It was about time: We'd already meme'd Santana's Rob Thomas-assisted chart-slayer "Smooth" to death, sucking the life from it in the process, while his equally iconic turn-of-the-millennium No. 1 "Maria Maria" just laid there in wait of a second wind. It got one, certainly, thanks to DJ Khaled and Rihanna -- mostly Rihanna, whose expertly frisky vocal includes both the insta-classic "White-girl wasted on that brown liquor" and the world's naughtiest Joe Namath reference, all made even more irresistible by the song's Product G&B-borrowed shimmy-and-shake. Bryson Tiller's on there too, technically.

2. NEW SONG: Lil Uzi Vert’s “The Way Life Goes”

SONG SAMPLED: Oh Wonder’s “Landslide”

"I was listening to this song... it go like..." And with that, Uzi launches into the heart-melting chorus to his LUV Is Rage 2 post-breakup single ("I know it hurts sometimes, but/ You'll get over it..."), courtesy of credited guests Oh Wonder and their 2015 indie-pop original "Landslide." It'd be an inspired cut-and-paste regardless -- on "Landslide," the refrain was unfairly decentralized as the first verse, giving way to a far inferior chorus -- but what really makes it stand out on "The Way Life Goes" is the way it's framed as a song that Uzi himself is listening to and singing along to in the depths of his emotional wallowing. It both makes a powerful statement on the way we use music to heal heartache, and ensures that "The Way Life Goes" will be one of Those Songs for lovelorn generations to come.

1. NEW SONG: Selena Gomez’s “Bad Liar”

SONG REFERENCED: Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer”

What more is there to say? We already named it our song of the year, David Byrne himself has already given it his blessing -- there was no sample, cover or reference in 2017 that inspired as much visceral glee as this one, both in its sheer unlikeliness (ex-Disney star goes to CBGB's?) and in its undeniable inventiveness. But one more quick thing about the creativity on display here: Though the bass lift starts off feeling like a straight sample, it confounds our expectations by changing key along with the rest of "Bad Liar" -- something the bass line in the original "Psycho Killer" never did -- further intertwining its DNA with that of Selena's single. But whatever, you already know it's delightful. Let's go listen to it again, huh?

Billboard Year in Music 2017


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