The way people listen to music now has changed drastically. Music listeners can now choose exactly what they want to listen to and can listen to it virtually anywhere they want. There are two ways that artists can respond to this: Either they can make albums that are works of art as a whole that will compel listeners to buy/stream the whole thing (think Kendrick Lamar) or, more likely, will make albums that play like Greatest Hits albums, where every song is a possible hit.
I find it interesting to define an artist not by how good their singles are, but how good their album tracks. After all, the singles are what they want people to hear. An album is only as good as its weakest song, and the songs on the following playlists are far from weak. In fact, quite a few of these songs stand a good chance of being singles down the road. In the meantime, check out these amazing songs that the radio isn’t playing (yet).
Top Down – Fifth Harmony
This is the first song on Fifth Harmony’s album Reflection, and it is the perfect song for summer. Of course, “Worth It” is pretty great too, and arguably a bit better considering it follows in the trend of klezmer influenced urban pop that “Talk Dirty” brought to pop radio. Interesting trivia: “Worth It” and “Talk Dirty” both sample the saxophone work of Ori Kaplan, saxophonist for the Israeli klezmer fusion band Balkan Beat Box. This is the perfect song to cruise to with the top down.
Someone – Kelly Clarkson
Kelly Clarkson recently kicked off her Piece By Piece tour and this album is chock full of strong single-worthy material. Piece By Piece was Clarkson’s first full album of new material following the release of her Greatest Hits collection and her Christmas CD, Wrapped In Red. It was also her first album following her marriage to Brandon Blackstock (Reba McEntire’s son) and the birth of her daughter, River. This is a very different Kelly Clarkson than we’ve ever seen and no song on the album sums it up quite as much as “Someone”. This song follows lead single “Heartbeat Song” and current single “Invincible” on the tracklist and what sets it apart is the tenderness and melancholy in her vocal performance. It is really interesting to hear someone well-known for singing breakup anthems like “Since U Been Gone” and “Behind These Hazel Eyes” ending a relationship as gracefully as she does here. Additionally, the song itself is very strong lyrically, though it could use a stronger title. Still, watch for this song when it comes time for Clarkson and her team to pick the next single.
Numb – Nick Jonas feat. Angel Haze
The fact that the same tweenyboppers who were fawning over the Jonas Brothers singing “SOS” are now fawning over Nick Jonas as a solo artist is kind of amazing to me. This is one of the only examples I can think of where the artist truly grew up with the fans and never really missed a beat. Though I didn’t quite buy into “Jealous”, the dark trap-inspired pop of “Chains” really hooked me in. I was never a huge JoBros fan, but Nick Jonas’ voice doesn’t sound nearly as whiny as it used to, and he’s starting to grow on me as a legitimate artist. Check out “Numb” as another (and perhaps better) example of this new dark Nick Jonas. More trivia: this song was co-written by Mike Posner of “Cooler Than Me” fame. In case you were wondering where he went. Which I don’t think anyone really was. Oh well.
XO – Kelsea Ballerini
The uproar over a radio programming guru saying that playing female artists kills ratings could not have come at a better time for Kelsea Ballerini, who was at the same time pushing her debut single “Love Me Like You Mean It”. The song made history, becoming the first debut #1 single on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart in more than six years. To give you a sense of how long it has been, the last female artist to have her debut single hit #1 on this chart was Carrie Underwood with “Jesus, Take the Wheel”. That’s how long it has been or, alternatively, that is how quickly Carrie Underwood achieved legend status. Either way, Ballerini has lots of great material lined up to be her next #1, and this one might be it. It is the first track off her debut album, cleverly titled The First Time, and it starts the whole thing off with a bang.
Said Too Much – Jessie J
Jessie J fans were thrilled to see her out of the hospital after suffering from complications that arose out of a mystery surgery. Even though Jessie J recently released a version of the Pitch Perfect 2 song “Flashlight”, it’s been a while since she has been a radio mainstay. She had some success with her most recent radio single, “Masterpiece”, off her most recent album Sweet Talker. Though that album is a bit uneven and doesn’t quite have anything that can match up to the sheer star power that was “Bang Bang”, there are still some great songs, like “Said Too Much”. This song is nothing fancy or groundbreaking, but it still has a lot going for it. It has a strong chorus and thankfully Jessie J does not give in to the temptation to oversing.
Free The Animal – Sia
When “Titanium” first came out, I was jumping up and down for Sia. I had been a huge fan of hers since a dance teacher of mine played “The Girl You Lost to Cocaine” during our warmups. Her collaborations with top pop artists would always bring out the best in them, so I could not wait to hear what her new solo album would sound like. Her album, 1000 Forms of Fear, was a lot like the big pop songs she wrote with and for other artists, just with her emotional vocal delivery on it. It was spectacular. This song is near the tail end of the album, right before new single “Fire Meets Gasoline”. This is on the more experimental side, but is still a great pop song with the same kind of emotional power as her best work.
Walkashame – Meghan Trainor
Meghan Trainor has been all about that vocal rest recently, as she has had to reschedule shows due to hemorrhaging of her vocal cords. The tour started back up again in St. Louis on July 14 and she recently released a music video for her slow-burning duet with John Legend “Like I’m Gonna Lose You”. This song “Walkashame” is really in line with everything that made Trainor a star. It’s quirky, conversational, light and catchy as hell.
Lay Me Down – Avicii
Adam Lambert recently came out with his new album The Original High, his first since signing a new record deal with RCA and finishing an international tour with Queen. High is the most recent in a series of Adam Lambert releases toning down the campiness that he was known for on Idol and replacing it with a bit more of an earthy, grounded sound to his music. The fun fact is that in between record deals and while touring with Queen, Adam was featured on this song from Avicii’s album “True”, which also had the smash hit “Wake Me Up” featuring Aloe Blacc as well as the radio hit “Hey Brother”. Had “Wake Me Up” not been as monstrous and as genre-bending as it had been and had it been the only song in that style on the album, maybe this song would have gotten a second glance. However, “Hey Brother” was chosen instead, going the direction of American folk-influenced dance songs. This fits right in Adam’s wheelhouse and is a real jam.
Fingerprints – Katy Perry
This is really vintage Katy, when it wasn’t weird to see her on Warped Tour. OK, it was still a little weird to see her on Warped Tour. But still, this is the kind of song that you can rock out to. It’s the kind of song that might have been a single if “Waking Up In Vegas” was not arguably a stronger song. Still, this song is great in its own right and is worth a couple of listens or, perhaps more accurately, a couple of car singing sessions.
Sea of Lovers – Christina Perri
Christina Perri is currently on tour with Colbie Caillat with Rachel Platten opening for them both. That sounds like the perfect bill if you’re looking for a great night of music. This comes off of her most recent album, Head or Heart. I was a bit wary of this song because the title suggested that it was going to be a bunch of bad metaphors about water. Usually whenever you see a title with “____ of Love”, it’s usually a pretty bad attempt at a metaphor in a pop song and you just kind of have to get through it. This song is not like those songs. This song has a really powerful melody throughout, and the main line of being “in a sea of lovers without ships” is different and cool. It’s also a straightforward piano ballad, in the mold of “Jar of Hearts”, showing that she hasn’t completely left behind the emotional piano pop that brought her to fame. Watch for her duet with Ed Sheeran, “Be My Forever”, from the same album to be the next single, as she’s going on tour with him as soon as her tour with Colbie Caillat is over.
Never Been Hurt – Demi Lovato
Demi Lovato released a new single, “Cool for the Summer”, and it is the perfect song for the summer. It is powerful, fizzy, dramatic and musically adventurous. To preview her upcoming album, I picked this song from her recent album, Demi. This song would have been a strong candidate for a summer single as well, though the Cher Lloyd collaboration “Really Don’t Care” won out. There is a lot to love about this song, including its humongously explosive chorus. I can’t wait for her new album to come out so I can start picking album tracks from that album to feature for the next playlist. Until then, happy listening!