Image showing the Rock Hall's 2016 staff album picks

Drinking the Lemonade: The Rock Hall Staff's Top Albums of 2016

At the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, we are deeply passionate about music.

It's one of our strongest commonalities as a team. Our shared enthusiasm drives the work we do together every day: engaging, teaching, and inspiring through the power of rock & roll.

To wrap up 2016, our staff collaborated on a list of our favorite albums of the year. Suggestions for “best album of 2016” came from all corners of our building. Below, you’ll find recommendations from some of our visitor service representatives, docents, educators, as well as from members of our marketing, development and HR teams. 

We asked everyone to contribute their top five favorites. We tallied the results, and it’s clear that our tastes are diverse and range across all genres—and works from both tenured and emerging artists made our list. But a few outstanding albums rose to the top. Read about these below, and find out why our staff liked them so much!

(We should make a little disclaimer first: this list is in no way commenting on potential future inductees; it's a look into what new music our Museum’s employees enjoyed most in 2016.) 

First Place: Lemonade

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The overwhelming favorite album of 2016 was Beyoncé's most recent tour de force, Lemonade. “Almost no explanation needed," wrote one staff member, noting that "Beyoncé did something with this album that created excitement and animosity—she spoke to pertinent, important issues within current events, gave people a voice, and yet again gave her fans an anthem to embrace." 

Others commented on Lemonade’s intense emotions and powerful music. As another staff member wrote, "The superb production, catchy hooks, and classic soul, combined with the raw intensity of Queen Bey channeling her rage, makes singing along with it pure joy." "This is the most triumphant-sounding album Beyoncé has ever done," another adds.

Lemonade had the power to convert as well as delight. A few on our staff even noted that they were not previously fans of the former Destiny's Child frontwoman—but the sheer force of her music, alongside the HBO cinematic production and video, brought them on board.

Second Place [Tie]: A Seat at the Table & Blackstar

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Solange Knowles's A Seat at the Table and David Bowie's Blackstar tied for second place on our list.

Solange might have come in behind her older sister in our (admittedly unscientific) poll, but we were just as impressed by the depth A Seat at the Table presents, both musically and lyrically. Solange wanted us to listen up, and we did. 

"Unlike her older sister, Solange seeks dialogue with the listener," one staff member explains, concluding that A Seat at the Table, "is calculating with its aggression but beautiful within its thought-provoking rage." "This is a magical album for me," says another. "A Seat at the Table is a creative, honest, direct and unapologetic piece of work."

Blackstar became a guiding star of sorts for us during 2016, the year we lost David Bowie. Several people who suggested this album noted that they listened to it continuously.

"Never did we think it would be his last new work to hear, but the mini film feature and songs are transcendent to music, much like he was," wrote one fan from our team. Another notes: "Breaking conventions again, Bowie says goodbye on his most ambitious record and that’s just the way we want him.”

Whether we see it as a goodbye letter to himself or as a gift to fans, David Bowie's Blackstar had a significant impact on us. The Starman's layered album (declared a “jazz record” by one staff member) is a final masterpiece, and one that we listen to again and again with deep reverence and appreciation.

Third Place [Tie]: A Moon Shaped Pool, A Sailor's Guide to Earth & Awaken! My Love

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The third-place runners-up on our list include albums with diverse qualities—showcasing just how varied our music tastes are around the Museum. 

A Moon Shaped Pool follows in the ambient, wandering style Radiohead has created for years now. Songs blend seamlessly into one another, and the band pulls in "organic strings, piano and their signature sounds to create a sonically pleasing album, from track to track."

One staffer noted that you’ll hear on the album how “Radiohead is a band that's always ahead of their time.” But, adds another, "if you love Radiohead's earlier works, then you'll love A Moon Shaped Pool as well."

Sturgill Simpson's A Sailor's Guide to Earth left many of us at a loss when it came to labeling it with a genre: Rock & roll? Rockabilly? Country? Jazz? Blues? We didn’t come to a conclusion on that, but many of us did agree that A Sailor's Guide to Earth delivered exactly what we wanted to listen to: a soothing, aching record that trembled with both fire and grit. 

"It's a breath of fresh air," offered one fan. Another adds, "My highlights include a reimagined cover of Nirvana's ‘In Bloom.’ Every song on his album has a different feel." Even when the album shows a softer side, A Sailor's Guide to Earth gets an overall stamp of approval from rockers: "It's a real treat to listen to. Plus, his instructions on the album jacket state TO BE PLAYED AT MAXIMUM VOLUME. Gotta love it!" 

Another album that captured our attention came from Atlanta actor Donald Glover, whose hip-hop persona Childish Gambino released Awaken! My Love, a record infused with soul, hip-hop, and old-school funk.

"Awaken! My Love is a great album with funky, old-school soul and falsetto vocals," said one staffer. “There is nothing like it out there today and it was a much-needed palate cleanser at the end of 2016," adds another Rock Haller. A member of our Education department wrote: "Donald Glover approaches his craft with a whimsical curiosity and brilliant intellectualism that makes his 2016 release pure gold. Fusing funk, rock, rap, and soul together in unexpected, singable ways, Awaken! My Love proves that he is anything but childish.”

For others, the album brought back memories: "I love that this album is an old school 1970s funk album. It is reminiscent of Curtis Mayfield, George Clinton and Rufus & Chaka Khan. It sounds like the music my parents would play on the radio when we went on road trips."

Everything Else That Made the List

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What other albums were submitted but didn't make the top of the list? Find our whole list below. We hope you enjoyed some of these, too!

Aaron Abernathy, Monologue • Anderson .Paak, Malibu • Anderson/Stolt, Invention of Knowledge •  Angel Olson, My Woman • Ariana Grande, Dangerous Woman • A Tribe Called Quest, We got it from Here...Thank You 4 Your service • Avenged Sevenfold, The Stage • Band of Horses, Why Are You Ok • Bayside, Vacancy • Ben Folds, So There • Blink 182, California • Bon Iver, 22, A Million • Brian Fallon, Painkillers • Bruno Mars, 24K Magic • Car Seat Headrest, Teens of Denial • Chance The Rapper, Coloring Book • Cheap Trick, Bang, Zoom, Crazy...Hello • Cymbals Eat Guitars, Pretty Years • Cyndi Lauper, Detour • Deap Vally, Femejism • Divine Council, Council World • Frightened Rabbit, Painting of a Panic Attack • Garry Tallent, Break Time • Graham Nash, This Path Tonight • Grammy Nominees Soundtrack (2016) • Green Day, Revolution Radio • Gregory Porter, Take Me to the Alley • Hatebreed, The Concrete Confessional • Jakubi, 61 Barkly • Jimmy Eat World, Integrity Blues • Johnnyswim, Georgica Pond • Justice, Woman • Kanye West, The Life of Pablo • Killswitch Engage, Incarnate • King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, Nonagaon Infinity • Lady Gaga, Joanne • Laura Mvula, The Dreaming Room • Maren Morris, Hero • Margo Price, Midwest Farmer's Daughter • Metallica, Self Destruct • Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Skeleton Tree • Nonpoint, The Poison Red • NxWorries, Yes Lawd! • Panic! at the Disco, Death of a Bachelor • Pinegrove, Cardinal • Sarah Jarosz, Undercurrent • Sixx:A.M., Prayers For The Blessed • The 1975, I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It • The Dear Hunter, Act V: Hymns with the Devil in Confessional • The Knocks, 55 • The Hamilton Mixtape • The Hotelier, Goodness • The Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Getaway •The Rolling Stones, Blue & Lonesome • The Weeknd, Starboy • Thrice, To Be Everywhere Is to Be Nowhere • Tiger Army, V...- • Travis Scott, Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight • YG, Still Brazy

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