Top 100 Songs of 2020

It goes without saying that 2020 turned out to be a year for the record books on so many levels. It started out well enough, but quickly went to hell beginning in March as the Covid-19 virus spread throughout the world, causing a global pandemic that resulted in a shut down of many countries’ economies, and nearly 1.8 million deaths as I write this at the end of the year. One of the hardest-hit sectors has been the music industry, particularly live music, which in these days of unlimited streaming, most musicians count on to make a living and promote their music. On the plus side – if there was one – many musicians had more time to write and record new music, blessing us with some really stellar works. The Rolling Stones used the lockdown to put out their previously-written but timely “Living in a Ghost Town”, their first new single in four years, while AC/DC thrilled fans with their surprise release of Power Up, their first new album in six years. The Pretenders, Bruce Springsteen and Paul McCartney also released new albums.

Like with every year, in 2020 we had to say goodbye to far too many legendary musicians – something that seems to be happening with greater frequency as music icons we grew up with pass away primarily due to having reached old age. Some of the notable passings included Bill Withers, Little Richard, Peter Green, Eddie Van Halen, Spencer Davis, Neil Peart, Kenny Rogers, Helen Reddy, Bonnie Pointer, Mac Davis, Ennio Morricone, Johnny Nash, Jerry Jeff Walker and Chad Stuart (of Chad & Jeremy). Sadly, we also lost John Prine, Charley Pride and Trini Lopez due to complications from Covid-19.

As a music blogger, I receive a lot of submissions from artists, PR reps and labels wanting me to review their music. I also follow a large number of music blogs, where I learn about music, and as a result, end up listening to a tremendous amount of new music over the course of a year. That said, I know I’ve heard only a fraction of all the singles and albums released in 2020. Some of the standout albums I had the pleasure of hearing were Taylor Swift’s Folklore, Run the Jewels’ RTJ4, Fiona Apple’s Fetch the Bolt Cutters, The Killers’ Imploding the Mirage, Tame Impala’s Slow Rush, Fontaines D.C.’s A Hero’s Death, Fleet Foxes’ Shore, Two Feet’s Pink, Haim’s Women in Music Pt. III, Bryde’s The Volume of Things, Kidsmoke’s A Vision in the Dark, Surrija’s brilliant eponymous album Surrija, and MISSIO’s Can You Feel the Sun. (The albums I reviewed are highlighted in blue, and if you click on those titles it will take you to my review.)

One of my favorite music genres is Dream Pop & Rock, which seems to be undergoing a major surge in recent years. The genre was well-represented in 2020 by numerous stellar songs, including “Are You Bored Yet?” by Wallows ft. Clairo, “Can I Call You Tonight?” by Dayglow, “White Lies & Palm Trees” by The Lovepools, “Lost in Yesterday” and “Is It True” by Tame Impala, “Can I Believe You” by Fleet Foxes, “Downs” by Roadkeeper, “Fire For You” by Cannons, and the entire aforementioned album by Kidsmoke. 

Obviously, my list of the Top 100 Songs of 2020 includes only songs I know. I’m certain there are likely other great ones that should be on this list, except that I’ve never heard them. Still, among the thousands of songs I did hear in 2020, there were many outstanding ones, and it frustrates me to have to cull my favorites down to only 100, omitting scores of tracks I really like and wanted to include. Furthermore, a song at #40 isn’t necessarily better than one at #60, but I had to rank them somehow.

Our music tastes are very subjective, so it’s guaranteed that not a single person reading this will agree with my song choices or their rankings. My list contains my favorite songs of the year, not necessarily songs that were ‘popular’ or influential. I’m now late middle-aged, so my song picks are going to reflect that, though I do still have my guilty pleasures.

Many bloggers and critics list songs in the year they were released, while Billboard and other charts generally place them in the year they were ‘hits,’ which is what I prefer. Many of the songs on this list were released in 2020, however, a number of them were released in 2019. Absofacto’s “Dissolve” was originally released in 2015, but didn’t chart until 2019. Because there are always a few songs that overlap from one year to the next, like Billboard, I include those songs on lists for both years if they spent enough time on the charts in each year. I always wrestle with how to rank them, as well as whether to list them in only one year or two. For example, Two Feet’s “You?” was #1 during the final week of 2019, and the first four weeks of 2020, so it would seem only fair to include it on the lists for both years. That song ranked #18 on my Top 100 of 2019, and ranks #3 on this year’s list. I suppose that at the end of the day it’s all silliness, but this is the way I choose to do it. The songs in this Top 100 that also appeared in my Top 100 Songs of 2019 are indicated with an asterisk *.

For previous years’ Top 100 lists, I wrote little pieces for each of the top 20 songs, as well as embedded their YouTube videos, then simply listed the remaining 80. That always left me feeling a little bad for those 80 songs, as it made them seem like afterthoughts, which was certainly not the case. For this year’s list, partly out of fairness, and partly to save myself huge amounts of time, effort and stress, I’ve decided to forego with the individual descriptions and videos, and simply list the entire 100 songs.

As always, I’ve created a Spotify playlist for this list, which is included at the end of the post. Hopefully you’ll find some of your own personal favorites on it. Let me know what songs were your favorites of 2020.

  1. BLINDING LIGHTS – The Weeknd
  2. LEVEL OF CONCERN – twenty øne piløts
  3. YOU? – Two Feet *
  4. CAUTION – The Killers
  5. HALLUCINOGENICS – Matt Maeson
  6. FEEL YOU – My Morning Jacket
  7. EVERYTHING I WANTED – Billie Eilish
  8. HELL N BACK – Bakar
  9. DON’T START NOW – Dua Lipa
  10. MARIA – Two Feet
  11. BLACK & WHITE LOVE – Beating Hearts Club
  12. MIGHT BE RIGHT – White Reaper *
  13. ARE YOU BORED YET? – Wallows featuring Clairo
  14. IS IT TRUE – Tame Impala
  15. DOWNS – Roadkeeper
  16. HOW WILL I REST IN PEACE IF I’M BURIED BY A HIGHWAY?// – Kenny Hoopla
  17. CAN I CALL YOU TONIGHT? – Dayglow
  18. WHITE LIES & PALM TREES – The Lovepools *
  19. MY OWN SOUL’S WARNING – The Killers
  20. IF NOT FOR THE FIRE – The Million Reasons
  21. IT’S YOU – The Frontier
  22. LOST IN YESTERDAY – Tame Impala
  23. MARIPOSA – Peach Tree Rascals
  24. CAN I BELIEVE YOU – Fleet Foxes
  25. MONSTERS – All Time Low featuring blackbear
  26. BLOODY VALENTINE – Machine Gun Kelly
  27. NOVOCAINE – The Unlikely Candidates *
  28. BLACK MADONNA – Cage the Elephant
  29. USED TO LIKE – Neon Trees
  30. WARS – Of Monsters and Men
  31. CARDIGAN – Taylor Swift
  32. ORPHANS – Coldplay
  33. LEMON DROP – Absofacto
  34. THE BEST – AWOLNATION
  35. DISSOLVE – Absofacto *
  36. HONEYBEE – The Head and the Heart
  37. ADORE YOU – Harry Styles
  38. YOUR LOVE (DÉJÀ VU) – Glass Animals
  39. VISITOR – Of Monsters and Men
  40. MOOD – 24kGoldn featuring iann dior
  41. DELETER – Grouplove
  42. PSYCH FILM – Strangely Alright
  43. SOMEONE ELSE – Rezz & Grabbitz
  44. A HERO’S DEATH – Fontaines D.C.
  45. DANCE OF THE CLAIRVOYANTS – Pearl Jam
  46. BAD DECISIONS – The Strokes
  47. LOVE YOU FOR A LONG TIME – Maggie Rogers
  48. THE RUNNER – Foals
  49. VIRUS – Vanity Fear
  50. REWARD – Paul Iwan *
  51. THINK I’M CRAZY – Two Feet
  52. SHINE A LITTLE LIGHT – Black Keys
  53. 2ALL – Catfish and the Bottlemen
  54. VAN HORN – Saint Motel
  55. LIFE IN THE CITY – The Lumineers
  56. IDENTICAL – Phoenix
  57. GIANTS – Dermot Kennedy
  58. FIRE – Black Pumas
  59. LAY YOUR HEAD ON ME – Major Lazer featuring Marcus Mumford & Diplo
  60. OH YEAH! – Green Day
  61. UNEVENTFUL DAYS – Beck
  62. COME & GO – Juice WRLD & Marshmello
  63. BLIND LEADING THE BLIND – Mumford & Sons
  64. HOODIE UP – MISSIO
  65. HERO – Michael Kiwanuka
  66. PARADISE – Creeper
  67. WATERMELON SUGAR – Harry Styles
  68. UNCHAINED – Devon Gilfillian
  69. EXPECTATIONS – Katie Pruitt
  70. FIRE FOR YOU – Cannons
  71. HEAVEN IS HEART – Jaded Jane
  72. TEXAS SUN – Khruangbin featuring Leon Bridges
  73. OVER AND OVER – Amongst Liars
  74. HONEY – King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard
  75. LIVING IN A GHOST TOWN – The Rolling Stones
  76. HOW WE LIVE – Mandalan featuring Cadence XYZ
  77. MY FUTURE – Billie Eilish
  78. STRANGERS – Mt. Joy
  79. NOT OK! – Chaz Cardigan
  80. MARINERS APARTMENT COMPLEX – Lana Del Rey
  81. LETTER TO YOU – Bruce Springsteen
  82. HOLD ON – Noah Reid
  83. BE AFRAID – Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit
  84. FAULT LINES – Callum Pitt
  85. LET’S FALL IN LOVE FOR THE NIGHT – FINNEAS
  86. ME & YOU TOGETHER SONG – The 1975
  87. HALF YOUR AGE – Joywave
  88. SERAFINA – BAMBARA
  89. COLORS – Black Pumas
  90. THE LET GO – Elle King
  91. SWIMMING CLOSER – HAZY
  92. REAL LONG TIME – White Reaper
  93. NOTHING LOVE – Surrija, Albert Chiang, Christine Tavolacci & Matt Chamberlain
  94. MAN ON THE MOON – The Common View
  95. DO YOU FEEL THAT? – Ronnie the Bear
  96. RAINBOW RECORDS – Oceanography
  97. BURN THE VISION – Amongst Liars
  98. ZEN – X Ambassadors, K.Flay & grandson
  99. ROSE TINTED EYES – Seprona
  100. SKIN – The Ocean Beneath & Fran Minney

100 Best Songs of the 2010s – #1: “Rolling in the Deep” by Adele

And now we’ve arrived at the pinnacle of my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s, and the song at #1 is the magnificent “Rolling in the Deep” by Adele. It’s fitting that the British singer-songwriter would have my #1 song of the 2010s, as her song “Chasing Pavements” was my #100 song of the 2000s. It’s also owing to the fact that Adele is one of the greatest female vocalists of our time, and that “Rolling in the Deep” is a spectacular fucking song!

Released in November 2010, it was the lead single and opening track of her phenomenal second album 21, which is now one of the biggest-selling albums of all time, setting numerous chart and sales records, and topping the album charts in the U.K., U.S., and around the world. It was the top-selling album in the world both in 2011 and 2012, and as I write this at the end of 2020, 21 has spent 495 non-consecutive weeks (that’s nine and a half years!) and counting on the Billboard 200 Album chart. “Rolling in the Deep” was itself named the #1 song of 2011 on the Billboard Hot 100 year-end list, as well as in Canada, Belgium, Hungary and the Netherlands. Rolling Stone ranked it #8 on its list of “The 100 Greatest Songs of the 21st Century”. It also won Grammy Awards for Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best Short Form Video.

It’s been well-documented that Adele conceived of and wrote many of the songs on 21 after a painful breakup with her then-boyfriend. She had begun writing and recording songs for the album while still with him, but couldn’t seem to find much inspiration. Then, the day after her break-up, Adele contacted producer Paul Epworth (who’s co-written and produced songs for Foster the People, Florence + the Machine, Mumford & Sons, Bloc Party & Coldplay, among others), wanting to capture her seething emotions in a song. She told London newspaper The Sunday Times: “We’d had a fuming argument the night before … I’d been bubbling. Then I went into the studio and screamed.”

She and Epworth began restructuring a song she’d been working on, rewriting the lyrics and renaming it “Rolling in the Deep”.  The melody and instrumentation evolved as they went along. After trying out various jazz riffs, Adele sang the first verse “There’s a fire, starting in my heart, reaching a fever pitch and it’s bringing me out the dark” a cappella, which then inspired Epworth to come up with a melody on his acoustic guitar. They came up with the strong thumping drum beat to mimic her racing heartbeat. (Wikipedia)

Essentially a song of revenge, Adele called “Rolling in the Deep” a “dark, bluesy, gospel, disco tune written as a ‘fuck you'” to her ex-lover after his disparaging remarks that she was weak and that her life without him would be “boring and lonely and rubbish.” As the song unfolds, Adele’s emotions, as told through the lyrics, run the gamut from angry: “Go ahead and sell me out and I’ll lay your shit bare / See how I leave with every piece of you / Don’t underestimate the things that I will do“, to defiant: “Baby, I have no story to be told / But I’ve heard one on you and I’m gonna make your head burn / Think of me in the depths of your despair / Make a home down there as mine sure won’t be shared“, to wistful: “We could have had it all / Rolling in the deep / You had my heart inside of your hand / But you played it. You played it, You played it, You played it to the beat.”

The dark and rather surreal video, directed by Sam Brown, shows Adele singing the song while sitting on a chair in an abandoned house. Various scenes show a room filled with hundreds of water-filled glasses vibrating to the beat, a drummer playing his drums under a staircase, and a ghostly figure dancing about a room kicking up white dust, while in yet another room, white china is thrown against an illuminated piece of plywood suspended from the ceiling. Finally, a white model of a city on a large table is set afire by five bursting light bulbs, all of which signify a relationship that’s gone up in flames. In addition to its Grammy for Best Short Form Video, the video also won 2011 MTV Video Music Awards for Best Editing, Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction. As of the end of 2020, it’s been viewed more than 1.76 billion times, but in January, Adele abruptly removed the video from YouTube! So, I found this one…

100 Best Songs of the 2010s – #2: “Somebody That I Used to Know” by Gotye featuring Kimbra

Song #2 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is “Somebody That I Used to Know” by Gotye featuring Kimbra. I still vividly remember the night in 2013 when the song won the Grammy award for Record of the Year. Prince was presenting the award in that category at the ceremonies that night, and as he opened the envelope to announce the winner, he said “I love this song.” So do I, along with millions of others around the world. It was a massive hit, selling over 12 million copies and reaching #1 in the U.S., UK, Australia and 23 other countries. It was named the #1 song of 2012 on the Billboard Hot 100, Adult Pop and Alternative charts, and was one of the biggest hits of the decade. Not only did it win a Grammy, it also won the ARIA (Australian Recording Industry Association) for Single of the Year.

Gotye (born Wouter “Wally” De Backer in Belgium, and now based in Melbourne, Australia) is a singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who has recorded as both a solo artist and with his band The Basics. Kimbra is a singer from New Zealand. “Somebody That I Used to Know” was first released in Australia and New Zealand in July 2011 as the second single from Gotye’s third studio album Making Mirrors, and later released that December in the UK, and in January 2012 in the U.S. The song explores the bitter breakup of a relationship from the perspective of both parties. Gotye laments: “But you didn’t have to cut me off / Make out like it never happened and that we were nothing / And I don’t even need your love / But you treat me like a stranger and that feels so rough / No you didn’t have to stoop so low / Have your friends collect your records and then change your number / I guess that I don’t need that though / Now you’re just somebody that I used to know.”

Musically, it samples the opening guitar riff from Brazilian composer and guitarist Luiz Bonfa’s instrumental track “Seville”, and builds from there with spooky synths and an array of mesmerizing beats. One of the notable features is the use of xylophone that gives the song an intriguing, almost exotic vibe. Many music critics noted the similarities between the song and works by Sting, Peter Gabriel and Bon Iver.  Jon O’Brien of AllMusic called it an “an oddball break-up song whose stuttering rhythms, reggae hooks, and hushed vocals sound like The Police remixed by The xx.” (Wikipedia) As for me, I remember being dumbstruck when hearing it for the first time, wondering “what is that song!?!” It’s a beautiful and haunting masterpiece.

Then there’s the amazing video, which was directed by Australian artist Natasha Pincus. It shows Gotye singing the song while standing naked against a neutral backdrop. As he sings, his body and the backdrop gradually become covered with paint so that he seems to be part of a painting. My take is that his identity is being swallowed by his surroundings. The camera eventually pans to include Kimbra, who then sings her response to Gotye: “Now and then I think of all the times you screwed me over / But had me believing it was always something that I’d done / But I don’t wanna live that way / Reading into every word you say / You said that you could let it go and I wouldn’t catch you hung up on somebody that you used to know.” As she sings, she becomes separated from the painting, then the paint starts vanishing from her body, signifying her escape from what was left of their relationship. It’s absolutely brilliant!

Top 30 Songs for Dec. 27, 2020-Jan. 2, 2021

  1. MARIPOSA – Peach Tree Rascals (1)
  2. CAN I BELIEVE YOU – Fleet Foxes (4)
  3. VISITOR – Of Monsters and Men (3)
  4. ARE YOU BORED YET? – Wallows featuring Clairo (2)
  5. VIRUS – Vanity Fear (8)
  6. THINK I’M CRAZY – Two Feet (9)
  7. FIRE FOR YOU – Cannons (10)
  8. IS IT TRUE – Tame Impala (5)
  9. BLOODY VALENTINE – Machine Gun Kelly (6)
  10. SHAME SHAME – Foo Fighters (16)
  11. MOOD – 24kGoldn featuring iann dior (7)
  12. SKIN AND BONES – Cage the Elephant (14)
  13. TROUBLE’S COMING – Royal Blood (15)
  14. CAN YOU FEEL THE SUN – MISSIO (19)
  15. IDENTICAL – Phoenix (11)
  16. BURN THE VISION – Amongst Liars (12)
  17. DIRTY – grandson (18)
  18. LEAVE ME ALONE – I DON’T KNOW HOW BUT THEY FOUND ME (20)
  19. THEREFORE I AM – Billie Eilish (21)
  20. HEAT WAVES – Glass Animals (22)
  21. 1ST TIME – Bakar (23)
  22. LETTER TO YOU – Bruce Springsteen (13)
  23. SURVIVIN’ – Bastille (25)
  24. THE ADULTS ARE TALKING – The Strokes (26)
  25. NERVOUS – Au Gres (17)
  26. SOFIA – Clairo (29)
  27. HEADSTART – Jade Bird (30)
  28. BROKEN PEOPLE – almost monday (N)
  29. MY WAY, SOON – Greta Van Fleet (N)
  30. SATISFIED – Skar de Line (N)

100 Best Songs of the 2010s – #3: “Stressed Out” by twenty øne piløts

Song #3 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is “Stressed Out” by twenty øne piløts. It’s the highest-ranking of their six songs on this list (“Tear in My Heart” was #7, “Ride” #19, “Heathens” #61, “Jumpsuit” #67 and “Chlorine” #87), and is also now one of my favorite songs of all time. Released in November 2015 as the fourth single from their spectacular album Blurryface, the song became a massive hit, reaching #1 on the Billboard Hot Rock Songs, Mainstream Top 40, Adult Top 40 and Alternative charts, where it spent 12 weeks on top. It peaked at #2 on the Hot 100.

For those who’ve been living under a rock, twenty øne piløts is a duo from Columbus, Ohio consisting of the ridiculously talented vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Tyler Joseph and drummer Josh Dun. Incorporating a wildly eclectic mix of genres – including hip hop, rap, alternative rock, pop, reggae, ska, psychedelia, electronica, new wave, folk and funk – and employing a vast array of instruments and synth sounds too numerous to mention, they create music that’s complex, innovative, exciting and totally original. With their unique sound, not to mention Joseph’s distinctively quirky vocals, they sound like no other act, and their music is immediately recognizable.

Blurryface is a loose concept album named after a fictional character called Blurryface, who Joseph said “represents all the things that I as an individual, but also everyone around, are insecure about”, namely, our doubts, fears and self-loathing. Joseph wore black paint on his hands and neck during their live shows and music videos for the album, almost apologizing: “Very dramatic, I know, but it helps me get into that character.”

“Stressed Out” was written by Joseph and produced by renowned musician and producer Mike Elizondo, who’s worked with such diverse artists as 50 Cent, Eminem, Carrie Underwood, Fiona Apple, Mastodon, and Ry Cooder, among others. Elizondo was a bit perplexed during the song’s production. In an interview with Billboard, he recalled: “At the time I heard the song, I had no idea what Blurryface was, [and I was] kind of scratching my head going, ‘Dude, uh, what’s Blurryface?’” Well, it’s a brilliant alternative rap-rock song about facing the burdens and responsibility of adulthood while longing for the simplicity and safety of one’s childhood, as well as touching on the insecurities of being a musician. I love the droning, deep bass-driven groove, spooky synths, discordant piano keys, Dun’s pounding drums, and Joseph’s monotone vocals that convey the angst and uncertainty expressed in the clever lyrics.

I wish I found some better sounds no one’s ever heard
I wish I had a better voice that sang some better words
I wish I found some chords in an order that is new
I wish I didn’t have to rhyme every time I sang

I was told when I get older all my fears would shrink
But now I’m insecure and I care what people think

My name’s ‘Blurryface’ and I care what you think
My name’s ‘Blurryface’ and I care what you think

Wish we could turn back time, to the good old days
When our momma sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out (oh)
Wish we could turn back time (oh), to the good old days (oh)
When our momma sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out

We’re stressed out

Sometimes a certain smell will take me back to when I was young
How come I’m never able to identify where it’s coming from
I’d make a candle out of it if I ever found it
Try to sell it, never sell out of it, I’d probably only sell one

It’d be to my brother, ’cause we have the same nose
Same clothes homegrown a stone’s throw from a creek we used to roam
But it would remind us of when nothing really mattered
Out of student loans and tree-house homes we all would take the latter

My name’s ‘Blurryface’ and I care what you think
My name’s ‘Blurryface’ and I care what you think

Wish we could turn back time, to the good old days
When our momma sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out (oh)
Wish we could turn back time (oh), to the good old days (oh)
When our momma sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out

We used to play pretend, give each other different names
We would build a rocket ship and then we’d fly it far away
Used to dream of outer space but now they’re laughing at our face
Saying, “Wake up, you need to make money.”
Yeah

We used to play pretend, give each other different names
We would build a rocket ship and then we’d fly it far away
Used to dream of outer space but now they’re laughing at our face
Saying, “Wake up, you need to make money.”
Yeah

Wish we could turn back time, to the good old days
When our momma sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out (oh)
Wish we could turn back time (oh), to the good old days (oh)
When our momma sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out

Used to play pretend, used to play pretend, bunny
We used to play pretend, wake up, you need the money
Used to play pretend, used to play pretend, bunny
We used to play pretend, wake up, you need the money
We used to play pretend, give each other different names
We would build a rocket ship and then we’d fly it far away
Used to dream of outer space but now they’re laughing at our face
Saying, “Wake up, you need to make money.”
Yeah

The delightful video was directed by Mark Eshelman, and filmed primarily at drummer Josh Dun’s childhood home and the surrounding neighborhood in Columbus. It portrays Joseph and Dun as both children at play and young adults grappling with the onset of adulthood, their parents and siblings looking on in bemused disapproval. It’s been streamed more than 2.1 billion times.

100 Best Songs of the 2010s – #4: “Sweater Weather” by The Neighbourhood

Song #4 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is “Sweater Weather” by Southern California alternative pop-rock band The Neighbourhood. It’s hard for me to find the right words to fully describe how deeply I love this stunning song. I know I’ve stated this repeatedly in my discussions of several songs on this list, but I fell in love with “Sweater Weather” the instant I first heard it. The song is from their debut album I Love You, and was originally released in March 2012, but, unbelievably, didn’t chart until a year later. It enjoyed huge success on the Billboard Alternative chart during the summer of 2013, spending 11 weeks at #1, and later peaked at #14 on the Hot 100 and #7 on the Mainstream Top 40.

“Sweater Weather” is a hauntingly beautiful love song with a unique melody and arrangement that’s pretty spectacular, especially given that it was one of the first songs The Neighbourhood ever wrote. It was co-written by group members Jesse Rutherford, Zach Abels and Jeremy Freedman. Abels commented on the writing of the song in a 2014 interview with Radio: “One day Jesse was at my house and I was playing guitar. And he said, ‘Hey that’s pretty cool, let me record that.’ And it just so happened to be ‘Sweater Weather.’ When we got done writing the song, when it was all said and done we were like ‘Okay this is pretty good we should keep writing songs.‘” Rutherford added, “I think ‘Sweater Weather’ might’ve been the best song we’d ever written, but I didn’t think it was going to be the best song we’d ever write. It was kind of like getting a Platinum record, like a little tap on the butt. ‘Good job, keep going’.” The song did indeed go Platinum five times over in the U.S., with over 5 million sales and downloads.

Starting off with a sharp, rapid drumbeat and throbbing bass line, the band layers a rich palette of sparkling synths and gorgeous plucked guitars to create a breathtaking, almost ethereal backdrop for lead singer Jesse Rutherford’s incredibly sensual plaintive vocals. I love his voice, which so beautifully captures the fervor of a budding romance as he fervently raps the lyrics: “She knows what I think about / And what I think about / One love, two mouths / One love, one house / No shirt, no blouse / Just us, you find out / Nothing that I wouldn’t wanna tell you about, no / ‘Cause it’s too cold for you here / And now, so let me hold both your hands in the holes of my sweater.”

Two-thirds into the track, the melody and instrumentals abruptly transition to a languid tempo, highlighted by an achingly beautiful strummed guitar and bassline. Rutherford coos “Woah, woah, woah / Woah, woah, woah, woah…” before repeating the final chorus “‘Cause it’s too cold for you here / And now, so let me hold both your hands in the holes of my sweater.” It’s perfection from beginning to end, firmly planting “Sweater Weather” among my favorite songs of all time.

100 Best Songs of the 2010s – #5: “Love Me Again” by John Newman

The song at #5 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is the magnificent “Love Me Again” by British singer-songwriter and musician John Newman. I was literally stunned the first time I heard this electrifying song, and to this day it still has the power to blow me away. The song was first released in May 2013 as a digital download in Europe, but not until June 30 in the UK and the U.S. Written by Newman and Steve Booker, “Love Me Again” was the lead single from Newman’s debut album Tribute. It was a big hit in the UK and across Europe, reaching the top five in many countries and #1 in Britain, Scotland and Greece. But it had only moderate success in the U.S., where it peaked at #13 on the Billboard Adult Top 40 and only #30 on the Hot 100. The song strongly resonated with me, and spent 4 weeks at #1 on my Weekly Top 30 chart.

Newman has an arresting powerhouse voice, characterized by a raspy, soulful quality that gives him a distinct sound unlike any other singer I know of. With a raw, unbridled passion rarely heard in other vocalists, he laments over the hurt he’s caused his lover “Know I’ve done wrong / I left your heart torn / Is that what devils do? / Took you so low where only fools go / I shook the angel in you“, then fervently pleads for forgiveness as if his very survival depends upon it: “I need to know now, know now, can you love me again?

The song’s dramatic arrangement and instrumentation are spectacular, with a bold, almost angry piano riff, wailing organ, swirling strings, horns, and some of the fiercest drumbeats I’ve ever heard. After the adrenaline rush induced by the intense instrumentals and vocals, by song’s end I’m completely wiped out. Wow!

The official video produced for the song was directed by Vaughan Arnell, and is based on the classic love story of Romeo and Juliet. Newman is shown performing the song on stage in a club, while a woman, played by French actress Margaux Billard as the Juliet character and carefully watched over by her brother Tibalt, played by Joseph Steyne, flirts with the Romeo figure played by British model Tommy-Lee Winkworth. The video ends in a cliffhanger as they’re hit by a truck while running from the club, their fate unknown until Newman’s follow-up single “Cheating” reveals that they had indeed survived the hit-and-run accident. The violent and abrupt ending nearly ruins the video for me, unfortunately, as I hate violence. I suggest watching/listening to the audio video first – with the volume turned up – to fully appreciate the power and glory of this incredible song. Then watch the official video.

VICIOUS ROOSTER – Single Review: “Something Goin’ On”

This past September, I featured Argentine-born and now Los Angeles-based artist Vicious Rooster on this blog when I reviewed his darkly beautiful single “The Moon is Dancing”. The music project of singer-songwriter, musician and producer Juan Abella, Vicious Rooster draws inspiration from some of his favorite bands like The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, The Black Crowes, Guns’n’Roses and Alice in Chains to create his own unique style that’s a wonderful melding of classic and Southern rock, folk and grunge. Both his guitar playing style and vocals sound like he’s from Nashville or Austin, rather than Argentina. On November 25th, he released his follow-up single “Something Goin’ On“, delivering three raucous minutes of bluesy Southern rock goodness for our listening pleasure. The song was mixed by Mikal Reid, who’s worked with renowned artists such as Mick Jagger, Alice Cooper, Ben Harper, and Kenny Wayne Sheperd.

“Something Goin’ On” has a harder rock edge than “The Moon is Dancing” and I like it! Abella is a fine guitarist, and he lets er rip, slicing through the airwaves with an onslaught of layered gritty and bluesy guitars, punctuated by tasty little flourishes of distortion and highlighted by a scorching solo in the bridge. A throbbing bass line and explosive percussion keep the driving rhythm firmly on track. His fervent vocals keep pace with the intensity of the instrumentals as he exclaims to his love interest of the powerful effect she’s having on him: “Let me tell you baby, you’re breaking me in two. But there’s something goin’ on between me and you.”

If Vicious Rooster keeps putting out excellent records like these two singles and his previous album The Darkest Light, I’m confident he’ll have a long and successful career.

To learn more about Vicious Rooster, check out his website

Follow him on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream his music:  Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud

Purchase:  Bandcamp / Amazon 

100 Best Songs of the 2010s – #6: “Feel It Still” by Portugal. The Man

The song at #6 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is “Feel It Still” by alt-rock band Portugal. The Man. The second of their songs on this list (“Live in the Moment” is #66), “Feel It Still” is one of those songs that virtually everyone loves, thanks to an irresistibly catchy retro melody and driving bass line, that awesome little guitar riff, and lead singer John Gourley’s delightful falsetto. It was the second single from the band’s eighth album Woodstock.

Originally from Wasilla, Alaska and based in Portland, Oregon since 2004, the band’s quirky name has a simple back story. In a 2017 interview with USA Today, Gourley explained “A country is an individual in the world that represents a group of people, so I decided we would name our band after a country and Portugal happened to be the one that popped up. In hindsight, we should’ve named it something to do with Alaska. But you become so burnt out on beluga whales and huskies, you don’t appreciate it the same way.” 

If listening to “Feel It Still” brings a ring of familiarity, it’s because the melody used in the chorus was inspired by The Marvelettes’ 1961 hit “Please Mr. Postman”. The band respectfully (and tactfully) included that song’s original writers in the songwriting credits for “Feel It Still”. The lyrics are filled with meaning, making reference to both personal and sociopolitical themes. For example, the line “In case my baby girl is in need” was inspired by Gourley’s young daughter, while “I been feeling it since 1966 now, Might be over now, but I feel it still” refers to a year of seismic societal and cultural changes, and “It’s time to give a little to the kids in the middle, but, oh until it falls won’t bother me” is a back-handed slap down of Trump’s call for a border wall. It’s a short track, only 2 minutes and 43 seconds long, but packs a real punch.

The song was a massive hit for Portugal. The Man, spending an astonishing 20 weeks at #1 on the Billboard Alternative Chart, as well as many weeks at #1 on the Adult Alternative and Adult Pop charts. It also peaked at #4 on the Hot 100. It’s a fantastic song and an instant classic.

Can’t keep my hands to myself
Think I’ll dust ’em off, put ’em back up on the shelf
In case my little baby girl is in need
Am I coming out of left field?

Ooh woo, I’m a rebel just for kicks, now
I been feeling it since 1966, now
Might be over now, but I feel it still
Ooh woo, I’m a rebel just for kicks, now
Let me kick it like it’s 1986, now
Might be over now, but I feel it still

Got another mouth to feed
Leave it with a baby sitter, mama, call the grave digger
Gone with the fallen leaves
Am I coming out of left field?

Ooh woo, I’m a rebel just for kicks, now
I been feeling it since 1966, now
Might’ve had your fill, but you feel it still
Ooh woo, I’m a rebel just for kicks, now
Let me kick it like it’s 1986, now
Might be over now, but I feel it still

We could fight a war for peace
(Ooh woo, I’m a rebel just for kicks, now)
Give in to that easy living
Goodbye to my hopes and dreams
Start flipping for my enemies
We could wait until the walls come down
(Ooh woo, I’m a rebel just for kicks, now)
It’s time to give a little to the
Kids in the middle, but, oh until it falls
Won’t bother me

Is it coming?
Is it coming?
Is it coming?
Is it coming?
Is it coming?
Is it coming back?

Ooh woo, I’m a rebel just for kicks, yeah
Your love is an abyss for my heart to eclipse, now
Might be over now, but I feel it still

Ooh woo, I’m a rebel just for kicks, now
I’ve been feeling it since 1966, now
Might be over now, but I feel it still
Ooh woo, I’m a rebel just for kicks, now
Let me kick it like it’s 1986, now
Might be over now, but I feel it still
Might’ve had your fill, but I feel it still

The satirical and somewhat humorous video generated a bit of controversy upon its release. Directed by Ian Schwartz, it features Gourley walking through an auto-wrecking yard, along with scenes of a bar fight, a couple having sex in the back of a junked car, and a man setting fire to a newspaper labeled “Info Wars.” InfoWars is the controversial website of the detestable right-wing nut Alex Jones, who rants about bizarre conspiracy theories. Portugal. The Man are unabashed progressive liberals who often speak out publicly about social injustice and politics, and their pointed shot at Jones and his crazy followers predictably got them riled up into a tizzy.

100 Best Songs of the 2010s – #7: “Tear In My Heart” by twenty øne piløts

The song at #7 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is “Tear In My Heart” by twenty øne piløts. It’s one of six songs by them on this list, more than any other artist or band, and they’re my current favorite music act. Although the talented duo, consisting of Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun, had been putting out music since 2009, it was this song that introduced me to them in April 2015. I instantly loved it and became a huge fan, bingeing on their back catalog of music, especially their brilliant album Vessel.

“Tear in my Heart” was the second single from their phenomenal fourth album Blurryface, which I think is one of the greatest albums of the decade, and also ranks among my all-time favorites. The song peaked at only #82 on the Billboard Hot 100, but reached #2 on the Alternative chart, where it also ended up as the #6 song of 2015. It spent four weeks at #1 on my Weekly Top 30, and was my favorite song of 2015.

The delightful song of love was inspired by Joseph’s marriage to his wife Jenna a month earlier. Not only do I adore the song’s unusual stop-start arrangement, lively melody, colorful instrumentation, and Joseph’s wonderfully quirky vocals, I also love the endearing lyrics about the contradictory emotions of joy and agony that often come from romantic love: “The songs on the radio are okay. But my taste in music is your face! And it takes a song to come around to show you how. She’s the tear in my heart. I’m alive. She’s the tear in my heart. I’m on fire. She’s the tear in my heart. Take me higher than I’ve ever been!

The humorous video shows Joseph and Dun performing the song in L.A.’s Chinatown, with the people around him barely paying attention. Eventually, the surrounding buildings begin crumbling as Joseph notices Jenna in a group of people, and follows her down an alley and into a restaurant. She sings to him the opening lyrics of the song: “Sometimes you’ve got to bleed and know that you’re alive and have a soul“, to which he responds: “but it takes someone to come around to show you how“, whereupon she starts beating him until he’s bleeding. The video ends with them kissing.