So, here they are, my Top 20 Best Songs of 2020 – not an easy choice given the year we’ve just had and the way the world has changed during the coronavirus pandemic, none-more-so than for artists and musicians for whom COVID 19 has dealt a huge blow to their industry.
Sadly, many artists and venues may not recover and we will all be the lesser for this. Do support the artists who (eventually) play in Billericay in 2021 – it is a lifeline for them as well as for us.
A number of artists held back from releasing new music in 2020 until they were able to tour as a way to promote their new albums – this was a mistake in my view as fans would support them whether they tour or not.
Many artists have taken to performing on Facebook and Zoom and, I have to say, some of the ones I’ve attended/watched have been excellent, both in the quality of production and as a showcase for new music as well as the intimacy these ‘concerts’ offered to fans. However excellent they have been, I can’t wait until we can squeeze together in the ‘mosh pit’ in a full heaving venue and sing-a-long to our hearts content with a beer in our hands!! Will we ever see the like again? Let’s hope those days are not too far away.
I found it a challenge to listen to new music/artists in 2020 as I attended so few gigs – I’ve lost count of the number of gigs I had to cancel as well as those I’d planned too attend. I also found myself busier than ever during Lockdown #1 & #2 without the time to actively seek out new music as I may have done in previous years. It might have been easier to pick best albums rather than songs this year (where Springsteen and Dylan may have got a mention!). However, there is still some great tracks posted here.
As always, my choices are an eclectic (and unexpected) mix!
So, make yourself a brew, open a can or fill a glass and sit back and enjoy some fabulous (mostly British) talent for the next hour or so!
20. To Cut A Long Story Short Spandau Ballet
Can you believe it’s 40 years in November 2020 since this classic was released? I just had to include this track here. I bought the 45 at the time and went from being a ‘New Mod’ to a ‘New Romantic’ – wish I’d kept some of the clothes I was wearing back then. Not so much a fashion fail but a fashion icon! Can you notice the similarity between myself and Tony Hadley?
19. Loaded Primal Scream
I had a bit of a trip down memory lane in the summer of 2020 and listened to a lot of Aceed House music. Not quite sure what brought it on (probably thinking about the illegal Rave organisers I ‘looked after’ under Her Majesty’s Pleasure!). It was a difficult choice between the likes of the Happy Mondays, KLF, 8o8 State, James etc., but settled on this one. Released in February 1990 as the lead single from Screamadelica their third album, some would say Loaded is Primal Screams finest moment. It seemed to sum up the sound of the rave movement of the early 90’s (and a pandemic world) when it asks:
Just what is it that you want to do?
We wanna be free,
We wanna be free to do what we wanna do.
And we wanna get loaded.
And we wanna have a good time.
18. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel for King and Country
Whilst essentially an Advent Carol, this is such a fabulous version of an old classic, and essential listening over the past couple of months, I simply had to include this song here. It’s taken from the Live at Phoenix album. And it’s so good. As you listen you’ll see it’s reminiscent of Mumford & Sons and Rend Collective – though much rockier than either of those.
O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
17. One Night Standards Ashley McBryde
Many of you know I’ve been an advocate of Ashley McBryde for a few years now and whilst her latest album (released in April 2020) Never Will was nominated for CMA album of the year, it’s not a patch on Girl Going Nowhere. However, One Night Standards was McBryde’s first Billboard Hot 100 hit this year when it was released as the first single from the album. This version is the play out at the CMA Awards ceremony – McBryde’s first headliner at this prestigious event. I don’t know about ‘Girl going nowhere’ but as I’ve been saying for a few years, this ‘Girl is on her way to the top!’
16. Love Is A Rose Neil Young
Recorded in 1975, but released in June 2020 (Tonight’s The Night was released instead) Homegrown sits alongside the classic Neil Young of his early releases. No big political statement songs here just a collection of humble, stripped-back love songs he began writing at what was arguably the artistic zenith of his career! The joy of Homegrown is its simplicity of touch with the angst ridden sorrow of lost love he does so well. Love Is A Rose stuck out to me on first hearing of the album (though, admittedly, it does find itself on the Decade triple album released in 1977, but it gets lost in the midst of so many classic NY songs) so here it is.
15. All American Made Margo Price
Perfectly Imperfect at the Ryman is a live album by American country musician Margo Price, recorded during her three date residency at the Ryman Auditorium in May 2018 (and is a live version of the album All American Made released in 2017). The album was released in May 2020 to celebrate the second anniversary of the residency, and exclusively through Bandcamp to generate donations for the MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund. At a time when American politics has been in constant turmoil, this song (written in 2017) seems as cynical and appropriate now as it was then.
And I wonder if the president gets much sleep at night
And if the folks on welfare are making it alright
I’m dreaming of that highway that stretches out of sight
And it’s all American made
14. Fairy Tale Of New York Megan O’Neill
I love Megan’s cover of this classic where she turns an amazing pop song into an angst ridden song of break up and regret. Speaking about the release, Megan says:
Fairy tale Of New York is one of my all-time favourite Christmas songs and I’ve always wanted to cover it – although I’ve always been a bit afraid to do so. It’s such an iconic song. But getting together with Mark Caplice and putting our own twist on it was so much fun, and I feel like we came up with something unique and different.
Is there any reason why we can only listen to this at Christmas? I don’t think so. It’s a beautiful and moving version. You’ve been warned!
13. The Kids Don’t Dig God Anymore Robert Vincent
Not before time, Robert Vincent has been awarded best UK Artist and best UK Album of 2020 by the UK Americana Association (of which I’m a member and voted for him in both of these categories – Rob’s came a long way since he played in my garden in 2014) whoop! There are several good songs to choose on In This Town Your Owned (released in February 2020) many echoing John Prine and Leonard Cohen. And, whilst this might be an unusual choice for ‘a man of the cloth’ Vincent sings about how many people have lost their spirituality, and faith and that may be the simple reason we are where we are today. Not politics – but just the lack of humanity, compassion, patience and brotherhood. However, this album was released in February 2019, before COVID 19 and I have seen many examples where neighbours and communities have shown great compassion and humanity in 2020. So, a little misplaced maybe, but an interesting song nonetheless.
So how do we right such a wrong
How do we heal
In darkness we run to the light
But his light is concealed
The beasts are escaping the zoo
Whilst his backs turned the rage
The kid’s don’t dig god anymore
They’re acting their age
12. Give Me The Night George Benson
The incomparable George Benson’s live album (recorded in 2019) Weekend In London is easily my second favourite album of 2020. Benson returned to Ronnie Scott’s, 45 years after his last appearance (a gig which he credits for launching him in the UK) with a sensational band, a fabulous song list (and a couple of covers) and first rate production. So many great songs to choose from but I settled on Benson’s signature song Give Me The Night.
11. Zoom Fat Larry’s Band
Zoom? Who knew this word would become an essential part of our vocabulary in 2020? How many times have you heard said: You’re on mute! or Can you Hear Me? I joke that these words have almost essential liturgy for online worship! This song. released in 1982, almost seems prophetic given that so many relationships, and so much business, have been conducted via Zoom. I loved it when it was first released and I make no apologies for including it in my top twenty songs of 2020.
10. New Orleans Stevie Nicks
Stevie Nicks is inarguably one of the most celebrated figures in rock history. She’s a championed songwriter, a two-time inductee at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. In a new concert movie, filmed over two nights in Pittsburgh and Indianapolis during her 2017 tour, “Stevie Nicks 24 Karat Gold the Concert” was premiered at select theatres in November, which I went to see. And whilst it could be said to be too long (it is released in a 2 Disc DVD) I loved the anecdotal introductions which gave her songs a totally different slant. One of which was New Orleans. The live version was fantastic but can’t find one on YouTube so you’ll just have to do with the album version! The DVD is well worth setting aside an evening for.
9. The Birds Still Sing (Lockdown Days) Paul Bell
Recorded during lockdown #1 Paul wrote this song, recorded, played, sung, filmed and edited the video. It’s a song about not worrying and choosing to trust in God and it’s based on Jesus’ words from the Sermon On The Mount. Paul played this on a Facebook gig in the summer and I, amongst many others, suggested he should record it and release it. I’m so pleased he did.
So I try not to worry
And I try hard to pray
And I’m thankful that I’m not alone in these lockdown days
And I try to be grateful
And I’m finding my way
And I’m thankful that you walk with me in these lockdown days
I’ve always been a great fan of Lindisfarne and, even though they are Newcastle boys, I’ll forgive them on this occasion. Lindisfarne wrote many a great song (Fog on The Tyne, Meet me on the Corner, Lady Eleanor, We Can Swing Together, Run For Home, to name just a few). However, this is, without a doubt, Alan Hulls finest moment. He was never more tender than singing here, the subdued fury mixing with angst ridden empathy for a broken humanity. The final line of each verse accentuates the despair and deepens the heartache he feels.
Do you spare a thought for the homeless tramp
Who wishes he was dead
Or do you pull your bedclothes higher
Dream of summertime instead?
When winter comes howling in
Some of you may have heard a cover version of this by Sam Fender – but it’s not a patch on the original – but it reminded me of this wonderful song which has been on repeat in recent weeks. The sad thing is this song was written 50 years ago and the problem of homelessness hasn’t gone away. I’m moved every time I listen to this and I’m sure you will be too.
This was filmed at the Newcastle City Hall in December 1984 at one of Lindisfarne’s legendary Christmas concerts at Newcastle City Hall. And I was there!
7. Physical Dua Lipa
Yes really! I’m not trying to get on down with the ‘young ‘uns’ honestly! I first heard this song travelling up and down to Sunderland in the early part of the year and it was an instant ear worm. It sort of reminds me of that song by Olivia Newton-John! The album Future Nostalgia is exactly that. Songs for the future with a distinctively 80’s feel. Anyone who was a disco kid in the 70’s and 80’s (like me) would love it. You might want to do a work out to this to help you shift those extra yuletide pounds!
6. Mama Said Mica Paris
A late release in 2020, having being inspired by her BBC4 documentary The Story Of Gospel Music In Six Songs earlier in the year (many of which have found themselves on her album Gospel). And whilst there are more moving and passionate songs on the album, this one gets my vote because the lyrics resonate so much with the year we’ve experienced.
I know this night is weighing heavy on your heart.
You’re beaten and broken and the World seems so dark.
You never thought that you could ever fall so hard.
But you’re not as alone as you think you are.
Mica is always sensational live and this version ‘Live from the Church of Sound’ is so exception.
5. Pull You Through Maggie Rose
A new artist for me in 2020 – though Maggie Rose has been around a few years and I love her gutsy bluesy voice. This song is taken from her 2017 album Change The Whole Thing. This song is soulful country at its best. In a year when friends and family have been so important to ‘pull us through’ these difficult days, this song says it all. When I’m feeling blue, when no light is shining through, darling, you pull me through. However, it could also be a Christian song too, when she sings:
Wash over me
With your river of love
I believe, you make me wanna sing
4. The Other Side Rob Halligan
Rob seems to be a regular feature in my songs of the year alumni and he fully deserves his place in my top 5 of 2020. This song, written and recorded at home during lock down and released in June 2020 raising funds for Global Care. More details here “The song came together really quickly”, says midlands-based Halligan. “I heard someone in a conversation about the lockdown say that they’d see me on the other side. I realised that could have so many meanings but underlying it all is this message of hope and something that, right now, so many people can identify with.” And so we can. We were able to squeeze in a very hastily organised garden gig, for 50 socially distanced people, in the Rectory garden in August and this was a moving highlight for many.
When storms have passed
And all our fear subsided
And heaven’s sun
Shines brightly on our face
When battle’s gone
And we are done with fighting
And we have come
Into love’s embrace
3. Starting Over Chris Stapleton
The long awaited fourth album of the same name from one of my all-time fave artists doesn’t disappoint. A mixture of blues, rock, country and Americana and folk, Stapleton’s talent is undeniable, his appeal worthy of the wide recognition he enjoys – he has received 5 Grammy Awards, 7 ACM Awards, 10 CMA Awards, and 5 Billboard Music Awards to date – and it’s all unmistakably captured here, with 11 of 14 songs written by Stapleton. Starting Over is the opening song and sets the standard for the rest of the album. The lyrics also have a COVID 19 feel to them:
This might not be an easy time
There’s rivers to cross and hills to climb
Some days we might fall apart
And some nights might feel cold and dark
When nobody wins afraid of losing
And the hard roads are the ones worth choosing
Some day we’ll look back and smile
And know it was worth every mile
2. Ireland Megan O’Neill
When Megan played this song at the Billericay Rectory house gig in February, it received a rapturous reception (the undoubted highlight of a fabulous set) with many tears shed. Although it wasn’t initially planned, Megan decided to release this as a single in May 2020, amidst the turmoil of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, as she felt it was a fitting time to share the song and since then it’s racked up over 250K views across all media formats. The inspiration for Ireland came from Megan missing her home country whilst living in London for seven years. As such, it seems the song and video have become somewhat of a reminder for others missing Ireland too. I think it also works as an anthem for the many who haven’t been able to visit their families and relatives this year – it pulled at my heartstrings too.
1. Alexander Hamilton Original Broadway Cast
This song, taken from the album/Broadway show of the same name, was a musical revelation for me in 2020 and was easily my number one choice. I’ve written extensively about the album/show elsewhere on my website Hamilton: An American Musical and I mention how this song grabbed my attention immediately. I’m not quite sure what else I could add except to repeat what I wrote back in July 2020:
Isn’t it amazing, when you’ve spent a life time playing music, listening to music, attending hundred’s of gigs and live theatre, something comes along and blows you away? That’s my experience of ‘Hamilton: An American Musical.’
So, there you have them – my Top 20 Best Songs of 2020. And for those of you who like to know these things there are: 6 male artists, 8 female artists and 6 groups.
Were any of your choices included? Have I made any significant omissions?
Have a great 2021 checking out some of the above artists, seeking out new ones and supporting live music in Billericay – or wherever you live.
BONUS TRACK. The UK Blessing Various Artists
This song became quite a worldwide phenomenon in 2020 with many countries producing their own versions in their native tongue of a song written by American worship leaders Kari Jobe and Cody Carnes. I say written, but it’s really a collection of Bible verses put together into a song.
The Lord bless you and keep you
Make His face shine upon you
And be gracious to you
The Lord turn His face toward you
And give you peace
The UK version, involving musicians from 65 churches, has over 4.5 millions views on YouTube and the worldwide versions amount, collectively, to over 50 million views. The Hawaiian version has a video of their amazing country – I suddenly feel called to minister in Hawaii!! We sang this in Emmanuel the first Sunday back in church after Lockdown #1 in September and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house!
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