It’s that time of year for retrospection.
Earlier this month, I shared some observations supplied by Spotify regarding my and my friends’ music listening patterns from 2020. But, I don’t feel like frequency automatically dictates favorites. At least, I’ve been thinking about my picks for this year, and I can verify that my Spotify Top Ten is not the same as my actual, all-things-considered, comprehensive Top Ten for the year.
So I want to share my real Top Ten listing here, where I can provide more context and then (in the coming days) also segue into other “Top Ten” listings for 2020.
I’ll start with a simple listing. Here are my Top Ten Songs of 2020:
- Fields and Pier (Avriel and the Sequoias)
- It Would Be You (Ben Rector)
- Rainbow (Kacey Musgraves)
- A God Like You (Kirk Franklin)
- Missed Calls (MAX, featuring Hayley Kiyoko)
- 2020 (Ben Folds)
- Dole Teifi / Lliw’r Heulwen (Cynefin)
- Whatcha Say (Havana Maestros featuring Jason Derulo)
- Playing on My Mind (The 1975)
- Opus 28, Number 15, in D-Flat Major (Composed by Frédéric Chopin, Performed by Susanne Grutzmann)
And for anyone who might appreciate more context, my explanations for each selection are included with the listing (reverse rank-order), below:
#10 – Opus 28, Number 15, in D-Flat Major (Composed by Frédéric Chopin, Performed by Susanne Grutzmann)
I knew about this song long before 2020. But I was reminded of it when the piece appeared in an episode of the series, The Crown. It was so somber, so melancholy, and it felt perfectly suited for the sad scene on the show and the sad scene of the COVID shut-down that we were experiencing at the time. So I kept listening to it, and it became a sort of anthem — or really, a dirge — for my experience of the pandemic. Those were sad and scary times, back in the spring, but the music was helpful. So I really do consider it a top song for the year, even if it represents a low point in terms of actual life experience.
#9 – Playing on My Mind (The 1975)
I’m not very good about keeping up on the latest musical releases. But fortunately, I’ve got other people in my life who are! I heard about The 1975’s new album on a run with my friends Mark and Tyler (both of whom have impeccable music taste). I really enjoyed a number of the tracks from this album, but my favorite was “Playing on My Mind.” Kind of wistful, but also a little bit cheeky like I’d expect from The 1975.
#8 – Whatcha Say (Havana Maestros featuring Jason Derulo)
I discovered this song on a collaborative playlist created by my friends, Meg and Dylan. The song samples its chorus from Imogene Heap’s “Hide and Seek,” which had been shared with me by my brother several years ago. But the reference was so camouflaged with Latin instrumentation and rhythms that it took me awhile to make that connection. When I figured it out, though, it took this from being a solid bop to being a Top Ten Song for the year. There’s nothing incredibly meaningful about the song for me. It’s just a fun and catchy tune.
#7 – Dole Teifi / Lliw’r Heulwen (Cynefin)
I have no idea what this song is about because it’s entirely performed in Welsh. Still, I love the sound of the language and the sound of this music. Cynefin might actually be my favorite new artist of 2020. I found him while searching for music to accompany our family’s trip to Wales, which never actually materialized because of COVID travel restrictions. But hopefully, someday I’ll be able to united this excellent music with that excellent country.
#6 – 2020 (Ben Folds)
I love Ben Folds. I’ve loved him for many years. But his take on this strange year has made me love him even more. Be warned that there’s one instance of profanity at a pretty central moment of the song. It doesn’t feel gratuitous, though, given the song’s subject. Overall, the song is clever, catchy, and a fitting tribute to this most unusual year.
#5 – Missed Calls (MAX, featuring Hayley Kiyoko)
I learned about this song through my oldest son, Elliot. It’s also got some explicit lyrics, and it doesn’t speak to my life in any particular way. But it’s such a catchy song. The main line of the chorus is also a pretty clever play on words. And for about two or three weeks in September, this was one of the first songs that I’d be playing on any drive in the car.
#4 – A God Like You (Kirk Franklin)
This song was featured in the introduction to the Michelle Obama documentary film, Becoming. It got stuck in my head so quickly, though, that I looked it up on Spotify. It’s got a fun energy. It’s straight-up Gospel Music, but it also feels like it could be pretty mainstream. It became the first song in our family’s summer road trip playlist, which is always a short track to Top Ten status in my way of absorbing new music. Its lyrics are also a generally-accurate statement of my beliefs and life philosophy (unlike a lot of the other songs in this Top Ten listing).
#3 – Rainbow (Kacey Musgraves)
I have no memory of how I found this song. But I do remember that I happened to be reading The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes at the time, and somehow both the lyrics and the tone of the song reminded me of the book’s main protagonist. It also feels like a ballad for 2020, with an encouragement to seek hope in the midst of life’s storms and to always be looking for the rainbows that come along with the rains.
#2 – It Would Be You (Ben Rector)
I have a vague memory of seeing two friends post their reaction to this song on the same day back in the Spring sometime. When I listened to it, I liked the tune immediately. Strong 1980s vibes, with a lot of synthesizer. It just felt like a “summer bop.” As I listened to it more, however, I started to appreciate more and more of the song’s significance for our year of quarantine, isolation, and pandemic apocalypse.
#1 – Fields and Pier (Avriel and the Sequoias)
Gosh. I don’t know exactly how to describe my feelings about this song. But it’s the best song. Not just from this year; maybe even from the last few years. It just feels like a velvety blanket to wrap around my soul on a cold, foggy day. My favorite part is the break after the first chorus, when the artist matches his voice to a cello for a magical little interlude.