It’s that time of year for retrospection.
Earlier this month, I shared some observations regarding my and my family’s musical preferences and listening patterns from 2021. But, those observations were heavily influenced by circumstances and frequency — and I honestly 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 2021.
I’ll start with a simple listing. Here are my Top Ten Songs of 2021:
- This Will Be Our Year (The Zombies)
- Through It All (Charlie Puth)
- Flesh and Blood (Half Moon Run)
- Summer Feelings (Lennon Stella, Charlie Puth)
- Crop Circles (Jon Bellion)
- You Put This Love in My Heart (Keith Green)
- EAT (Tobe Nwigwe, Fat)
- Northwest Passage (Stan Rogers)
- Broken (Jonah Kagan)
- Away in a Manger (Jon McLaughlin)
And for anyone who might appreciate more context, my explanations for each selection are included with the listing (reverse rank-order), below:
#10 – Away in a Manger (Jon McLaughlin)
You might think that I’m falling victim to a recency bias with selecting a Christmas song for my Top Ten. But I honestly thought about including this track in last year’s Top Ten. Furthermore, I noticed myself sneaking some listens in November (even though our family is pretty strict about waiting until after Thanksgiving to play Christmas music). And when we finally cleared Thanksgiving, this was the first song I wanted to hear. It’s a simple jazz-trio arrangement, and I’m a sucker for simple jazz-trio arrangements. And honestly, if it wasn’t so obviously a Christmas song it would probably be higher on the list than #10.
#9 – Broken (Jonah Kagan)
I discovered this song through TikTok. And yes: I know that sounds a little bit juvenile. But I really, really liked the song as soon as I heard it. The artist originally put it out with only half of the lyrics and vocals, suggesting that others use the app’s “Duet” feature to add their own touch to the song. Then, a few months later, he released his own version of the entire song. It doesn’t seem to have gotten too much traction in broader popular culture, but I still genuinely enjoy the song. It feels like it connects on an emotional level with some of the challenges that our family has faced this year with COVID-19 and Parkinson’s Disease… even though it’s not really about those topics at all.
#8 – Northwest Passage (Stan Rogers)
My kids hate this song. And I sort of understand why. It’s like some sort of Canadian lumberjack-voyageur chanson from a hundred years ago. It’s sung fully acapella by a men’s ensemble (with some rather pitchy tenors on the high harmonies). And the melody and lyrics are about as campy as the album cover (viewed above). But I connect this song very closely to our family’s trans-continental road trip to the Pacific Northwest. And in particular, I associate with the very loneliest sections of highway when everyone else in the car was sleeping or tuned into their own media. It’s a whole vibe, but I have fond memories attached to this strange song. So it makes my Top Ten.
#7 – EAT (Tobe Nwigwe, Fat)
This song came to me from my brother, Jay (a lot of great songs come to me from my brother, Jay). This one has a fantastic video that helped to increase my enjoyment of the song. But I just love the beat on this song, and I think it’s got some pretty clever lyrics, too. I find myself regularly quoting from this song in unusual situations.
#6 – You Put This Love in My Heart (Keith Green)
I’m pretty sure that I heard this song (or at least other versions of the song) when I was a kid. But I don’t really remember it from back then. Growing up in an Evangelical Christian household, Keith Green was a well-established name. But the song was suggested for me by Spotify at the end of some other playlist. It happened on a warm, spring day when my daughter Olivia and I were on our way to get some ice cream — and it honestly felt like a brand-new song to me. Kind of hard to tell if it was an old song or a new song in an old style. The lyrics make it hard to tell if he’s singing about a woman or about Jesus, but either way there’s a joyful, bouncy feel to it all. And now the song just sounds like springtime and sunshine and Jeni’s Gooey Butter Cake Ice Cream to me.
#5 – Crop Circles (Jon Bellion)
I was introduced to this song by my son, Elliot. He suggested it for our family’s annual summer playlist. It didn’t make the cut for that soundtrack to our summer — but I added it to my own favorites, and the more I listened to it, the more I liked it. I also thought about Bellion’s “Morning in America” for my Top Ten list (also introduced to me by Elliot), but in the end I feel like this one fits better into this year’s Top Ten. Both of these songs are pretty sad, but they’ve got really catchy beats. And this song rises to the level of my Top Ten for a lot of the same reasons that “Northwest Passage” did, in close association with our family’s time in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.
#4 – Summer Feelings (Lennon Stella, Charlie Puth)
This song is an unapologetic grab for the top spot on the Popular Music Summer Chart, so I know I’m supposed to turn my nose up at it. It’s from the movie “Scoob!” for goodness sake! But I just love it. It’s so catchy! I heard it when I was driving with a group of people from H2O Kent down to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park for an end-of-the-school-year trip to learn and practice spiritual disciplines. We added it to our family’s Summer Playlist, too, and it really stands out as a favorite track from that playlist.
#3 – Flesh and Blood (Half Moon Run)
This song makes me think of zooming through wide-open spaces at high speeds. The vocals, the instrumentation, and the melody have something of the 1970s to them — but it all sounds contemporary at the same time. It’s a really extraordinary song. This was another recommendation by my brother, Jay, and it’s another song that made it onto our Summer Playlist.
#2 – Through It All (Charlie Puth)
I listened to a lot of Charlie Puth back in 2018, when this album first came out. He’s such a natural song-writer. It’s hard for me to explain, but he just intrinsically understands how to put songs together in a way that’s pleasing to the ear (even if they’re not all that inspired). Somehow, though, this song never registered… until this year. I discovered it late in the year (November, I think) — but then I could scarcely get enough of it. It also feels like an anthem for survivors, like all of us after 22 months of a global pandemic.
#1 – This Will Be Our Year (The Zombies)
Marci and I heard this song in the closing credits for one episode of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. I remember us looking at each other and immediately saying we liked the song and needed to figure out who did it. I expected some obscure artist from 2010. But it’s actually a recording from 1968 by The Zombies! It’s another jazz-trio arrangement, and again, I’m a sucker for jazz-trio arrangements. It also felt like a helpful and hopeful song for the summer of 2021, when it felt like we were all starting to come out of COVID (never mind the fact that COVID has since closed back in around us). It’s a great song, in any event, and I’m glad that I discovered it — even if my “discovery” was more than fifty years after its release.