My Top Ten Songs of 2023

Top Ten Songs of 2023

It’s that time of year for retrospection.

Over the course of the last month, I’ve shared some observations regarding my musical preferences and listening patterns from 2023 — both through an intentional decision to listen to full albums of music throughout the month of November, as well my annual streaming statistics as recorded quantitatively, by Spotify. The results of Spotify’s quantitative analysis felt closer to my (personal, subjective) qualitative analysis than they usually do. Still, there are other factors that make me feel like my favorite songs are not exactly the same as the most-streamed songs from Spotify. 

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 2023.

I’ll start with a simple listing. Here are my Top Ten Songs of 2022:

  1. To the Mountains (Lizzy McAlpine)
  2. Back to Anonymous (Ben Folds)
  3. To the Airport (Nickel Creek)
  4. We Trying to Stay Alive (Wyclef Jean, John Forté, Pras)
  5. A Running Start (Sufjan Stevens)
  6. Judy You Hung the Moon (HARBOUR)
  7. Same Boat (Lizzy McAlpine)
  8. Gentle on My Mind (The Band Perry)
  9. Heaven and Light (River Whyless)
  10. Living in New York City (Francis Dunnery)

And for anyone who might appreciate more context, my explanations for each selection are included with the listing (reverse rank-order), below:

Top Ten Songs of 2023: Francis Dunnery

#10 – Living in New York City (Francis Dunnery)

My brother Jay introduced me to this song through his annual “All Killer No Filler” playlist, shared around this time last year. I’ve latched onto a few of Francis Dunnery’s songs through the years, but this one felt especially meaningful at my current stage in life. I take this song to be about finding a place of belonging, after a lifetime of drifting around and making mistakes. And that resonates with me. I also really like both the vocal elements and the instrumental elements of this song. It’s simple, but sublime.

Top Ten Songs of 2023: River Whyless

#9 – Heaven and Light (River Whyless)

I got to know this song through a playlist that was curated for me by the leaders of H2O’s Centennial Life Group: a birthday present they titled Eric’s 46 Mix. I found this track so enchanting that it also made its way onto our family’s summer playlist that we listened to repeatedly on our European travels back at the end of May and beginning of June: Afal Sùbh-làir Perzik. I’ve since come to associate this song with the green hills of Wales, and I love the way that I’m transported back to that part of the world when I hear it played.

Top Ten Songs of 2023: The Band Perry

#8 – Gentle On My Mind (The Band Perry)

This is the second straight year that a rendition of “Gentle On My Mind” has made it into my Top Ten list! (I’m not sure that’s ever happened before!). I learned about this song when I posted my Top Ten Songs from 2022 — featuring Glen Campbell’s original version of the song — and my brother Jay followed up by sending me a link to this version of the song by the Band Perry. The newer version is bouncier and “Bluegrassier,” which works for me — while simultaneously taking nothing away from the original version.

Top Ten Songs of 2023: Lizzy McAlpine

#7 – Same Boat (Lizzy McAlpine)

Lizzy McAlpine is pretty clearly my “Artist of the Year” for 2023 (thus, the only one to appear more than once in this Top Ten list). My son Elliot gets credit for introducing me to her music — “Ghosts” was the proverbial “gateway drug” — and I’ve really and truly enjoyed her entire discography. Still, I associate this particular song with my daughter Olivia because she had me play it for her on a car drive in September. And somehow, that day, I heard the song with new ears. Lizzy McAlpine has an amazing voice, and I really like the way she writes songs, too.

Top Ten Songs of 2023: HARBOUR

#6 – Judy You Hung the Moon (HARBOUR)

This song feels like a summer anthem to me, like something from a classic Beach Boys album. It espouses questionable morals that I cannot fully endorse as a church leader. But, man! It’s a bop! My daughter Olivia nominated it for our family’s summer playlist, Afal Sùbh-làir Perzik — so it was another one of those songs that we listened to repeatedly on our European travels. The song’s energy is far more American than it is European, but the “road-trippiness” of both the song and the trip worked together, all the same. It’s just a fun tune.

Top Ten Songs of 2023: Sufjan Stevens

#5 – A Running Start (Sufjan Stevens)

Sufjan Stevens is kind of the opposite of a summer bop. But he still writes really good, really interesting music. And the tone of his stuff pairs really nicely with the late-autumn — which is when Sufjan Stevens’s album Javelin dropped. “A Running Start” quickly became my favorite track from the album, and I think a pretty significant part of the song’s appeal was its unusual time signature. I’m not a professional musician, so I’m not sure I’m completely right — but I think this song is in five-eight. And that creates a compelling sense of motion and momentum throughout the song that matches well with the lyrics.

Top Ten Songs of 2023: Wyclef Jean

#4 – We Trying to Stay Alive (Wyclef Jean, John Forté, Pras)

This was a rediscovery more than a new discovery in 2023. But it was a really, really fun rediscovery. I originally got to know the song back in the late-1990s when I was editing a funny video about a guy walking around Bowling Green and using a bunch of cheesy pick-up lines on women that he encountered. This 1990s song is built heavily on the framework of the 1970s disco anthem, “Stayin Alive,” by the Bee Gees. It infuses the very best of 1990s hip-hop to the very best of the 1970s electric guitar + string section. And somehow the result is something timeless. If you’ve never heard this song before, I’d strongly recommend looking it up and giving it a listen.

Top Ten Songs of 2023: Nickel Creek

#3 – To the Airport (Nickel Creek)

Nickel Creek is one of my favorite bands of all time, but they don’t release new albums very often. So, it was an extra-special treat to get a listen to their new album, Celebrants, when it released in the spring. Honestly, the album as a whole ranks as #4 or #5 in the band’s discography. But I love the stories that they tell on this album — and especially in “To the Airport.” This song presents a powerful case for empathy and understanding in a world full of self-centered thinking. I like the way the song is built, too. This was another song that appeared on our family’s summer playlist, and because of that it makes me think of the airports of Cleveland, Charlotte, London, Glasgow, Amsterdam, and Philadelphia.

Top Ten Songs of 2023: Ben Folds

#2 – Back to Anonymous (Ben Folds)

Ben Folds is another one of my all-time favorite artists who released a new album in 2023. But unlike Nickel Creek’s new album (referenced above), I think What Matters Most might even rank #2 (just behind Songs for Silverman) in Ben Folds’s discography. This song was my favorite track from the new album, but it all sounds great — from beginning to end. No skips, no sags in the flow. The sound is peak Ben Folds, with a mix of pop, punk, jazz, and classical, like the stuff he was putting out in the late-1990s and early-2000s. At the same time, the lyrics speak with the wisdom and perspective of later life. And this song is a particularly poignant example of this wisdom and perspective. It talks about the way that change and aging can feel surreal, and maybe even unsettling, but not necessarily in bad ways. I’m really glad that this song — and this album — got to be a part of my life in 2023.

Top Ten Songs of 2023: Lizzy McAlpine

#1 – To the Mountains (Lizzy McAlpine)

I’ve already gushed about Lizzy McAlpine’s singing and songwriting — and the way I’ve discovered and enjoyed her music throughout the last year. But this song… Wow. I mean, this song is… perfection, to me. The sparse guitar accompaniment… the richly-layered vocals… the sense of transcendent peace and escape… I love this song! I wouldn’t even be surprised if “To the Mountains” ended up being the song of the decade for me. But at the very least, I can say that it’s the top song of 2023.

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