My 100 Favorite Songs of 2020
Listen to the list here.
I miss concerts.
I miss concerts so damn much.
But that’s the hand this year dealt us. It was a year full of challenges. You know that. But music saved the day. It always does.
Back in March, when the coronavirus was ravaging Italy and the hospitals were first overflowing there, it was the images of Italians standing on balconies serenading each other that felt like a defiant expression of hope in a time of incredible darkness.
And as the anger from decades of racial injustice at the hands of the police and courts boiled over in early summer, it was music that helped lead the reaction — chanting and singing at protests and an impressive number of spontaneous recordings from artists that captured their frustration.
Music was there to cheer us up, commiserate, incite, distract us, and allow us to just close our eyes and feel in a year that overwhelmed. In short, music, once again, was there to save us.
That’s how I saw it anyway. So, while I’ve been building a Top 100 list for 13 year now, this one also feels a bit like a lover letter. Because while we may have to stay at home, avoid other people, and wait on edge for our new president, there is always a flow of wondrous new music to dig into.
The two rules for this list are the same year after year:
- I only allow one song per artist. It makes for a far more interesting list.
- Either the album or the single has to have been released in 2020. I use whichever is to my advantage to include a song I want in there (Hey, it’s my list).
The Spotify playlist counts down from 100 to 1 (the only respectable way to listen to a list) and 99 of the songs can be found there. Listen to it as you read through the list and comments below (and extra points if you read it while listening to the list in real time!). Song 53 isn’t available on Spotify (didn’t realize that was still possible) but scroll down to it below for a link.
As always, share your thoughts in the comments and let me know what I missed.
100. Clorox Wipe by Chromeo. The idiocy this year so richly deserves
99. How it Breaks by Rich Aucoin. A song about the importance of online civility. Or what happens when you sing “Come Together” over the beat from Rihanna’s “Umbrella”.
98. Blossom by Juno Mamba. That scene where the hero realizes the enormity of what he’s up against.
97. AEIOU by Wye Oak (feat. Brooklyn Youth Chorus). Like Schoolhouse rock on Xanax.
96. Hard Life by SAULT. When the rhythm section takes over the entire song.
95. Arrow by Rosie Tucker. It’s the end of the world as we know it and she feels fine.
94. On by Kelly Lee Owens. A mantra you can dance to.
93. The Line by Westerman. The chords are Peter Gabriel-weird.
92. Rain On Me by Lady Gaga (with Ariana Grande). Two pop superstars deploying all their weapons at once.
91. Holla by Tréi Stella. Tréi Stella — the fourth child of Destiny.
90. Lamb’s Wool by Foster the People. FTP decide to get all Tame Impala.
89. Carry Me Home (Acoustic Version) by Shovels & Rope. No one would accuse them of undersinging this.
88. Different Light by Best Coast. The Go-Go’s released a new single this year but, surprisingly, this isn’t it.
87. Idontknow by Jamiexx. 2020 mood.
86. Cue Synthesizer by Destroyer. His band doesn’t take direction very well.
85. Pata Pata by Angelique Kidjo. A PSA you can move to.
84. Be Afraid by Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit. Leading the revolt via country music.
83. Under the Devil’s Knee by Tré Burt (feat. Leyla McCalla, Allison Russell & Sunny War). In the great bluegrass storytelling tradition.
82. Hard on Everyone by Kathleen Edwards. If The War on Drugs had a female lead singer.
81. Daisy by Ashnikko. Wherein my daughter’s Tik Tok tracks finally get to me.
80. Domino by Nicole Atkins. As chill as songs about the end of the world get.
79. Brave Face by Another Sky. Bringing the drama.
78. Jessie’s Girl 2 by Coheed and Cambira (feat. Rick Springfield). Be careful what you wish for.
77. That’s How Rumors Get Started by Margo Price. “Margo Price” must be the name Stevie Nicks uses when she checks into hotels.
76. Here They Come by Hamilton Leithauser. Like Leonard Cohen at a carnival.
75. Talk by Christian Lee Hutson. Unfurls like a flower after a rain.
74. Beautiful Telephones — Pt. 3 by Carla Bley, Andy Sheppard, Steve Swallow. See how many American anthems you can spot.
73. Enemy of my Enemy by All Them Witches. Makes it pretty clear the enemy of his enemy is not his friend.
72. FTP by YG. The sound of an open wound.
71. Les Birdies by Louise Les Hir. Well, show me the way to the next cognac bar.
70. People, I’ve been sad by Christine and the Queens. Wringing emotion out of autotune.
69. Over The Limit by Benny The Butcher (feat. DOM KENNEDY). Your drug dealer resume is impressive, Mr. Butcher.
68. Cloud Nein by Man Man. Like Tom Waits leading a parade.
67. Who Cares by Chløë Black. Like the back of Melania’s jacket.
66. Without You by Perfume Genius. The closest Perfume Genius has come to a pop song.
65. Too Bad by Duckwrth. Like a military march to the Apollo
64. Hold On Tight by ROOKIE. What if we ripped off Big Star but then put in the scream from “Won’t Get Fooled Again”?
63. 3 on E by Vulfpeck (feat. Antwaun Stanley). What’s the word for something even funkier than funk?
62. Good Times by The Lone Bellow. When folk rock gets boisterous.
61. Daily Routine by Disq. Slacker rock seems tailor made for quarantining
60. Love Is A Drug by Empress Of. Confessions over a “Tainted Love” beat.
59. Strong Enough by Ray LaMontagne. Ray goes full Creedence Clearwater.
58. Say Something by Kylie Minogue. Tonight is definitely going to be the best night of our lives.
57. Long Time Coming by Caitlyn Smith. Sounds like windswept plains.
56. Fkn Around by Phony Ppl (feat. Megan Thee Stallion). Like giving a lecture on infidelity in a discothéque.
55. Dotted Line by Pinegrove. No one currently does anguished white nerd rock better.
54. Weather by Shelby Lynne. For when she starts going after it at the 1:48 mark.
53. last train by Deb Never. Someone’s been studying up on their 90’s rock.
52. Bad Friend by Rina Sawayama. Designed for optimal road trip singalongs.
51. Lockdown Blues by Iceage. The best of this year’s Covid songs — a bizarre sentence I never thought I’d write.
50. Texas Drums Pt I & II by Pottery. Talking Heads meets Matthew McConaughey on a bender.
49. Strange Girl by Laura Marling. Hard to think of a better current folk songwriter.
48. No One Holds You (Closer Than The One You Haven’t Met) by The Lemon Twigs. Nothing is too over-the-top for The Lemon Twigs.
47. Angola Rodeo by Black Lips. If Exile on Main St. had a sense of humor.
46. Shangri-La by EOB. Radiohead’s guitarist sounds 50% Thom Yorke and 50% Spoon.
45. Flower by Jehnny Beth. Any song that starts off with “A flower filled with murder” is destined for the goth hall of fame.
44. And Yet It Moves / Y Se Mueve by U.S. Girls. A band full of unexpected turns.
43. Window by Carly Rae Jepsen. What did Carly Rae do to deserve getting kicked off mainstream radio?
42. I’m Not Getting Excited by The Beths. The song that would cause the club to go crazy if concerts were still a thing.
41. Dedication by Born Ruffians. Spoken word poetry has never been this much fun.
40. ooh la la by Run The Jewels (feat. Greg Nice & DJ Premier). I did not realize RTJ spoke French.
39. Cold by Chris Stapleton. Engineered to win a truckload of Grammys.
38. Bad Side by iyla. Beautifully spare.
37. Momentary Bliss by Gorillaz (feat. slowthai and Slaves). For achievement in background chatter.
36. Finally // beautiful stranger by Halsey. Another of Halsey’s late night musings.
35. No Time To Die by Billie Eilish. The ideal match for Daniel Craig’s tortured facial expressions.
34. Caution by The Killers. Wait, they’re finally good again?!
33. Stop This Flame by Celeste. Feels so timeless I found myself checking multiple times that it was actually from 2020.
32. I’m Alive by Norah Jones. The serotonin kicks in the minute this starts up.
31. Your Light by The Big Moon. They are exploiting my weakness for harmonies.
30. Lockdown by Anderson .Paak. There was nothing more important than locking down to beat the virus. Until there was.
29. Pigeons by Bill Callahan. Sing me a bedtime story Bill Callahan.
28. Violence by Grimes (feat. i_o). How can someone who owns so much Tesla stock create a song this dark and moody?
27. A Hero’s Death by Fontaine’s D.C.. A pep talk to the beat from “Lust for Life”.
26. Stay With Me by Margaret Glaspy. One of many good showings by the piano in this year’s Top 100.
25. Karma The Knife by Angelica Garcia. She’s incredibly wise or totally insane or both.
24. Sugar Honey Iced Tea (S.H.I.T.) by Princess Nokia. Haters gonna hate.
23. Care by beabadoobee. beabadoobee is here to ensure a safe future for power chords.
22. Bad Decisions by The Strokes. Maybe America’s new national anthem?
21. Saved by Jac Ross. My companion song every time I needed to exhale this year.
20. Natalie Don’t by RAYE. That bassline.
19. Boomer by Bartees Strange. I call this genre One of Everything.
18. Simmer by Hayley Williams. For achievement in heavy breathing.
17. Cut Me by Moses Sumney. A trip down a surrealistic river.
16. Break Her Heart by ZZ Ward. As passive aggressive as a song can get.
15. Violent Sun by Everything Everything. This would have been right at home on “120 Minutes”.
14. Save Your Tears by The Weeknd. For a couples skate through the mall from “Stranger Things”.
13. Luxe by Holy Fuck (feat. Alexis Taylor). Like a robot’s fever dream.
12. Can’t Do Much by Waxahatchee. From an album that sounds like a potential classic from the first spin.
11. Ohio by King Princess. All hail our new rock goddess.
10. The Steps by HAIM. Still finding catchy new ways to rip off The Eagles.
9. circle the drain by Soccer Mommy. When the guitar riff sounds just like the song title.
8. Quick Escape by Pearl Jam. Comeback of the year.
7. Pig Feet by Terrace Martin (feat. Denzel Curry, Kamasi Washington, G Perico & Daylyt). Hopelessness mixed with anger mixed with chaos.
6. Check Your Phone by Cheap Cuts (feat. Pete Wentz). Yup. Pretty much.
5. Your Reply by Frances Quinlan. Like receiving a four-page letter in the mail set to music.
4. Boss Bitch by Doja Cat. This year was happily overflowing with female rappers flexing.
3. Shameika by Fiona Apple. Shameika has an eye for talent.
2. Don’t Start Now by Dua Lipa. The queen of an alt-2020 where everything was fabulous.
- Kyoto by Phoebe Bridgers. The rollercoaster emotions of everyday life (remember everyday life?).