Monday, December 28, 2020

My Favorite Songs of 2020

2020, A YEAR of #NewMusicMondays  
This year I began a monthly feature called #NewMusicMonday. At the top menu here, I've included the individual and combined months of all the new music I was able to listen to this year and eventually determine my 'favorites.' For December, I've included my favs for this month in the year-long grouping.

I begin this post with my 20 favorite albums of 2020 from which My Favorite Songs of 2020 playlist draws heavily from these albums. These albums are organized left to right from 1-20 but after the top 5, it's pretty loose as most regular readers here know I usually avoid 'The Best of' label. I just wanted to recognize all these great albums released this year that cover the main genres of my personal tastes in: Rock 'n' Roll, Americana, R&B, Pop, and even some (real) Country made it this year. 

Note- The following 'album links' are Amazon music options for purchase.

Now my #1 album for 2020 needs a little explaining. Wildflowers was released in 1994 by Tom Petty although you can easily call it Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers because his band is all over the record. So long story short- Tom Petty, Mike Campbell and his producer, Rick Rubin spent two years making what was intended to be a double album of twenty five songs. Lenny Waronker, the President of Warner Bros. Records "suggested that it was too long." In the corporate world, CEO's don't suggest and it was made into a single album with 15 songs. Petty's family and bandmates arranged a 2020 re-release of the album that includes the deleted [10] songs, demos, and live tracks entitled Wildflowers & All The Rest. The super deluxe edition of the box set included a fifth disc of alternate versions of the Wildflowers tracks (Wikipedia). 

So most of the 10 missing songs are found in this year's playlist as Tom Petty is one of my (and probably yours too) all-time favorite singer-songwriters. It's hard to believe these 10 songs sat on the shelf for a quarter-century as they make an album most people could only dream of making. But Tom always had plenty of songs, and so we get some old new Tom Petty this year!

#1 Wildflowers & All The Rest (Amazon options)

My #2 album is World on the Ground by Sarah Jarosz. I think I have most of her ten songs from the album scattered about on the playlist. Sarah has all the tools- composition, voice, guitar, banjo and mandolin player, and is one of the most compelling singer-songwriters in music today. Sarah Jarosz is the real deal and in my opinion had the #1 album this year overlooked by the siloed format music business and critique. I guess Taylor Swift can dip her toes into folk-pop with her 2020 release of Folklore this year complete with the album jacket cover of Taylor in the woods. Well, the suits are playing it on pop radio and if that translates into 'whatever it takes' to maybe get people like Sarah Jarosz some airplay...

My #3 album is XOXO by The Jayhawks. Again I believe I have most of their songs on the playlist as this band has steadily emerged to be my newest favorite band. The Jayhawks are hard to pigeonhole as either Alternative Country, Country Rock, Folk Rock, or Americana, and so it just doesn't matter. This group is heartland rock 'n' roll who run a very democratic ship as far as bands go, and hopefully that will keep them together for years to come. This band is also often overlooked due to the narrow-minded music genre format structure. C'mon suits, can't you even play one new rock 'n' roll song on the classic rock radio dial?

My #4 album is McCartney III by Paul McCartney. This album was just released last week and featured in my blog from last week as well. From my perspective, what's not to like as most of the songs makes the playlist as an encore here this week. The playlist includes new material from both Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney, the two greatest singer-songwriters of all-time. What a gift for their fans in 2020!

My #5 album is See Here, I Have Built You A Mansion by Josh Ritter. This EP of eight songs is simply outstanding and introduced me to the music of Josh Ritter, as now I'm a big fan and think you will enjoy this singer-songwriter.

I was talking to my friend Ron Zieman on the phone about the playlist I did a couple of weeks ago, 50 Years of Music • My Favorite Songs of 1970. We both just couldn't get over how many great songs came out on one album back in the day.  Here, what all my top 5 albums above have in common is just like the old days, these individual records are all packed with great songs and well worth your 2020 music dollar. 

6. Imploding The Mirage, The Killers
7. Beginners, Christian Lee Hudson
8. Expectations, Katie Pruitt
9. Rough and Rowdy Ways, Bob Dylan
11.  Rise Above, Tomar & The FCs
12. Starting Over, Chris Stapleton
13. Ever-Roving Eye, James Elkington
15. Reunions, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit
16. Pick Me Off The Floor, Nora Jones
17. Saint Cloud, Waxahatchee
18. Fish Pond Fish, Darlingside
19. Desolation Sounds, Ayla Brook & The Soundmen
20. Songs For The General Public, The Lemon Twigs

My Favorite Songs of 2020
playlist this week stands at 183 songs strong that has been a labor of love putting together this past year. These songs helped pull me through a tough tough 2020 and are not in a rated order other than that the top 20 or so are loosely put at the top of the list. I will mention my #1 favorite song of 2020, I Don't Mind by Sturgill Simpson. This song just caught me off guard the first time I was going through Sturgill's Bluegrass versions of his songs on the album, Cuttin' Grass, Vol. 1: The Butcher Shoppe Sessions. I think it's one of the best Country songs I've ever heard, and wish more artists could right that Country-pop music tilt back towards a more Bluegrass tradition. To tag-along on that last sentence, I've also included a song on the Playlist by Chris Stapleton, called Nashville, TN that speaks directly to 'Music City.'

Anyway, I guess that's why we have now have the Americana genre to thank for filling the 'roots' void as a new generation of artists will take us through the next century with new songs not often heard on AM/FM radio formats or on TV. I miss the old variety TV shows in the 60's and 70's where an older Hollywood star in a tuxedo would introduce a new band of young long-hairs to lip-sync their current hit song with their electric guitars not plugged in to their amps.

I guess we can be thankful for the Internet to be our current source for listening to NEW Rock 'n' Roll and Americana music that I'm happy to share with you here on Monday Monday Music.

Stay well, mask-up, and Happy New Year my friends!

Monday, December 21, 2020

McCartney III and a 'Beatle Christmas'

McCartney III
The Paul McCartney Project

On December 18th, I got up like a kid on Christmas morning to unwrap a present. This one was waiting @ Paul McCartney's YouTube Channel, his just released third solo album, McCartney III.  Paul continues a 50 year old tradition where he plays all the instruments and sings all the vocals on his songs. The album began to form in March of this year as Paul found himself in lockdown or as he says, "Rockdown" at his home in Sussex England due to the coronavirus. 

Like McCartney (1970) and McCartney II (1980), Paul would get up and go into his home studio and just start messing around with an instrument and build sounds. Some progressions would start to form a tune and then, he might start to layer up a song from there. He would do all the recording himself like the previous two albums with the goal of just having fun. He also thought he would finish up a few unfinished songs that had been sitting around a while. He imagined driving with a friend in his car and say, "Hey check this out" and pop in his little mix tape. Need I say the project progressed, as it's now an eleven song new album released just in time for the holidays. Yes, in the year of coronavirus, we could all use another 'Beatle Christmas.'

Ugly Christmas
Beatle Sweaters

Now 'Beatle Christmas' means a lot of different things and/or events to different people. It could be as simple as getting a Beatle record from family or a friend during the holiday season and playing the hell out of it. When The Beatles broke up 50 years ago, that would be expanded to individual albums by John, Paul, George, and Ringo starting with: Ringo's Sentimental Journey released in March, 1970; then McCartney released in April; All Things Must Pass by George released in November; and John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band released in December. These individual releases all surrounded The Beatles last album Let It Be, released in April, 1970. So when I speak of 'Beatles Christmas' the tradition got turbo-charged in 1970, and continues to this day with all kinds of Beatles merch. 

At some point in the early 70's, my good buddy Paul Hobbs turned me on to KTMS-FM broadcasting out of Goleta, California. KTMS-FM was an archetypal small laid-back FM rock station that catered to nearby UCSB students with its signal just strong enough to reach our little cowboy town up the coast. I don't know what year KTMS-FM started their annual 'Beatle Christmas' show but Paul and I were thrilled as they played only Beatle music (including their solo albums) on Christmas Day, and then would follow that up with a 'Rolling Stones New Year' on January 1. 

Photo Source - California 101

In 1975, I moved to San Diego to go to SDSU and would drive up to Santa Maria at Christmas for the winter semester break. I would continue this for many years after as I became a teacher still having the traditional K-12 two-week break at Christmas. Now that 300 mile drive from San Diego to Santa Maria entails Interstate 5 to the 405, to U.S. 101, all heading north. Once you get out of Los Angeles and into Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties, you get to drive that wonderful view along the Pacific coast on the 101. Every year traffic got worse, so I switched to the tactic of driving up very early on Christmas morning as most everyone would still be in bed, or had already arrived at their destination before Christmas morning.

I don't know how many Christmases I listened to 'Beatle Christmas' on the drive up, but I tuned my car radio dial until KTMS came in somewhere around Ventura. For several years, this was my grown-up/childhood Christmas morning. I have fond memories listening to Beatle tunes with the early morning sun shining down from the green hills and rocky terrain to the vast blue-green water. I was home.

KTMS-FM existed from 1965-1984. It is now KSLB with a 'contemporary Christian' music format. All good things eventually end their run... but a 78 year-old musician continues his musical journey, and always arrives right back into our hearts. 

I'm not here to critique Paul McCartney's new album, that's not my job description here @ Monday Monday Music. I can tell you, I'm playing the hell out of it, and would suggest you make it a little part of your holiday this year.

In fact, I got you covered this Christmas week with all three of Paul's 'solo' albums in descending orders starting with McCartney III. I kick it off with a fun interview with Chris Rock and Paul, and then the three solo album YouTube playlists.



Stay well my friends, mask-up, and may your wishes light your way. 

Happy Christmas, and as Ringo always says, "Peace and Love!"

 

McCartney III (2020) - Purchase on Amazon

 McCartney II (1980)

 McCartney (1970)


 An added little bonus (thanks P. Hobbs for sharing) 

Monday, December 14, 2020

My Favorite Songs of 1970





1970 was an incredible year in rock 'n' roll history. Some of my favorite songs of all-time are contained in the albums above. The playlist this week is a treasure of jewels for me, some discovered in 1970, and some discovered much later.

The year was full of great music and news.

The biggest news of 1970 was the biggest band break-up that ever was as The Beatles go their separate ways and start making their own albums. Their fans never stop hoping that they will get back together.

The Beatles also released their last album, Let It Be recorded before Abbey Road and released after. 

Simon and Garfunkel also made their last album together, Bridge Over Trouble Water. The album wins 6 Grammy's and wins The Song, Record, and Album of the Year. Their fans never stop hoping that they get back together.

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young make a masterpiece, Déjà Vu  and then promptly break-up for the first time, as their fans never stop hoping that they will get back together again, and again, and again...

Drugs and death also intersect in 1970, as both Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin both die of overdoses just three weeks apart at the tender age of 27. Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones had died the year prior in 1969 at 27, and in the following year of 1971, Jim Morrison would also die of an overdose at 27 and fuel the rock culture phenomenon of Club 27.  

Speaking of phenomenon, the singer-songwriters to emerge as stars in 1970 is literally on the charts. James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Carole King, Kris Kristofferson, Stephen Stills, Leon Russell, Cat Stevens, Van Morrison, and Elton John all breakout with solo albums that will put them on the map and on the road for years to come. In 1970, Stevens, Morrison, John, and Badfinger each release two albums during the same year as fans cannot get enough. 

I was hooked by all these talented people and I start buying their albums whenever I could scrap up the money. My friends are doing the same, and we are all listening to each other's albums. Getting into rock concerts was going to be the next big step.

At fifteen, I'm becoming aware that two of my new heroes- James Taylor and Neil Young, are a bit like me, painfully shy to the point that it wasn't helping me move forward in life. By listening to their songs by myself in my bedroom, I began to get a sensibility for their music and what they were communicating to the world. I began to internalize their music, like millions of other kids. I start to examine who I am- my self-worth, what will I do? James and Neil didn't magically answer these questions, but they did give me a feeling, a new sense that I wasn't alone. James has this beautiful voice and yet he's always hunched over (like me), walking and talking without a lot of confidence. Neil's as quirky as hell and has this unique shaky voice and distant stare. But yet, both are opening up on a big stage in the spotlight, and becoming massively successful, folk-rock stars no less. Could I actually make something of myself? 

1970 was a new decade but still part of the 1960's, and I wanted in, to be a long-hair. Music was becoming a part of my identity and it was a cornerstone of the counter-culture. I wanted to be part of something bigger, something completely different from my parents and my conservative upbringing.

This year in the blog, I started the reoccurring monthly post of 50 Years of Music. As I reflect back over the entirety of 1970, the blog often serves as a retro-journal to myself. This year, I also caught myself playing an old game, the 'shoulda-woulda-coulda' mind game. I wished I had joined the cross-country team, I wished I had started playing tennis with my dear friend Bill DeVoe as he would eventually go on to become the number one player on the high school varsity team. I wished I hadn't quit piano lessons, and I wished that I had starting writing a journal when I was young. In retrospect, all these wishes where not a lack of opportunities presented to me, but a basic lack of self-confidence on my part. 

I would go through most of the 1970's with that general lack of confidence that slowly melted away as I began my professional career as a K-12 teacher with a variety of job assignments and experiences. Over the years, I discovered that confidence is often revealed in a couple basic ways. One, you see the overt confidence, often coupled with words over action. Second, and the confidence I tried to model from the good people around me was the purposeful actions that followed their words.

On this day, I'm thankful for my core group of friends who helped me believe in myself, and I'm thankful for the music we shared together as kids and continue to share today with old and new songs.

The playlist(s) this week are 220 songs as it is contains some of the best music I ever heard when first released 50 years ago that has endured the test of time. To quote John Lennon on the roof of Abbey Road Studios in the Let It Be film, "I would like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves, and I hope we've passed the audition." Yes John, your band certainly passed the audition- giving all the people you inspired to pick up musical instruments and make rock 'n' roll. Those musicians and the listening fans from all over the world are forever indebted and eternally grateful for the music of 

(Note- I just discovered this morning in publishing the blog that an embedded YouTube playlist will only display 200 videos, damnit-all. So, I have taken the last 20 videos and created a Part II Playlist and embedded below the first playlist. There's some great songs in the last group of 20, including the last song which has a lot of meaning to me.)

Merry Everything! Stay well my friends and mask-up. 

So let's now get back to where we once belonged.


 

 Reference:

Monday, December 07, 2020

Christmas Mix 2020

Christmas Mix  2015 • 2016 • 2017 • 2018 • 2019 • 2020

Santa Santa, Surfin' Santa Claus
Here he comes, Here he comes
Surfin' Santa Claus
Bringin' toys for girls and boys
Surfin' Santa Claus
–Joe Lubin & Stan Stan Stenner

Sometime in the middle of the year, I usually create a YouTube Playlist called Christmas Mix for that year and just start squirreling away traditional and alternative songs that I think would make a good mix with no general theme in mind. I have one general goal with the Mix- to be a little different and always make Christmas a little more inclusive no matter one's belief system. With that said, it should be noted that a lot of great artists have made some terrible Christmas albums over the years, and a streaming playlist is one remedy to broaden the category of 'Christmas Music.'


Being from San Diego, my first idea for this year was a Surfin' Santa theme. Then I started looking for a good graphic. When I found the 'Merry Christmas 1942' graphic above it had everything I wanted, a traditional Coca-Cola® Santa surfing, and then a new thought, 1942- with all the great musicians born that year.

The class of '42 includes: Paul McCartney, Aretha Franklin, Brian Wilson, Carole King, Jimi Hendrix, Graham Nash, Leon Russell, Barbara Streisand, and Roger McGuinn. I've included at least one song from my short list of musical greats born that year, and if you're interested, here's a complete list of musicians and singers born in 1942. 

Also, I can't ignore the elephant in the room, the original 1942 release of Irving Berlin's White Christmas by Bing Crosby, the #1 selling single of all-time with more than 50 million sales alone. 

This is all a bit ironic for me as when I started the Christmas Mix in 2015, I tried to generally avoid the sappy standards with White Christmas being at the top of the list. For me it's like eating turkey every year at Thanksgiving since my birth. I can imagine my dad saying to my mom when I'm a baby, "Fern just put a slice in the blender, he'll be fine." Anyway, I just got to the point where I couldn't take turkey anymore, same for White Christmas.  I get this 1942 idea from the graphic and low and behold, White Christmas is released that year. So, I start reading about White Christmas, and then I read this about Bing Crosby.

According to Crosby's nephew, Howard Crosby, "I once asked Uncle Bing about the most difficult thing he ever had to do during his entertainment career… He said in December, 1944, he was in a USO show with Bob Hope and the Andrews Sisters. They did an outdoor show in northern France… he had to stand there and sing 'White Christmas' with 100,000 G.I.s in tears without breaking down himself. Of course, a lot of those boys were killed in the Battle of the Bulge a few days later." Wikipedia

Sweet Jesus, that made me cry too. So Irving and Bing, I yield the space here, thinking of all the babies born during war, and their dads fighting around the world wishing they were home with their families. 

It should also be noted that today is as Franklin Roosevelt told congress, "December 7, 1941- a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan." The attack on Pearl Harbor thrust us into World War II, and changed our country overnight. White Christmas coming out the following year was a song we needed to hear as a nation and the world needed too. The lyrics, I'm dreaming of a white Christmas, Just like the ones I used to know, were in 1942, as impactful as any song that's ever been recorded. The history and power of this song endures.

 

Then, I thought about the babies born this year in the time of coronavirus. My granddaughter was born April 17, 2020. This virus is a different kind of war, but a worthy advisory nevertheless. Somehow our country has to band together as if we are in a world war against fascism, everybody on the same page working for our victory, all together. 

As a war baby himself, Paul McCartney grew up reading the British children's comic strip and books, Rupert Bear. In 1984, Paul wrote the song, We All Stand Together, arranged and produced by George Martin and made into a short film about Rupert Bear. The song has just been released again with the animated video and included here in my playlist Mix in several versions. 

These World War II children knew a thing about banding together in a crisis and maybe a reason, they're the greatest generation of rock 'n' roll. Sir Paul was no exception, and even if this song's about frogs, you'll feel the bond, like a lot of his work. His lyrics have now come back around in 2020 and a perfect theme for this season and moving forward together during this difficult time. I also have to think this generation of children are maybe special too, and will know how to stand together when the chips are down when they are the decision-makers.


Win Or Lose, Sink Or Swim
One Thing Is Certain We'll Never Give In
Side By Side, Hand In Hand
We All Stand Together

Play The Game, Fight The Fight
But What's The Point On A Beautiful Night?
Arm In Arm, Hand In Hand
We All Stand Together

Keeping Us Warm In The Night
La La La La
Walk In The Night
You'll Get It Right

Win Or Lose, Sink Or Swim
One Thing Is Certain We'll Never Give In
Side By Side, Hand In Hand
We All Stand Together
–Paul McCartney 

This has been a rough year for many who have been laid off or lost their small business in the time of coronavirus. However, we begin this coming new year with a fresh start with great hope and energy that will carry our people and country to a better place. 

In good times or bad, music has alway been central to Christmas time as it can take us to a place, the want for peace, comfort and joy, to dream the dream. My Christmas Mix is always a kitchen sink of tunes but I tried to find some songs this year that have that spirit of people needing people to get us through anything if we stick together. 

I like to also think my Christmas Mix might even spark an interesting conversation around the Christmas dinner table, or distanced smartphone video call this year-  
  • Why does Uncle Dave (an atheist) love gospel music?
  • Is eggnog still a thing? Why can't I just have a White Russian?
  • Do you care if someone says, "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas?" Who gives a rat's ass in 2021? And who really cares about gay people marrying? Oh yeah... those people.
  • Winter Soltice and Christmas, Spring Equinox and Easter, is that timing just a big coincidence? "Hey Uncle Dave, grandma says 'Pagan' is a bad word?"
  • Beyoncé, Queen B? Sorry their's only one Queen and that's Retha, period.
  • Why does mom always tear up when Carol of the Bells comes on? 
Here's wishing you and your family a Happy Christmas and better days this New Year as we give thanks for the good people around us, no matter our beliefs.

Stay well my friends, and mask-up. We all stand together.