Here’s my list of stuff I liked in 2020. Actually, it’s not a list at all, but a playlist, because that’s what I do. It’s not what I thought were the best albums or songs, just what I heard that I enjoyed. Some of it I bought and some of it I enjoyed the access that modern technology provides. Some of it I listened to a lot, some I listened to once or twice and moved on, but in the past few weeks I revisited and I really like it all. Most of it was released in 2020, but I threw in some things that are obviously not from this year, but they were part of my 2020 soundtrack. There’s was an overwhelming amount of new music out there this year. I’ve looked over many end-of-year lists and there’s so many names I’ve never heard of before. And there’s a lot I did listen to that did not do anything for me. As usual, I like Rock ‘N’ Roll, Punk, and Garage Rock, with a sweet tooth for simple Pop, but I don’t even care about most new music that falls under those categories. I always listened to way more old music. I’m 54. Leave me alone. I tried to keep the playlist at 55 songs (for my 55th year, and the hope for a better future), but just like that, it kept growing. Hey, I was born in ‘66…still too late. Oh hell, I can’t count.
Since it’s New Year’s Eve, someone should buy 2020 a drink. I mean seriously, 2020 has taken all the blame for all the bad shit that has happened this year, even though it is just a year. Just like 2016 was just a year. And 2021…While it’s kind of silly to blame a year for the problems of the world, 2020 was a motherfucker for sure. It started with me getting evicted from my home of nineteen years, but it ended with the genocidal sociopath in the White House getting evicted. Yeah, I’m throwing down the G-word. While nearly half a million Americans perished from this virus, a bunch of pussies and “Plague Rats”, who can’t handle something so completely easy and painless as wearing a fucking mask, and cried about their rights and freedoms (don’t get me started on how these dummies think the election was stolen). I didn’t want to wear a mask at first either, but Jesus…If someone would have just told EVERYBODY to do it, we’d be over this shit, and we wouldn’t have lost so much. I’m still bummed that my semi-annual trip to California to hang with two of my best girl friends and go to the Burger Boogaloo didn’t happen. It’s strange that some were worried about the White Supremacist movement that used the word “Boogaloo” would have some negative impact on the festival, when just a few weeks after the festival’s early July dates, the Burger Records rape & sexual assault allegations surfaced (Google it). Although the festival used the Burger name, it severed all ties with the label and will have a new name whenever it returns. There’s been so much heartbreak, anger, and frustration that has dominated our lives this year, and a change in the number of year isn’t gonna make any difference, but we got to believe things will get better. The truth is I’ve been so very fortunate this year, to keep my job and my new home, and to keep buying records, etc. So many others didn’t. I’m always waiting for something bad to happen to me.
Ok, enough of that, let’s talk music! There’s a few songs on my playlist that certainly reflect the times we’re living in. I wouldn’t say there’s a theme, but it’s a 2020 playlist after all. Here’s some ramblings about what I listened to this year and why this playlist is so fucking weird (cause I like that way!).
The Shivas’ Dark Thoughts album came out around Halloween last year but I really didn’t start listening to it till the beginning of this year and have continued to hit it throughout the year. The Shivas are significant in my 2020 as they were the last band I got to see live. They did however have a few digital releases this year, including a batch of old demos and covers of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” (which we were treated to a magnificent performance of at the Denton show back in February) and The Troggs’ “Our Love Will Still Be There”.
I’ve never been a huge Old 97’s fan, but I did see them play several times in their early days here in Dallas, and had seen Rhett and Murry perform going back to the late ‘80s. I was compelled to buy their new album because I moved into the same apartment building where the Old 97’s lived and became a band. There’s this wonderful basking video where they return to the 1930-built building and perform in the dining room of Rhett and Murry’s old apartment. I guess I felt a bit of kinship with them and I do dig the record. Chris Penn at Good Records asked when he rung it up “Are you an Old ‘97’s fan or a Cowboys fan?”, referring to the cover photo of Roger The Dodger. I explained that I was from Irving where it’s illegal to not be a Cowboys fan, and I explained the coincidence of my new apartment. It’s the Old ‘97’s “Twelfth” album (!) and Super Bowl XII was the first NFL game I ever watched. Also, I think this place is haunted…
As I said before, I listen to way more old music than new, and its as important to this year’s soundtrack as anything else. I listened to a lot of The Velvet Underground and Shocking Blue this year, so I included a couple songs by each as well as some other favorites of yesteryear. I’ll leave some to mystery, but the Allah-Las is a band a friend played me a few years ago and they seemed familiar when they came on YouTube randomly one day, and I really dug it. On Christmas Day, I finally got around to watching the Netflix show “The Queen’s Gambit”. It had been pointed out that the music was really cool and the same friend had been sending me links for Gillian Hills’ “Tut Tut Tut Tut”, and asked me about the version of “Comin’ Home Baby” by Quincy Jones in the show. I’ve loved many versions of the song over the years from Mel Torme to The Delmonas’ version, but the conversation got me checking out the Dave Bailey original (I’ve listened to more Jazz this year than I ever have in my life before). Another thing about Queen’s Gambit that has amused me is certain Kinks fans debating and criticizing the show’s use of “Stop Your Sobbing”, but I digress (wait for it…). So I was looking up music from the show on Spotify and was scrolling through a playlist, and came upon Allah-Las’ “Catamaran”. I thought that it was weird. I assumed it was coming up on an episode I hadn’t gotten to. But why was this song from 2012 in this ‘60s period piece? I love pretending that there’s some kind of deeper meaning in this (plus the Shocking Blue are in a key scene). It turns out the playlist went beyond the show and into what I assume is the creator’s own soundtrack fantasy. Gee, what a weirdo!
There’s a few reissued/previously unreleased songs on my list. I still haven’t fully heard the Goats Head Soup reissue, and was not too impressed by the song with Jimmy Page, but “Criss Cross” was a huge surprise for this Stones freak. A variation of the “Brown Sugar” riff mixed with a funky groove… Maybe it was too familiar, but I’m surprised this song didn’t appear on Its Only Rock ‘N’ Roll or Black and Blue, and the Stones did have a habit of never finishing albums worth of great songs (see Tattoo You and the Some Girls deluxe version). While 2020 will be remembered for so many bad things, it did give us so many musical miracles, like the long awaited reissuing of PJ Harvey’s catalog. I had long desired Dry, Rid of Me and 4 Track Demos on vinyl, but the To Bring You My Love Demos was a great surprise. I’m sure I will continue the journey through the PJ reissues in 2021. Redd Kross and Reigning Sound also had some reissues I nabbed.
The best purchase decision I made this year was buying the entire Girlsville Records catalog digitally from Bandcamp during one of their “Bandcamp Fridays”, where the platform waived their cut to help artists during the pandemic. Girlsville, based in Portland, OR, puts a lot of their releases out on limited edition cassettes. I don’t have a tape player anymore, so the digital downloads work for me. The Maxines, one of my favorite Matt Murillo adventures, released their first full-length Burn It Down (as 2020 as it gets for a title). Although all of the material was recorded during the band’s brief 2009-12 existence, it was still a new release. I only wish I could have included Matt’s current band UK Gold on the playlist (I will share the Bandcamp link). Another Girlsville labor-of-love, and my favorite, was The Hound by late-‘90s NYC band The Prissteens. I had streamed the assortment of unreleased demos Girlsville has put out over the past few years and enjoyed them, but to have most of them on one vinyl record (with many more bonus tracks on the CD/download), it seemed like I had to get it. It is essentially what could have been the band’s second album, and thankfully because the songs were in the demo phase, the band’s raw edge was kept intact. I had to make a YT clip for my favorite “I’m a Mess” for this playlist.
Remember back in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s when all the “dinosaur” bands of the ‘60s and ‘70s were doing reunions, and some released new records (some good, some not), and thanks to the advent of Classic Rock radio, many enjoyed a second go-round, and some of us kind of laughed at them and slighted them for hitting the “State Fair circuit”? Well, two decades into this century almost every ‘70s and ‘80s Punk band of note has done the same. And not just them, but many of the Grunge and Alternative bands of the ‘90s have followed suit. Even my beloved ‘90s Garage Punk scene has given many of us another chance to see bands we loved and had seen many times or that we’ve never seen at all. It’s still kind of crazy to think I’ve seen The Mummies and The Gories three times each in the past decade. I’ve also quite enjoyed seeing Dinosaur Jr., Melvins, Mudhoney, and Redd Kross in recent years (the latter two releasing recent new albums I enjoyed very much). Then there’s the Los Angeles band X, who I’ve seen three times in the last five years, playing all their early records with lots of fire and energy. Alphabetland is the band’s first studio album in 27 years (35 with original lineup), and it sounds like a lost album from somewhere between their 2nd and 4th albums. If I had to choose a favorite album of the year, it would probably be Alphabetland. However, The Mellows are attacking quickly and I never heard of them until a couple of weeks ago. Is two weeks enough?
I love Rockabilly. Yet I don’t keep up with the modern Rockabilly scene. So there really wasn’t any reason for me to have ever heard of Colton Turner and The Mellows before. Except maybe that they are based in Austin Texas, three freaking hours away!?! Thanks to an ATX friend that works at a record store, I discovered the magical sounds of this four-piece Carlsbad, CA transplant band that play some of the most beautiful “soft” Rockabilly/Pop, much in the tradition of Buddy Holly, Ricky Nelson, Roy Orbison, Bobby Fuller, Everly Brothers, etc. (and no doubt early Beatles). The Turner brothers, singer/guitarist/songwriter Colton and lead guitarist Zane, started playing with bassist Yari Bolanos in 2015, but then the brothers relocated to Austin and Yari followed suit not long after. Along with the addition of drummer Alberto Telo, the band recorded two albums in 2017 and 2018 under Colton’s name, but with a change to Jack Christy on the skins, they became The Mellows, releasing a 7” and self-titled CD in 2019. This year they teamed up with Spain’s Sleazy Records, releasing a 7” EP and now their amazing second (actually their fourth) album, Need You (See, Google is my friend!). This record is mostly ‘50s and early ‘60s sounding ballads. It’s not really Rockabilly or what the casual listener would think of the genre, but there’s certainly a bit of twang in the guitars. “Yes I Do” sounds like Buck Owens, “The Cure” brings a bit of Byrds to mind, and there’s even a slice of ‘60s Garage going on in “Need Lovin’ Baby”. Yet it maintains this peaceful, mellow vibe that is no less danceable than something louder or faster. The songs have a energy that really sneaks up on you. And the musicianship is impeccable, with melodies that stick with you long after you’ve stopped listening. It was recorded by the band and mixed by Billy Horton (if you don’t know, Google The Horton Brothers). The subtle way the lead guitar switches on the fuzz in “Phantom Parade of Love” is a thing of beauty. I can’t say much else except that this stuff is intoxicating and I desperately want to see them perform live first chance I get. This has instantly become a top favorite of 2020 for me.
I think I sampled The Damned’s Rockfield Files EP but it didn’t leave a lasting impression on me. I’ve heard fans who love it and some that were disappointed, but I haven’t heard hardly anyone talk about The Sensible Gray Cells. SGC is the Captain Sensible/Paul Gray ‘60s Garage/Psych-Pop inspired side project. Seven years after their first album, they’ve returned with Johnny Moped drummer Marty Love for Get Back Into The World. It’s a really great rock record that could have come out in the ‘70s or ‘80s and fit nicely. The LP and two accompanying singles were released by one of the best labels in the world, Damaged Goods. While it took over a month to receive a record I ordered from New York this summer, DG got me the first William Loveday Intention 7” in just 13 days…from Great Britain!! My favorite go-go-getters The Courettes made their debut on DG’s roster with my favorite single of the year. A couple of years ago I waxed poetic on The Courettes cool ‘60s fashions, vintage gear and recording techniques, but pointed out that it was their great songs that mattered most. Maybe I’m just as crazy for the girl-group/Spector “wall of sound” as they are, but “Want You! Like a Cigarette” and “Night Time (The Boy of Mine)” (along with last year’s Christmas track and Dynamite EP) are so damn infectious, I just can’t get enough. I hope they keep the balance of the sugary melodies with the raw garage punk intact on their upcoming DG full-length. So many fun things on DG this year like “Isabella Is Annoying” by The Rellies, and The Lurkers’ “Fits Like a Glove”, or introducing Talulah Gosh to me. ‘Punk Rock Song of the Year’ (no official designation found) could/should be “Rape Is Rape, Even If The Rapist Is In a Band That You Like” (repeat as many times as you need to) by Rabies Babies. The East London band has been around since 1999, but their self-titled DG 10” EP is their debut release. It came out before the Burger shit (yes, Google it). My favorite song title of the year has to be the Babies’ “I Fought The Floor, and The Floor Won”. While you’re on your Google machine, look up The William Loveday Intention because I really don’t have the time to explain it. Cheers Damaged Goods!
And cheers to The Battlebeats, Thee Primitive Sound, Zodiac Panthers, The Spits, Gino & The Goons, The Chats, The Exbats, The Monsters and so many more for keeping Rock ‘N’ Roll alive. I love Japanese band Sakuran Zensen and their frantic Hives-like energy (I use that word too much). I know one of their songs says “I wanna rock ‘n’ roll”. That’s good enough for me. Last year I saw The Bobby Lees and Ft. Worth’s Mean Motor Scooter play together and was very excited they were teaming up again this spring, but it was cancelled. Such a shame for these young bands that work their asses off, release a new record and are ready to take on the world, and then can’t. Habibi was another band I saw last year and was excited to see again. Their album Anywhere But Here, with its mix of ‘60s pop/surf and middle-eastern flavored psych got a lot of play during the 2500 miles I drive a week.
If you need me to explain AC/DC, Foghat, Jimmy Reed or Hank Williams’ appearances on this playlist, you’re out of luck. I had to add the Ramones at the last minute because it is NYE (plus the Stones, AC/DC and Ramones are my Holy Trinity). A sitar version of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”? Don’t worry about it. I will explain the Powersolo song from 2014; I spent a portion of this year trying to make a playlist that was the soundtrack for an imaginary movie in my head. I watched a lot of “lovers-on-the-run” movies this year: “Bonnie & Clyde”, “Gun Crazy”, “Breathless”, etc. and that was sort of the theme. I named it “You’re So Cool”, from “True Romance”. “You’re So Cool” being a note Alabama writes to Clarence in the movie, it’s also the name of the Hans Zimmer theme for the movie, which is actually Carl Orff & Gunhild Keetman’s “Musica Poetica I: Gassenhauer”, which was the main theme for Terrence Malick’s “Badlands”, another favorite LOTR movie (no not Lord of the Rings!). “Romance” director Tony Scott had Zimmer steal the music as a tribute to “Badlands”. Anyway, the Powersolo song is one that just feels like it should be in a movie. It and the Ronettes, Holly Golightly, Country Teasers and all the other out-of-place tunes came from the unfinished playlist. Maybe someday I’ll finish it. It had over a hundred songs…
So back to the Queen’s Gambit/Kink Kontroversy, because I know you wanna know… The appearance of “Stop Your Sobbing” in the series’ episode 6, where the main character and a friend are traveling in a car listening to the song, has been mentioned several times in The Kinks Official Facebook Group (run by Dave Davies’ son Christian). There were a couple of threads stating that the song, a deep cut from their 1964 debut album, was never a hit and that Top 40 dominated American AM radio would never have played that song. Although happy to hear a song by their favorite band in a TV show, some fans accused the show of taking liberty with reality and history. However, that’s not entirely true. Let me explain a couple of points: First, there were many radio DJs in the mid to late ‘60s that worked in various cities and regions of the U.S. that had developed strong local followings that allowed them to play whatever they wanted to. This was how the free-form FM formats of the ‘70s began, and one must ask how songs became hits in the first place, aside of record labels and promoters pushing them? It was the DJs with a ear for the pulse of what teenagers liked. In the mid-‘60s, even on strict AM radio, there were renegades, weirdo record-collecting DJs that got away with playing obscure, wild and crazy rock ‘n’ roll, rockabilly, R&B and anything imaginable, and YES, a three-year old deep cut from a British Invasion band. Secondly, and this is the most likely possible scenario…they were not listening to the radio! Not once in the very brief scene is it shown or acknowledged that the characters are actually listening to the radio. The scene takes place at some point in 1967, as the characters are traveling from Ohio to New York City in a Volkswagen Beetle. Let’s assume that it is an actual ‘67 Beetle. Well, pretty much all ‘67 VW models came with a stock 8-track tape player. And the Kinks first album, released in the U.S. as You Really Got Me, was released on 8-track in ‘64. Problem solved. Also, it has been reported that star Anya Taylor-Joy is a huge Kinks fan and she urged for the song’s inclusion, and there was actually a scene where the character Beth went into her obsession with the band but it was sadly cut. After all, Beth is obsessed with only two things: chess and getting loaded. Aside from all that, there’s no way Beth saw Shocking Blue on TV in ‘67 when “Venus” didn’t come out till ‘69 and didn’t hit number one in the U.S. till February 1970. And the Laura Nyro song was from ‘71.
I’ve also been listening to a lot of Nyro lately. Dork-out!
Here’s some bonus favorites of the year that didn’t make the playlist because they’re not on YouTube:
Here’s all the books I got this year that I started but haven’t finished. And then there’s all the movies…