It was surprisingly easy this year to find great songs. Figuring out which were the BEST is another story. Which songs were the most memorable? Which were the most emotional? Which were catchiest, rocked the hardest, dared to be different, and simply stood out and above the rest?
For us, the below fifty songs (released between Dec 2019 and Nov 2020) were the ones that left the biggest impact on our ears, minds and hearts. There were so many other great tracks in consideration, it was really a struggle. At the bottom of the post, you can find a playlist containing all the songs for your easy listening. We hope you listen and discover some that you’ll love too.
Top 50 Songs of 2020
- Nathan Gray – In My Defense
The hardest decision when choosing the #1 song this year was choosing between “In My Defense” and Gray’s equally great “No Way”. In the end, “In My Defense” won out, possibly just because of the lyric “I’m a work in progress indefinitely”, a universal idea that’s also instantly relatable for anyone who finds themselves taking steps towards a better version of themselves everyday. The songs has an exhilarating drive, a big anthemic chorus that is catchy as hell, but in the end it’s the song’s sentiment that truly made it the most unforgettable song of the year for me. And I will defend that to the bitter end.
2. Pearl Jam – Dance of the Clairvoyants
I was very excited to see what Pearl Jam had in store for us with their new album, but I would never have expected “Dance of the Clairvoyants”. On first listen, it’s easy to get taken off guard by the drum and bass groove that sets things up. Vedder enters the picture like a mad prophet, chanting to his flock with a zealous growl. When the angular guitars kick in during the second verse, you finds yourself moving and realize Pearl Jam may have made their first song that could actually be danced to. The multi-part, layered vocals that close out the song spiritually build like a revival of the soul, taking you into another realm. A lot has been said about its Talking Heads influence, and that’s clearly there, but “Dance of the Clairvoyants” really is just a veteran band continuing to evolve and challenge themselves with incredible results.
3. Los Coast – Untitled #2
Austin-based soul rock band Los Coast didn’t rest on the laurels of their excellent debut album. At the start of the year, they dropped “Untitled #2”, a moving, throat-wrenching soul song that stacks up with the best of the Motown legends that likely were inspiration to the band. “I know a way we can make it rain. I’ll set myself on fire, just like a fireplace” lead singer Trev Privott wails with a gravitas that many a singer twice his age still have not found. The lyrics continue to evoke gripping images (“My heart’s in a cage”) that other bands could possibly attempt but not pull off with the same amount of power and pathos.
4. Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit – Be Afraid
Jason Isbell is never afraid of speaking his mind on Twitter, and he took that fearlessness into the first single from his great album Reunions. An anthem that calls out bands and musicians who choose to stay silent instead of speaking their minds and speaking up for good causes, the song works as a rallying cry for anyone and everyone who feels scared to stand up for what they believe. “Be afraid, be very afraid, but do it anyways” is the key line – it’s okay to be scared of putting a target on yourself, but don’t let it prevent you from taking that step. One of the hardest rocking songs on his album, “Be Afraid” stands out as a great example of Isbell’s ability to meld big passionate hooks with serious substance.
5. Baby FuzZ – Weekend Blues
The first thing that will hit you about “Weekend Blues” is “those are some damn fine mariachi horns”. The project of writer/producer Brandon Lowry, Baby FuzZ‘s first single from his upcoming album may hearken you back to the 90’s, and that would be intentional as Lowry has said that OMD‘s “How Bizarre” was a big inspiration for the song. Aside from being an incredibly infectious ear worm, “Weekend Blues” also has some wonderful, tongue-in-cheek lyrical moments that are both humorous and poignant; “Tonight I’ll go down like a vagrant / On some slab of beer-stained pavement / In a pool of my own jaded rock n roll”. The song is a party song for people sick of parties, and is also one of the best underground gems of 2020.
6. Brian Fallon – 21 Days
Brian Fallon has always had the ability to conjure up feelings with his songs, even when you’re not a hundred percent sure what a song is about. Fallon’s poetic writing comes from the Dylan school of obtuse lyricism, but never hides the emotional heart at the center of his songs. In interviews, Fallon says 21 days is described as the time it takes to break a habit (in Fallon’s case, smoking), but the song at the same time also lays out the painful aftermath of a romantic break-up. However the song speak to you, the elegant acoustic arrangement, topped by Fallon’s impassioned vocals that are half longing and half reserved hope that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, will leave you undeniably affected.
7. The Fratellis – Six Days in June
British rockers The Fratellis are one of those groups that do soulful, throwback rock n’ roll so well that they make it sound easy. “Six Days in June” starts off strong, with it’s horn-laden, hand-clap ready beat and piano bounce. Once you realize though, that the pre-chorus and chorus are actually just teases, that’s when it becomes clear you’re in for a real treat. The song’s chorus becomes a pre-chorus for an even mightier, cathartic finally that will make you want to stand-up and shout along as if you’d fallen into a trance in a rock revival. An Edge-worthy guitar line and multi-layered vocals, filled with “oh yeahs”, bring the song to a triumphant conclusion that feels so good you’ll need to listen to the song again to repeat the fix.
8. Hot Mulligan – *Equip Sunglasses*
Hot Mulligan are a bunch of sarcastic, pop-punk upstarts…and they write some damn fine tunes. None more fine than this chunky scream-sung single from their latest album. One might think they are hearing some early 00’s emo on first listen – the vocals, dark lyrics (“Draw and quarter a stranger / To feel some blood on your fingers”) that come with a dash of self-deprecating humor (“woe is me!”). But then there’s the slick, angular guitar riffs, the explosive drums pummeling out a pogo beat that bleeds into a hip-shaking rhythm, and you’ll get that this isn’t a song for crying into a beer. It’s the musical equivalent of chugging said, beer, smashing the can on your head and then jumping into the throng of party goers as they crowd surf you around like a trophy. It’s a blast.
9. Grimes – Delete Forever
“Delete Forever” is not a song that captures you right off the bat. It’s an elusive song, faintly drawing you in with melancholy grace. Said to be inspired by the death of emo rapper Lil Peep, the lyrics only subtly nod to him (“Lying so awake, things I can’t escape / Lately, I just turn ’em into demons / Flowing to the sun, fucking heroin”). Grimes‘ delivery of the lyrics, at times hushed like a folk ballad, at other times rising into dance pop territory, incept their way into your consciousness, leaving you singing the lines in your head again and again before you even realize it. It’s a stunner.
10. American Studies – Panama City Blues
American Studies are not the first vinyl crate diggers to pull something out of obscurity and give it new life, but the transformation they gave Larry & the Loafers‘ 1960s minor hit song “Panama City Blues” is nothing short of a revitalization. The original song was a catchy little rock n’ roll trifle, a perfect fit for its time. The way in which electronic duo American Studies have chopped up and remixed the track have made it into a funky, dance floor jam that absolutely slaps. Just as the original could have soundtrack classic beach party movies, this reimagined version could easily be blasted over speakers during a spring break in Cabo and the party would only get rowdier.
11. Eminem – Darkness
The famed rapper spins a powerful narrative from the POV of the Las Vegas shooter, all while interpolating Simon & Garfunkel‘s “The Sound of Silence”. The results are devastating.
12. All Time Low – Safe
A hopeful yet melancholic pop-punk escape ballad perfect for open road driving.
13. Machine Gun Kelly – Why Are You Here
Prior to dropping his great pop-punk debut Tickets to My Downfall, MGK dropped this harrowing rock track about a secret, dirty relationship that neither party can acknowledge
14. The Streets – Conspiracy Theory Freestyle
A haunting plea for breaking out of a downward spiral from one of England’s rap-poet laureates.
15. Jackson Browne – A Little Soon to Say
Browne remains a master of the folk rock ballad, and this timely hold-out for hope hits a number of emotional notes.
16. The Chicks – Gaslighter
The Chicks returned with this scathing indictment of an ex that once again shows off the group’s storytelling and way around a chorus that surpasses the country niche.
17. Idles – Model Village
Who knew hardcore could be this fun? It can be when it’s from this heralded English band.
18. Childish Gambino – 35.31
A syrupy sweet dance pop nugget off Gambino’s surprise album from earlier this year.
19. Butch Walker – Out in the Open
One heart wrenching piece from Walker’s rocker opera opus, that comes with the year’s best guitar solo.
20. Bob Mould – American Crisis
Searing punk rage from a long-time master of it.
21. Northcote – Dancers and Queens
A song for living free, with a bridge that will gut you as you sing along.
22. R.A. The Rugged Man – Golden Oldies (feat. Atmosphere & Eamon)
A humorous look at aging as a rapper and being completely okay with it. Also marks a welcome hook from Eamon!
23. Donovan Woods – Grew Apart
A painful look at the conflict between how a relationship falls apart, and what we say to people about how it ended.
24. Incubus – On Without Me
The California band returns with an incisive look at moving on to a new chapter of life after a break-up.
25. The Airborne Toxic Event – All These Engagements
Multilayered, 80’s tinged rock drama that crescendos to towering heights.
26. Matthew Good – One of Them Years
The title really says it all – a moody rock burner that fits 2020 perfectly.
27. 24kGoldn – Mood (feat. Iann Dior)
Two young alternative rappers create the catchiest crossover hit of the year.
28. Fitness – Keep it Good
This alternative indie duo are keeping it really good with this latest single.
29. Peach Tree Rascals – Things Won’t Go My Way
Rising alt. pop group are having things go their way thanks to catchy new songs like this.
30. Mercy Union – Totem
Memorable soulful punk tune from one of our Bad Ass Break-Out artists.
31. Brian Dunne – Getting Wrecked on Election Day
A song we definitely all needed leading up to the crazy election this year.
32. Phoebe Bridgers – Kyoto
Bridgers deals with her broken relationship with her father while touring Japan on this horn-laden, incendiary folk rock bop.
33. Imogen Clark – My Own Worst Enemy
A thrilling throwback to catchy 90’s pop rock from Australian songwriter.
34. Corey Taylor – Black Eyes Blue
Amazing melodic hard rock single from debut solo album of Slipknot‘s Taylor.
35. Hum – Step Into You
If you’re going to take a 22 year hiatus between records, you better have a song as good as this chugging, atmospheric rock song when you return.
36. Jefferson Starship – It’s About Time
An anthem for change and hopes for putting more women in charge – hopefully Kamala is singing along to this in the White House next year!
37. Joyner Lucas – Devil’s Work
Scorching confrontation with God over the voices he’s taken from us, and a dire plea to trade them for some of the a**holes he’s left alive.
38. Gus Dapperton – Medicine
Dapperton’s track asks the important question; what happens when what’s used to help fix you ends up becoming as big of a problem as what you had to begin with?
39. Bruce Springsteen – Ghosts
The Boss pays homage to those he’s lost, while finding life-affirming reason to keep going.
40. Radnor & Lee – Outside In
A smart, bright piece of folk pop from the duo of actor Josh Radnor and Aussie indie songwriter Ben Lee.
41. Big Boi – Can’t Sleep (feat. Sleepy Brown)
Emotional, rap/R&B track about a troubled girls ruining their lives partying and instagramming all the wrong things.
42. Yungblud – Weird!
UK rocker captures the mood of 2020 perfectly, “it’s a weird time of life”.
43. Coheed and Cambria – Jessie’s Girl 2 (feat. Rick Springfield)
C&C bring us what we didn’t know we needed; a dark sequel to the 80’s hit “Jessie’s Girl”, with Rick Springfield along for the ride.
44. Ruston Kelly – Radio Cloud
However you interpret the lyrics of the track, it’s still an easy one to singalong to and one of Kelly’s most memorable.
45. Toots & The Maytals – Just Brutal
The only thing more brutal than this jaunty reggae/R&B look at the horrible treatment of black people since being brought over as slaves, is having lost Toots Hibbert to Covid just weeks after his latest album dropped.
46. Elvis Costello – No Flag
Costello sounds sharper and angrier than he has in years on this biting post-punk banger.
47. Buzzcocks – Gotta Get Better
Despite the loss of singer Pete Shelley, the Buzzcocks came back with this positively hopeful punk nugget.
48. Travis Barker – Forever (feat. Run the Jewels)
It was almost impossible to pick the highlight from RtJ’s amazing album this year, and then Travis Barker came along and made an unforgettable track with the rap duo that couldn’t be ignored.
49. Hotel Mira – Son-in-Law
Ebullient synth rock with a crazy-catchy chorus from rising Canadian band.
50. Thomas Newman – Come Back to Us
One of the most beautiful sections from the amazing score to the powerful film 1917.
Find the complete playlist here!