2020 was the year when the world stopped. Travel, sports, concerts, theatre, in-person teaching and learning, dining out, and so much more were shuttered as the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, pandemic spread across the globe, causing life as we know it to suddenly disappear. 2020 was also the year of massive political and social unrest, including a very divisive presidential election and nationwide protests over the treatment of Black Americans by police in some municipalities. 2020 was also the year of massive and destructive wildfires in California, the largest in recorded modern history.
2020 certainly wasn’t a “kind” year, but it was a year where people were forced to take a step back, and reevaluate and appreciate the small things. And, of course, there were still plenty of good songs to accompany us on the challenging journey that was 2020! As always (well, since 1995!), I kept a list of my 10 favorite songs each week, songs that kept me engaged, and often comforted, during the sometimes isolating and scary moments of the year 2020. The countdown below ranks my Top 40 favorite songs of 2020, in reverse order, starting at Number 40 and going all the way to the Number One position! So, without further ado, let the countdown begin!
#40. All Good Girls Go To Hell Billie Eilish It’s only fitting that the top female artist of the year for the last two years, as well as the artist who had the #1 song of 2019 with Bad Guy, kicks off the Top 40 of the year 2020! And, the song title seems so apropos for the year of 2020 as well. Although, for what it’s worth, I think it felt like we were ALL going to Hades in a hand basket! In any case, Billie’s whispering singing style contributes nicely to the feelings of uneasiness in the song. It may not be true that all good girls go to hell, but it is true that Billie took them to #3 on my weekly charts early in the year 2020! This is the first of four appearances by Billie in my year-end countdown, and her only song that didn’t reach Number One on my weekly charts.
#39. Rain On Me Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande With the current drought conditions in California, and wildfires of biblical proportions this past year, one might have hoped this song title could have been realized in our parched golden state! Unfortunately it was not, as much of our state is still longing for a “real winter” with rain and snow and all that jazz, but at least we had enjoyable songs such as this one to keep us satisfied during the challenges of 2020. Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande took their rain dance to #5 on my weekly charts, but it had enough chart power and total weeks on the chart to rank #39 for the year!
#38. Memories Maroon 5 Maroon 5 continue to make memories on the charts, this year at #38 with the aptly-titled “Memories.” Their previous memory was just two years ago, in 2018, when they had the #5 hit for the entire year with Girls Like You. With the memories that many folks accumulated for 2020 however, perhaps these memories might be better forgotten?
#37. The Greatest Lana Del Rey Just one year ago, Lana was Doin’ Time at #5 for the entire year of 2019! Yet another single, released in early 2020, from the critically-acclaimed album, Norman (expletive!) Rockwell, showed she really is “The Greatest.” The song just missed being the greatest on the weekly charts, peaking at #2 in the winter of 2020. If you are a fan of Lana, it’s definitely another song worth checking out!
#36. Push Through Frontiers All Stars In the year that we’ve just experienced, sometimes it felt like the best we could do is simply “push through.” And the Frontiers All Stars, a collection of rock artists on the Frontiers music label, turned that feeling into a song that was rather motivating during many of the challenging days of 2020! There is often a lack of rock music on the pop charts these days, so this song is a nice change of pace to the often overproduced auto-tune sound. And, it’s a good reminder to keep pushing through!
#35. Boyfriend Selena Gomez Although Billie Eilish has four songs in my year-end Top 40, Selena Gomez isn’t far behind with three appearances! Her first appearance is with Boyfriend, whom she took to #3 on the weekly charts in the spring of 2020. Just like Selena’s other singles, this song is fun to jam along to, something we certainly needed this year!
#34. Only Human Jonas Brothers Speaking of songs that are fun to jam along to, the Jonas Brothers definitely have that dialed in with their song Only Human! This song danced its way to #3 on my weekly charts in the winter of 2020, as well as into the hearts of its many fans!
#33. Forever After All Luke Combs So far, pop, dance, and rock music have been represented in the countdown, so now it’s time for a little country! Luke Combs’ emotionally-touching recent hit is currently at #3 on the weekly charts, and still in the midst of its chart run, but with enough points to rank at #33 for the entire year of 2020! Once the pandemic restrictions have lifted, it’s inevitable that this song will get played at many weddings, forever after all!
#32. Dance Again Selena Gomez Songs about picking up the pieces and moving on may sometimes feel cliche, but in the year we’ve just experienced, they were certainly most welcome! Selena provided that welcome respite with a song encouraging us to "dance again." Even though there are so many challenges right now, there are still so many reasons to dance again, even if it’s just to burn off a few pandemic calories! Selena just missed taking this “dance” to Number One, peaking at #2 in the spring of 2020!
#31. Slick Herb Alpert featuring Jeff Lorber Herb continues to be unstoppable on my year-end charts! Just last year, Herb placed at #22 for the year with Skinny Dip. Without missing a beat, he was back in 2020 in a collaboration with Jeff Lorber that peaked at #3 in the summer of 2020 and ends up as the #31 hit of the year. Herb’s music continues to be fresh and inventive, yet always includes that traditional Tijuana Brass sound, reminiscent of when he first started his career back in the mid-1960s. Before the world shut down, I was fortunate enough to see him in concert, and look forward to the day when I can see him again! Highly recommended!
#30. Kings and Queens Ava Max Talk about your pop music royalty! Ava Max gave us just what the doctor ordered with Kings and Queens! This song kicks off my Top 30 of the year 2020 after peaking at #3 earlier this autumn, and still on my weekly charts! Ava Max appears to have taken music lessons from Lady Gaga, as this song contains similar production qualities. But, Lady Gaga was busy producing her own music in 2020, with her earlier appearance on my countdown, and another one coming up later, which is really not that “stupid!”
#29. Letter To You Bruce Springsteen Now it’s time to transition from today’s pop, to classic rock, where Bruce Springsteen occupies the #29 slot with his Letter To You. Some critics have described this song as a letter from Bruce to his fans. Whether that’s true or not, it’s definitely a heartfelt and contemplative song by a master storyteller. Bruce last appeared on my year-end countdown in 1997, with his song featured on the Jerry Maguire soundtrack, Secret Garden, which was the #2 single of the entire year!
#28. Ordinary Man Ozzy Osbourne featuring Elton John From classic rock to classic metal? Well, this artist is best known for his heavy metal band, Black Sabbath, back in the 1970s, but this song, Ordinary Man, is definitely a much more laid-back affair! Much like the previous song at #29, by Bruce Springsteen, this song is also rather contemplative, and a look back on a long and illustrious career. But, what makes this song doubly good, is the appearance of Sir Elton John, who has also had a rather storied career! There aren’t a lot of piano-driven ballads in this year's countdown, but this one is highly recommended, and generates a lot of feelings that many of us can relate to, even if we aren’t quite as “famous” as Ozzy or Elton! And there certainly is nothing ordinary about these two gentlemen, nor this song, which spent two weeks at #2 in the late winter of 2020.
#27. Watermelon Sugar Harry Styles As this blog is written in late December 2020, with temperatures around 38°F, and dense fog hanging in the air, that watermelon sugar of summer sounds so enticing! This song is positively infectious! Oops, in this year, I guess “infectious” is a poor choice of words, Let’s just say it’s a sweet tune that leaves one satisfied! Watermelon Sugar spent two weeks at #2 in late summer 2020.
#26. Dance Monkey Tones and I Various musicians over the years have used pseudonyms that make them sound like they are a group instead of an individual. New Radicals and Five for Fighting are a couple of examples from the late 1990s and early 2000s. Australian Toni Watson continues that tradition with her Tones and I naming convention. Toni took her fun and quirky song all the way to Number One on my first weekly countdown of 2020! That’s the good news, but Dance Monkey also has the dubious distinction of being the lowest ranked Number One song on my year-end countdown. That’s partially due to the fact that some of its chart points actually occurred in the previous year of 2019, where it ranked at #40 for 2019! Dance Monkey in two year-end countdowns...that’s bananas!
#25. Caution The Killers The Killers last appeared at #23 on my year-end chart of 2017 with The Man. They came back with a vengeance in 2020, landing three songs in my Top 40, including Caution, the first single from their latest album which peaked at #3 on my weekly charts in the spring of 2020, and spent 12 total weeks on the chart. Caution includes all the trademark sounds and larger than life lyrics of The Killers, greatly satisfying fans of the Las Vegas band. Caution is one of their three appearances on my year-end chart that gives them the distinction of being the biggest group of 2020!
#24. Shameika Fiona Apple The 1990s called, and they said you need an injection of good music! Fiona Apple answered the call and was certainly up to the task in 2020 with her critically acclaimed new album, Fetch The Bolt Cutters, and her single Shameika! This song has elements of Tori Amos in it, along with Fiona’s wonderful energy and zaniness, and it is positively fantastic. It’s a shame it didn’t get more exposure and radio airplay, but maybe it can be a wonderful little secret we can share? And if you’re having a bad day, or feeling less than productive, just remember, Shameka said you have potential! And yes, the song will get in your head, and not easily escape. I apologize. Fiona debuted and spent a week at Number One, with a total of ten weeks on the charts, in the spring of 2020 with the tune.
#23. Therefore I Am Billie Eilish Earlier I mentioned how Dance Monkey ended up charting lower than other Number One songs due to its appearance late in the chart year and crossing over to the next year. Well, that dilemma is not faced by Tones and I alone! Billie Eilish also has that issue with her current single, Therefore I Am. Although the single has already spent three weeks at Number One, it has only been on my weekly charts for 5 total weeks, thus not having accumulated enough chart points to rank higher than #23 for the year. But, don’t feel too badly for Billie! She will likely appear in next year’s countdown with the same tune, and she is still the top artist of the last two years! Plus, she was able to explore a vacant shopping mall and enjoy a hot dog on a stick without fighting any crowds. Win win! P.S. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, check out the video for the song!
#22. Do You Feel La Roux In 2020, there was a foursome of artists with three songs each in my year-end chart! Billie Eilish, Selena Gomez, and The Killers shared this distinction with Elly Jackson of La Roux. La Roux was last in my year-end countdown with Let Me Down Gently, which was the 25th biggest hit of 2014. Do You Feel features a mid-tempo production, unlike her big hit from 2010, Bulletproof, which really allows Elly’s vocals to shine. And, although this song only went to #4, it spent five weeks there, with a total of 12 weeks on my charts back in the late winter of 2020, allowing it to rank at #22 for the entire year of 2020!
#21. Gullible Fool La Roux And, look at that, La Roux outdo themselves by appearing one notch higher with Gullible Fool! And, unlike their song at #22, this one spent less time on my weekly charts (only 9 weeks total), but went all the way to Number One for two weeks. This song features a production quality that certainly resonates with any of us that grew up listening to and appreciating 1980s music. And, the storyline about being a gullible fool in a past relationship is one that many can relate to as well, but Elly makes it sound so much better than it actually feels!
#20. Moral of the Story Ashe Drumroll please! We are now in the Top 20 of the year 2020! And I guess if you add the Bottom 20 to the Top 20, that would be the 2020 of 2020, right? Or am I over thinking this? Or more likely, under thinking? In any case, Moral of the Story is fabulous! It’s always interesting how one is exposed to new music, and I first heard this song on a mental wellness radio commercial sponsored by medical provider Kaiser Permanente! It’s a quirky song by an artist named Ashe, with whom I was completely unfamiliar, but this song has quickly grown on me, debuting in November, with six weeks on the chart to date, and two of those weeks at Number One. The moral of the story? Allow yourself to explore new music wherever and whenever you can!
#19. Give it Up Jay R. Stephens The song at #19 for the year of 2020 is a little musical gem I discovered listening to the online radio station, Humboldt 101, which primarily plays nostalgic instrumental music and standards from yesteryear. On the weekends, Humboldt 101 often plays more current light light rock and adult contemporary tunes. The song, Give It Up, was featured on one of The Saturday Night Music Party shows hosted by program director Ken Conlin. Ken was very enthusiastic about the tune, and the reasons were clear; it’s a great upbeat tune that doesn’t sound like anything else out there right now. The song debuted at Number One on my charts during the summer of 2020, spending two non-consecutive weeks there, with a total of nine weeks on my weekly charts. Ken, thanks for the introduction to a song that made 2020 a little more bearable!
#18. Living In A Ghost Town The Rolling Stones When the pandemic shut down first occurred in the middle of March, everywhere was looking a bit like a ghost town. Many central business districts and downtown areas were all but abandoned, with some buildings boarded up, and everything seeming a bit surreal. Many of us suddenly started spending a lot more time at home, in some cases alone, and music was one of the few sources of escape. The Rolling Stones were one of the first groups to deliver a single that seem to sum up the current situation well, Living In A Ghost Town. The classic Rolling Stones sound dominating the song was a welcome comfort in the challenging year, and showed us that no matter how tough times were feeling, Mick Jagger and the rest of the band would continue to endure and entertain us! The song spent 11 weeks on my chart, with one week at Number One in the spring of 2020.
#17. My Resolve Bruce Hornsby and James Mercer It was the year of Bruce reunions in the 2020 year-end countdown! Bruce Springsteen, whose Letter To You was #29 for 2020, was joined by fellow Bruce, Bruce Hornsby at #17 with My Resolve. It’s a simply fantastic song made even better with vocal assist by James Mercer of The Shins. The song spent three non-consecutive weeks at Number One on my countdown over the summer of 2020. Bruce’s last appearance was 16 years ago, on my 2004 year-end countdown at #39 with Gonna Be Some Changes Made. Welcome back, Bruce!
#16. My Future Billie Eilish Billie’s third of four appearances is at #16 with My Future. In the song, she discusses how much she is looking forward to a bright and positive future. We could certainly use more of that optimism, especially after “surviving” a year like 2020! Often, Billie’s songs are sarcastic and dark, so this was an interesting change, especially considering the dark times. Perhaps Billie is “punking” us? The song spent two weeks at Number One, and 15 total weeks on the chart during the summer.
#15. No Time To Die Billie Eilish James Bond was “scheduled” to be at the movies this year, but alas, a little pandemic came along and spoiled that plan! Even 007 couldn’t save us from COVID! Even without the release of the latest Bond movie, however, the theme song by Billie Eilish was released, becoming her biggest hit of 2020 at #15 for 2020. The song is dark and haunting, with Billie’s whispered vocals perfectly complementing the feel of a classic Bond track. It is definitely one of the better Bond singles of the last 20 years, spending 10 total weeks on my countdown with two weeks at Number One in the spring.
#14. Rare Selena Gomez Whether Selena sings on a heavily produced song or a stripped down one, as she does on Rare, her vocal style shines. Once again, Selena does not disappoint on a song that is “rare” for all the right reasons. Her songs continue to be a true “treat” in the pop music landscape. Selena’s highest ranked song of 2020 spent two weeks at Number One and 10 total weeks on my charts in late winter.
#13. Love You For A Long Time Maggie Rogers She sounds so much like Sara Bareilles, but she’s not! In any case, Maggie Rogers provided some much needed pretty folk music to the early part of 2020. The song is simple and sweet and gets in your head...in a good way! When the song was charting back in January and February, all was still “well” in our world, but the song provided even more comfort after the pandemic commenced. The song got a strong start on my charts, spending three weeks at Number One, with 10 total weeks gracing my charts!
#12. My Own Soul's Warning The Killers The highest placing non-#1 song of 2020 is the #12 song by The Killers, My Own Soul’s Warning. The song, still on my weekly charts, spent three weeks at #2, with 15 weeks currently under its belt! It’s yet another song with that classic “Killers sound,” and is the second of three appearances for 2020 by the top group of the year on my chart!
#11. Stupid Love Lady Gaga Last year Lady Gaga just missed the Number One spot with the #2-placing Always Remember Us This Way. This year, she just missed the Top 10 for 2020 with the #11-placing Stupid Love. It seems like she is overdue for the “top prize,” but alas, not this year! Stupid Love is unabashedly pop and dance music, unlike her songs in 2019. We all needed some escapist fare in 2020, and Lady Gaga delivered! It only spent one week at Number One, but with a long 15 total weeks on my chart!
#10. Too Far Boulevards and La Roux We’re already in the Top 10 of 2020! Kicking off the Top 10 is an artist that goes by the pseudonym, Boulevards, along with the third, and highest chart appearance of La Roux in 2020! I first discovered this song from the La Roux Facebook page...it’s "different,” and in a good way. There is a soulful and pop feel to the song, which works rather well. Too Far spent three weeks at Number One and 11 total weeks on my chart in the spring of 2020.
#9. I'm Alive Norah Jones Welcome back, Norah Jones! She last entertained on my charts back in 2012, with the #23 Happy Pills. We could all have used more of “those” pills in 2020! This year, she was back, sounding as good as ever on the stripped-down and folksy I’m Alive, which allows her voice to be the star of the show. Good stuff...and with a perfect title for a pandemic year. I’m Alive started out the gate at Number One, spent an additional week there, with 13 total lucky weeks on the chart!
#8. More Love Sara Bareilles Sara Bareilles is taking up permanent residence in the Top 10...at least for two years now! Last year, her Saint Honesty was the #7 song of 2019, and this year, More Love lands just one notch lower at #8. The song debuted at Number One, stayed there for two weeks, and accumulated 11 total weeks on my chart. Sara never disappoints with her music, and this song is no exception to that rule!
#7. Bluebird Miranda Lambert The “lucky seven” spot belongs to country artist Miranda Lambert with her song about a “bluebird,” or at least a symbolic one! Songs about breaking free from our own personal cages are generally popular, but even more so during a lockdown pandemic! This song hit Number One for two weeks in the summer of 2020 with a lengthy 15 week run.
#6. Fire In Bone The Killers Consider the following: Roxy Music. Peter Gabriel. David Bowie. These are some of the musician comparisons made when describing The Killers’ top song of 2020, Fire In Bone. It’s synth-driven goodness that sounds like it would have been right at home on the radio in 1983. Some critics didn’t like it, saying it was “too derivative,” or attempting to do “too much.” I disagree. The Killers took a risk with the song, and it paid off well. Fire In Bone spent three weeks at Number One and a total of 12 weeks on the chart, including two weeks at Number Two as well.
#5. Power Ellie Goulding Just like Sara Bareilles, Ellie Goulding has also taken up residence in the Top 10 of my year-end countdown for two years now. In 2019, she was in the Top 3 with Flux. In 2020, she landed only two slots lower, at #5 with Power. For fans of Ellie’s earlier work, Power is a good song that you will likely enjoy. It’s not overly-produced, allowing Ellie’s vocals to take center stage. Although it only spent a solitary week at Number One, it spent four additional weeks at Number Two, and a total of 14 weeks on my chart.
#4. Say So Doja Cat Well, The Killers have the 1980s covered, while Fiona Apple has the 1990s taken care of. That leaves the 1970s, which Doja Cat has all wrapped up. Say So sounds like it could have been a top hit in the disco era of 1977. It’s well-produced, funky, and different! If you are ready for a flashback song that is actually new, Doja Cat delivers! Just like several other songs in the Top 10, this one also spent only one week at Number One, but settled in for a long 17 total weeks on my chart in the spring.
#3. If The World Was Ending JP Saxe featuring Julia Michaels This song is about an earthquake and the aftereffects on a couple struggling with their feelings for each other, especially when it feels like everything is crumbling around them. Although it’s not about the pandemic, it took on new meaning and relevance as a result of COVID. I discovered the song early this past autumn, even though it had been released about a year prior in 2019. JP and Julia’s vocals work really well with each other; there is a tenderness and vulnerability in their vocals that really helps to deliver the message of the song home. The song is still on my charts, with 15 total weeks thus far, including three weeks at Number One.
#2. Blinding Lights The Weeknd This was easily the most “ubiquitous” song of 2020...it was basically inescapable for most of the year of 2020, after being released early in the year. The Weeknd gives us that 1980s synth pop sheen and production quality on this one. It’s one of those songs that sounds really good while driving down the highway...late at night when traffic is virtually non-existent. Trust me on this one. This was the top Billboard Hot 100 hit of 2020. It had the longest run of any song on my year end countdown, at 24 total weeks, and four weeks at Number One. The Weeknd is also the top male artist on my 2020 chart!
#1 Cardigan Taylor Swift People needed comfort in 2020. Things were scary, with everything shutting down, daily routines being changed or disrupted entirely, and no certainty as to when conditions might begin to “normalize.” For many, the comfort came in the form of music, especially in the form of a well-worn, soft, and reliable cardigan sweater! Taylor Swift provided that sweater in this moody, atmospheric, and intriguing song that gently pulls the listener in to its world. It’s a song that really grows with each listen, with new insights and discoveries occurring each time. 2020 provided plenty of time to really step back and reflect on the little things, and this song is a perfect opportunity with which to do some of that reflection. Debuting in the summer of 2020, Cardigan has spent a total of six non-consecutive weeks at Number One, and 21 total weeks on my chart thus far. It’s a song that provides comfort and complexity, certainty and uncertainty...much like the year of 2020 itself. And, for those keeping track at home, it should be noted that Taylor had the Number One song on my countdown for the entire year of 2018, just two years ago, with Delicate!
For you Spotify users, the Smiles Show Top 40 of 2020 is also available as a playlist at https://open.spotify.com/playlist/49cCOraTMTGjx8mIZDA3wX
And there you go! The Top 40 songs of 2020 on the Smiles Music Countdown is a wrap! As always, I welcome your thoughts and feedback at email@example.com .
What songs kept you moving and grooving in this strange year of 2020? Are there any new songs I should be checking out? I’m all ears...