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2021: A Musical Journey with The Smiles Countdown!

I started this blog in late December 2021, while vacationing on the central California coast, and the greater Los Angeles area. It was nice to get away for a few days, even if the weather in Southern California was nearly identical to that in Northern California, with lots of rain and cool temperatures. But, I can’t complain since our Golden State so desperately needs the precipitation, and the wet weather “gently encouraged” me to write this blog. That being said, please send all feedback regarding the blog to Mother Nature!

Now, get the hook, get me off the stage, and without further ado, let’s start the countdown!

#40. Rodriguez For A Night David Crosby One of the things I love about doing my annual countdown is that I am never sure how songs will “land” on the chart and what their placement will be relative to one another. This year, there’s a bit of a time warp with the first three songs ranking #40 through #38, with artists and groups who first made it big in the 1960s and 1970s. The song at #40 is classic David Crosby but it’s a new song, which makes it all the more special! Seems like this would have been right at home on classic rock stations, but alas, they don’t take a chance playing new songs from vintage artists. #39. Don't Shut Me Down ABBA With the song at #39, if you close your eyes, you might just feel a bit like a dancing queen! Well, we never want to shut that feeling down, and ABBA are back to ensure we don’t! It’s the “classic ABBA sound,“ and not really much different from their last set of tunes from 1980. If you like that sound, you will appreciate their “new” music, but if you were hoping they might have incorporated more modern elements in their songs, you might be a bit disappointed!

#38. Find My Way Paul McCartney Sir Paul never disappoints, and that’s true on this tune as well! He is still in fine vocal form; for an added treat, check out the video of the song produced by Beck! It is definitely a bit trippy! There is no doubt that Paul is always helping each of us “find our way!” #37. Merry Christmas Ed Sheeran and Elton John This is the lowest ranked #1 song of the year on my year-end countdown, but to be fair, it’s a seasonal tune, which seriously limits it’s potential for chart longevity! But, there’s no doubt that pairing up Sir Elton John with Ed Sheeran would be a winning combination, and that is so vocally true on this fun holiday tune! #36. The Tipping Point Tears For Fears Tears For Fears have never been on my year-end countdown until now! But, for the record, I only started doing this in 1995, and this is their first release I’ve heard since then! It’s a subdued tune, but it grows on you with each listen…and then you reach the “tipping point!” #35. Lost Cause Billie Eilish Lost cause? I don’t think so! Billie continued to take up regular residency on my weekly charts for a good portion of 2021. Some of her songs have more a more serious “message” or “tone;” this song eschews that for a more light and fun adventure. #34. Higher Power Coldplay “Power” was a frequent theme on this year’s countdown, with Coldplay doing their part with a “higher power!” This song powered up to #3 on my weekly charts, and had enough chart power to rank at #34 for the entire year. It features that “classic” Coldplay sound, which always seems to resonate with their fans! #33. All Too Well (Taylor's Version) Taylor Swift Talk about ambitious! Taylor was in a legal battle over who “owned” the rights to her music. One way to resolve that? Re-record her entire catalog! And that’s just what she did, re-recording and releasing new versions of her music throughout 2021. This particular song is definitely “all country,” and it is sounding as good as ever! Some of her fans prefer her pop sound, while others prefer her initial country roots. And then there are some of us who like all of her music, regardless of genre! This is the first of Taylor’s three appearances on my year end chart, and the only one not to reach #1, peaking at #2 for 2 weeks in the fall of 2021. #32. Bite Me Avril Lavigne Having a bad day? Feeling 90s nostalgic? Avril has you covered! We’ve been missing that “attitude” on the charts for awhile, but Avril picked right up where she left off with Girlfriend back in 2007. If you sing along with this song, you will feel better; it’s cathartic in a good way! This song debuted and peaked at #2 in the fall of 2021! Note: Some explicit language in song/video.

#31. Last Train Home John Mayer So many artists were making a return to the charts, at least my charts, in 2021! John Mayer was back after a long absence, with this tune. It seems like it would’ve been perfectly at home back on pop stations back in the 1980s, featuring a Steve Winwood “feel.” As always, this tune features impeccable songwriting and production quality, as is featured on each of John Mayer’s hits. And, it also shares the same title as a song by the Pat Metheny Group that I really enjoy as well, and it’s also worth checking out! But, be forewarned that was not a hit on my chart of 2021! But, for what it’s worth, I guess you could say that songs about trains definitely do not derail on my charts! John’s latest song has already spent 2 weeks at #1 on my charts, right before Christmas. #30. Whatever You Want Crowded House I want to keep the 80s alive, and that’s so true on this next song by the group Crowded House. People often pigeonhole these groups into the decade of the 80s, but they are still alive and well, thank you very much, and continuing to produce great music, such as this song at #30 on my year-end countdown! If you enjoy their 80s music, I think you will enjoy this latest tune from them as well. Give it a whirl, you won’t be disappointed! #29. My Cleveland Heart Jackson Browne This is a fabulous song by a legendary artist, who first made it big in the 1970s, and continues to produce great music to this day! The accompanying video is also pretty entertaining, and just slightly disturbing with a dissected heart in a medical setting! The song and video also features folk artist Phoebe Bridgers, as an added treat. Whether your heart is in Cleveland, or with Jackson Browne, this tune rocks! #28. Therefore I Am Billie Eilish Songs that get released toward the end of a calendar year often don’t place as high on a year-end countdown, as some of their chart points are counted in one year, while the remaining points are counted in the next. But, these late year songs have the advantage of appearing on two year-end countdowns, and this song by Billie Eilish is a great example of that. In 2020, this song was at #23, while this year it ends up at #28. This is the only song in the 2021 year-end countdown that also appeared on the 2020 year-end countdown.

#27. Invisible Duran Duran This group was absent from my chart for the past 16 years, thus the song title is most appropriate for their return! Duran Duran last appeared on my year-end charts at #14 in 2005 with their tune What Happens Tomorrow; this year they returned to my chart with a heavier production and darker sound. One thing that could be said for Duran Duran is that they are constantly reinventing, experimenting, and trying out new sounds. Perhaps that recipe doesn’t work for everyone, but it does keep their catalog interesting and always engaging! This song spent 1 week at #2 in the summer of 2021. #26. The Way We Used To Be Journey Journey often get pigeonholed as having had only one big hit in the early 1980s with Don’t Stop Believin', but their catalog is so much more substantial than that one tune! If you like their 80s sound, you probably often wish things could be like they used to be, and Journey definitely re-creates that sound with this new tune! Surprisingly, the tune got no radio airplay, with the exception of minimal exposure on SiriusXM. For all of us living through the pandemic, the accompanying video is also a comfort and treat! Steve Perry may no longer be with the band, but lead singer Arnel Pineda is doing a great job keeping the signature sound alive and well! This song debuted and peaked at #2 on my weekly charts in the summer of 2021. #25. Levitating Dua Lipa Last year, several people asked me why Dua Lipa had yet to appear on one of my countdown lists. Well, I hope you’re happy this year, as two of her songs made it into my year-end Top 40! The first of her two songs, should have been the higher ranked tune based on the title alone! But, don’t feel too badly for Dua, as this tune was the #1 hit of the year on the Billboard Hot 100! This ear worm “levitated” to #2 on my weekly charts in the winter of 2021.

#24. Ghosts Bruce Springsteen Bruce Springsteen has been taking up regular residency on my charts the last couple of years, with the first of this year’s two appearances featuring a storyline about remembering those who have passed. With all that’s happened the last couple of years, this song seems more poignant than ever. The song is more about celebrating, as opposed to mourning, the lives of those who have added so much to our lives. Although this song only reached #3 on my weekly charts, its long chart run ensured a higher year end placement.

#23. You All Over Me (Taylor's Version) Taylor Swift featuring Maren Morris This song could be renamed “you all over the charts!” Taylor has spent a solid decade on my year-end charts now, with most of those songs going all the way to #1 on my weekly charts, including this one. This is a straightforward country song that really lets Taylor’s vocals shine. Great lyrics and production quality make this a winner. Listen to it while cuddling up with the one you love!

#22. Stoned At The Nail Salon Lorde Lana Del Rey has become another regular resident on my year-end countdowns. This year she has two songs in my Top 10, but her influence seems be evident on this song by Lorde. This is the first of two appearances by Lorde on my year-end countdown and is a sultry, laid-back tune that paints a vivid picture of all that is going on at said nail salon. Of course, there’s also some figurative and metaphoric language going on as well, and that’s for you to figure out! This song spent 2 weeks at #1 on my chart in the fall of 2021. #21. Colorado Milky Chance Location, location, location! It’s so critical in the world of real estate, and I guess it’s also critical to the success of this song on my chart! The first time I heard this song I was at a work conference in the state of Colorado, so it really resonated with me immediately. It was fun listening to it while traversing and walking Pearl Street in Boulder! But, I apologize to those who had to endure my singing of it when my headphones were in! This is the first time that the group Milky Chance has appeared on one of my charts. The song grew on me quickly, making it all the way to #1 for a week in the fall of 2021. And, this is also a perfect time to do a shout out to my sister, brother-in-law, and my nieces, Riley and Reese, and my nephew, Rowan, who live in Colorado…praying that the snow gods will be in your favor soon, with no more wild fire risk! #20. Officer Of Love Caamp I am not sure whether or not this particular officer requires any type of special salute or uniform, but I’m sure the perks are fabulous! This laid-back alt rock tune spent a long 16 weeks on my weekly charts, peaking at #3 in the early spring of 2021. It’s a rather groovy tune that seems like it would be most appropriately played from a VW van, on the beach, with the sun going down. But, its use does not have to be limited to this one setting, and your mileage may vary! #19. Leave The Door Open Bruno Mars, Anderson .Paak, Silk Sonic The 1970s called, and are excited to be represented on the year-end Smiles countdown! I love hearing songs that reflect back to the past, while still being decidedly new and fresh. No auto-tune here! This is real music, created by real musicians, and reflects the love of real music! This song popped out of the gate at #1 on my weekly countdown back in the spring of 2021! #18. Bang! AJR Well, if you close the door that was left open in the previous song it will make a loud “bang,” right!!? It’s always cool seeing how songs land on my year-end charts; it’s not by “design,” it’s just a chart muse having some fun with me! There aren’t a lot of songs that I would describe as a “ditty,” but that word just seems to fit for this tune. It’s catchy, fun, and decidedly different from the other songs out there. This ditty spent 2 weeks at #1 in the winter of 2021. #17. Cold Heart (PNAU Remix) Elton John and Dua Lipa Can’t decide which one of Elton John’s songs is your favorite? Well, this song has you covered! Whether you prefer sir Elton from the 1970s, or the 1980s, this song features audio from each of those decades. But, you say you also want a contemporary artist to be featured? Your demands are specific, but Dua Lipa is up to the task of meeting and exceeding that requirement! In any case, this song is catchy, fun, and a great way to get Sir Elton John back on the Billboard Hot 100 again! This is the biggest #3 peaking hit on my ear and countdown, having enjoyed a lengthy 16 week stay on my charts in 2021! #16. Drivers License Olivia Rodrigo Olivia Rodrigo was all over the radio and airwaves in 2021! This song, creating analogies between getting a drivers license, and the independence associated with that, and the dissolution of a relationship resonated with many. It’s a song that starts slowly and quietly, and builds to the dramatic crescendo at the end, creating the necessary conflict that is reflected in the lyrics. Well, at least that’s how I read it! In any case, this song spent a week at #1 on my weekly charts in early spring 2021. Note: Some explicit language in song/video. #15. Dustland The Killers featuring Bruce Springsteen The Killers were all over my year-end chart in 2020 with 3 song appearances! Although they only had one appearance this year, it was in a really special duet featuring the legendary Bruce Springsteen sharing vocals with Brandon Flowers! This song has a magical quality about it, and invites comparisons between the musical stylings of The Killers and Bruce Springsteen. Both musicians incorporate everyday people and occurrences as the subjects of their songs. They have a “relatability” that resonates with their fans. This song spent 2 weeks at #1 in the spring of 2021. #14. After All Elton John and Charlie Puth So, you enjoyed that medley of Elton John’s hits on the earlier tune, but want more? Never fear! Sir Elton is back with another tune, this time in a duet with contemporary artist Charlie Puth. I really enjoy the melody, lyric, and production quality on this song. It’s such a pretty love song! For what it’s worth, I think Elton’s voice could have used a little less auto tuning though. Let’s enjoy the voice he has, versus trying to make it “perfect.” This song spent 2 weeks at #1 on my charts in the fall of 2021. #13. Your Power Billie Eilish Billie’s highest ranking tune of the year on my charts is the second of three songs featuring “power” in the title! If you want power, I guess you have to seek it, and I guess it also helps increase its chances of chart dominance. Or, at least it does on The Smiles countdown this year! In any case, this song features Billie’s unique vocal stylings that seem to suggest a “quiet” and “understated” power. Perhaps others demonstrate their power in more visible ways, but it’s often the less “dramatic” and quieter ways that yield more effective long-term results. In any case, I dig Billy’s sultry and whispering vocals, which propelled the song to #1 in its debut week on my weekly charts!

#12. The Let Go Elle King XOXOXOXO. With a subtle nod to Elle’s big #5 hit on my 2015 year-end countdown, Ex’s and Oh’s, there is lots of love (and hugs!) for her on my 2021 countdown, too! Elle has got soul and depth in her voice and in her lyrics. I am surprised that she hasn’t had more mainstream chart success, but maybe she can be our little secret? Some artists and songs get overexposed and lose some of that “uniqueness,” especially if trying to meet the demands of a record label that wants chart hits. On second thought, shhhh, don’t tell anybody about Elle, but do listen to this song that spent 2 weeks at #1 on my countdown in the late winter and early spring of 2021! #11. Bitter Taste Billy Idol Answer: A comeback hit from a legendary artist, or the effect that 2021 left on many of us! Question: What is “Bitter Taste?” Billy Idol was involved in a nearly-fatal motorcycle accident many years ago, and this song tells the tale. Billy sounds great and in fine vocal form on this tune that spent 17 weeks on my chart in the summer and fall of 2021. Although it only spent 1 week at its peak position of #2, it had enough weeks on the chart to be the #11 hit of the entire year! #10. Cover Me In Sunshine P!nk and Willow Sage Hart Tear jerker alert! Get your handkerchief ready, or, since we are still in the grips of a pandemic, an appropriately-sanitized cloth, as this song definitely provides all the feels! Pairing up the ever-engaging and creative P!nk, along with her daughter Willow, this song is a true reflection of our times in the pandemic. It reflects the feelings of so many, the fears, hopes, dreams, and all that’s associated with that. The accompanying video is darling. Can’t say enough good about this song, especially resonant during these often very challenging times! This song spent 2 weeks at #1 on my charts in the spring of 2021. #9 Blue Banisters #8 Dark But Just A Game Lana Del Rey Listening to a Lana Del Rey song is like indulging in a classic piece of literature, with its vivid and descriptive language that really makes the environment, the characters and their inner thoughts and emotions come alive! Lana has a special gift and knack for storytelling as well as an ethereal voice that further adds to her gift of song. Lana’s song at #9 never hit #1 but it spent two weeks at #2 in summer 2021, with a total of 16 weeks on my weekly charts, making it the biggest non-#1 hit of 2021 on my yearly chart! Lana’s other 2021 hit at #8 spent two weeks at #1 in spring 2021, and 15 total weeks on my charts! Note: Some explicit language in song/video. #7. Fancy Like Walker Hayes featuring Kesha What’s not to “like” about this song? Simply listening to this song makes me start to salivate, as it describes a litany of forbidden treats that I shouldn’t want to enjoy from Applebee’s! But, I remind myself that listening is calorie-free and doctor-approved! There are two versions of this song, the original featuring Walker Hayes, and the remix which includes Kesha’s vocals. This song really seems to work best as a duet, where Kesha sounds like she’s having so much fun! And, these days simply having fun is seriously its own reward! This song spent 4 weeks at #1 in the fall of 2021! #6. Afterglow Ed Sheeran Ed Sheeran was all over the pop charts in 2021, with two of his songs, Bad Habits, and Shivers, hitting the Billboard Hot 100 Top 10. Although each of these songs is fun, neither of those songs really resonated with me that much, but it was his late 2020/early 2021 hit, Afterglow, that I thought was really beautiful, with its organic and acoustic production quality and gentle lyrics ,complemented by Ed’s voice. This is the kind of music for which I long, and reminds me of why I am a fan of Ed Sheeran. This song spent 4 weeks at #1 in the winter of 2021, with 18 total weeks on my charts!

#5. Easy On Me Adele Some songs grow on me quickly, then quickly fade out. Then there are songs like this one, that become more interesting and engaging with each subsequent listen. The first time I heard this tune, I thought it was OK, but the more I listened to it, the more I appreciated the lyric, the production, and of course Adele‘s continued fine vocal form! And, now I can’t get that “easy on me” lyric out of my head. Dammit, Adele…I thought I was “safe” from yet another ear worm! This past fall, the song spent 5 weeks at #1, with 11 total weeks on the chart, only cut short by the end of the calendar year survey period. #4. Save Your Tears The Weeknd and Ariana Grande Are the tears from the “blinding lights?” No matter the source of the tears, this duet with the Weeknd and Ariana Grande is a solid winner in my book! Much like the song at #7 on my year-end countdown, this song was originally a solo effort, in this case by The Weeknd. But, the remix with Ariana really makes the song feel “complete” and takes it to a whole other level! The Michael Jackson influence is strong on this one, and it seems like it would’ve been right at home on high school dance floors in the 1980s. I can picture myself then, standing on the side of the dance floor, indulging in fruit punch and doing my best to contain my awkward self! No awkwardness in the chart stats on this one though, it spent 4 weeks at #1, with a lengthy 19 week chart stay! #3. Willow Taylor Swift Well, Taylor didn’t repeat at #1 for the entire year of 2021, as she did in 2020, but she came pretty darn close! This gentle and wistful tune incorporates her trademark singer-songwriter vibe, as well as a folk sound that really resonated with me. Much like her previous hit, Cardigan, this song creates its own atmosphere and mood. Taylor spent 3 weeks at #1 and 19 total weeks on my charts with this tune! #2. Right On Time Brandi Carlile It’s no joke that Brandi peaked two spots higher this year on my countdown than she did in 2019 when she first appeared on my countdown with The Joke! Her style of music is very relatable, with lyrics and melodies that really showcase her musical talent. This particular song, about a situation that isn’t “right,” but occurred “right on time,” likely resonates with anybody who has been in a similar situation. I hope to be able to catch her in concert someday, as I imagine her live performances are just phenomenal. In the meantime, I will enjoy this tune that spent 3 weeks at #1 on my chart during the fall of 2021.

#1. Solar Power Lorde As I write this blog, we are in the depths of a "real" winter, for a welcome change, here in California! Record-breaking monthly snowfall was just experienced in the Tahoe area, with San Francisco recording the wettest rainfall season start in nearly 40 years! That being said, this #1 tune of the year on my countdown might feel like a distant memory or a far out fantasy at this point in time. But, just like many people think fondly of the tune White Christmas during the intense heat of summer, perhaps this light, airy, and simply fun summer tune can take you to your “happy summer place” even when the calendar is nearly 6 months shy of the summer solstice! Or, you could always visit the singer in New Zealand where summer is in full control…well, maybe once the pandemic restrictions are lifted! Sigh. And, that pandemic is a big part of the reason why this song resonated so much with me. With so much ongoing stress about the pandemic and its variants, and the other significant issues of the day, including supply chain logistics issues, political turmoil, and other national and global uncertainties, this song was a very welcome respite! Some fans of Lorde were disappointed that the song was not more heavily-produced and did not contain any significant social message, but I appreciated its lightness and buoyancy and carefree escape. The song spent 7 weeks at #1 on my weekly charts, making at the longest-running #1 since Cheap Thrills by Sia in 2016, the #1 hit on my chart that year. And, there you go! Can’t believe it’s been a year since I last did one of these blogs, the time seems to go just a little bit faster every year. Technically speaking, 2021 was “faster” than 2020 as it was shorter by one day, with no leap day this past year! Hope you enjoyed this trip down the music memory lane of 2021! What musical treats are in store for us in 2022? Time will tell, and I’ll be back with you again in another 365 days, give or take a day or two! Thanks for reading. And, keep on rocking and rolling...and smiling!


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