Editor’s Picks: Eleven Favorite Songs of 2020

Joe Henry

Great songs which lifted our hearts during the saddest year of the century

,John Prine



How I miss you in the morning light 
Like roses miss the dew


From “I Remember Everything”
By John Prine

How many tears have fallen listening to this song? Those words, from the last song recorded by John Prine, released in 2020, sadly say it all. Now four days into 2021, looking back over the totality of the previous year, it’s clear no song says it better. That we lost John this year made it way sadder. Like so many, it was his passing that hit me in the gut – and the heart – with the awful recognition that this coronavirus was serious.

That he should be the one to say it all with what seems like a simple song should be no surprise. He did that for 50 years, bringing songs which went to our hearts and stayed there forever. And he did it in our own words, in remarkably expanding songs.

“Hello In There” was amazing when it first emerged. We were kids then, and could feel the sorrow, which we projected onto our grandparents. 50 years later it’s expanded in meaning in every direction, linked forever to our personal history, and the collective history of this nation. Which, let’s face it, has been through hell since its release. Look at how much he packed into these three simple lines. It’s about personal tragedy as well as the reality of aging, when even the worst parts of life have faded through the decades:

… we lost Davy in the Korean war
And I still don’t know what for
Don’t matter anymore

“Hello In There” was amazing when it first emerged. We were kids then, and could feel the sorrow, which we projected onto our grandparents. 50 years later it’s expanded in meaning in every direction, linked forever to our personal history, and the collective history of this nation. Which, let’s face it, has been through hell since its release. He had that genius knack for finding a beautiful image – one we all knew – to perfectly evoke aspects of human life that words alone don’t deliver.

I remember everything/Things I can’t forget
Swimming pools of butterflies that slipped right through the net


So John Prine is here, and forever linked to 2020, sadly. The world without him hasn’t been too great. This song helped, as did the bounty of amazing songs he left.

But there’s much else about 2020: Marilyn Manson’s astounding collaboration with Shooter Jennings on “We Are Chaos,” the anthem of madness unfolding in real-time; Dion’s great “Song for Sam Cooke,” performed with Paul Simon, and great songs from Joe Henry, Barry Keenan, CeeLo Green, Finneas and Sabrina Chap.

Happy New Year, 2021.

John Prine, “I Remember Everything”

John Prine, “I Remember Everything” Written by John Prine & Pat McLaughlin.

Donate HERE in John Prine’s Name to The MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund

Marilyn Manson, “We Are Chaos”

Marilyn Manson, “We Are Chaos”
Written by Marilyn Manson/Shooter Jennings; Produced by Shooter Jennings
. Written and produced with Shooter Jennings prior to the pandemic, still it resounded in autumn of 2020 and still does as an anthem of madness unfolding, and a pure expression of the perpetual dissonance of our lives in lockdown, 2020.


Joe Henry

Joe Henry, “Orson Welles”

Joe Henry, “Orson Wells”
“If you provide the terms of my surrender, I’ll provide the war”


This is from The Gospel According To Water, the greatest Joe Henry album ever. Released officially in November, 2019, and informed by his battle with cancer. But it was with us all through 2020, and keeps expanding.

Dion with Paul Simon,
“Song For Sam Cooke (Here In America)”

Dion with Paul Simon, “Song for Sam Cooke,” written by Dion. One of the great anthems of 2020. Written before this year, but speaking to the racism which exists to this day. And the unity. And few things sounded better in 2020 than Dion’s voice with Simon’s in perfect, gentle harmony. Harmony now. It’s proof humans can get along.

Barry Keenan, “You’re Not The Only Lonely One”

Barry Keenan, “You’re Not The Only Lonely One” Written by Barry Keenan & Michael Hatfield.
All instruments by Barry Keenan. Produced by Barry Keenan.

Finneas, “Let’s Fall in Love for the Night”

Finneas, “Let’s Fall In Love For The Night” Released March, 2020.
The cover story of our July/August issue, Finneas started the year off with this great song, which we loved in those pre-lockdown days.


CeeLo Green, “People Watching”

CeeLo Green, “People Watching.” From CeeLo Green is… Thomas Callaway, released in Jone, 2020, this was written by CeeLo with Dan Auerbach (of The Black Keys, who also collaborated with John Prine) and Nashville songwriting legend Paul Overstreet. It was recorded in Nashville live with a band. [This song was the number one choice of my advisor/son Joshua Zollo, who turned 21 in 2020]
.

Sabrina Chap, “Italians are Singing from their Windows.”

“The visions of Italians singing to each other from balconies in self-isolation,” said Sabrina Chap, “expressed to me the power of both music and community at this time. We need to feel connected, and we need to consciously look for joy amidst the tragedies.”

So she wrote this, “Italians Are Singing from their Windows,” o of the first songs to emerge during the pandemic to shine a light on the human triumph in the midst of the madness, we were proud to share it with the world.

“In quarantine,” she said, “Italians sang from their windows to each other to keep joy and hope alive. This inspired me. We’re going to need to light the fires of hope in our hearts daily. I hope this song helps.”

Ted Russell Kamp, “Have Some Faith”

Ted Rusell Kamp, “Have Some Faith,” cowritten by Ted and Matt Szlachetka, the first single from his album `Down In The Den,’ released in July, 2020.

Thee Holy Brothers, “Lift You Up”

Thee Holy Brothers, “Lift You Up”
(Featuring Stephon Ferguson as the voice of Martin Luther King Jr.)
Thee Holy Brothers are Marvin Etzioni & Willie Aron, with songs by Marvin.

My Politic, “Fantasies of a Fox News Viewer”
[I Miss America].

My Politic, “Fantasies of a Fox News Viewer.” Written by Kaston Guffey and performed and produced by Guffey and his partner in song, Nick Pankey. From their EP ‘Short Sighted People In Power [A Home Recording

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