Best 25 Songs of 2020
2020 may have been a down year for many, but some great music was still able to surface. What follows are not the “best” songs of 2020, but rather my favorite songs of 2020. These were the criteria which I used for my list:
- No artist can appear twice (excluding guest spots).
- The song must have either been released as a single in 2020 or first been released on an album that came out in 2020.
I will warn you that this list features some NSFW language, so be careful where you read this! So, without further ado, here are my Best 25 Songs of 2020…
- “Distance” – Mammoth WVH
Easily the song of the year. No other song displays as much emotion and grief as Wolfgang Van Halen’s introductory single. His father, Eddie Van Halen, may have been known as the greatest guitar player of all-time, but Wolfie goes beyond just being a skilled guitarist. Every instrument is played by WVH, but you’d never know it because the pocket is as tight as any touring band. Every note is sung by Wolf as well, including the layered harmonies any barbershop quartet would be proud of. Each note that he sings drips with passion, especially the sweetest note in the whole song: when Wolfgang hits his falsetto at the end of “No matter what the distance is, you’ll be okay” before the outro. The arrangement is beautiful and strikes all the right chords, providing dynamics from start to finish. This is already the song of the year, but it could very well be “The Song of the Decade” when 2029 rolls around and we look back at one of the few good things 2020 brought us.
2. “Interstellar” – LeBrock
One of my old bandmates texted me the YouTube video for this song. I had never heard of the band or even the genre of “Synthwave”. I replied “Omfg. That’s the best thing I’ve heard this year.” He then followed up with “You pissed?! I heard it and immediately thought of you.” Well, yes, Tony, I’m still pissed because I’ve become the biggest LeBrock fan in the United States. This duo consists of a passionate vocalist, Shauny P. (who clearly belongs in the 80’s with Steve Perry, Sebastian Bach, etc.), and a do-it-all guitarist, bassist, drummer, keyboardist, producer, etc., Michael M. These guys mix New Wave, Hair Metal, and Power Pop into something completely unique. All of their stuff is great, but “Interstellar” was my introduction to the band and I’ve easily listened to it over 100 times since this Spring. If not for my #1 song, this would be sitting atop the list.
3. “Black Eyes Blue” – Corey Taylor
We all know that Corey Taylor is one talented MFer given what he’s done with Slipknot & Stone Sour, as well as his numerous guest spots over the years, but Taylor’s debut solo album, CMFT, displays Taylor taking his talents to even greater heights. No song better epitomizes this than “Black Eyes Blue”, a tune full of crunchy guitars, syncopated hits, and groove. Oh, and there are plenty of guitar licks spread out, but most prevalent during the bridge that leads into Taylor belting the funk out of his lyrics right before the finale. Since WFH and LeBrock didn’t release full albums this year, CMFT is my favorite album of 2020 and “Black Eyes Blue” is my favorite song from the album. I hope Taylor continues to stretch his solo muscles in the future.
4. “Stay Awhile” – New Found Glory
It’s hard to believe that New Found Glory have been rocking for over two decades, but their latest effort “Forever And Ever x Infinity” is probably their best album since 2011’s “Radiosurgery”. “Stay Awhile” has everything you could ever want in a NFG song: Crunchy guitar riffs & licks, catchy chorus about love, a heavier breakdown with gang-vocals (a NFG staple), and an acoustic section right before blasting back into a chorus-heavy finale. The lyrics also resonate with me because my wife & I fell in love in a small town where I’d sing songs for her. In fact, if it weren’t for music, she’d never have given me the time of day in the first place! Anyway, “Stay Awhile” is a gleeful Pop Punk track that NFG fans will relish in-listen after listen.
5. “Caution” – The Killers
I was admittedly disappointed with The Killers’ last album, 2017’s “Wonderful Wonderful”, but their newest album “Imploding the Mirage” is a brilliant return to form. “Caution” contains vocalist & keyboardist Brandon Flowers’ signature Roy Orbison-like warbling vocals and thick synth parts, but also displays the rest of the band’s talents as well. Ronnie Vannucci Jr.’s drums have a different timbre to them than usual, but drive the song from when they first come in to the very last notes. Mark Stoermer’s bass parts sound almost fretless and are the glue that holds everything together. Finally, Dave Keuning’s guitars range from cascading single-notes to acoustic parts reminiscent of Tom Petty’s “Running Down a Dream”. The song harkens back to previous albums like “Hot Fuss”, “Sam’s Town”, and “Day & Age” – it’s almost like a 4-minute Greatest Hits and that makes it a great hit all on its own.
6. “Meet Me on the Roof” – Green Day
What happens when you take Pop Punk pioneers and team them up with the likes of Butch Walker? A rocking dance party record where “Meet Me on the Roof” is the catchiest and most fun track on the record. It’s different from the Green Day who have dominated radio for over 25 years, but it’s a welcome break from the politics-driven albums of their past. Green Day provides a carefree half-hour-long soundtrack to give you a much-needed break from 2020 (complete with hand-claps, piano, and parrot-vocals).
7. “Blood from a Stone” – Sevendust
Right from the detuned opening riff, you know you’re listening to a Sevendust song. Their signature sound is on full display on “Blood from a Stone”. Perfect syncopation, Lajon Witherspoon’s unmistakable vocals, and a rocking groove that shouldn’t be possible in such a heavy song – this song has it all and Sevendust continues to do it as good as anyone else.
8. “Deliverance” – Repentance
The metal world was put on notice with Repentance’s debut album, “God For a Day”. The closing track begins with haunting acoustic guitars and a choir with reverberating drum hits. But once those stop, you’re in for a brutal trip full of hits, pounding drums, heavy riffs, and the unique vocal talents of Robby J. Sometimes it feels like you’re listening to a more fleshed-out Hatebreed tune, but then the riffs and double-kicks remind you that this is something all on its own. Everything about this song – and the record in general – is just brutal. No moments or notes are wasted as you’re bombarded with relentless thrashing that leaves you breathless when the last guttural, reverb-laden scream fades away.
9. “The Absence of Presence” – Kansas
Yes, I am aware that it is 2020 and not 1976, but Kansas’ album of the same name is so freaking good. Beautiful, harmony-packed vocals? Check. Proggy parts and jams? Check. Rocking piano, guitar, bass, drums, and dirty keyboard? Oh, hell yes! At over 8-minutes-long, the title track is epic and transports you to a time when it was okay to be bombastic and over-the-top. If you are a fan of Kansas, you will absolutely love this song. And if you’re not? Well…I feel sorry for you.
10. “I Contain Multitudes” – Bob Dylan
I’m well-aware that Bob Dylan is not for everyone. I didn’t truly appreciate Dylan until I was in college, thanks to my English professor, Mike Roos. But then I saw him live, dove into his back catalog, and finally saw that we are truly lucky to be alive during the same time as maybe the greatest songwriter of all-time. “I Contain Multitudes” is simple and subtle, but the lyrics and meaning are deeper than anything you’ll hear on the radio this year. Most humans aren’t one-note, yet we strive to be “even-keel”. Dylan’s track is a great reminder of our dual nature where we can be a best friend, a worst enemy, or everything in between. It’s comforting to hear that we’re not alone in our duality.
11. “Crooked Ways” – Motion City Soundtrack
A more mature & subdued MCS are presented to us on “Crooked Ways”. The full band doesn’t come rocking in until after 90 seconds into a tale of frontman Justin Pierre being worn down by constantly trying to improve himself. As someone who has also battled with substances, this song hits home. I believe many can relate to this beautifully crafted song, which is what we’ve come to expect from Motion City Soundtrack after almost two decades.
12. “The Lighthouse” – The Used (ft. Mark Hoppus)
This is different from what you may expect from a band who’s been described as “Screamo” or “Post-Hardcore”, but while most weren’t paying attention, The Used have continued to grow as artists. This is obvious when you listen to the whole of their latest album, “Heartwork”. However, “The Lighthouse” shows off the band’s diversity through electronic dance beats and funky slap-bass. Add blink-182’s Mark Hoppus to the pre-choruses & harmonies and you’ve got a really cool tune that you may not have seen coming from the talented Utah quartet.
13. “Radio Violence” – Alkaline Trio
Did you know that Alkaline Trio released a trio of songs this year? No? Well, let’s fix that, shall we? Guitarist & singer Matt Skiba has been busy with blink-182 since he took over for Tom Delonge years ago, but bassist & occasional singer Dan Andriano takes over on the middle track from their new EP. Andriano’s unique vocals are a welcome change of pace for the usual high-pitched vocals of Pop Punk & Emo. Of course, the subject matter of violence is right in Alkaline Trio’s wheelhouse, so it’s just a perfect little tune that will hold you over until the band releases another album sometime in the future.
14. “Bad Decisions” – The Strokes
Borrow the bright guitars of Modern English’s “I Melt With You”, the melody from Billy Idol’s “Dancing With Myself”, the familiar vocal stylings of Lou Reed, and garage rock tones of REM & New York Dolls and what do you get? The Strokes’ best song since 2004. If you’re a fan of The Strokes’ earliest efforts, then you’ll appreciate that they’ve refined their signature sound and are still putting out great music.
15. “Lead On” – Cavo
My first reaction to Cavo’s “Lead On” was…“Holy Shit”. It starts out with a furious main riff and then quickly transitions to Pookee Smith’s grooving bass and Chris Hobbs’ almost-breaking guitars, all while Casey Walker’s pitch-perfect vocals ascend over the steady, yet interesting drum parts of Andy Herrin. The genre switches are expected from Cavo, but the HUGE chorus was what blew me away. Honestly, this song could just be the chorus for three minutes and it’d be solid, but everything surrounding the choruses – especially the guitar solo and quiet bridge – make this song a complete ass-kicker. The guitar harmonics on the back-end of the second verse is a fantastic little detail that many other bands probably wouldn’t have bothered with, but Cavo always throws in little flourishes like this that enrich their songs throughout. By the time the tune finishes with the return of the main riff – which could belong in just about any Metal song – your blood is pumping and you’re ready to get the fuck on with the rest of your day.
16. “Ohms” – Deftones
Full Disclosure: I’m not a huge Deftones fan. I respect them and certainly understand why they have the following that they do, but sludgy metal has never really been my thing. HOWEVER, “Ohms” is a great song with two stand-out riffs and a delectable groove. The last 50 seconds are an absolute delight switching between the two riffs that any band would be happy to come up with. For Deftones though, it’s just another day in the office churning these out.
17. “Quarantine” – blink-182
This was an unexpected surprise from blink-182 and it could be the anthem of the first half of 2020, critiquing COVID-19 and various aspects of our “new normal”. It’s certainly the most “punk” song the band has put out in many years. I was a big fan of their last album, “NINE”, so it’s nice to hear that they haven’t stopped writing since then.
18. “The End of the Game” – Weezer
Long-time fans of Weezer will know that frontman Rivers Cuomo’s favorite band is KISS. He’s thrown in some great rock riffs and solos throughout their umpteen albums, but this tune might just take the cake. An ode to hard rock acts like AC/DC and Van Halen (even sprinkling in the “Panama” riff at the end of the second verse), this song rocks harder than you’d expect from some dudes in their 50’s best known for pop rock tunes. But don’t worry, there are still plenty of poppy handclaps, ooh’s, ah’s, and everything else you’d want in a 21st-century Weezer single.
19. “Can You Hear Me” – KoRn
KoRn’s last album, “The Nothing” is a great album and as good as “Can You Hear Me” is, it’s perhaps a Top 5 track on the album. The main riff pulsates from start-to-finish and the harmonized chorus is a little bit richer than other KoRn singles. There’s not a ton going on in the song, but it’s concise and just enough.
20. “Flowers on a Grave” – Bush
If you like Bush, you’ll like this song. It’s got octaves reminiscent of “Machine Head”, it’s got Gavin Rossdale’s unmistakable vocals, it’s got the post-2000 electronic drum parts, and it seamlessly puts these together. The bridge even sounds like something that would fit in a TOOL song, which caught me off guard at first, but it fits! “Sixteen Stone” was a very influential album on me, so I was so happy to hear Bush was still putting out good music.
21. “Realize” – AC/DC
By the 30-second mark, your head will be banging and your hand will instinctively form the fist of metal. No one expects anything new from AC/DC and that’s just how we like it. In an ever-changing world, you can always count on Australia’s Ambassadors of Rock to not let you down. Crunchy riffs, ah’s, steady bass, and locked-in drums… what more could you want?
22. “Children of the Next Level” – Testament
Compared to the sound quality of older records, “CotNL” blows them out of the water. This tune is a one of the best-sounding thrash songs I’ve heard from a band out of the original thrash era. Chugging riffs, ridiculous basslines, relentless drums, and the subject matter you expect from these legends of thrash who absolutely take it to the next level.
23. “Isolation” – Sepultura
Epic chants, lead guitars, and slave-driving drums dominate the first minute of this song and then go into the fury of double-kick drums and chunky riffs with merciless ferocity. It’s only fitting that a song about being locked in a cage came out in 2020. In its own way, Sepultura’s “Isolation” could very well sum up the feelings of many inhabitants of Earth. The breakdown is perfect with its change of pace and return of the haunting chants backing Derrick Green’s fierce vocals.
24. “Shame Shame” – Foo Fighters
Admittedly, I was disappointed with Foo Fighters’ last effort, “Concrete and Gold”, but “Shame Shame” has me excited for their next album, 2021’s “Medicine at Midnight”. This song isn’t big and rocking like so many of the band’s other stadium-owning hits, but that’s what makes it an interesting listen. It’s got groove, plenty of acoustic work, and just a touch of “rock” on the back end of the tune. Can it be put against their chart-topping hits of the past? Of course not, but it’s still cool on its own terms.
25. “Trouble’s Coming” – Royal Blood
The British Rock duo have been one of my favorite “modern” bands. They have great energy and are hard to classify genre-wise. Fans of Muse and Queen should dig what these two put out. It’s as close to Dance can come to Hard Rock without losing its edge or feeling half-assed. Just listen to how much thought is put into the bridge with the stops and syncopation before entering a piano-filled interlude. Your head will certainly be bobbing by the time the last notes hit.
“Fuck 2020” – Steel Panther
“Fuck Everybody” is my favorite song from Steel Panther’s most recent album, “Heavy Metal Rules”, so I was thrilled when I found out that the song was repurposed to tell one of the worst years in modern history to suck their motherfucking dick. Chronicling the start of COVID, the celebrity deaths, and the annoyance of face masks, “Fuck 2020” shows Steel Panther at what they do best: blasting metal while making you laugh.
“Fine By Me” – ATTN Deficit Squirrel
If you’ve made it this far, please check out my band, ATTN Deficit Squirrel! We’re a Pop Punk Rock quartet out of Cincinnati who just released our debut EP in May 2020. “Fine By Me” was our lead single and we’d truly appreciate you giving us a listen (and sharing if you like it!). You can find us on all major music services HERE.
Thank you for reading and here’s to 2021!
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