While A Century of Song was created to commemorate the one hundred years of pop music released between 1920-2019, I’ve looked at the list as something of a “living document” – knowing that I would continue to discover additional songs from that time period, while also finding worthy tracks from years beyond the original range. This “bonus list” is merely the first in what will be a series of annual additions to the initial – still-not-yet-complete – list of 1000 songs. Not all of these tracks would have necessarily made the list, but they would have at least been under strong consideration for a spot. Regular postings of A Century of Song will resume next week.
“You’re All I Need to Make It”
The rest of the songs on this list will appear in rough chronological order, but I felt a responsibility to kick things off with the song that – in many ways – defined my musical discoveries of 2020. About fifteen years behind the rest of the record collecting world, I finally dove fully into incomparable work of the Numero Group this year. This track – from Numero’s first compilation, 2005’s Eccentric Soul: The Capsoul Label – summarizes everything that is great about the Chicago-based reissue label.
Barely making a dent at the time of its 1974 release, “You’re All I Need to Make It” languished in obscurity for decades before appearing as the lead-off track to Eccentric Soul. It sounds like nothing less than a should-have-been smash hit, but instead, it’s a long-lost soul classic that had to wait fair too long for discovery.
“Tonight You Belong to Me”
For each of the past three years, I have assembled a lengthy compilation (approximately 140 tracks for each year) of songs by female artists as a Christmas gift for my teenage daughter. The first set was easy – aside from picking which track would represent artists with plenty of great options to choose from. Not wanting to repeat any artists, the second and third volumes have been increasingly challenging – and fun – to assemble. Several of the tracks on this addendum – including this one – come from that third compilation.
This 1956 recording by sisters Patience (14) and Prudence (11) McIntyre was their take on a 1927 hit by Gene Austin. Admittedly – as “the kids” might say – there’s a bit of an “off vibe” about the track, but there’s an undeniable charm to it as well. A quick scan shows that David Lynch is yet to use it, but it seems like only a matter of time before it shows up in one of his projects.
“Won’t That Be a Happy Time”
I picked this one up from a compilation by the Portland-founded/Chicago-based Mississippi Records label. Mississippi’s retail store has become my favorite local record shop this year, and their affiliated label has crafted an impressive catalog of reissue releases. This track comes from the physically out-of-print (but available as a pay-what-you-want download) 2008 compilation, Fight On, Your Time Ain’t Long.
A 1965 recording by the Bahamian guitarist Joseph Spence and his wife Louise, “Won’t That Be a Happy Time” is a showcase for his unique guitar picking skills and their charming vocal interplay. His rough growl, and her affecting lead, make for an intriguing and heart-warming combination.
“You’ll Know the Words”
Another Numero find – from the Local Customs: Cavern Sound release – this 1967 track by the virtually-unknown Larry Sands & the Sound Affair is probably my favorite discovery of 2020. I’d love to dive into deeper research on the group in an upcoming On Distant Stations feature, but there doesn’t seem to be much info out there.
Nevertheless, this is a stunning track, even before you consider that it was recorded in a freaking cave. The melody, lyrics, and sparse arrangement make for an arresting combination, and stand among the best psych/garage rock of the era. Trust me when I say that this one would have made the upper reaches of the ACOS list if I had heard it a year earlier. So damn good…
How is it that the sixties continue to provide such a deep well for discovery? “Little” Ann Bridgeforth recorded a small handful of tracks in 1967, but they would not see a proper release for several decades. The best of these, “Deep Shadows” would eventually serve as the title track to a posthumous 2009 release of Bridgeforth’s entire recorded output.
I actually can’t remember exactly how I was clued in to Little Ann or “Deep Shadows,” but I’m glad that it happened. I was introduced to a ton of great “new to me” soul music this year, but few tracks that were as fantastic as this one.
“There’s No Blood in Bone”
I spent as much time as possible in record stores this year, and it was at Portland’s Tomorrow Records that I first heard this Vancouver-based band that briefly existed in the late-1960s/early-1970s. The Poppy Family’s 1969 debut album, Which Way You Goin’ Billy?, deftly mixes a contemporary psychedelic sound with more traditional pop/folk elements.
“There’s No Blood in Bone” veers far closer to the psych end of The Poppy Family’s spectrum, and while it’s the most immediately attention-grabbing song from Which Way You Goin’ Billy?, the entire album leaves a lasting impression.
I knew of “Venus” before 2020, having been subjected to Bananarama’s hit 1986 cover of the song, and its subsequent commercial appearances. However, I had somehow managed to miss out on Shocking Blue’s original 1969 recording, which took the Dutch band to number one on the American charts in 1970.
While apparently a lot of people were drawn to the song this year by its appearance in Queen’s Gambit – which I haven’t seen – I found it while searching for more tracks for my daughter’s aforementioned compilation. Finding a comfortable middle ground between psych, folk, and garage rock – with a nod to The Who tucked in for good measure – “Venus” is a track captivating enough to be worthy of its mythological namesake.
“You and Me”
The next three songs on this list were all Numero finds, and apparently this track by Penny & The Quarters is label’s best-known track – having appeared in the 2010 film Blue Valentine, and several subsequent ad campaigns. Tucked away at the end of Numero’s 2007 compilation, Eccentric Soul: The Prix Label, “You and Me” is one of the most charming songs of its era.
Penny & The Quarters were a short-lived vocal group that only recorded a handful of demos, sometime in the early seventies. Unreleased for nearly forty years, “You and Me” is one of those rare songs that sounds as if it just always existed – a classic even before anyone ever heard it.
“Mustache in Your Face”
Another track from Numero’s Cavern Sounds compilation, “Mustache in Your Face” was the result of a brief path-crossing between a long-running Kansas City band once known as The Fabulous Four Jacks and former Electric Prunes drummer, Mike Weakley.
Produced by Weakley, and released on his own label, “Mustache” failed to bring the band – known as Pretty for just this one single – to the attention of major labels. However, it would become a highly sought-after single for psych aficionados, and it remains one of the great one-off recordings of its time.
“(I’m Gonna) Keep On Loving You”
Kool Blues released just two singles for the Capsoul label, but the first of those is one of the great obscure soul tracks of the early-seventies. Spirited, brassy, and possessing a great hook, “(I’m Gonna) Keep On Loving You” was another should-have-been hit from Bill Moss’ short-lived imprint.
This is the last Numero soul entry on this list, but I’ve got a feeling that there will be a lot more to come on the next installment. From October to the end of the year, I picked up over twenty Numero compilations, including ten from the Eccentric Soul series alone. I’ve only begun to scratch the surface of that treasure trove.
“Be Thankful for What You Got”
I had heard a lot of songs that nodded to William DeVaughn’s signature track before this year – my favorite being Outkast’s “West Savannah.” However, it was only this year that I consciously heard the source material, thanks to Mississippi Records’ most recent compilation of American soul music.
The hook that spawned countless tributes is only one of the many highlights of “Be Thankful for What You Got.” The song has a wonderfully smooth groove and a welcoming, laid-back feel. It’s no surprise that “Be Thankful” was a big hit upon release, and it has achieved a measure of immortality in its many tributes and covers.
“Camino Del Soul”
In addition to their best-in-the-industry compilations, the Numero Group has also reissued dozens of out-of-print and under-appreciated albums in a variety of genres. Their first foray into this was with the 2004 reissue of the French group Antena’s 1982 debut LP, Camino del soul.
The title track to Camino del soul is a wonderfully evocative track that mixes contemporary indie pop, electronic music, and exotica into an intriguingly minimalistic blend. I’ve not yet tracked down a physical copy of the out-of-print-again Numero reissue, but it’s on my radar now.
Here’s another example of me knowing a cover long before the original. I’ve been familiar with R.E.M.’s version of “Crazy” since first hearing the Dead Letter Office compilation, and – thanks to Peter Buck’s effusive praise in the liner notes – knew that R.E.M. counted their Athens brethren in Pylon among their biggest influences.
This year’s reissue campaign gave me a good excuse to finally check out Pylon’s work. While I missed out on the career-spanning box set, I procured copies of the band’s two full-length albums: 1980’s Gyrate and 1983’s Chomp. Both are excellent, and full of great tracks, but “Crazy” remains the standout for me.
“Lo Boob Oscilator”
Managing Strange Currencies is what got me to finally embrace paying for a streaming service, in order to share playlists for the A Century of Song and In the Wilderness features. It’s freed me up from feeling the need to own all of my music in a digital format, which has subsequently allowed me to spend more money on vinyl. It has occasionally led me to discover some new songs as well.
I initially got into Stereloab about eight years ago, picking up most of their catalog in short order. However, I missed out on some of their non-album tracks, of which this is one of the finest. Fortunately, Spotify alerted me to its existence by autoplaying “Lo Boob Oscilator” after the completion of one of my own playlists, leading me to track down a copy of the Switched On, Volumes 1-3 box set – my first curbside pickup order from Portland’s beloved institution, Music Millennium.
Based on positive reviews of Klô Pelgag’s 2020 album, Notre-Dame-des-Sept-Douleurs, I first went back to check out her higher-rated – at least on RateYourMusic – 2016 LP, L’étoile thoracique. While solid throughout, that album puts its best foot forward on the opening two tracks, of which I give “Les ferrofluides-fleurs” a slight edge.
An immaculately produced piece of chamber pop, “Les ferrofluides-fleurs” has a decidedly modern sound, while simultaneously drawing from classical folk influences. It’s an immediately appealing track from a unique artistic talent.
The opening track to her acclaimed 2020 album, What’s Your Pleasure?, “Spotlight” is a shimmering example of modern pop music. While the “disco” label often tends to suggest something whose appeal is ephemeral, “Spotlight” is an excellent piece of songwriting, production, and performance – easily one of the finest pop tracks of the year.
“Spotlight” earned the not-exactly-coveted-but-still-esteemed spot as the current-year-finale to the compilation that I assembled for my daughter this year, following in the footsteps of A Century of Song entries by Mitski (“Nobody” – #813) and FKA twigs (“Cellophane” – #712).
Like much of the internet, the invaluable resource that is RateYourMusic has suffered a bit from troll infestation over the past couple of years, much of which is relegated to the often-toxic comments boxes. For example, the comment feature for the album represented by the next two entries on this list was disabled after it became inundated with misogynistic bullshit.
However, RYM continues to serve an important purpose for music fans. In 2019, it alerted me to the existence of Kyoto’s Ichiko Aoba, in time for the track “i am POD (0%)” from 2013’s mesmerizing album 0 to make the ACOS list (#913). This year’s アダンの風 (Adan no kaze) found Ichiko expanding her sonic palette, from her typically sparse acoustic folk to a lusher baroque pop sound. Its most immediately appealing track, “Pilgrimage” is a highlight of one of the year’s finest albums.
“Fetch the Bolt Cutters” -and-
As my runaway pick for album-of-the-year, Fiona Apple’s Fetch the Bolt Cutters deserves a couple of entries on this list. The tricky part is deciding which two tracks best represent such a forward-thinking, masterful piece of work.
The album’s title track is as good as any in displaying Apple’s novel approach to arrangement and production. Already a great song to begin with, “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” is well-augmented by home-found percussion instruments, “pet sounds,” and clever mixing. It’s dense, but somehow spacious all the same.
“Cosmonauts” is, perhaps, a bit more traditional – as far Fiona Apple songs are concerned – but it benefits greatly from the meticulous attention to detail that runs throughout Fetch the Bolt Cutters. The song’s thunderous percussion, ethereal backing harmonies, and dramatic climax make for one of the most impactful tracks in a discography that was already remarkable, prior to the addition of a new high-water mark.
“Murder Most Foul”
To anyone who has been following ACOS throughout this year, it’s obvious that I love Bob Dylan. However, I can’t say that I saw this one coming. Dylan spent most of the 2010s in a somewhat-ill-fitting crooner mode, releasing a series of albums devoted to covering the Great American Songbook. His last record of original material – 2012’s Tempest – seemed like a distant memory by 2020.
“Murder Most Foul” arrived with little fanfare in late March, but in a nation that had recently entered quarantine mode, its long form look at American popular culture struck a nerve. Matching matter-of-fact details with a poignant mix of nostalgia and regret, it was like little else in Dylan’s catalog. Its litany of references and allusions would become the subject of countless internet think pieces, and – for at least a few days – Dylan was once again at the forefront of the cultural conversation.
It turns out that “Murder Most Foul” was not merely a stand-alone release, but the closing track to Dylan’s 39th studio album – his best in decades. Dylan will turn 80 this May, but if his career has taught us anything, it’s that we should always expect the unexpected. However, it’s worth noting that at the end of the long list of requests that close out “Murder Most Foul,” in a haunting moment of self-reflection, Dylan implores Wolfman Jack play his own song – the very one that is coming to an end.