Music’s ability to make us feel better was really put to the test in 2020. The healing power of music probably played a key role for most of us as we navigated our new lifestyle in what has officially been deemed “These Difficult Times.”
Before getting to my Top 10 Albums of 2020, my musical reflection on this past year actually reveals two unlikely figures: Miles Davis and Tom Petty. I probably listened to more Miles Davis than any other artist this year. As the line from Office Space goes… “I celebrate the whole catalogue.” But in particular, the Kind of Blue album was something I started to lean on like medicine. Already one of the consensus choices for “best jazz album of all time,” Kind of Blue also seems to have some sort of magical power to sooth that “nervous stomach,” and ease the mild anxiety that inevitably greeted us every morning for most of 2020.
So if the relaxation playlists, meditation music, and yoga soundtracks aren’t getting it done when you need some stress relief, try Miles Davis Kind of Blue (results may vary, may cause good feeling or possible euphoria, check your headphones to see if Kind of Blue is right for you).
Part of why I turned to jazz in These Difficult Times may be because there are no lyrics. No songs about the good old days of… leaving the house and being with other people. Maybe that’s why my number one album of the year in the list below is also an instrumental album. Working from home; taking long walks. Sometimes we need music without words.
Oddly enough, I rediscovered one old album full of words that sounds perfect for 2020. While staying safely stuck at home, I found Tom Petty’s Into the Great Wide Open from 1993 to be like a sketchbook of what we went through this year. Taking a line or two from each song from Petty’s Great Wide Open album and reading them all together as follows, I wish I could send every character from these songs a copy of Miles Davis Kind of Blue to help them feel better:
Trouble blew in on a cold dark wind.
Started out… all alone.
Well, the good old days may not return.
No you can’t hide out.
We wanna hold our heads up, but we gotta stay down.
I don’t wanna end up in a room all alone.
In the dark of the sun will you save me a place? Give me hope, give me comfort, get me to a better place?
We will stand together; Yeah we will stand as one.
When the time gets right, I’m gonna pick you up and take you far away from trouble my love.
Oh I await the day, Good fortune comes our way.
I don’t wanna fight no more.
I don’t mind workin’, but I’m scared to suffer ya know?
I’m takin’ control of my life.
Oh, the days went slow, into the changing season.
When I woke up my brain was stunned, I could not come around.
I’m out in the cold, body and soul.
There’s nowhere to go.
I thought, “Maybe I can make it if I never give in.”
Her imagination ran wild. Could this really happen to me? She could barely hold back the tears.
There was no talk of giving in.
I was feeling burned out; I got tired of it, I know you feel lost.
The world is changing fast, but our love was built to last.
One day all the rules will bend, and you and I will meet again.
While much of this year was spent clinging to old classics and familiar sounds that might serve as comfort food for our ears, these were my favorite new releases of the year:
THE TOP TEN ALBUMS OF 2020
The Sorcerers – In Search of the Lost City of the Monkey God
Sometimes you discover an album by accident, because it has a cool-looking cover or a weird title. That’s what happened with this one, and it’s a funky stew of styles and movements for all moods. This instrumental gem is difficult to categorize or describe, so I highly recommend you go listen for yourself.
Run the Jewels – RTJ4
Thurston Moore – Into the Fire
The Flaming Lips – American Head
Bob Dylan – Rough and Rowdy Ways
Nas – King’s Disease
Bruce Springsteen – Letter to You
Jason Isbell – Reunions
Jonathan Wilson – Dixie Blur
Drive-By Truckers – The Unravelling
Yawning Man – Live at Giant Rock
Honorable Mention, “new” releases from the vault:
Neil Young – Homegrown
Prince – Sign O’ the Times (expanded reissue)
Tom Petty – Wildflowers (expanded reissue)