All Hail The Best

ghost of vroom 3

I was recently tasked by SubStack writer Kevin Alexander to share my favorite singles and albums of the year. Any music fan will tell you there are a handful of songs that receive repeated listens over a year, let alone a lifetime. These days, with FM radio a thing of the past, I'm prone to finding new songs from my Spotify algorithm suggestions. If I hear something I like, I add the tune to my "Favorite Songs" list for that given year. Inevitably, I will miss some truly fantastic music, so while I may be opinionated about my song list, I'm happy to listen to suggestions from other critics and music fans. If I like any of them, I may add them to my year-end playlist.

Moreover, I'm continually blown away that so much good music gets released every year that I don't find at all, and sometimes, I only see it years later, if at all. I encourage all readers to share their favorite music with me in the comment section below.

While I don't consume a ton of albums in full unless said album is a kick-ass release, top to bottom, and is available on vinyl (like Frank Sinatra's Platinum) or, in rare instances, on CD (like Dylan's Fragments: Time Out of Mind Sessions), there were still plenty of singles worth consuming. 

The following 50 songs may appeal to only a few of you. Still, they conveyed the moods and sentiments I encountered while going about my daily tasks in 2023—writing fiction, creating new music, curating art projects, cleaning the house, exercising, cooking, etc. 

Adult Music By Adult Musicians Still Making Worthwhile Music

Three Brit Pop heavies provided outstanding "earworm" singles—"The Narcissist" from Damon Albarn and his band Blur's exceptional new album The Ballad of Darren, and Jarvis Cocker's (Pulp) extraordinary dusty, dry and windswept "closing-credits" folk song "Can't Wake Up, If You Don't Fall Asleep" from the equally remarkable new film Asteroid City by Wes Anderson. And former Supergrass frontman Gaz Coombes' "Don't Say It's Over" is worth repeated listens. Ditto from Stephen & Nick Duffy and The Lilac Time's bittersweet, mournful acoustic ballad "The Band That Nobody Knew." And former Go-Between Robert Forster's very real rumination on life and death and his wife's struggles with ovarian cancer released the poignant "Tender Years." And British indie band The Clientele was back in action on the guitar hook-filled "Blue Over Blue" from their fantastic 9th album I Am Not There Anymore. 

Chrissie Hynde continues to rock with dignity. Her new Pretenders album boasted "Let the Sun Come In" as a testament to her songwriting chops. Ian Hunter (Mott the Hoople) got a little help from his friends (Ringo Starr, Mike Campbell, Todd Rundgren, Joe Elliot, etc.) on his new solo album Defiance, Pt. 1, and provided one of my top ten songs with "Bed of Roses." And Graham Parker & The Goldtops was in top form with the menacing mid-tempo rocker "The Music of the Devil" from Last Chance To Learn The Twist.

You Can't Help But Move To It

Innovative, undeniable funked-up grooves that will make you dance were provided by Brooklyn-based Emily King on "Medal" and Mike Doughty's Ghost of Vroom's "Pay The Man;" both make me smile every time I hear them. New York jazzbo Jake Pinto, founding member of the afrobeat band EMEFE, released the infectious solo album Sad Songs for Happy People, and his 2nd single, "Get It Right," is his go-to set closer on live gigs. Nashville's Flight Attendant's "Therapy Couch" will bounce around your noggin like a heady brew of bubbling neo-bubblegum with perky synth-rock blips throughout; think St. Vincent meets tUnE-yArDs.


Do you dig real rock' n' roll? You know, like 2 guitars, bass and drums? Then check out "Rescued" from Foo Fighters and "Paper Machete" from Queens of the Stone Age. Both released fantastic albums, But Here We Are and In Time New Roman, and the singles above. And both songs moved the needle a bit more for me than the Stones' very good track "Angry" from their decent album Hackney Diamonds. But, if you're a sucker for vintage arpeggiated VU-era Lou Reed guitar hooks and nasal vocals, check out "Ride On" by The Nude Party, a cracking six-piece from North Carolina. Veteran psych-rockers The Church revisited their old layered guitar chops on the dreamy mid-tempo "No Other You." And Canada-based The Sheepdogs channel their inner J.J. Cale/Eric Clapton chops on their choogling road-worthy song "So Far Gone."

Fleetwood Mac Inspired

While I did not read the Daisy Jones novel, I did watch the immensely enjoyable miniseries. And yes, it's a fictitious take on Fleetwood Mac's SoCal daze. I was quite impressed with the soundtrack and the actors' performances of the songs from the soundtrack, so impressed that I picked "Look At Us Now (Honeycomb)" as a top ten track. Undeniable in a Lindsay Buckingham kinda way and co-written by chief songwriter and producer Blake Mills and Marcus Mumford. Mumford also cut an Americana version with country star Maren Morris that is equally impressive.

From The Heartland

And speaking of Americana… Not pure rock, nor folk, bluegrass, or country, a little of this and a little of that. Leading the charge was Zach Bryan's raw and understated ballad "I Remember Everything," which is more Americana than traditional Nashville country. And Kacey Musgraves' co-vocals added a poignant depth to the narrative. Rodney Crowell teamed up with Wilco's Jeff Tweedy on his Chicago Sessions's single "Everything At Once." Back in February, The War and Treaty's (American husband and wife duo Michael Trotter Jr. and Tanya Trotter) rasp and sugar duo "Ain't No Harmin' Me" was on my daily repeat play. Singer-songwriter M. Ward convinced Scott McMicken (Dr. Dog) to back him on the barroom rocker "New Kerrang." The galloping "Slow Sunday June" from Luke Winslow-King was pure and easy, especially his slippery slide guitar solo during the middle eight. And Mike Stinson's guitar slingin' "Ponderosa Pine" and Cory Hanson's (Wand, Ty Segal) muscular "Housefly" channeled Neil Young's Crazy Horse. Meanwhile, one of my favorite jam bands Mikaela Davis (harpist) and Southern Star released the heartwarming mid-tempo rocker "Home In The Country" from her new album And Southern Star. Plus, they're a must-see live act.

Sing Me A Song

Singer-songwriters are always a part of my list. Established female veterans Feist and Thea Gilmore released evocative albums and two choice songs—"Hiding Out in the Open" (from Multitudes) and "The Bright Service" (from Thea Gilmore). Pete Droge teamed up with Elaine Summers for the waltzing ballad "Hang On To Me." New York-based Julien Byrne's atmospheric acoustic ballad "Lighting Comes Up From The Ground" evokes a Kate Bush ethos. Elsewhere, veteran song-meister Sufjan Stevens' piano-forward love ballad "So You Are Tired" sounds like it was lifted from a smart UK-based romcom. And "Alameda," one of my top ten songs of the year, was provided by LA/NYC-based Anna Rose. Her soaring vocals are authentic and powerful.

All In The Family

We can all "shiver with" Baxter Dury (son of Ian) via "Celebrate Me," a wry swipe at the posh, ego-driven "Westenders" of London Town. And, believe it or not, the youngest Jonas brother, Franklin, who studies astrophysics and writing at Columbia, delivered some retro-fused pop balladry via "Cocaine" to the masses.

Newly Discovered

My daughter turned me on to boygenius—the triumphant trio of singer-songwriters Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus—and I was glad she did. "Not Strong Enough" rightfully became an anthem for most of her peers. I'm not ashamed to admit that I play it often. Although Caroline Polachek's "Bunny Is A Rider" was released 2 years ago and boasts 3 new remixes, the original was finally released on her 2023 long player Desire, I Want To Turn Into You. I prefer the "throbbing" bass mix of this modern art-pop classic. It's still quirky enough to keep me coming back for repeated plays. Ditto for DJ and music producer Avalon Emerson's retro-forward synth-pop "Astrology Poisoning." (Try singing the title as easy as she does!)

The lesson of the jazzed-up, gospel-fueled hip-hop poetry of "Hold Me Down" (feat. Jimetta Rose & Voices of Creation) from rapper/songwriter/record producer/activist Noname (Fatimah Nyeema Warner) proves the sway of intelligent women making brilliant music. Check out her album Sundial. Michael Stipe guested on Sandman Lonnie Holley's haunting and raw ballad "Oh Me, Oh My" from his fourth long-player. Lonnie is a celebrated artist, art educator, and musician from Alabama. "Mercy" appeared floating on a cloud of delicate arpeggiated guitar notes from Swedish rocker singer-guitarist Petter Ericson Stakee and bassist Terry Wolfers. The unique and explosive Scottish trio Young Fathers offered the punked-up, percussive-driven rap social antidote "I Saw" from their must-be-investigated album Heavy Heavy, released in February. 

Music By Friends

Facebook pal and fellow New Yorker Michelle Zuraitis released a fantastic album—How Love Begins—of original jazz vocal compositions co-produced by Christian McBride. (It's up for a Grammy, too.) There are many first-rate tunes, but I dug into her blues-tinged, organ-and-guitar-driven "The Good Ways;" like a wink to Peggy Lee's "Fever." Two of my UK friends released outstanding tracks, too. UK singer-songwriter and producer of my first solo album, David Ogilvy, released the gorgeous and poignant Leonard Cohen-like folk ballad "Syracuse Sicily." Tim Arnold hit the mark with his self-titled single from his outstanding album Super Connected. Apple initially banned the album because of his reference to all things evil about computers ruining/ruling our lives via a faux commercial voiced by actor Stephen Fry. Thankfully, Apple found the stones to remove the ban. And from my Hudson Valley 'hood, the eccentric and eclectic Dust Bowl Fairies released the way excellent, accordion-driven "Cuckoo." David Lynch-circus music for freaks and lovers. My alter-ego released the Bod Dylan Americana-tinged cover "The Mighty Quinn" from my forthcoming album of cover songs, Dusted Off (out in February).

Top Albums?

I caved and picked five because I keep getting requests to name my top 10 albums of the year. (The list will expand; I promise you that!) There are, in no particular order or merit, the following: Peter Gabriel's i/o, his best since So. Irish pop-rock maestro Thomas Walsh (Pugwash, Silverlake) may have made the best Paul McCartney album with The Rest is History, since well, you decide. Brooklyn soul/R&B crooner Emily King's innovative, sassy long player False Start is a keeper. UK singer-songwriter Ian M Bailey partnered with Scottish singer-songwriter legend Daniel Wylie (Cosmic Rough Riders) for their third collaboration with insanely catchy jangle gems on We Live in Strange Times. And Ghost of Vroom brought their tight grooves, funk, and stürm und drang on Ghost of Vroom 3

Top Ten Singles

And while fifty songs may be too much music for you to navigate, here are my top ten. Song order is not crucial, just hit random shuffle and enjoy:

1. "Pay The Man" - Ghost of Vroom

2. "The Last Chime" - Ian M Bailey

3. "Medal" - Emily King

4. "Bed of Roses" - Ian Hunter

5. "Ride On" - The Nude Party

6. "Look At Us Now (Honeycomb)" - Daisy Jones & The Six

7. "Road To Joy (Bright-Side Mix)" - Peter Gabriel

8. "Take Your Time" - Thomas Walsh

9. "Alameda" - Anna Rose

10. "I Remember Everything" - Zach Bryan (w/Kacey Musgraves)

And here's all 50 of my favorites songs via Spotify:

Much to discover on my list from known and probably unknown artists. Explore, enjoy, and exploit. Happy New Year!

Add new comment