Everyone else seems to be doing it, so I thought I’d add to to the mania for year end lists.
The link is to the Pop In The Real World 2021 playlists on Spotify and YouTube (with added video content, as they say)..
They contain 60 of the songs that soundtracked my year. Most, but not all, were released during 2021. A few are songs that I first came across this year.
Looking at the list, it’s weighted towards pop in its broadest sense. From the unbelievably catchy songs of Smith and Burrows to the snarling but singalong punk of Idles, it’s been a year of hummable melodies and addictive choruses.
There are also a few recommendations from Pop In The Real world followers, either recommended during the year or suggested as part of preparing this list. Thanks to everyone who contributed. (Unfortunately I was unable to trace one particular song, but it features in https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qcObdfrjXH4 20 minutes and 8 seconds in. It's worth taking the time to find it, as it's an exceptionally soothing track.
The main purpose of Pop In The Real World is to review records, usually away from the hype of first release when it’s possible to form a more balanced opinion. Hopefully my view of the albums I’ve reviewed is clear and, occasionally, helpful. What’s also clear is that sometimes you have to dig for the best songs. They’re pearls that stand out from an enjoyable but otherwise ordinary album, the rainbow in a puddle of oil.
My Top 10 for 2021 (for today at any rate) is:
Square Face : Chloe Foy
This is a lovely melodic song. Nevertheless, it probably wouldn’t have made my Top 10 if it were not for the magical fade into and out of unaccompanied singing towards the end. It’s a spine tingling, hair raising 45 seconds or so, the like of which I’ve not heard since Sinead O’Connor’s version of ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’. It’s that good.
Champagne Problems : Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift makes no secret of drawing on her own life experiences when writing her songs. It helps that she’s a great and unapologetic storyteller with a gift for melody and pacing that outstrips her peers.
I Do This All The Time : Self Esteem
You could call this a ‘Sunscreen’ for the millennial generation, but that doesn’t do justice to the sheer attitude that pervades this song. It has the biting lyrics of a woman who’s happy to be stripping away the arrogance, machismo, self deceit and delusion of anyone she meets. It’s the most satisfying ‘tell it how it is ‘ song for some considerable time, and all set to a great tune
Old TV Shows : Smith And Burrows
Smith and Burrows called their album ‘Only Smith and Burrows Is Good Enough’. That’s a problem for everyone else because they’ve set the bar for addictively catchy pop ridiculously high, particularly in this song. There are three songs in one here and most acts would kill for just one of those parts to make the killer song on their own album.
Kokomo, IN : Japanese Breakfast
Sometimes great pop comes out of the hardest times. After two albums focused on suffering and loss, Japanese Breakfast released an album of songs that positively affirmed and rejoiced in survival. This is pop at its most lush and gorgeous. It starts strongly and soars to classic status with the arrival of chugging strings one minute in.
Model Village : Idles
Lots was written about Idles squeezing every last drop of punk disdain, anger and, yes, humour from their sound before changing direction with their latest album. This is a glorious slice of invective directed at the hypocrisy of middle England. It’s genius is to take the ultimate middle class, middle of the road song (I Never Promised You A ) Rose Garden and corrupt it into a shout along chorus that rejects everything the model village stands for.
Hate Everyone But You : Habibi
This song has been on my repeat playlist all year. Habibi are an Iranian influenced band, but this is a slice of pure pop perfection. It’s the closest I’ve heard to early Blondie since, well, early Blondie
Delicious Things : Wolf Alice
On the surface this is a song about the enjoyment of a new life balanced against missing home. But to describe it as such is like saying that Lady Chatterley’s Lover is a book about gamekeepers. Underneath the surface this is a wickedly seductive song about wild behaviour wrapped up in a sugar sweet melody. Listen to this and believe that the devil does indeed have all the best tunes.
Fatally Human : Tunng
‘Tunng Presents …. Dead Club’ was a remarkable concept album examining the rituals of death around the world - cheery stuff for a pandemic. This track is both representative of the album and an excellent song in its own right, mingling spoken word with gorgeous, even heartwarming melodies.
Endless Arcade : Teenage Fanclub
It was a toss up between this and ‘Back In The Day’ from the same album to include in my Top 10. Both have intricate rolling guitar work and gentle singalong choruses. Both have a wistful and nostalgic melancholy that tugs at the heartstrings and threatens to bring a lump to the throat. ‘Endless Arcade’ edges it because it’s a grower with longer legs, and a slower build to the climax.
The nominations from members bring together songs that are not necessarily new, but which meant something during 2021. Choices such as Yard Act and Wet Leg are acts we can expect to hear a lot more from in 2022, if word of mouth (and corporate publicity machines) spread the message. Acts such as Ted Barnes and Hamish Hawk record excellent music but if they are to be heard they need to become better known. Every time we rave about a song, or an album we’ve loved; every time we tweet, instagram or Facebook about a new act we give it a better chance of surviving. It doesn’t take long.
Here endeth today's sermon. Wishing all readers the very best for 2022.