When the Dust Settled, These Are the Songs That Got Me Through 2020

21 Dec
Lone Bellow on Zoom

In times of stress, as 2020 most certainly was, music always seems to serve as a comfort. And over the last nine and a half months, while some other forms of entertainment and culture had to be put on hold for safety reasons, there was never a shortage of music to listen to and seek comfort from.

Sure, we couldn’t crowd together for concerts, or see other kinds of live performances in person — such as Broadway shows and other theatrical productions. And that definitely sucked. As Dave Grohl wrote all the way back in May, “I’m hungry for a big old plate of sweaty, ear-shredding, live rock and roll, ASAP. The kind that makes your heart race, your body move, and your soul stir with passion.” Yeah, me too.

But on the other hand, this year, the artists came to us, hosting intimate live streams on Instagram, Facebook Live, Zoom, or other platforms; performing from their homes on various TV or online specials; sharing archival performances on YouTube; and more. It wasn’t what we hoped for back in January, and there were some kinks to work out at first. But in the end, it was actually kind of cool.

At those times, music didn’t just provide comfort, it brought us closer together when we all had to stay far apart

And the pandemic inspired many artists to create notable new music tracks or whole albums. Some of it was actually pretty great — or, at the very least, it was memorable.

In short, in 2020, music found a way to thrive and for some artists to form even stronger bonds with their fans. While nearly everything about the pandemic sucks, that’s one bright light of this past year.

Artist of the Year … again

In my case, no artist was more comforting than The Lone Bellow, the Nashville-based Americana trio, whose songs and tight harmonies are not spiritual but still have the ability to uplift, and whose live shows are in a class by themselves.

In its recent 2020 Wrapped campaign, Spotify told me The Lone Bellow was my top artist of 2020. Apparently, I spent 887 minutes this year listening to them. Neither of those facts surprised me. After all, The Lone Bellow was my top artist last year, too, and Spotify named them my Artist of the Decade.

Fourteen hours and 47 minutes is a lot of time to listen to one artist, but the actual not-just-Spotify total was much higher, since I also listened to many of the band’s livestreams, participated in multiple private Zoom hangouts (including the one pictured above), and joined their Patreon, which gave me exclusive access to a series of acoustic “Sunday Night Rally” shows, albums composed of music from those “Rally” shows as well as previously unreleased recordings, and advance listens (and downloads) of new tracks.

The Lone Bellow released an excellent album earlier this year — Half Moon Light — so that would explain a lot of the listening. Except that, as mentioned, The Lone Bellow has been my top artist on Spotify for a number of years. 

But Half Moon Light wasn’t just any new album. Though it was released in February, just before the start of the pandemic in the United States, it contained a number of timely songs that tapped into the zeitgeist. “Count on Me,” the album’s first single (which was actually released late last year), is an excellent example of this, with its lyrics about how “you can count on me, if I can count on you.” (The band released an alternate version of the song earlier this month.) “Martingales” wisely suggests that “if yesterday is too heavy, put it down.” The lyrics of “Good Times” tell stories of people who “let no good time slip away,” in spite of their challenges. Other songs, such as “August” and “Illegal Immigrant,” were relevant in their own ways, too.

No song on Half Moon Light sums up 2020 quite like “Dust Settles” does, though. The album’s penultimate track, “Dust Settles” is a wistful song about not taking your close relationships for granted, and in this time when we had to social distance and actively avoid other people, it really hit home. “Wake me up from this fever dream,” Zach Williams sings. “I’ve been missing from the land of the living.” Yup. Same.

And that refrain:

Here we are now, 
Lonely together.
Brothers, sisters, 
Did we want something better? 
Tell me how am I gonna find you 
When the dust settles

When this pandemic is over, I can’t wait to find my friends again and make up for lost time. Till then, I’ll be listening to The Lone Bellow, and I know they’ll continue to get me through this.

The 2020 Time Capsule Playlist

Of course, The Lone Bellow was not the only artist I listened to this year, and my 2020 Time Capsule playlist reflects that. Time capsule playlist? Yes. While some people and publications may rank the year’s top music (much of which I have never listened to), and Spotify does create a Wrapped playlist for you, I prefer to curate my own playlist of favorite tracks, in roughly chronological order, so I can remember what I was listening to when, and can more easily remember various things that happened. When listened to in this context, I find the year’s music has more meaning — especially after a year like this one was. 

And indeed, my 2020 Time Capsule playlist tells the story of this year rather effectively.

It includes many of the aforementioned pandemic-influenced or -inspired tracks — old ones and new ones. For example, the Police’s “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” is on the playlist because lots of people (including me) played the song with tongue firmly in cheek back in March, when social distancing was a novelty and we were unaware of just how long we’d have to do it. All these months later, the song’s inclusion is not funny at all.

Among the new pandemic-related songs, I enjoyed Leon Bridges and John Mayer’s “Inside Friend,” Ariana Grande and Justin Bieber’s “Stuck With U,” Ben Platt’s “So Will I,” Michael Buble and Barenaked Ladies’ “Gotta Be Patient,” Brad Paisley’s “No I in Beer,” and Bon Jovi and Jennifer Nettles’ “Do What You Can.” And I thought Brittlestar’s Christmastime release, “Santa Better Wear a Fucking Mask” was topical and cool.

Jason Mraz and Ray LaMontagne both released new albums this year, and while they weren’t inspired by the pandemic, they were definitely well timed — specifically, their tracks “Look for the Good” and “We’ll Make It Through,” respectively. One Republic planned to release a new album in May, but they delayed it till 2021 — after releasing the well-timed single “Better Days” at the end of March. And the Rolling Stones rereleased “Living in a Ghost Town” in April with some updated lyrics that reflected what was happening (for example: “Life was so beautiful, then we all got locked down”).

As you may recall, there were a number of special events and fundraisers broadcast on TV and online during the second quarter of the year, to respond to the effect the pandemic was having on people’s lives and livelihoods. The Saturday Night Seder was one that was surprisingly good; it featured an amazing version of the Whitney Houston/Mariah Carey duet “When You Believe” by Cynthia Erivo and Shoshana Bean. The event’s finale, an original song called “Next Year,” adapted the Seder-closing line “Next year in Jerusalem” to provide a hopeful message about everything people want to do when we can be together again.

Moving on … Another of the year’s big news stories was the fight for social justice and racial equality. Like many people, I was saddened and angered by the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, among others, and inspired by the people taking to the streets day after day and night after night to protest and affirm that Black Lives Matter. Accordingly, around that time and for weeks after, I listened to songs like Stevie Wonder’s “Love’s in Need of Love Today,” Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes’ “Wake Up Everybody” (featuring Teddy Pendergrass), and 2Pac’s “Changes.” So those songs are included here, as well.

And naturally, there are some election-related songs on the playlist, too, including “Who’s It Gonna Be?” (aka “Weird Al” Yankovic’s collab with the Gregory Brothers recapping the first presidential debate), Mary J. Blige’s “Work That” (VP-elect Kamala Harris’ walk-up song during her rallies), and They Might Be Giants’ “Schoolhouse Rock”-style explainer “Who Are the Electors?” Tracy Chapman performed “Talkin’ Bout a Revolution” the night before Election Day, and on Saturday, November 7, the day the race was finally called for Joe Biden, I found myself “Feeling Good” — so I confidently blasted Michael Bublé’s version of that song from my stereo speakers.

In related news, Maren Morris released a song called “Better Than We Found It,” which reckoned with everything that’s happened recently, and what legacy we’re leaving behind for the next generation.

I didn’t watch a whole lot of movies this year (compared to previous years, anyway), but there are a number of songs here from movies I did see, including “Joke’s on You” (from Birds of Prey), “Till the Morning Comes” (from Palm Springs), and “You Happened” (from The Prom). Some of my favorite TV shows of 2020 had great soundtracks, too, which is why you’ll also find music from Schitt’s Creek and Ted Lasso on my playlist — as well as the Mandalorian theme.

A big highlight of 2020 for me and my family was my niece’s bat mitzvah in November. My sister and I worked together on a retrospective slideshow, and I included here the three songs we used as that video’s soundtrack: 10,000 Maniacs’ “These Are Days,” Bruno Mars’ “Count on Me,” and Sara Bareilles’ “Brave.”

Speaking of occasions, I had tickets to see two Broadway shows the weekend of my birthday this year, but alas, that never happened. One of those shows, Sing Street, did release its cast album, and I was a big fan of their version of the song “Up.” And while we’re on the subject of Broadway, shoutout to Disney+ for streaming the excellent filmed version of Hamilton this summer, starring the original Broadway cast.

And speaking of Hamilton, this year, original cast member David Diggs released one of the better Hanukkah songs in recent memory, “Puppy for Hanukkah.”

Some of my other favorite artists released new albums or songs during the last 12 months, including Bruce Springsteen, the Avett Brothers, the Killers, Jamie Cullum, Chris Stapleton, and (the newly rebranded) the Chicks, so their music is all over the playlist. (Worth noting there’s some overlap with Barack Obama’s picks here.) Harry Styles’ album Fine Line came out at the end of 2019, but he appears here multiple times, which explains why Spotify said he was my second most-listened-to artist this year.

The Jonas Brothers’ “What a Man Gotta Do,” which leads off the playlist, was released in January and was ubiquitous in the early months of 2020. Can you even believe that song came out this year?

I included songs by Bill Withers and John Prine because we lost both of those great artists this year.

And shoutout to Neon Trees, whose “Nights” is just a fabulous pop song, and one of my favorite tracks of the last few months.

Alright, I don’t need to mention or explain every song on the playlist. But in closing out this blog post, I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least say something about Ben Folds’ melancholy ode to the year — simply titled “2020” — in which he asks, “How many years will we try to cram into one?”

A good question to ask, given how much happened and how much there is to remember. Thankfully, in my case, I’ll have this playlist to help with that effort.

What songs are you including in your 2020 time capsule playlist?

4 Responses to “When the Dust Settled, These Are the Songs That Got Me Through 2020”

  1. Dr Andrew Albert December 21, 2020 at 7:08 am #

    “I’m hungry for a big old plate of sweaty, ear-shredding, live rock and roll, ASAP. The kind that makes your heart race, your body move, and your soul stir with passion.” – yes and yes and soon please.


  1. In Spite of Everything, I’m Ending 2020 Feeling Very Lucky | Martin's Musings - December 30, 2020

    […] To be clear, I’d never say I had a good year in 2020. I spent much of it alone in my small apartment, I was often confused or angry or frustrated (or all three), I lost my job over the summer, I couldn’t travel or go to the movies or experience concerts or do other in-person things I enjoy, and there’s been a nagging sense that life is passing me by while I social distance. As the Lone Bellow sang in their song “Dust Settles,” “I’ve been missing from the land of the living.”  […]

  2. My 2021 Soundtrack Reflects the Times (and Music) I Want to Remember | Martin's Musings - December 13, 2021

    […] you may recall, the Lone Bellow provided my soundtrack for much of 2020, and their music was ever-present once again this year — not just as a group with some new tracks […]

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