The Top 20 Songs (according to me)

Strumings readers have seen (and yes, some have mocked) my top 20 lists in the past. That’s OK. Of course, I know with 100% confidence that my lists are in fact the definitive lists of the best music, and I am uniquely qualified to make that judgement, says me.  

There was in fact some science to this as Spotify helped me compile this updated list. Gotta trust the science. Spotify users know that they smartly package individual “Wrapped” compilations showing their listeners annually what they individually listened to and ranking their favorites from the past year. And I have been a heavy listener. Spotify tells me I’ve listened to 15,156 minutes of music or 252 hours (10+ full days) of music during this year. That breaks down to roughly 40+ minutes daily.

Spotify has been a good friend in 2021 and was my companion on many of my marathon walks this year. My daughter, Carolyn, accompanied me on many walks early in the year before she returned to NYC.  But most of my walks are solo. And that’s OK. I enjoy my company (and Spotify’s company as well). 2021 has been a walking year for me and I have averaged 11-12k steps daily or roughly 5 miles daily. That rolls up into roughly 80 minutes daily of walking. I have 6 pairs of ACICS, a truly great sneaker which provides excellent support for my girthy frame. In total I’ve walked roughly 1800 miles this year, or roughly New York to Denver. That’s a lot of steps. And most importantly, in the establishment of the top 20 list, that’s a lot of music listening.

So with that pre-ramble, here are the top 20 (listened to) songs according to me in 2021, in reverse order. It’s a “yachty” list. Worth sampling some of the tunes.

20. Line in the Dust–Bruce Hornsby

Probably the least known song in the list, Bruce Hornsby has been a personal fave and this tune from the Spirit Trail collection is upbeat and terrific. This is the first of 3 Hornsby tunes.

19. Uncle John’s Band—Grateful Dead

From their brilliant Workingman’s Dead (my 2nd favorite Dead album after American Beauty), the production is so good that Garcia’s voice sounds great and the Garcia/Weir/Lesh harmonies sound like Crosby, Stills and Nash.   

18. Only You Know and I Know—Dave Mason

Love this song. Dave Mason played with Traffic and perhaps is best known for singing lead on their song, Feeling Alright.

17. Babylon—David Gray

“Let go your heart, let go your head”. Great lyrics and sticks in your head.

16. The Valley Road—Bruce Hornsby

Another great Hornsby tune.

15. Missing You—John Waite

Haunting song with a strong opening line, “Every time I think of you, I always catch my breath.”

14. Galveston—Glen Campbell

Glen Campbell music years ago sounded passe, yet I now appreciate at a far deeper level. Galveston was one of several Campbell songs penned by Jimmy Webb.

13. Once in a Lifetime—Talking Heads

I loved the Talking Heads and this one is a classic. It’s part of the American Utopia show still on Broadway. David Bryne is a genius.

12. Bruce Hornsby—Every Little Kiss

The 3rd Hornsby song on the list was from the Bruce Hornsby & the Range’s 1986 collection, The Way It Is. The title song & Madolin Rain were also terrific, but Every Little Kiss was a personal fave.

11. Doobie Brothers—What a Fool Believes

Co-written by Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald this is a universally popular song with great sticking power.

10. Classical Gas—Mason Williams

One of the best instrumentals of all time this 1968 song composed and performed by Mason Williams stands the test of time

9. Bird Song (Live)—Grateful Dead

The studio version of this song was from the first Garcia album, a classic. Other great songs from that album were Sugaree, Wheel and Deal. We all miss Jerry, but his music lives on.

8. I.G.Y. (What a Beautiful World)—Donald Fagen

In 1982 Donald Fagen (from Steely Dan) released his first solo album, The Nightfly. No mention was directly made of the International Geophysical Year (1956-1957), other than singing about What a Beautiful World this will world would become. Guess the world fell a little short.

7. MacArthur Park—Richard Harris

The subject of a past Struming, my appreciation of this song grows over time. The lyrics, which I had mistakenly thought were nonsense, were in fact a sorrowful remembrance of a lost love of its creator Jimmy Webb. This song of many parts still sends a chill down my spine with its powerful climax.

6. Sailing—Christopher Cross

Christopher Cross was a 1980 phenom. Song of the Year, Record of the Year, New Artist of the Year, Album of the Year. All deserved. His fame was fleeting however as he did not translate well into MTV era. I enjoyed seeing him perform this fall behind the 40th anniversary tour. His voice is still strong. And Sailing is the ultimate beach song while nodding off into a nap under an umbrella. Very yachty. Yeah I know his signing is nasal, but I am addicted.

5. Girlfriend is Better—Talking Heads

Two words—Big Suit. Don’t understand? Watch Stop Making Sense, the best concert movie of all time.

4. Dancing in the Moonlight—King Harvest

If you’re going to be a one hit wonder, make it really great. King Harvest did. Puts a smile on my face every time.

3. Somebody’s Baby—Jackson Browne

Fast Times at Ridgemont High is the ultimate teen movie, and this song from that movie is truly great. Sean Penn’s greatest role too.

2. Peg—Steely Dan

I saw Steely Dan perform Aja live at the Met in Philadelphia in October. Great concert! Peg was one of the 7 terrific cuts from that classic album. Michael McDonald added his vocals to the chorus on the studio album. Love it.

1.Hey Nineteen—Steely Dan

And once again from Steely Dan this time from their Gaucho album. This tune is the ode to romance with the younger girl who didn’t even know Aretha Franklin. “She don’t remember the Queen of Soul”

A fine list indeed if I say so myself. Steely Dan/Donald Fagen obviously tops the list with 3 top 20 selections at #1, 2 and 8. But Bruce Hornsby also has 3 top 20 selections, albeit lower at #12, 16, & 20. However, given his role as a member of the Grateful Dead for several years Hornsby could reign as the leader given the Dead’s #9 & 19 positions. The Talking Heads also are prominent with two top 20 at #5 & 13.

Alas past personal favorites—Keith, 98.6/Redbone, Come and Get Your Love/Looking Glass, Brandy fell out of the top 20, but still are classics.  So that’s my top 20. Obviously heavy on 70s and 80s, but I do have some miles on me.

Happy for feedback. Appreciate Strumings readers who agree. To those who don’t agree….ppppffffftttt.

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  1. JimKENNEDY says:

    I’m on board with Steely Dan and the Dead, others not so sure, but I look for similarities not differences. The biggest plus: Distinct absence of “Afternoon Delight”.
    Galveston is my favorite GC son. It is really in his vocal range and he does a great job . If I recall the time is 2:34 – I played it during my college radio days. I saw Mason Williams perform Classical Gas live once on the Smothers Brothers show. Yours is a great list. Thanks for sharing it!

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