2014 Best Songs (part 1)

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2014 was an embarrassment of riches, musically speaking. It seemed that most every album I listened to contained at least 1 or 2 standout tracks, making it difficult to pare this list down to 25. But I did pare it down and I decided to divide it up by genre, even though many of these choices don’t easily fit into a genre box. For lack of better categories, I’ve broken it down to: Punk-Garage, R&B-Soul, Americana-Country, Mellow-Alternative and Pop Rock. Each of these categories will get 5 entries. Since I’m leaving so many of my favorites out, I thought I’d mention a few honorables here that deserve more effusive praise, and do, on many of the popular end-of-year lists: Bob Mould, Neil Finn, Prince, Cheetas, Jack White, St. Vincent, Mary Gauthier, Lydia Ainsworth, Judas Priest, The Weakerthans, The Notwist, Jessica Lee Mayfield, Strand of Oaks, and St. Paul & the Broken Bones. That’s 14 artists that didn’t make the cut today, but might tomorrow.

I’ve sorted these songs as a musical equivalent of a 4 course meal. I’ll start it off with the Pop-Rock category. Catchy songs with a little bit of bite but nothing too heavy. Something to whet the palate, very pleasing and not too complex. More of an amuse bouche. A tasty appetizer. This will be followed by the salad or vegetable course, which I will associate with my Americana-Country list. Something to savor, something with a little spice, something home-grown and down to earth. For the 3rd course, we are ready for the main entrée, the fish, meat or the hearty-vegetarian dish. This, would clearly match up well with the Soul-R&B playlist. Something rich and savory, perhaps with a thick and rib-sticking sauce. For the 4th course, dessert, we get to indulge our sweet tooth, which one might not associate with punk rock, but to me, I equate the perfect three-minute punk song with a pineapple upside-down cake. Dessert is essential. It is what completes the meal. Without it, the meal is lacking. And desserts are meant to be shared. Punk rock is a shared experience. We use the same spoon and devour the chocolate mousse. But what of the 5th category? Well, the 5th category is the after meal coffee or tea, the glass of port, the brandy. Something to help digest the previous four courses. So for this, I will provide the Mellow-Alternative playlist.

As I was compiling these 25 songs, two more categories came to mind, which says a bit about my age, and what speaks truest to me, but it also speaks to the great bounty that was music in 2014.  At least 1/3 or more of my favorite albums of the year were by artists over the age of 50.  Artists with long track records, some who have maintained their excellence for more than 50 years, others who have recaptured the vitality of their earlier heyday.  I will add a more exploratory post on these 10 fabulous records after I finish the top 25 (and two of the below artists are in the top 25), but I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out to the Elder Statesmen and Women of 2014.  Given more time with all the albums of the year, I could see the below albums being the ten best of the year. But, I did agree (with myself) to stick to the 5 course/5 genre concept, so that’s what I’m gonna do.  (See next post)

But for now, here are ten albums that should be a part of any music lover’s collection:

(Links to full album plays on YouTube.)

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Hypnotic Eye

Robert Plant – Lullaby and the…Ceaseless Roar

Bryan Ferry – Avonmore

Leonard Cohen – Popular Problems

Willie Nelson – Band of Brothers

Rosanne Cash – The River and the Thread

Lucinda Williams – Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone

Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings – Give the People What They Want

Mary J. Blige – The London Sessions

Mary Gauthier – Trouble and Love

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