It’s not so much that singles are an afterthought for me these days as that they’re very much a side dish. I haven’t reviewed them in a regular column, or contributed to The Singles Jukebox, in ages. And unlike with my friends Frank Kogan (who keeps a running tally on his blog through the year) or Phil Dellio (who for decades has absorbed them by osmosis during real life as a school teacher and moviegoer and baseball fan then frequently written up 10 favorites when years end), they’re far from my primary mode for listening to new music — I remain, somehow, after all these years, mainly an album guy.
But on the other hand, I do listen to new singles the same way I listen to albums (and yes, I do still mean singles not just any old random “tracks” — that is, songs released standalone on line usually but not necessarily before an album comes out, songs available on vinyl 45s, songs promoted to and/or charting on some radio format or viral video platform, lead tracks of EPs): When I hear about or come across something I think I might like, I dump it along with any other potentially interesting new music (i.e., albums) into an unwieldy private playlist called “Reserves” ( in my case almost always on Napster/Rhapsody, the vehicle via which I now pay most of my bills), then when the weekend comes I set it on shuffle and figure out what grabs me and what doesn’t.
Anyway, I can’t even tell you where I first heard of most of the singles below. A few (including my #1 by Sexyy Red and also-rans by Saucy Sinatra and Zebra Katz) I was initially alerted to by one of Frank’s lists. Others I saw mentioned on facebook. One (Miley Cyrus) I actually connected with on my car radio, quite a fluke since on those rare 2020 occasions when I drove somewhere I mostly tended to be tuned into NPR. Most of the rest I somehow more or less stumbled upon. It no doubt helps that, every Wednesday morning, I program Napster’s “New Release” pages for pop, hip-hop, r&b, Latin, metal and country (invariably in that order, thanks to whatever spectrum I’m on.)
I should warn you that several of these songs clearly deserve the dreaded tag “topical” — Directly or indirectly touching on the pandemic (Vinny Venditto, Vice Ganda), social distancing (Luke Combs, Rolling Stones) or racial strife (Lil B, Goodie Mob, Mickey Guyton). So while I’m banking that I’ll still love those after all this strangeness ends, no guarantees. Only three of the 33 (from the Stones, living metal fossils Cirith Ungol and punk-funkish pro-sex post-grrrls Cumgirl8) qualify as “rock” in the “made by a rock band” sense. But Miley earns her “Edge of Seventeen” comparisons, Bree Runway and Zebra Katz are plenty noisy, and Borock N Roll and Lembayung Group respectively sound like rockabilly and doo-wop from another solar system, or at least Indonesia. (Not to be confused with Kamauu’s “Far Rockaway,” which is more like doo-wop from Brooklyn.)
Borock N Roll’s and Luke Combs’s singles made my Nashville Scene country poll ballot (which I’ll post eventually); RaeLynn’s and Mickey Guyton’s would have if I didn’t list their EPs as my top two country albums. Miko Marks is, like Mickey Guyton, an African-American country singer, but “Roll Out” is more the old-school rock-skate-roll-bounce its title suggests, plus it technically came out early in 2019. A Taylor Swift song (“Betty”) did make my country ballot, but I like Ladi Rosa’s “Ain’t No Taylor Swift” even more; like several items here (including both by South Africa’s Semi Tee and both by France’s Black Devil Disco Club which is apparently just one guy), that one’s more “dance music.”
If I’d been asked for a hip-hop top 10 (not that I ever have been), I guess it’d include in some order Sexxy Red, Kamauu, Saweetie, Lil B, Earthgang, Mozzy, R.A. the Rugged Man, Bree Runway, Saucy Sinatra and Zebra Katz, even though a couple of those sound more r&b to my ears — it’s become increasingly difficult to ascertain where everybody else draws the line. Though actually, in 2020, for the first time in almost 40 years, nobody asked me for an overall singles list, either. Thank you for letting me do one anyway.
- Sexyy Red “Northside”
- Borock N Roll “Semesta Menyambut Gegap Gempita”
- Lembayung Group “Aku Berdansa Seorang Diri Disini”
- Rudy Willinham “Pool Party”
- Ladi Rosa “Ain’t No Taylor Swift”
- Miley Cyrus “Midnight Sky”
- Vinny Venditto & YNIQ “It Comes From China”
- Luke Combs “Six Feet Apart”
- Kamauu “Far Rockaway”
- Saweetie feat. Jhené Aiko “Back to the Streets”
- Lil B “I Am George Floyd”
22 HONORABLE MENTIONS BY 20 ARTISTS AND THEIR GUESTS (Alphabetical): Black Devil Disco Club “Six Six Sex” and “Synth is not Love”; Cirith Ungol “Legions Arise”; Maria Colores “Toc Toc”; Cumgirl8 “Cherry Nipples”; Earthgang feat. Wale “Options“; Vice Ganda “Corona Ba-Bye Na!”; Goodie Mob “Frontline”; Mickey Guyton “What Are You Gonna Tell Her?”; Paris Hilton “I Blame You”; Househead Samira “Radio Safia”; Miko Marks “Roll Out”; Mozzy “Big Homie from the Hood”; RaeLynn “Keep Up”; R.A. the Rugged Man feat. Atmosphere and Eamon “Golden Oldies”; Rolling Stones “Living in a Ghost Town”; Bree Runway feat. Yung Baby Tate “Damn Daniel”; Saucy Sinatra feat. LightSkinKeisha “Back it Up”; Semi Tee “Mercedes” (feat. Focalistic) and “Scooter” (feat. Kammu Dee, Miano and DJ Maphorisa); Yello “Waba Duba”; Zebra Katz “Ish.”