Little Malcolm’s Best Songs of 2021

One thing I can say about 2021 is that it served up some great songs! If you’ve got Spotify, click on “Little Malcolm’s Best of 2021” and give a listen, compliments of… Little Malcolm.

Although I never look at the various “Best of” lists before making my annual list, very rarely will any of my selections be found on them.  (Is that a good or a bad thing?)  FWIW, the Apple Music Top 100 includes exactly one (1) of my selections. (That would be Olivia Rodrigo’s “Driver’s License.” Although I know nothing about her, 2021 was clearly a great year for Olivia. At least Apple thought so, making this song their #2 selection and including a couple others in their 100.)

But rather than harp on that, here (in no particular order) are my Top 21 of 21 selections:

1. “Write a List of Things to Look Forward To” by Courtney Barnett – Off Things Take Time, Take Time. In recent years, Ms. Barnett has had a knack for landing on this list. Her stuff is compelling mixed with occasional jabs of off-beat humor.  “I’m walking around, walking around, With my head down, my head down. And I’m pushing away, I’m pushing away. Yeah, I’m pushing away, pushing away.”

2. “Quiet Town” by The Killers – Off Pressure Machine. Might be my fave song on this list.  (Today, anyway) These guys are great. It captures qualities of small town life that grab me because it’s, to steal from Messr. Mellencamp, “Smalltown, just like me.”  That it is. “When we first heard opioid stories, they were always in whispering tones. Now banners of sorrow mark the front steps of childhood homes.”

3. “Leave This House” by Colin James – Off Open Road. Straight ahead, tight, old-time rock & roll. Drummer keeps the beat. Guitar solo in the middle shows off the chops. Throw in some Jerry Lee-influenced piano topped off with good vocals: “When I leave this house, I ain’t comin’ back!” ‘Nuff said.

4. “Stolen Car” by Elton John and Stevie Nicks – Off The Lockdown Sessions.  When I saw that this Elton John compilation included a duet by these two, I had to listen.  Glad I did. “We knew that it wouldn’t last, but we did it to remember. Our love was like a stolen car, pulled over on the freeway.”

5. “Where’s my Pebble?” by NRBQ – Off Dragnet. Friend: “This version of NRBQ doesn’t sound much like the NRBQ of old.” Me: “You say it like it’s a bad thing.” Who else would name an album after a 60’s TV cop show and then include an instrumental rendition of the show’s theme song? Anyway, word to the wise: “You gotta be slick and movin’ mighty quick.”

6. “Mississippi Phone Booth” by John Hiatt w/The Jerry Douglas Band – Off Leftover Feelings. Put this on and crack open Have a Little Faith In Me – The John Hiatt Story, Michael Elliott’s new bio.  “Flat black 84 Camaro, Run it up from New Orleans. Everything south of I-10, I just blew it all to smithereens.”

7. “Carol/Little Queenie” by Chuck Berry. Off Live from Blueberry Hill. Let fans and critics argue Beatles vs. Stones, Temps vs. 4 Tops, Doors vs. Dead, Bowie vs. Zep, etc… As for me, In Chuck I Trust. He’s simply the greatest rock and roller who ever lived and this gem captures two of his signature songs jumbled together. (Fun Fact: The Stones covered both — separately — on their classic 1969 live album Get Yer Ya-Yas Out.) “Meanwhile, I was st-i-i-i-llll thinkin…'”

8. “You Can’t Hide” by Al Anderson – Off A Sweet Relief Tribute to Joey Spampinato. Joey, bass-playing charter member of NRBQ is having major health issues.  So, a bunch of his musical friends (e.g., Bonnie Raitt, Los Lobos, Peter Case) did this tribute album to help cover his medical costs. Big Al, also a charter NRBQ guy who plays a mean guitar, kicks right in with this Q classic. “You can’t hide behind your make-up, you have to let your complexion show.” Did I ever mention that I’m a card-carrying, forever faithful, t-shirt wearing member of The Q People?

9. “Here We Go” by Paul Thorn – I’ve been a Paul Thorn fan ever since I first heard “It’s a Great Day to Whup Somebody’s Ass” (2008). Most put him in the country category, but he’s broader than that. “Makes me smile just to know we’re together, Here we go!”

10. “Theme from B Positive” by Keb Mo. Have never seen this CBS comedy series, but I love Keb Mo and I love this song. “If you’re feeling like crap, it’s time to face the facts. It’s your prerogative to be positive.”

11. “So Ready” by Goose – Bumpy. Jumpy. Catchy. “You know, I saw that eye in the corner of the light. Playing games with my mind, Baby, it’s going down tonight.”

12. “Bloodshot Eyes” by The California Honeydrops – Off Covers from the Cave. Can’t say that I know much about this band, but this is the second consecutive year they’ve made this list (2020: “In the Air”). Guess I like ’em.  “Don’t roll your bloodshot eyes at me. I can tell you’ve been out on a spree.”

13. “Stubborn Love” by Edie Brickell & New Bohemians – Off Hunter and the Dog Star. Saw that Ms. Brickell and her band had released a new single.  Out of respect, checked it out. Glad I did. “All the signs and the symptoms were right there of a stormy ill-fated love affair.”

14. “Promised Land” by Harry Dean Stanton w/The Cheap Dates – Off October 1993.  You may know Mr. Stanton (RIP) for his memorable acting roles in films like Cool Hand Luke, The Green Mile, and Paris, Texas.  What you may not know: Not only was he a respected rock & roller, but at least a half dozen other musicians have name-checked him in songs of their own.  This album re-releases some awesome 1993 covers he did with his band The Cheap Dates, including this musical geography lesson from Chuck Berry. “Tell the folks back home, this is the Promised Land callin’ and the poor boy is on the line.” Also on the playlist is their cover of my all-time fave blues number: Jimmy Reed’s “Bright Lights, Big City.”

15. “The Balcony” by The Fruit Bats – Off The Pet Parade. One of my first picks for this list. “Now alone again as usual, Out on the balcony. A two-point-eight is still a quake, And it can shake away what you believe.”

16. “Sanctuary” by Hiss Golden Messenger – Off Quietly Blowing It. Beyond the fact that this is the best album title I have heard in ages — remember albums? — this song has truly entered by soul. “Feeling bad, feeling blue. Can’t get out of my own mind. I know how to sing about it.”

17. “Last Train Home” by John Mayer – Whatever critics and music fans might say about Messr. Mayer, one thing cannot be disputed: The man has the goods. And he shows it here. “I’m on the last train runnin’. And I surrender.”

18. “What’cha Gonna Do About It” by Ben E. King and Dee Dee Sharp – Re-release of a mid 60s duet recording by two greats. Q: “Daddy, what’s this thing called R&B or soul?” A: “Uhm…Ah… Well, listen to this while I’m thinking of an answer.” Talk about the real thing! “Our love, yeah, is in double jeopardy. Show me, Sugar Pie, what you gonna do about it?!?”

19. “Looking for the Northern Lights” by The Belfast Cowboys – My fave slow song of 2021. A nine-piece outfit inspired by the music of Van Morrison, these guys are great! “The street lights flicker, the sun’s fading fast. You been at that pump all day just tryin’ to get gas. The numbers kept on spinning, but your tank, it never got filled. Neath the city in the brights, we’re looking for the Northern Lights.”

20. “Coltrane” by Hailey Tuck – Hailey Tuck’s high on my list of “Musician’s Who Ought to be Huge.” I’m a devoted fan. Resolution for 2022: See her Live. And here’s the best lyrical line from any song on this list: “I’m the bottom of your empty martini, a hummingbird at your windowpane. I’ll be blooming, but you still never see me. I’ll be the Alice to your John Coltrane.”

21. “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” by Karla Bonoff (w/Michael McDonald) – If Hailey Tuck belongs high on the MWOTBH list, Karla Bonoff is her spiritual godmother. I have all her albums and her performance 20 years ago at First Parish Church in Brunswick, Maine (not a misprint) stands as one of my all-time greatest live music experiences. Here she teams up with Michael McDonald which, as one might hear just about anywhere within earshot of said church (Well, at least on the northward side), “Ain’t too shabby.” Indeed.  “Rejoice! Rejoice!  Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”

Other Great 2021 songs you’ll find — in no particular order — on the “Little Malcolm’s Best of 2021” Spotify playlist:

  • “More Love than Money” by Leeroy Stagger – Off Dystopian Weekends
  • “Million Dollar Bill” by Conor Oberst
  • “All Kinds of Blue” by Jeremy Ivey (w/ Margo Price)
  • “Easy/Lucky/Free” by Dawes
  • “Why the Bright Stars Glow” by Valerie June (w/ Mavis Staples)
  • “I’m More Inclined” by Teenage Fanclub
  • “You’ll Accomp’ny Me” by Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band
  • “Bright Lights, Big City City” by Harry Dean Stanton w/The Cheap Dates – Off October 1993
  • “New York” by Amanda Anne Platt & the Honeycutters
  • “Joker 1.5” by Jupiter Coyote
  • “Drivers License” by Olivia Rodrigo
  • “Bike Ride on 35-W” by The Belfast Cowboys
  • “Fat Man in the Bath Tub” by Little Feat – Off Waiting for Columbus (45th Anniversary)
  • “24 Brand-New Hours” by Proxima Parada
  • “Angel Band” by Leslie Jordan (w/Brandi Carlile)
  • “Ain’t No Bread in the Breadbox” by Jerry Garcia Band – Off Garcia Live: Volume 16 (Madison Square Garden – 11/15/91)

Onward, Malcolm Gauld