Pet Sounds is one of the greatest albums of all time. There’s no doubt about it.
Released by The Beach Boys in 1966, it peaked at number 10 on the charts, which was actually considered a disappointment seeing as how successful the band had been at the time. While modern critics have come to understand how groundbreaking this album is, at the time, critical reception was also more mixed than previous albums, with some recognizing the album’s intricate genius while others were confused by the dramatic change in sound and tone from the albums of yesteryear. After all, the last Beach Boys album before this point was the empty-headed fun of The Beach Boys Party!
Within a year, however, the tides turned: following Pet Sounds was the single “Good Vibrations,” a compositional masterwork that shot to #1 on the charts and restored The Beach Boys in the public eye, at least for a moment.
“Good Vibrations” was intended to be one of the songs off of an album called SMiLE, a collection of sounds that would go in even more bizarre and interesting directions than its predecessor. However, Brian Wilson’s struggles with mental illness and drug use, as well as anxiety over how the public would view the album, ultimately led to the album being shut down, at least for the time being. Some of the recordings for this album were quickly compiled into Smiley Smile, which confused many and did not perform well on the charts. This sudden halt in momentum was highly detrimental to both Brian’s mental health and the band’s status as stars, and for many, this is where the story of the Beach Boys ends. This could not be farther from the truth.
From 1967 to 1974, The Beach Boys proved themselves to be remarkable composers, lyricists, and musicians, even with the dwindling participation of Brian, though he still contributed songs and ideas from time to time. Starting with Wild Honey and ending with Holland, there were ideas and gems abound on each tracklist.
Wild Honey seems to be The Beach Boys dusting themselves off after Smiley Smile. The title track, standout single “Darlin’” (which shot to a refreshing #19 on the charts), and “How She Boogalooed It” proved that the boys could still have fun while advancing themselves as musicians. Other songs such as “Let the Wind Blow,” “I’d Love Just Once to See You,” and “Aren’t You Glad,” serve as foreshadowing to what was to come from the band in the future, with comprehensive melodies and thoughtful pacing. Carl Wilson also continues to prove himself as a vocal powerhouse on this album, his singing on “Darlin’” being particularly impressive.
Friends, released in 1968, is one of the most overlooked albums in the band’s discography. The vocal stylings and song structures give off the sense that this album is the perfect pairing of pre-Pet Sounds pop sensibilities and post-Pet Sounds musical knowledge. “Anna Lee, The Healer,” “Passing By,” and the title track have an innocence to them that harkens back to days on the beach while refusing to stop moving forward. Dennis Wilson also begins to come out of his shell on this album, writing the songs “Little Bird” and “Be Still,” which are both beautiful songs and serve as indicators of where Dennis’s writing would go in the future. Overall, the album feels very appropriate for the time and features some of the strongest vocal concoctions from the band, particularly on the chorus of “Anna Lee, The Healer.”
20/20 sees the band emerge from the gentleness of Friends with a newfound grit and energy while still preserving their melodic roots. The first two tracks on the album, Mike Love’s perfect nostalgia bait “Do It Again” and a gloriously performed cover of The Ronettes “I Can Hear Music” kick the album off in style and even got some love from the record buying public. The tight, punchy pop of “Bluebirds Over the Mountain” is punctuated by loud, surprisingly distorted guitar licks throughout, while “All I Want To Do” features some of Mike Love’s most passionate lyrics yet, making the song a fun listen. However, the album isn’t all late 60’s coarseness: newly minted member Bruce Johnston has his moment in the spotlight with the piano instrumental “The Nearest Faraway Place,” and Dennis Wilson’s gently swaying “Be With Me” serves as a stunning power ballad. Other standouts include Al Jardine’s jaunty take on “Cotton Fields,” the soothing waltz “Time to Get Alone,” and the surprise SMiLE compositions “Our Prayer” and “Cabinessence,” which, while they don’t entirely fit the feel of the album, are still mind blowing musical experiments.
The 1970’s kicked off with Sunflower, one of the band’s greatest albums. The Dennis composition “Slip on Through” kicks things off with gusto, followed by the soulful “This Whole World” and “Add Some Music to Your Day,” the latter of which features incredibly rich vocal harmonies. “It’s About Time” still stands out to this day as one of the band’s most grandiose, powerful tunes; it would become a killer live track in years to come. Ballads such as Bruce Johnston’s “Tears in the Morning” and Dennis Wilson’s classic love song “Forever” showcase a new dimension of the band’s softer side. The sonic experimentation on this record must be noted as well, with the cavernous opening of “Dierdre,” the proto-dream pop of “All I Wanna Do,” and the intricate, multifaceted “Cool, Cool Water,” the latter originating during the SMiLe sessions, showcasing a band not just evolving with the times, but leading the pack.
1971’s Surf’s Up features an even more eclectic mix of material. The album kicks off with the catchy yet urgent “Don’t Go Near The Water,” an environmental message that still holds up today, sadly. Following this song is “Long Promised Road,” which serves as a reminder of how amazing Carl’s voice is. Other standouts on the album include the sunkissed Bruce Johnston classic “Disney Girls (1957),” the thoughtful and atmospheric “Feel Flows,” and the incredibly bleak, Brian Wilson-penned “‘Til I Die.” Capping off the album is one of the more famous SMiLE cuts, the title track. Featuring multiple segments that coalesce under a dusky, murky instrumental and obscure lyrics, the song is yet another example of Brian Wilson’s compositional abilities.
In the following year, the band released two albums, both featuring new members Blondie Chaplin and Ricky Fataar, formerly of the band The Flame. These albums, Carl and the Passions – So Tough and Holland, showcase a band that is confidently wading into the future. At this point, The Beach Boys had begun to see renewed critical acclaim and a steadily increasing presence at their live shows, though record sales were still lacking. They were embracing a new image, and with that, they kicked down the door in 1972 with some of their strongest work yet.
Carl and the Passions opens with “You Need a Mess of Help to Stand Alone,” a funky number that shows off a groovier side of The Beach Boys. It features intricate vocal harmonies, tight guitar solos, and stabbing piano hits that roll it along at a quick pace with Ricky’s drumming. Blondie gets his first shot at the spotlight with the strutting “Here She Comes,” on which he proves himself to be a strong vocalist. “Marcella,” is a quintessential 70’s Beach Boys track, with its sultry piano, lush guitars, rich production, and stacked vocals that flow every which way during the chorus of the song. “Make it Good,” is another spacious, beautiful Dennis Wilson ballad, with his vulnerable vocal backed by a Hollywood-esque wall of orchestration and vocal harmonies that could bring a tear to even the most hardened listener’s eye. “All This is That” feels like a late 60’s cut, with its meditative themes, blissful harmonies, and mellow vibes. Ending the album is “Cuddle Up,” another Dennis ballad that closes the curtain with a deeply emotional bow.
Later that year came Holland, truly a spectacular album. These nine songs feel like the culmination of years of growing and maturing as artists. “Sail On, Sailor” is a powerful and entertaining opener fronted by Blondie, and its swelling 6/8 time instrumentation gives it an appropriate seafaring feel. The surprisingly sludgy and austere “Steamboat” follows, with Carl’s plaintive vocal acting as a beacon within the murky low tones of the instrumentation. The next three songs, “Big Sur,” “The Beaks of Eagles,” and “California” all comprise a suite known as The California Saga. The fact that The Beach Boys even attempted a song suite is commendable, but the songs included are even more so. “Big Sur” is a charming waltz powered by harmonica and pedal steel guitar. Dreamy lyrics describe elements of California that are often overlooked, such as its forests. “The Beaks of Eagles” is a stunningly creative piece, featuring spoken word sections accompanied by flute flourishes, piano, and ghostly harmonies. In contrast, there are also sections of the song that roll merrily along, as if to break the tension. Finally, “California” is a euphoric, grown up version of the 60’s sound, with Mike Love harkening back to multiple iconic Californian sites such as the Big Sur Congregation and the farmhouse in the sycamores. It’s a lot of fun and is probably the most authentically “Beach Boys” the band had been in years.
The second side of the album starts off with “The Trader,” a stalwart piece of music with its head held high before things quiet down after a sudden key change from D major to C major halfway through. “Leaving This Town” stands as Blondie and Ricky’s highlight during their time with the band, with haunting piano chords, heart wrenching lyrics, and a synthesizer solo of all things burning the song into the mind of the listener. “Only With You” stands out as one of Dennis’s most beautiful compositions. Velvety piano mixes with faint, heavenly strings in a way that has hardly ever happened, with the watery production actually helping the song’s graceful nature. Finally, “Funky Pretty” ends the album with some quality lyrics from Mike Love and an applause-worthy instrumental from the band. Also of note is the companion EP to this album, Brian Wilson’s fairytale Mt. Vernon and Fairway, the intriguing instrumental and descriptive narration making it a strange listen that proves that Brian still had something to say.
After 1974, with the release of the hugely successful best hits compilation Endless Summer, the dream was over, and the music that followed largely revolved around trying to repeat past successes, chase pop trends, and cover oldies. However, the music produced in 1967-74 proves not only that The Beach Boys were far from adrift after Pet Sounds, but that each member could shine in his own right. Even the worst cuts from this era demonstrate that the band was fighting into the future, discovering new and interesting ways to express themselves. Although not nearly enough people know about these classic albums, for those who have listened to them, they will always stand the test of time as musical classics.
Well somehow we’re at the end of 2020 (yeah happy new year by the way) and what a rollercoaster it has been. Nobody’s year went to plan, and we’ve all been desperate for a better 2021. But looking back on the year, we were treated to a lot of pretty awesome music. So to recap on our favourites, the TWM team have come together to give you our collective record collection, of our favourite albums that 2020 had to offer us.
SONGS FOR THE GENERAL PUBLIC BY THE LEMON TWIGS
Kylie: Let’s dive into my favourite record of the year, shall we? Prior to the album’s release in August, I simply considered myself a casual fan of The Lemon Twigs. As I type this, however, there is a poster hung up high on my wall along with some merch tucked away in my closet. With that in mind, it’s safe to say I completely fell in love after listening to Songs For The General Public (because, well, it’s the truth!). I grew up being surrounded by the roars of the 1970s, so naturally, I have always held a slight preference for that decade of songwriting and musical craftsmanship as a whole. The Lemon Twigs flawlessly introduce that particular flare into the modern age, and they do so in a way that isn’t a copycat, cut-and-paste sound. It’s very distinctly them, and although their influences may shine through every now and then, it’s still The Lemon Twigs. Songs For The General Public is nothing short of brilliance; each and every track is a work of art. I still have trouble deciding my favourite song off of this record, but because I want every single person reading this to give it a full listen, here are three recommendations: Nobody Holds You (Closer Than The One You Haven’t Met), Fight, and Moon. Thank me later.
Liam: Somehow managing to channel Bowie’s ghost, Declan McKenna managed to drop one of the best albums I’ve heard in a long time, definitely my favourite record of the year. An album with no filler and some killer songwriting. If you thought What Do You Think About The Car? was good, your mind will be blown upon hearing track one of Zeros. Upon its release I could not stop listening to it, other albums popped up here and there but this album for me was an instant hit, Declan felt unstoppable. Pure indie pop production that made the hits POP out. Declan’s voice solidly grown since the last record, the voice cracks replaced with raspy belts and shouts that somehow envoke more anger and frustration from the social commentary of the last album somehow. Hit by a plague of a year, this album shone a light through the darkness for all to see.
K: And well if I were to sum up this record in just a few words, I’d probably say something along the lines of thrilling, electrifying, and powerful. Zeros is an absolute explosion of an album. As you make your way through the tracklist, you are thwarted deeper and deeper into the alternate universe Declan has created, though, you may eventually find that it isn’t too far off from our own. Using his music to cast a spotlight on important world issues, Declan isn’t a stranger to political music. His debut album, What Do You Think About The Car?, led to many labelling Declan as a political musician due to the album’s strong messages and ideas. Although he doesn’t want to trap himself in one box when it comes to songwriting, Zeros emphasizes the importance of a variety of issues in a more intricate, storytelling fashion. Focusing on environmental issues, abuse of power, and the ever-looming fear of the unknown, Declan McKenna’s sophomore album is certainly one to remember.
L: The Archer was a phenomenal album from Portland singer-songwriter Alexandra Savior. Completely rounding her sound previously crafted from her first LP Belladonna Of Sadness, but this time completely on her own without the help of Alex Turner. With the pressure of losing her record deal, manager and writing the entire album on her own, this almost gateway of freedom allowed Savior to explore her sound and the ways she could fine-tune it to become The Archer. Being finished all the way back in 2018, after the label struggles, her prowess was seen by 30th Century Records, and in January she dropped her most ambitious work to date. The Archer makes you feel as if your life is a movie, and God herself has decided to write the soundtrack. Alexandra Savior’s latest effort is the effect of slowing down time during an adrenaline rush, a complete pipe dream that blends to your skin.
Aimee: The moment I first listened to Belladonna Of Sadness I knew that Alexandra Savior was something special. She delivered such a well-executed record with real conviction, but as mentioned by Liam, her 2020 release The Archer truly hits the target. This time lighter and cloaked with a haze of mist, her second record is enough of a departure to keep things fresh but still contains that cinematic wonder we already loved her for. She really hones that trade-mark sound whilst using it to show a different side; where a greater sense of vulnerability is present (but still backed by that strong attitude and spirit rooted within). The Archer effortlessly sweeps you away on a journey as personal as creating it was to Savior. A perfect experience for entering a new year; the LP gives you what feels like endless time and space to reminisce and reflect on feelings that have washed over or hit hard and even dream about what is to come.
A:Ultra Mono was the first album that I wrote about for TWM and what an album it is; loud, gutsy and in your face (exactly what a record from Idles should be). It kicked off my journey here with a bang, their transitional tracks and brash beating sound a sure-fire way of supplying a bolt of energy to any listener. Sticking true to their guns, there’s no shying away from divisive topics with bold declarations; delivered via lyrics that paint a picture with each line. The Bristol band have proven their strength from the start but have definitely evolved record to record with this third being their most diverse yet. The LP is not only charged and weighty but also flexes their abilities to produce a softer sound at times (see: ‘A Hymn’), as well as having some fun with cheeky digs and quick-witted lines (‘Grounds’). Ultra Mono couldn’t have come at a better time; never shying away from harsh truths and providing a great dose of motivation, it was one hell of a record to help us through one of the strangest years imaginable. I’m sure it will see us through whatever is heading our way next too.
James: I think it’s very much true that punk is BACK IN and my god how good it feels to see a record like Ultra Mono become so adored by music lovers. As my dad asked me yesterday with a tear in his eye ‘your generation are listening to punk again?’ Yes, dad, Ultra Mono is certainly paving the way for a generation of new bands and a bit of kick-ass music is exactly what last year needed to see us through to the end. It’s the album which first brought IDLES to my attention and something tells me I’ll be buying their records for a long time to come now.
K: I can vividly remember what I was doing and where I was at when Kevin Parker announced last year that a new album was on the horizon. I swore that this was a sign that 2020 was about to be incredible; I mean, a new Tame album after five years? Pinch me.
Even though we are all well aware of the fact that the year turned out to be a giant catastrophe, The Slow Rush gave us one last treat before the world flipped upside down. I can confidently say that it was well worth the wait, and although I’m still mourning the fact that I was meant to catch a show this year, I’m even more confident that the live shows will be just as worth it. With tracks like “Lost in Yesterday,” “Instant Destiny,” and “Breathe Deeper,” it’d be criminal to not include this record on any “Best of 2020” list. Everything Tame Impala puts out is the musical manifestation of magic, and The Slow Rush is certainly no exception.
L: Exactly, five years after the release of Currents and Kevin Parker drops The Slow Rush? Damn. A record like Currents is hard to top, but Parker definitely gave us his all. This album for me was probably the most prevalent LP throughout the year. With some albums, you get lost in the hype and after 3 months of non-stop exposure to it, you suddenly find yourself distant from it, having moved onto the next big release. But The Slow Rush was different. Different tracks growing on me and becoming my next favourite off the album, right from it’s release in February, to only a couple weeks ago upon me grabbing a vinyl copy and hearing it again in a whole new light. 5 years worth of inspiration, experience and production has given us some of the most solid producing Parker has given us yet. The Slow Rush was a good summary for this year, and for me, really helped me get through this challenge. Hearing track 1, One More Year hits differently now, and I think this entire album will now for the rest of my life.
L: Donald Glover’s fourth studio album 3.15.20 came out of nowhere, but then seemed to slip under the radar a smidge too. Being released just days before the first national lockdown here in the UK, perhaps people’s minds were far too spaced out to fully notice and appreciate it. Which is a massive shame because it’s actually a really good record. If you’re expecting Because The Internet 2.0 or Awaken My Love the sequel then you’ll be disappointed, but if you’ve been liking the latest ventures from Childish Gambino like This Is America and Feels Like Summer you’ll be in for a treat, especially with Feels Like Summer making the cut onto the record. With features from Ariana Grande to 21 Savage and more, the album flows completely seamlessly, with each track transitioning into the next. Each track apart from 2 exceptions are unnamed, each entitled with the timestamp that each respective track starts during the LP. What this does though, is in a modern world where the consumption of singles has almost completely thrashed the album playthrough out of the park, it makes you listen to this whole album through and through, and appreciate all 57 minutes of it from start to finish. And with it being a bit of a hidden gem at the minute, you can bet you’ll find some tracks you wish you’d have known sooner.
K: Bliss. Pure, bona fide bliss. Katy J Pearson is an absolute gift of a musician, and her debut album as a solo artist, Return, marks the beginning of a luminescent new chapter for the young singer. This record is a peaceful spring afternoon, swinging in a hammock, book in hand…
Alright, alright I’m back; I got a bit lost in my own metaphor. Words cannot accurately express my love for this record enough. I am completely infatuated with every single aspect of it, and as soon as I heard it for the first time, I texted just about everyone I know about this beautiful songstress. I even wrote a piece on her, which you can check out here (wink, wink). This record quickly became a top pick for me before I even finished it in its entirety, and I genuinely cannot wait to see what else is in store. Do yourselves a favour, stop what you’re doing, and give Katy J Pearson a listen—you will not regret it.
L: Thundercat’s fourth studio album It Is What It Is was a smash in the ballpark for the Californian singer and bassist. Smooth soul-infused funk to serenade you through whatever your day may bring you. There’s no denying the talent within this man, the things he plays and sings over at the same time were always complex and beautiful, but his 2020 effort surpassed expectations. Featuring artists such as Steve Lacy, Childish Gambino, Louis Cole and Steve Arrington, the album certainly knows how to catch your ears and dig in deep to your soul. This record goes through a lot of emotions but in typical Thundercat fashion, it’s humorous, and that little element of realism helps ground this artistically wonderful collection of music, to the real world. It’s heaven don’t get me wrong, but it’s heaven with a sign with your name on it.
J: Just when you thought Fontaines D.C. couldn’t top their debut album Dogrel (2019), in 2020, they came through with perhaps the most anticipated and most incredible follow-up album since Joy Division’s Closer. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, Fontaines D.C. will likely be remembered as one of the best underground post-punk bands of their generation. They may not have been able to tour the album extensively this year, however, but it’s by no means hindered the response from fans. We can’t wait to see them put on a show with the songs from their second LP once venues reopen. Instead of touring, the band have been hard at work on the excellent live sessions which premiered on their YouTube channel. The sessions are truly the closest I’ve felt to the excitement and atmosphere of a live gig all year.
L: Yeah I mean I’ll be honest when this album dropped I didn’t really think it had much of a lasting impression on me. But over the weeks I noticed myself coming back to it, over and over. Tracks such as I Don’t Belong and the title track A Hero’s Death completely dominating my months’ playlists at times. After thoroughly enjoying Dogrel, it was 2020s A Hero’s Death that solidified me as a fan of Fontaines D.C.
L: The wild ride of The 1975s fourth album was not an easy one, for fans or the band. After having to delay the album multiple times, and then a global pandemic cancelling the entire tour beyond rescheduling. Notes On A Condition Form was a long, coherently messy (if that’s a term we can all get behind) album, and that’s not to knock it, I love how diverse the album is. I know I said this about The Slow Rush but I think within the context of 2020 and isolation, this album really did feel connected to my soul when it was released. Somehow encapsulating almost every anxiety and pleasure that you could go through during this heartache of a year. Lyrically perhaps some of Matty’s most personal delves into his mind, but so intrusively relevant into mine as well. It’s one of those records that listening back to, you’ll never really separate it’s universe to the year it happened to collide with, but in the years to come, perhaps that’s something good. A retrospective of the worst, and a reminder that even in the darkest of times, we can pull through anything.
K: Alright, I may be a bit biased here considering The 1975 is my favourite modern band, but this is without a doubt one of my top records of the year. NOACF is new territory for the band, experimenting with different sounds, styles, and genres, and the end result is otherworldly. I listened to the entire album as soon as it dropped at midnight, and I was on the phone with my friend since we couldn’t be together to hear it. It was truly such a magical, unforgettable experience; it was a few months into the madness of the pandemic, and although we were separated, this album helped us feel connected again. Without trying to get too sappy here, this album has undeniably been a rock for me throughout the year. I absolutely adore every single song on NOACF, and I have my fingers crossed that I’ll be able to hear them live sooner than expected.
L: Nothing But Thieves latest outing certainly packs a punch. The typical RnB inspired rockers have gone at it again, this time with an emphasis on electronic music that really nails a new sound for the band, whilst staying true to their roots. It’s this kind of innovation that’s saving rock and roll. Moral Panic is an album written before Covid times but somehow completely gets the struggles and issues we’ve faced this year. I don’t know if that’s supposed to be comforting or not as a social commentary. But whatever the case, it makes for an integral listen for those who’ve simply had enough of the nightmare that has been 2020. Moral Panic is setting in, and Nothing But Thieves are not gonna let that slide. This is a rock record where the guitars are amped up to groove with you. If rock decided to start up a disco, this is what they’d play first. Another album that rounds up those 2020 vibes but in a way that you can dance your cares away in your living room.
J: In a year which felt like the world was falling apart and had everyone shaking their head at the thought of four more years of Trump, Run The Jewels sucker-punched the world with their highly anticipated fourth album. Like each of their albums before this, the record is a frustration driven rave in your pocket from beginning to end. The angst of a generation poured into one great record. In response to some of the year’s events which woke up the world; the killing of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests which followed, RTJ4 makes good on the promise of keeping that flame alive with an important collaboration of phenomenal hip-hop artists. Along with Pharrell Williams, DJ Premier, desert rock legend Josh Homme and many more, RTJ4 is a library of fight songs to take the momentum built this year into the next.
L: Speaking of Mr Homme as a big fan of his work, upon hearing he co-produced the album I just had to listen to it, and I was pleasantly surprised that the album sounded nothing like any of his typical work. I wouldn’t have known he had anything to do with the album had it not been for the beauty of Wikipedia and word of mouth. But Homme aside, all that meant was I discovered RTJ4 and really dug the grooves this record had on offer. With pulling the pin being my personal highlight, the entire album was just such a wonderful avert of my expectations going into it completely blind, which was such a blissful feeling because nowadays it’s damn near impossible to do that. But the payoff was well worth it and discovering Run The Jewels was something brilliant.
L: Mura Masa’s second album was a change of tone from their first musical venture. R.Y.C becomes this millennial outcry. Being young in the 21st century is no easy feat, but R.Y.C is an album that encapsulates all the rage of being a young adult in 2020. Being this more guitar-driven, sugar-coated, slacker, indie/folk/pop combine harvest, there’s little here to not relate to. Alexander Crossan’s vocals really hit home here, completely humanizing the angst and fear of modernity. But he’s got help all over the album, with features from Clairo, Slowthai, Ellie Rowsell of Wolf Alice, Georgia and many more. All within that young adult bracket, so the roots of this record dig really deep into every performance. Going from the blissful calmic a meeting at an oak tree Featuring Ned Green to the angry demoralisation of Deal Wiv It Featuring Slowthai, possibly the highlight of the whole album, talking about the harsh reality of gentrification and the changes of the modern world that sticks out like an upright nail in a game of heads down thumbs up. A shout for attention that’s completely and utterly deserved. This entire album goes through the ropes as the soundtrack of a coming of age film for the modern sadboi, but trust me, it’s completely worth the experience of listening all the way through.
And so here we are at the end of our collection. Out of all the albums we loved throughout the year, there was just one that we all loved and felt like it deserved the spotlight.
Before we get onto why we love this album so much, all of us at TWM would like to thank you for your support over our magazine. We absolutely love sharing new music with you, and we’ve got a lot more in store for this new year.
So if you only take just one record from this list, we can all safely say this is a safe bet to go with.
WORKING MEN’S CLUB BY WORKING MEN’S CLUB
K: Stumbling upon this group felt like unearthing pure gold. Working Men’s Club is absolutely hypnotic, and at times, it’s hard to believe this record isn’t a hidden gem from the 80s or 90s. As we all know, 2020 was the year of distance and isolation, but this record massively helps with making you feel like you’re on a night out despite staying at home in your pyjamas while desperately trying to figure out what day of the week it is. Aside from the mesmerizing, addictive beats, the songwriting is just as brilliant (“Cook a Coffee,” anyone?). There is an abundance of genius within this album, and considering the fact that this is just their debut, Working Men’s Club are well on their way to becoming something incredibly special.
L: I remember when Aimee’s article on them went live and just being in awe and genuine hype upon hearing Valleys. All that craving for 80s New Wave, Dance and Electronica soundscape that I genuinely don’t think I’ve heard since the likes of New Order. I love it when bands today hark back to the days of the Hacienda, but no band I think has ever managed to dissect the core of that music, translate it into the modern-day so perfectly but still remaining so presently 80s. It’s nostalgic and futuristic at the same time. For a bands debut album, you really can’t get much better than this.
A: Nothing’s ever held me in more of a trance than when I first experienced Working Men’s Club’s eponymous debut record. Growing up in Manchester, grey, drizzly days spent wandering around the city would heavily feature daydreams of imagining what it was like back in the 80s and 90s. This album is as if somebody read my mind and wrote a soundtrack to accompany them. I was so excited to find something individual and new that simultaneously felt familiar in the best of ways; it felt like the record I could only ever wish for. Ever since that came true, I’ve spent a lot of time with it on repeat and my love hasn’t once wavered. Whether I talk to someone who was also lucky enough to stumble upon the LP like myself or insisted that family and friends listen, everyone who hears is in undeniable agreement on just how good it is. You can’t help but feel psyched up and ready to rave which is exactly what we needed to get through 2020 and will surely help us kick start the new year and look forward to a future with more music from Working Men’s Club.
J: Too right about being transported back to 80s Manchester, you don’t need to have grown up in the golden era to crave dancing in a sweaty nightclub while listening to any of their brilliant songs. Watching this music video makes me miss those late nights with friends, in music terms, it’s about as close to an antidote for the boredom 2020 brought as we could get. These are songs not just for the younger generation, but something about the Working Men’s Club sound seems to entice almost anyone who listens. If you played this at Christmas I guarantee your nan would be up on her feet too. For Working Men’s Club, this is only just the beginning… 2021 awaits. If there’s anything you take away from this list, get yourself a copy of this album.
Goodness is it Christmas already? Christ (no pun intended) but I haven’t even done all my Christmas shopping. Oh well, it’s that time of year again. I know I say this every year but it feels it were only yesterday we were celebrating Christmas, but blimey 2020 has been a bit of a mad one hasn’t it? Christmas, being a time of giving and celebration motivated me to think of the different festive tracks that help bring us all together, filled with nostalgia and the smell of spice in the air. So join me as I go through my top 15 Christmas Songs.
15. Stop The Calvary – Jona Lewie
It’s one of those songs that just makes Christmas. From the synths that carry the song, the brass section’s hook to the bells. Although never intended as a Christmas song, Lewie stating it was meant as a protest song, and in some regions, it was released in Springtime as opposed to the festive season here in the UK. But the timing, the what we’d now call Christmas sounding instrumentation and of course the classic line “Wish I could be home for Christmas”, has inadvertently made Lewie’s song a Christmas classic.
14. Christmas Time (Don’t Let The Bells End) – The Darkness
I think The Darkness get a bit of a bad rep of being that strange cheesy 00’s band that Liam Gallagher dissed a bit. But all the same, I think they’re a lot of people’s guilty pleasures, and the tunes people like? People sure as hell love. The comedic tone, Justin Hawkin’s famous falsettos and just being an overall feel-good song for the festive season, makes it one that maybe not everyone needs to have on their playlists this time of year, but it’s one that has a special place in my heart for just being utterly ridiculous, but bangs nevertheless.
13. Peace On Earth / The Little Drummer Boy – Bing Crosby and David Bowie
Taking things a bit slower this time around, this tune was debuted on Crosby’s television special, ‘Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas’. The colliding worlds of Crosby and Bowie at this time was something of a shock to people. At the time, Bowie was trying to ‘normalise’ his career, and actively stated he hated The Little Drummer Boy song, which led to him asking if he could sing something else leading to the now surreal collaboration and iconic Christmas song. And I mean come on, combining the undeniable Christmas aura of Crosby with the Man who fell to Earth himself, just screams out its magnificence.
Keeping with the slower mood here, Driving Home For Christmas is a song most people adore for that moment with the family when the drinks are starting to run low and the energy needs a little break, that we all take a breather to sway our heads. It’s like if Christmas suddenly became an elevator, this is the song that would play inside it. It’s quite poignant today with the hard times we’re all faced with. A lot of people who were looking forward to driving home for Christmas can’t anymore. So for now, join me in listening to this, with a glass in hand. Here’s to a future where we can all get together and celebrate with each other, for the best Christmases yet to come.
11. Christmas Time Is Here – Vince Guaraldi Trio (From A Charlie Brown Christmas)
Yeah, this is a very unconventional one to have on the list I know. But Charlie Brown has been very present since my childhood. My mum was a big advocate of ‘get your kids into the same stuff you were into as a kid’. Big vibe tho. This song, despite sounding very melancholy, it feels so warm. It makes you want to cosy up by the fireside for the favourite time of year. Christmas to me has two sides. The crazy go all-out party filled with joy and love, and the softer watch the snowfall out the window, with this song emoting the latter. It’s not one to dance to, but not every festive tune needs to be. Sometimes in the abundance of commercialization, something more genuine that helps appreciate what Christmas time is really all about.
Kicking a bit of life back into the tunes. I mean you can never go wrong with Elton, can you? The flamboyant ecstasy of his music, the way his range swings up and down evoking this addictive danceable hit that you just end up craving more and more every time you hear it. Sometimes feeling a little goofy, but fun and wonderful all the same. Something remarkable to note about the song is that it was written intended as a thank you to fans due to the success Elton had gained in 1972. Written on a Sunday morning and recorded that very evening! That’s pretty good, even for our lad Elton, so cheers Rocket Man.
A classic. We all know it, we all know what it’s for, the impact it had and the legacy it carries. It’s never been topped by its anniversary versions, but that’s why the original is such a corker. It was never the immediate catchy pop hook to give your brain a high and then leave you alone till next year, but it feels like part of that was the intention. When writing a song about the Ethiopian famine crisis of the time, getting a message across is important. Do They Know It’s Christmas? is the kind of song where upon first listen, it begs you to start wondering, just what on earth is all this about? Which is how even after the efforts of Band Aid, and after that fateful Christmas in 1984. Do They Know It’s Christmas? remains a classic, all years round.
Now, not the most conventional Christmas song on the list no, but in my house, Christmas time wouldn’t be complete without hearing this. Something about the trumpets at the start taking you back to Doctor Who Christmas specials. The emotive joy of Christmas colliding with the indie rock of the late 00s Wombats sound feels so nostalgic yet fresh, it’s a vibe that I don’t think can be really described, listen to the song yourself and see. Even if it’s not a classic from wherever you are, for me, it deserves a top spot in the best Christmas songs around. It’s unbelievably addictive and brings me so much joy.
7. I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday – Wizzard
Just try and be a Scrooge when this song is playing, I dare you. It’s one of those o’ so nostalgic tracks that does completely make you feel like a kid again. That innocence of the world and all the joys it can bring. You know when there isn’t a global pandemic going on… But you know, forget all that, this song is just brilliant. It’s one of the most danceable ones and for that, it makes for a perfect song to put on at every Christmas party and festive sing-a-long.
Yeah alright I know, I know. Not really a Christmas song, not even the go-to song if you’re even thinking about the Beach Boys. But for me, this has become an absolute Christmas classic. Ever since hearing it in the festive film Love Actually, the complete and utter association with the Christmas period has made it and Christmas, fantastically inseparable. Although originally a B-Side, there’s just something about this song that makes it such a cute and wholesome track to hear regardless of the lyrical content, the instrumentation matches the words in a peculiar way and it’s just so lovely. It also happens to be one of Paul McCartney’s favourite songs, and if a Beatle says your song is their favourite, you’ve clearly written something gold.
And well speaking of McCartney, I mean you knew it had to be on this list somewhere right? It’s just such a feel-good festive bop. The delayed synths, the choirs, the ding dong ding dongs, everything about this song screams get up and dance like it’s the best Christmas party in town and I LOVE IT. There is also something incredibly nostalgic about this one especially, perhaps just hearing Paul McCartney’s voice is what does it, but whatever it really is, it makes for one of the catchiest Christmas tunes around, and one that definitely isn’t going anywhere, asides from in our ears.
4. Happy Xmas (War Is Over) – John Lennon and Yoko Ono
This was hard to put forward more than McCartney’s Christmas outing, but I think people generally would say this is a genuine classic, and the depth of the lyrics also make for a somewhat reflective and loving perspective when listening. And because of that, it’s one of the few Christmas songs that actually get the real heartwarming message of Christmas through. Not thinking about the presents or the gigantic meals we all decide we’ll consume on one day of the year, but about the people around you, family, friends and the people all around the world. As perhaps THE pioneer of peace and love, it’s no surprise that John Lennon was able to write one of the best Christmas songs, that stays relevant almost 50 years later.
Before I do go onto my top 3 I would like to give a shout out to a few honorable mentions. Partly because I love some and I just couldn’t add them to an already big list, and partly because if I don’t mention them now, I really will get absolutely slandered by everyone. But very quickly let’s not forget;
What’s This? – Danny Elfman (From The Nightmare Before Christmas), Winter Wonderland – Bing Crosby, Proper Crimbo – Bo Selecta, Walking In The Air – Peter Auty (From The Snowman), Yule Shoot Your Eye Out – Fall Out Boy, Merry Christmas Everyone – Shakin’ Stevens, Don’t Shoot Me Santa – The Killers, White Christmas – Bing Crosby, All I Want For Christmas Is You – Mariah Carey
But now, onto the Top Three.
3, Merry Xmas Everybody – Slade
Who doesn’t like Slade’s slapper of a song? Whether you’re nostalgic for the days of old, where Christmas was slightly less commercialised, or from it being almost the only song guaranteed to be in Doctor Who Christmas specials. I think this was possibly the first Christmas song I ever actually enjoyed, makes me sound like a real young Scrooge, but this was a Christmas song that ROCKED, and 6 year old me couldn’t get enough of that. Arguably one of the catchiest and memorable songs for the festive period, it always gets stuck in my head when I hear it, making me go back to listen to it more, which as marketing tactics go, it works a treat.
Fairytale of New York is a song that sounds magical. And Irish. Very very Irish. But it’s that combination that makes it a resounding classic. From the controversy of the lyrics to the belter of a sing-a-long chorus, the fairytale instrumentation clashed with the brutally harsh lyrics force this track to stand out like a sore thumb amongst the Christmas catalogue, but it does wonderous favours for it. Everyone I know seems to agree this is one of the best Christmas songs and it’s abundantly evident why.
Well, let’s be honest, if by the time we hit number 2 and you didn’t see Wham! coming, then you clearly don’t know Christmas well enough. Maybe that’s bold to say… But I’m sticking with it. I mean it’s the perfect song. Catchy, not overly Christmas sounding meaning if you find yourself listening to it in the middle of summer you don’t feel too guilty and can listen to the whole song. Last Christmas is just THE definitive Christmas song to me, it sounds magical, it sounds 80s, but all the same, it sounds completely timeless. And not to mention the absolute incredible restoration of the original film to make a 4K remaster of the music video.
Well there we have it, all 15 of my favourite Christmas songs. But what did you think? Let us know what YOUR favourite Christmas songs are. But above all, in the hard times that we’re all in, whatever you’re celebrating, have a wonderful festive period and a fantastic new year. Here’s to 2021, and a future of togetherness.