20/20 is/was a terrible year, with a great soundtrack.
Have fun reading the stories behind the best Power Pop songs of 20/20!
All songs featured below, and more, can be found on this Spotify playlist, Sweet Sweet Music’s Favorite Power Pop Songs of 20/20!
(And of course, there is a whole herd of great songs released this year that are not on Spotify, and therefore not included in this ‘overview’. Find them, just like all songs on the playlist, for example on Bandcamp or in the KoolKatMusik webshop.)
Lolas – Louise Michel
Louise Michel, the real historical person who lived from May 1830 to January 1905, is a close spiritual companion of mine. For those who aren’t familiar, she was a soldier in the Paris Commune in 1871, as well as an educator, poet, and botanist. To me, she is a symbol of bravery, tenacity, defiance, and vigilant egalitarianism. I read her memoirs around 2014. Louise Michel was a kill-proof heroine, a champion of the downtrodden, who would thrive in the face of difficult conditions. I couldn’t help but sing her praises. (Tim Boykin)
Nick Frater – Cocaine Gurls
This is actually a few years old and was a really fun song to write. I wrote it with a singer called Nicolai Prowse in my old band. We were sat at the piano messing about with those chord inversions at the start, and it kind of wrote itself. The bridge has a cheeky musical quote from Wings, and by that point, the only sensible thing to do was to put two key changes into the outro!
Having written it, we had reservations about the lyrics, so it briefly got changed to “Croydon Gurls” which we couldn’t get through playing it at band practice without falling about with laughter, so it ended up getting shelved and forgotten about. Weirdly I remembered about it when I was asked to write a jingle for the Candy Floss radio show on KUZU in Denton TX. Not only is “Cocaine Gurls” a fun track on the album, but there’s also an adapted version played under the news and travel updates!
The version on my latest album “Fast & Loose” features Steve Lomax from Tokyo Dragons on lead guitar, and Peter Watts (Spygenius), Neil Christie, and Nigel Patrick Winfield (Emperor Penguin) on backing vocals. The original plan was to record a pub singing along at the end, but lockdown happened just before we could. I don’t think any of us needed much persuading to recreate a drunken singalong as the pandemic set in!
Greg Pope – Jump Back From the Light
It’s funny to me how the process of writing a little two-minute song can sometimes turn into several month-long struggles. And then there are those songs that seem to write themselves in a matter of minutes. “Jump Back From the Light” is one of those. The main guitar riff and lyrics just kind of came out of me one afternoon. When I think of this tune I’m reminded of the fun I had playing with my son Finn (15) who played drums on the recording. This is one of his favorite little things I’ve written and that brings me a lot of joy.
Hayley Mary – The Piss, The Perfume
I think of the room I wrote it in, which was a little bit of a run-down terrace squat situation above a friend’s pub. We would often have people over all night drinking and smoking in the bedroom, but no matter how gross or weird the party got, the dappled light that came in in the morning through the windows was so weirdly sublime and I think it was what woke me one morning when I decided to get up and write that song.
Nick Pipitone – Skippy Had a Dream
The song was a failure at first.
I was writing songs about my town, Thiensville, and one of my favorite burger spots is a place called Skippy’s, which is just off Main Street. The service is great, the burgers are good and reasonably priced, and frankly, it’s convenient.
The album “Thiensville” is kind of the alternative history (sort of) of my town. So I thought that if the restaurant is named after someone named Skippy, I immediately thought of a young boy who had a vision for a bar and grill who realized his burger and beer dream. His culinary genius started at a young age and his friends in school would be impressed by his expert grilling. And the people of the town were better for it because they had a place to go, eat, and be happy.
The name also seemed to lend itself to something that feels lilting, floating, like skipping. Something carefree, in ¾ time. So I wrote the lyrics and the melody and started recording that version of the song. This is part of the creative process — you have an idea and you have to spend time exploring the idea to see if it works. And as I got deeper into it things became apparent that the song wasn’t working. I sill felt it had merit, but something wasn’t right.
This is the point where you have to walk away and reassess, and that’s what I did.
I was working on the song during the early days of the pandemic, and as COVID started to spread and things were getting worse, especially during the early days in New York City, it was hard to get your mind off of it. And then the news came down the wire that Adam Schlesinger, brilliant songwriter from the legendary band Fountains of Wayne had passed away from COVID.
Fountains of Wayne were and still are a massive influence on me; I consider Utopia Parkway one of the greatest albums of my lifetime. If you can wear out a CD, my copy of Utopia Parkway is close. It offers me endless inspiration. Schlesinger’s death hit me hard. Our lives listening to music seems to go in phases, and you listen to different things over time. I hadn’t listened to Utopia Parkway in a while (although it seems to exist in my subconscious 24-7). When I heard the news I pulled my CD out again to remind myself of how essential it was to me in my life.
Different things jump out at you when you listen to something that evokes the imagery that Utopia Parkway does, and this time the song titles hit me. Amity Gardens. Valley of Malls. Prom Theme. It struck me that Schlesinger along with his bandmate and songwriting partner Chris Collingwood did the same thing I was doing — write about places and experiences in those places. The title “Skippy Had a Dream” all of a sudden felt right at home within the list of Fountains song titles, and it was at that point that I decided to turn Skippy into something that could fit into the Fountains of Wayne oeuvre.
So I set out to change it to a straight-ahead pop song in the vein of Fountains and it came together ridiculously quickly. All the parts fell into place. Skippy’s whimsical story took on a new life.
And as I was finishing it, I couldn’t help but think that Schlesinger himself had something to do with it, guiding me through the process. I’m sure he did.
Rick Hromadka – Better Days
Sunshine after a very dark relationship.
The Well Wishers – Father of the Bride
That was a Covid-inspired song….written in recorded in late Spring when lockdowns across the U.S. were taking hold. I started hearing about all these weddings being canceled and that sort of became lyrical inspiration….no one getting together, couples eloping, running away and the implications of it all from the perspective of a bride’s father. Kind of a sad and lonely song but with an upbeat melody and structure. (Jeff Shelton)
Paul Melançon – Permanent Makeup
It’s funny but, honestly, the first thing I think about this song is it was one of the first songs I wrote for the record and I didn’t really think it worked very well. But then some friends of mine covered it and I was able to hear it with fresher ears. Like a little Charlie Brown Christmas miracle, maybe all it needed was a little love.
Lane Steinberg – The Owl
I suppose one could say it’s about the physical manifestation of an eternal spirit that lives both within and outside us. Or it could just be a song about an owl!
Ex Norwegian – Fear Backwards
The first thing that comes to mind is krautrock! Because that’s sort of the inspiration for it. I tried to mix that up with powerpop, psychedelia, and keep it modern indie…something the radio can play. (Roger Houdaille)
Duncan Reid and the Big Heads – To Live or Live Not
What I think of is the midlife crisis men go through in their 40s and 50s. They’ve been doing the same job too long, the mortgage isn’t paid off, every day is the same. So why not say “fuck it, I’m off to Venezuela to find a girl who plays maracas and dance all night!” Well, you can dream anyway. (Duncan Reid)
The Overtures – Till Your Luck Runs Out
Till Your Luck Runs Out was the oldest song we recorded for our Onceinaworld album. It was actually originally written and demoed for my former band, The Pencils in 1982. At that time we had been a little annoyed to find the unfinished demo had then somehow ended up as the b-side to one of our 45s so all these many years later, it was nice to finally get the chance to record it properly! It somehow seemed appropriate to kick off our Overtures album with the song – a sort of ‘connective bridge’ between my former band The Pencils and my current band, The Overtures. (Den Pugsley)
Honeywagen – For Love
That love’s the finest thing around – and to have that feeling you will do anything to be with the one you love. To have loved and lost, you are better for it — move on — find it again. (Mike Penner)
The Bye Bye Blackbirds – You Were All Light
The song really is a tribute to (and celebration of) a lost friend, so there’s a kind of bittersweet joyfulness to it for me. I think that really came out of the music — the contrast of the sparse, nervey verses with the dense, almost bombastic choruses. We wanted that sense of celebration to build as the song went along too, so the horns come in and the handclaps and the big harmonies and everything. It’s sort of like how a memorial often begins in a somber fashion and becomes a big party by the end — the song takes that kind of journey for me. (Bradley Skaught)
Gretchen’s Wheel – You Should Know
The first thing I think about is all the awesome musicians who are featured. Matthew Caws sings backing vocals throughout, and it’s the thrill of a lifetime to get to hear our voices together on a song. And two more members of Nada Surf also play brilliantly on the song – Ira Elliot (drums) and Louie Lino (keyboards), so it was kinda like my favorite band was my backing band for a little while. Doesn’t get much better than that! Nick Bertling played some of the guitars and mixed the song, doing an amazing job as he always does. I feel very lucky to have had the privilege of collaborating with all of them. (Lindsay Murray)
Brian Bringelson – How Many Takes
When I think of “How Many Takes” I remember trying to write a heavy song based on a main riff I’d been messing around with. Then I had a friend that was going through a rough patch in his relationship and I really felt for him so I decided to channel those feelings into this song. I was also trying to write something heavy because my friend/drummer/album partner plays a lot of metal and I knew he would probably like a break from my usual 60’s/Beatles inspired tunes. He really let loose on this one and in fact made it even heavier with his halftime feel during the main riff. I’m also quite proud of the lift the song takes during the chorus. By the way, originally the song was going to be titled something else, but the joke title of “How Many Takes” stuck. Based of course on how many takes it took me to get the guitar part right.
DC Cardwell – Friendly Fire
When I think of my song Friendly Fire the first thing I think of is the Gulf War of the early 1990s. That was when I’d heard the term “friendly fire” in news reports and it struck me as a term that could be used in a song to refer to certain kinds of conflict between two individuals in a relationship. I’ve just checked my computer files and found that I have a draft of words and chords for the song dating back to 2003. This was a few years before I ever had the nerve to actually let anyone hear my songs or my singing. That didn’t happen until MySpace came along in 2005. I’d actually recorded a 2003 version of the song, with a completely different tune. I’d forgotten all about it but it’s pretty OK. But I also have a recording from 2003 with more or less the final, punky tune and words. But then Julian Lennon put out a song called Friendly Fire and he even named his album after it, so I simply decided to forget about my song. Fast forward to 2020 and I need songs for my new album, Crystal Set, so I resurrected it!
Ultimate Fakebook – Sad Soldier
The first thing I think of about that song is the day after Trump was elected. I wept in my car as I thought about how I had just brought three human beings into this world that now all the sudden seemed so uncertain and dangerous to me, once an obvious monster like Trump was elected to the highest honor possible in America. (Bill McShane)
The Easy Button – Peaks & Valleys
The song “Peaks and Valleys” comes from a place of extreme bitterness and jealousy towards others in your circle who seem to get all the attention and support. I wrote it while driving from Florida to Tennessee and experiencing the shift in mountain pathways, which is not something I see down south much. At that moment, The highs and lows felt much like my personal life and how I was feeling towards those who are constantly elevated and seemingly lead a caravan of support..leaving you driving in the rain through peaks and valleys. (Brian Jones)
Tom Curless & the 46% – Always in Between
The thought that comes to mind for “Always in Between” was how fast it came together. I was in a frustrated mood about something and I picked up the guitar one afternoon and that riff popped out of nowhere. I quickly put the idea down and the melody and lyrics quickly followed. I didn’t think that much of it until I played the demo to the band (the 46%) and they loved it. Once we played it live it really rocked, and soon after it started to get a good amount of attention as a stand-out track on the record. It just goes to show you never know what songs are going to connect with people but I am glad this one did, a bit heavier song for me but it really worked! (Tom Curless)
Dolph Chaney – It’s OK
A stranger’s friendly expression or simple “hello” or nod can make an incredible difference to the person who receives it. It’s simple but it’s magic. “It’s OK” came to me on a day where I was out running errands while feeling very down, anxious, and unsure of myself, and a stranger simply made eye contact, smiled in a way that acknowledged they could tell I was struggling and said “hello” – and in my mind, it seemed that what they were really telling me was “It’s OK.” I came home and wrote most of the song in what felt like one breath. Even with their masks on (literal or not), some people still radiate their good and kind hearts loud and clear and having received it I try to give that feeling back to others whenever I can.
The Beatophonics – Walkin’ Back To Loneliness
I wrote this song about twenty years ago for a band named Belvedere that I was with Raveonettes-singer/bass player/guitarist Sharin Foo. We worked on the song in the rehearsal room and played it live on a few occasions. The band project was put to rest and with that, the song. I nearly forgot about it, but working on songs for the Let’s Do This album, the song somehow showed up again. The reaction from the rest of the band was as different as day and night. Rasmus dug it, while Flemming was not too keen on it. Still, we managed to arrange it and get it on the album, which I’m really thankful for as I really like the mood of the song. The melody and chords have got a melancholic edge to it that I really like. It’s certainly not a happy-go-lucky pop song. I remember that the lyrical idea came to me when hearing the rather jolly 60s Helen Shapiro classic pop song “Walking Back to Happiness” and thinking, let’s write the opposite to that :-). So the lyric is about bitterly recognizing that a relationship will never work out and that it has to end. Sadly that was what happened to the Belvedere project, but it’s great revisiting the song quite some time after. (Søren Koch)
Phil Hendriks – Even The Smart Ones Are Dumb
I’m so glad you like “Even The Smart Ones Are Dumb”. It was an expression I first used as I was driving locally. I was waiting at a junction and a particularly big, fancy car took an unnecessarily wide turn in and missed taking the front of my car by inches. Bearing in mind that I live in a rural community, I just spontaneously said: “Jeez, round here even the f**kin’ smart ones are dumb!” It suddenly registered with me how true a statement it was generally. I developed the idea and it turned into a kind of comforting, anti-bullying message for my daughter, who was having a rough time at school and suffering from anxiety. Basically, it’s saying don’t let any smart-ass grind you down with any false sense of superiority. Even the world leaders are flawed.
The Junior League – Help, It’s Strange
“Help, It’s Strange”? What I think about most with that song is the guitar solo. I had the idea to double-track myself playing the lead on a Stratocaster, influenced by the guitars in “Nowhere Man” by the Beatles. Lots of times, the Beatles would double-track vocals, double guitars, etc. I think John and George are both playing their (at the time) baby blue strats on Nowhere Man, which gives it that really unique, wonderful sound (might have been George double-tracking himself!! I need to consult Recording the Beatles!!). Of course, my track sounds nothing like that—but I think the solo came out cool nonetheless. But in any event, that’s the first thing I think of when I hear the song—that solo. I was so happy with the way it sounded. Even though it fell short of “Nowhere Man”, it still sounds cool! (Joe Adragna)
The Speedways – Good Girls Don’t Break Hearts
What comes to mind when I think of that song is the line “you’ve got the kind of smile that makes the day so long it keeps the night awake” which I thought was a good way of putting it! I like smiles. (Matthew Julian)
Frankie Siragusa – Sour Milk Sea
For me, it’s impossible to hear Sour Milk Sea and not think of the White Album. That song could have easily been on that record with George on vocals. Everything about the version they did with Lomax is perfect. I chose not to stray that far from the original for that reason.
The Buzz – Cut Loose
This was a tune where the song title came first. I remember telling our bass player Steve I wanted to write a song with that title, and that’s exactly what I did! The other guys dug it and we ended up using it for the record title as well. (J)
Cocktail Slippers – Like a Song Stuck in my Head
Have you ever had a song playing on repeat in your head? It might be a fantastic song or the most crap you’ve ever heard, but it’s totally stuck and no matter how you try you can’t get it out of your head…? It can be like that with people too. The Cocktail Slippers tune LIKE A SONG STUCK IN MY HEAD is all about that. We hope it gets stuck in your head too!
The Lickerish Quartet – Fadoodle
I think of all the different ways to say sexy talk! (Tim Smith)
The Middlenight Men – Rat Star
I think of partying all night long with only the nicest people in the world. Jerks aren’t allowed and smiles are all around. I think of a guy who’s having a little wobble in life, but he’s got the backing of a group of wonderful people who are going to just keep partying through and look after him. That’s the main thing I think of. A room full of the loveliest people partying till the sky’s painted red and the sun begins to rise, everyone looking out for one another. (Nick Hughes)
Ryan Allen – Hope and Control
I wrote this topical jam during a pandemic – which we are still in due to the blunders of an inept administration. The lyrics are basically a news report, calling things as I saw it unfolding. At the time none of it seemed normal. Now some of it does which is even more terrifying. I just wanted to capture exactly what I was feeling while I watched Trump divide Americans for his own gain. It’s a song I wish I never had to write but here we are I guess. Hopefully, the anger it expresses is temporary and there are better days ahead of us.
The Successful Failures – This Girl
When I think of “This Girl” I think about The Successful Failures in the studio in February 2020…we were recording a few songs for an EP. Things were going well. We finished the songs we intended to use for the EP and had some extra time. I had recently written a couple of songs (“Murder ‘Neath the Silver Moon” and “This Girl”) that we decided to just throw down with no particular plan. Well, we had no idea that the pandemic would shut everything down and these two songs added onto the songs originally slated for the EP became enough material for a surprise 2020 full length. To say 2020 hasn’t been much of a year is quite an understatement but one good thing that came out of it all is this album, titled “Pack Up Your Shadows”, we got to release and especially the song “This Girl”. (Mick Chorba)
The Cudas – Cheap Trick
A few days before I sat down to write this song, I was listening to music in my car and, back to back, the shuffle went from Kurt Baker’s song ‘Emma Stone’ to The Travoltas song ‘Liv Tyler.’ I always found both those songs really amusing, and what a coincidence. I wondered if they got fed up writing a song for a girl next door and just said, screw it, let’s write one for the girl who starred in ‘Armageddon’ instead. Then I wondered if those ladies ever heard their songs and had a chuckle about it. Just like those two, my song is a bit of a hopeless plea. I don’t believe I have a future as a sideman for the mighty Trick, but it’s worth a shot if they ever need an affordable roadie. And hey, I’m sure it can’t hurt to have your song possibly pop up when someone is googling STEVEN TYLER DAUGHTER. So whenever I think of the song ‘Cheap Trick’, I’m reminded to never think that I’m too good to put my 2009 iPod on shuffle. (Reinhard van Biljon)
Lucy and the Rats – September
I think about the all fun we had recording our first album in Spain. Fun in the sun, jumping in the sea, and hanging out together. That’s what the song was written about. (Lucy Spazzy)
Chris Church – Someday’s Coming Fast
With “Someday’s Coming Fast” I think about the human tendency and spirit of not giving up on someone or something while trying not to worry too much about possibly being wrong about it all. It’s a tug of war between awareness and resolute naivete that’s just barely this side of denial. I also think about the performances of my good friends Scott Cornette on guitar and John Hawkins on drums, both of which are really fantastic.
The Budweisers – Fall in Love
Talking about “Fall in Love”, “we wrote this song strongly influenced by the Ramone’s “Pleasant Dreams” album, maybe the most powerpop era of the band. The introduction obviously remains “The KKK took my baby away” and the whole melody pays a humble tribute to songs such as “Don’t go” or “She’s a Sensation”. The guitar solo follows the Ross” The Boss” style or that was our intention, failed or not, you know what I mean..and lyrics talked about the oldest history in the world when you notice that something doesn’t work in a romance and you make the same mistakes over and over again.. “.
The Campbell Apartment – VP of Snails
It’s hard to write about “VP of Snails” because it’s almost like looting, burning down your own neighborhood in anger.
In a society where the well-heeled tech bro nué riché scum-suckers, venture capitalists and other business school types wonder how you monetize this whole art thing (“how are you making money with this music thing” they look at me scratching their heads and putting their arms around me in mock empathy), most artists that aren’t off the grid living in a car, or the basement of a basement in the industrial part of town, have a day job. Even “rock stars”, especially indie rock stars, between albums they’re quietly coding for American Express and so on.
“VP of Snails” is a song about getting entrailed into a life of corporate money-sucking, where literally the only point of life is to keep the money flowing between hand and another white hand, forever, as much as possible, as fast as possible. That’s the answer. That’s the meaning of life. Take home a sweet bonus, a sweet year got a yacht, got a mortgage facelift, a Tesla. Got a place down the Bahamas, got the best spread there, buffet all day, champagne and caviar, then you’re a winner, and then you die.
It’s like, great songs and painting make me sigh deeply as the full moon does. But that’s folly, that’s not for real men. However, the blood-brawl over who gets the biggest multi-million dollar punch in the face, that’s what life is all about. Everything is a war analogy when you’re a VP of Sales. Go After Their Throats. Close The Deal. Or Die. That’s what this song is about. It’s a sad song. However, if you close deal after deal after deal, you can literally sleep on a smelly bed of black caviar. And snort lines of pulverized Tesla right into your tear duct.
I come from Eastern Europe, very far east. A huge city. There being an artist is noble. I love the west. Thank You, USA for taking me in as a refugee boy in ’78.
But unless you’re a C Level Executive or a Startup Unicorn Angel Vampire where you’re shooting billion-dollar bills out of your ass all day like a magic golden monkey, you’re just on the fringes of society, no matter how much you sing your heart out. So be the best VP of Snails you can be! Maybe I’ve been in the Bay Area too long. Maybe Trump has dominated the news cycle for too long. Please God let him hang. Like Saddam, but with more tape rolling and way more “Go To Hell” chanting. (Ari Vais)
The Yum Yums – For Those About to Pop
The song was meant as a tribute to pop music fans and our own fans, who have been loyal through the years. Also sort of a parody of AC/DC’s For Those About To Rock, of course. Why should metal people have all the fun? I am fully aware that AC/DC is not a metal band, but compared to popsters like us, they might as well be… I’m discovering new and exciting pop songs weekly – be it power pop, pop punk, bubblegum or more mainstream pop… I am proud to be a pop fan! (Morten Henriksen)
Coke Belda – Oh Why
When I think of Oh Why I think immediately about my hero Jason Falkner and his incredible influence of his music on me, I think about how fun it was to record it and to create the video, I think about what power pop is about and finally, I think about those moments in life that everything seems to go wrong and you wonder: why me? but in the end, you realize that life goes on, bad times will pass and good times must come!
Canine 10 – Trap!
I was thinking about the old Atari game “Pitfall”, but the song is mostly about my immature fear of marriage. (Michael Horrible)
Ed Ryan – I’ve Got the Smile
I think of being in the middle of the punk scene at CBGB’s in the late ’70s when I wrote and performed the song with my band The Rudies. We were one of the few Power Pop bands in NYC at that time, we were outsiders in an outsider’s scene. The song is about persevering when the odds are stacked against you, being perceived as unhip in a hip scene. It still rings true!
Bryan Estepa – Subject to Change
“Subject to Change” came to me during the peak of COVID lockdown here in Australia. I kept hearing the phrase ‘Subject to change’ during news reports about the way we live and act on so many of our different life activities. Like everything has an air of uncertainty and our lives being put on hold. But really, our life is also ‘Subject to Change’ at any moment and that is not necessarily a bad thing. Life situations can change in an instant and I wanted to express that thought in this song.
Nick Piunti – Every High
This is one of my Dad songs that I wrote for my oldest daughter. Some melodic fatherly advice. Listening to it now I can hear some R.E.M. influence, which makes sense as they’re one of my all-time favorite bands. I dig the piano solo.
Dolour – Yes And No
“Yes And No” was the first song I worked on for The Royal We. Being that it led to the first Dolour album in over a decade, it had a lot of weight on it, but it helped light the way for the rest of the album. I can’t think of another song that could have opened the album better. I’m proud of that one. Some songs are leaders and some songs are followers, Yes and No is absolutely a leader of the pack. (Shane Tutmarc)
The Lunar Laugh – It’s Okay
“It’s Okay” was written by my Lunar Laugh bandmate Campbell Young back in early 2018 when we were getting songs ready for our third album. That song didn’t make the album but when all our 2020 plans went out the window due to Covid-19, we decided to release it as a single as a sort of word of comfort to our fans. (Jared Lekites)
Pete Molinari – I Can’t Be Denied
Well, the first line opened with a line from ‘Smile’ which Charlie Chaplin wrote the music for in Modern Times so I guess I think of that a little because he was one of the big influences on me when I was a child. Also, I just think the title reflects some kind of sense of finding yourself.
However difficult it may seem sometimes whatever we are doing with our lives, I think the artist in me believes in keeping in the fight until the end. In the artists I really admire in all sorts of areas the thing I relate to most is that they have a tenacity and a belief in what they are doing even if the whole world seems to be against them, even if it is quite a battle sometimes, if you keep at it and stay passionate about what you are doing then you really cannot be denied.
I recently read a book about the British Shakespearean Actor Laurence Olivier and he had this work ethic that was ferocious and no matter what got in his way he just prevailed with his passion and consistency. He said even when he got bad reviews at first he kept on doing it all the time until everyone started referring to him as “That great Shakespearean Actor’ That was really inspiring for me. I think today people give up too easily. The artists and the establishments they work with. If something doesn’t work immediately they think it won’t ever work. I think they are wrong. Keep doing what your purpose is and if you do it well you really can’t be denied that.
Rooftop Screamers – One Wish
Lyrically, One Wish sounds like an individual who has been in a fog and in that lack of clarity has been second-guessing a relationship. After doing some soul searching they realize that they were wrong and regret potentially making a big mistake by losing that person. Musically it’s a psychedelic power-pop song that is sort of a cross between The Rolling Stones and Cheap Trick. At least (singer) Ken Stringfellow described it as such. (Mike Collins)
Jared Lekites – The Electric Car Ballet
“The Electric Car Ballet” is an old song I wrote over a decade ago and redid in 2020 for the 10th anniversary of my first EP. It’s pretty much about escapism and isolating after the deterioration of a relationship.
Streetcar Conductors – Penny
I think of all the people I’ve known who had an influence on my life, who for whatever reason I’ve grown apart from. Those friendships where you’re no longer sure where you stand, where there is maybe a lot of distance now, but no matter what, that person has influenced your life and you’re grateful for that. You want to remember the lessons they taught you – to “know what you know” – to attempt to understand their perspective even if you find yourself in a different place now. (Jonathan Moore)
Kurt Baker – Over You
When I think of “Over You”, it reminds me of big city nights, fluorescent lights, and the songs of a late-night party. Big riffs, catchy synths, and tight harmonies. The Cars meets Scorpions. Something like that!
Stephen Clair – Is This Thing On
I think of how much fun it is to play live. Crowds love it, and so do we. We’ve only played a few – outdoor – shows since March, and I crave that rush more than anything. People can relate to the sentiment of this one, but they also jump around when we play it. So do I. It’s got hooks on its hooks, and those stops in the chorus are infectious. Thanks for including this song. It’s the single and it’s out there now. I hope to get out there with it myself in 2021.
Vista Blue – There Goes the Sun
Obviously, this song celebrates summertime on the beach and is a throwback, not only to great bands like the Beach Boys and others but also to songs I used to write for my New Orleans bands like The Robinsons and Sally Stitches 15-20 years ago. For us, it was great to bring Richard Bates back in on guitar. It was a reunion of sorts from the 2019 session we did at Ardent Studio in Memphis, where we did our Hit the Floor 7-inch. Of course, this summer, we were all quarantined and had to record separately. I wrote most of this song years ago, probably in 2013, when I didn’t have an active project. Vista Blue has done mostly themed releases over the last six years, so it never really fit anywhere. This summer, however, everyone missed doing normal things, like taking trips and going to the beach. It felt like the perfect time to record this one to celebrate the end of summer, giving us a chance to look forward to next summer when hopefully we can all do things like go to the beach. I guess we’ll see! (Mike Patton)
Nite Sobs – Aftermath
I guess the main thing I think about is that it’s one of my more lyrically dense songs, in terms of rhymes. I strive for good rhymes, even though I don’t know if any listeners care about them. The first line of the song is a lie because I don’t put half & half in my coffee (maybe a splash of oat milk), but it was a perfect rhyme for “laugh and laugh” and then a near rhyme for “aftermath.” At one point I rhyme “Vespa” with “best, but” although I imagine it goes by too fast for some people to pick up on.
The instrumental section had a nice evolution over time. I was never a lead guitar player before I started this band, so I was not trying to do a bunch of solos and licks. The intention was for the instrumental part to just be piano, and that’s how it was recorded on the original demo. But we don’t have a keyboard player in the actual band (hopefully one day!) so at practice, I would sometimes just pick the chords out a little to fill the space. Eventually, that grew into a halfway interesting guitar solo, and once we were recording it for real in the studio, we had the piano double the end of the guitar solo, in addition to playing the bouncy chords underneath, and I think it ultimately turned out pretty good. (Jeff)
Steven Wright-Mark – Underground
Despite the upbeat vibe of “Underground,” there’s a darker meaning lurking, er, underground. When I think of the song, I get brought back to the initial concept of creating a call to action to rally against our current administration and its questionable policies. Many of the greatest societal movements have started “underground,” so I think of this almost as a protest song. Interestingly, tragic events that occurred after I wrote the tune have resulted in exactly the kind of movements I was referencing. But as I was getting ready to release the song, the pandemic hit. I wound up contracting coronavirus and was the sickest I’ve ever been for weeks on end. It struck me that our entire society essentially went “underground” as we locked down, not being sure when we’d be able to emerge to see the light of day again. The song then took on an entirely new meaning for me and was oddly, unexpectedly, and unintentionally prophetic in a way. Because of that, when I think of the song now, it captures a very specific period in time for me.
Court Street Company – Modern Age
Being hopeful in-spite of these uncertain times. Also, we’re grateful that we were able to get this song out this year and we hope it’s brought some happiness to our listeners, friends, and family! (Allen)
Kai Danzberg – Living Room
When I think about the song, it takes me 2 years back. My co-worker Scott Bennett (past Brian Wilson Bassist) wrote the song a long ago with Drake Bell. It might have been written between 2008-2010. He showed me a demo with Drake on lead vocals, Scott played all instruments. I loved the vibe of it. Scott and I worked on several projects over the last 2 years. In mid-2019 I asked him if there was a chance I could use that song for my album and change the last chorus. It fitted well because I had another song done featuring Drake on lead vocals. So they permitted me. But indeed when I think of the song I think about Drake’s and Scott’s demo and I am proud to have that song on my record
The Rockyts – Come on and Dance
‘Come on and Dance’ was the first song I wrote so it makes me think of writing it. I usually write a song by running through it and getting to the end of what I have written, coming up with the next little part, then instantly recording the new parts into a demo. I recorded every instrument that would be in the song and added them to the demo; adding 10 seconds, then the next 10 seconds. So, the production was written as the song was and everything was practically done by then. Anyways, when I think of Come on and Dance, I think of the excitement of writing for the first time and quickly recording all of the parts into a demo as I came up with them, then finally clicking play when I finished. (Jeremy)
Rob Bonfiglio – Hands Together
The first thing that comes to mind when I think of ‘Hands Together’ is the events happening at the time in which it was written, late March of 2020. The beginning of the world at a standstill… Mixed emotions as I grieve for those directly affected and yet I’m grateful for this opportunity to turn inward and take stock of everything in my life.
Bread & Butter – How Do You Spell Yeah
New love. This song is all about that dizzying rush and all the fun that follows when two people find each other. It’s got a pounding heartbeat rhythm and the euphoric harmonies in the second verse. Despite the title, it doesn’t give much information on spelling yeah/ya/yay… (Mason)
Marveline – Turpentine
‘Turpentine’ makes me think of the kind of warmth I would feel if I’d entered a painter’s studio, where the sun is streaming in, and the work of creativity is celebrated. (Pete Marley)
Brent Windler – Around the Bend
I think about Neil Young’s 1977 record ‘American Stars ‘n Bars’ of which I was listening to religiously at the time when I wrote ‘Around the Bend’.
Mo Troper – Jas From Australia
When I think of “Jas From Australia” I really don’t think of the subject matter at all anymore—I mainly think about getting a band together for my first show with the Natural Beauty lineup. I hadn’t played with a full band in almost a year at that point, and the process of recording my last album was really solitary, so it was a little bit of a readjustment.
“Jas,” like all the songs on Natural Beauty, wasn’t really constructed with a live “rock band” in mind, so it was fun and refreshing to rearrange those songs with other musicians for that context. We rushed to learn some songs for a show that was already booked a couple weeks out—we only played six songs! (Including a cover of “And Your Bird Can Sing.”) It was probably the shortest set I’ve ever played, and people were really confused. We were also really loud. Anyway, that’s what first comes to mind when I think about “Jas”—maybe just because I really miss playing with other people.
Teenage Waitress – I’m Leaving Berlin
‘I’m Leaving Berlin” was the final song written for my debut album. I knew we needed one more big pop single track. I sat at my keyboard and in about 5 minutes of improvising the song came to me. I crossed out the song’s last word and kept it to myself because sometimes puzzles are better with a few pieces missing! (Daniel Ash)
Starbelly – Love Song 26
“Love Song 26” makes me feel Like I’m watching an old black and white movie from the ’40s and a beautiful song is playing as the actors fall in love onscreen. (Dennis Schocket)
The first thing I think of regarding “Love Song 26” is how in awe I am of the combination of Bryan’s guitars with Roger Joseph Jr. Manning’s keyboards. They add such a lush bed to an already beautiful song from one of my favorite songwriters, Mr. Dennis Schocket. (Cliff Hillis)
Sunshine Boys – Summertime Kids
Just like everything these days, the first thing we think of is: When did we last play? Was it this year? What year is it? When will we play again?
The song brings back a warm feeling. We are proud of our record, Work, and Love, and this song is, I (Dag) feel is one of the high points of the album.
We hope to get a chance to promote the record properly sometime next year. The pandemic was in full swing on the day the record officially came out, May 1, so we’ve just been doing a lot of waiting, with a few Zoom calls along the way. There’s a bittersweet element to the song, though, as it looks towards our quickly growing children; hoping we’ve done right by them as parents. Whether we have or not, off they go, getting older, making their own way.
The song was initially called Footsteps, but Jackie wisely insisted that we change the name to Summertime Kids. There’s another level of sadness there, as it seemed like there was no summer this year, just a period of worried waiting. During the recording sessions, the song was referred to as ‘the Fleetwood Mac song’ and I’m wondering if any listeners agree? (Dag, Freda, Jackie)
David Woodard – Applebees
The song that opens my latest EP Grand Scheme of Things was actually the last song of the collection to be written.
I was not intending to write another song for the EP, but after Adam Schlesinger died in April, I immersed myself in his work and found myself inspired. Applebees is an homage of sorts to Adam’s story-telling sensibilities as well as his musical power pop style… at least my interpretation (and there are a few ‘Easter eggs’ in this song — little elements meant to be a little nod to Adam).
The story itself is a basic music business trope for those living in Nashville. It is a variation of a narrative I have heard dozens of times in this town. I used Applebees for two reasons. It is a fairly ubiquitous symbol of middle-class suburbia and is almost Americana in that sense. It was also where I took my wife on our first date over thirty years ago.
So harkening back to that unsophisticated choice in a non-ironic way was an Easter egg for us. And since our anniversary is 12/30 — right between Christmas and New Year’s — we have opted for a low-key walk down memory lane with an anniversary dinner from Applebees in past years. Though I never had and lost a record deal or had my masterpiece go unreleased like the character in the song, I have had promising opportunities dry-up. Like one does, I got on with my life — marriage, kids, non-music career. Some years, I rarely played guitar. Some years, I thought, “this will be the year I get something together.”
In the meantime, I raised a family. Enjoyed life. I am happy to be on this side of 50 and still have the passion to create and release songs. And there are people who will listen and tell you “well done.”
Herzog – If You’re Alone, You’re in Our Band
Yeah, that song is based on the prayer of St Francis. Nick and I have tried to write a song like this for years but finally got it right. We consider ourselves a band of the people. We’re rarely singing about ourselves, but rather trying to tell the stories of the people in our community. The “Beth” is a friend of mine who had a messy band situation and was feeling left out. Naw. If you’re here, you matter. That said, I got nothing on the music. It was just something that we worked on until it fit. No substitute for hard work. (Tony)
The School Book Depository – You and Me
The first thing I think of is the first phrase of the lyrics, ”I’m on a freight train moving on, shoving coal on an endless track”. The riff and the chord progression instantly led me to the feeling of fast, forward, out of control movement, which led to the theme of the song; time passing so fast and decisions almost making themselves as we (I) struggle with the different sides of our personalities. Deep existentialistic shit. 😊 (Fredrik Solfors)
Painted Doll – You Were Everywhere
As for what I think of first when hearing this song is watching Dave record the rhythm guitar on a sparkly purple 12 string Danelectro. The other thing that comes to mind is being so happy with how it sounded after recording. It was exactly what I was hoping to hear. (Chris)
As for me, this song feels like driving a car in the summer sun! (Dave)
Caper Clowns – Space & Time
Rick – vocal, guitar:
I think of making the music video of us traveling through space and time to defeat a giant space octopus. It was a lot of fun to make!
Henrik – guitar:
When I get ideas for songs I record the idea on my phone usually with nonsense lyrics that are somewhat reminiscent of English. I rarely use this for anything but I get a basic idea about the places I hear rhymes. In this particular song, I remember writing the lyrics with Rick and realizing that the chorus, for some strange reason, rhymes in very unusual places. Check for yourself
Peter – keys:
As a kid, I had this simple video game, where you had to juggle 3 balls in the air, without dropping them. Easy at first, but then it kept speeding up until you eventually couldn’t keep up. Before you started a new game you had to take 3 pictures of the face, which then got swapped out with the juggler’s face. During the game it would keep alternating between the 3 faces, throwing you off your game, because of the hilarious silly pictures of your own face. Now every time I think of Space and Time, I can’t help but picture myself as a juggler making silly faces.
Rasmus – drums:
I always get a ‘road trip’ kind of feeling whenever I hear or play the song. It just sort of got a drive to it that makes me want to jump in a convertible with a mate and just drive the roads thin.
Christian – bass:
I think about the making of the video, lying with my bruised knees on a concrete floor, cursing every time someone breathed too vigorously. But also the video itself, as long as we stick together we can overcome any challenge, however, octopus it may be!
My Life Story – Taking On The World
“Taking On The World is not quite what it appears on first listen.
The song is like a Black Mirror episode in song form. It’s about the ultimate dystopian TV reality game. A pop apocalypse where Flat Earthers and Fake Newsters take on the Old Darwinians and Extinction Rebellion in a battle of conspiracy theories.
I imagined what the end of the world would be like if it was played out live on TV, with Man declared the winner over Nature on a technical knock out, choking on golden non-biodegradable ticker tape as he celebrates his pyrrhic victory.” (Jake Shillingford)
(as told to Best 100 Power Pop Songs of this Century.)
Fuzzysurf – She Was Crying Sugar
The first thing I think of with the song pertains to the circumstances of when I first wrote it. I had the main melody playing around in my head for a few days and I knew it was something I could build on. Later when trying to come up with lyrics to write along with it, I for some reason thought about or recently read how in the distant past they used to test people for diabetes with taste testing (yuck) a “certain bodily fluid” for the presence of sugar. Haha. I thought it was such a strange thing that I wondered if it also applied to someone’s tears. So I had now concocted this bizarre image of a diabetic girl crying, the tears being sad but also sweet at the same time. That laid the foundation for writing the rest of the song which ended up not being about a diabetic girl crying sugar tears but, ya know, it worked as the initial kernel of the song.
Besides for the bizarre origin story of the song, I really like the song personally. It shows off a lot of what the band is capable of doing and it’s a sound we’ve wanted to explore for a while. The lyrics reference a few relationship “red flags” hinting at a growing mistrust between two people and I think a lot of people can relate to that. I tend to write characters or stories for songs that I base around real people I know or draw from personal perspectives or experience but rarely are they ever straightforward. Usually, it’s a smorgasbord of different bits or stories I draw on to create them. I think the music and tone for this song blend perfectly with the subject matter.
We also created an excellent music video in collaboration with our good friends from Simwig Films to create a visual candy world and story for the song. Featuring custom-built sets, stop motion, live-action, and animation, the video really is one of a kind and we are very proud of it so anyone curious should check that out. You won’t be disappointed. (Sean)
“I will always remember this one as the time that Sean finally gave in to my pressure to include brass in one of our songs. I am a trombone player first and foremost so I’ve been waiting for the opportunity to do this sort of thing for a while. We brought in Sam Ludwig and Andy Brinza to play Tenor and Trumpet respectively and I think it really took this song to the next level. I’m especially happy with the way it sounds at the end of the song when Andy takes his trumpet line up an octave and somehow manages to still play it in tune.” (Corey)
Ken Sharp – The Kids Are Alright
When I think of the song the kids are all right I think of the whole power pop genre and feel that one song captures the beauty, passion, and power representative of the whole idiom.
Cocktails – Bun E. Carlos
For “Bun E. Carlos” this was a deliberate use of a very familiar/common chord progression – we were going for something immediate and catchy. The first thing I think of when I hear this song is the thrill of traveling to a place you’ve never been or hearing a song you love instantly for the first time.
Static in Verona – Three Lefts
The first thing I think of is my vocals. It took me several years to be comfortable with my voice being front and center in my songs. This is one of the reasons on my first few albums they kind of blend in with the music. But I have been making a conscience effort on lately to strip the reverb back on the vocals and highlight them more. I believe “Three Lefts” is my best performance of any of my songs. Something about the key and melody just sat right in my vocal sweet spot. I felt it as I was recording it. (Rob Merz)
Marshall Holland – She Buys a Dress (To Match With Her Pink Belt)
Well… The first thing I think about that no one else would know is that the title came to me when I woke up one morning thinking about the title and it stuck with me, I thought “Why would someone go to the trouble of buying a full dress just to match with an accessory like a belt? This would make a great song!” I do allow the listener to make up their own interpretations on the meaning of the song, but it was honestly an exercise on putting together a story with selected words from the dictionary. It was a fun puzzle as it all turned out how I felt the song should present and it was one of the few songs where the lyrics came before the music. I’m grateful to have dreamt of the title as I don’t think the song would exist without it!
The Persian Leaps – Lost Cause
The interesting thing related to “Lost Cause” is the anecdote I shared w/ the PR for the single/album. It was definitely a weird way to be inspired and write a song. (Drew Forsberg)
It’s definitely not my normal songwriting process, but I actually wrote “Lost Cause” while I was cross-country skiing a few winters ago. The Simon & Garfunkel song “America” came up on my iPhone. As I was singing along to the great lines “Cathy, I’m lost, I said though I knew she was sleeping”, I was inspired to write a song with a slight twist on those lyrics: “Kathy, I’m a lost cause.” So, I started singing it to myself and had the first two-thirds of the song worked out by the time I was done skiing. When I got home, I figured out the chords and finished it up. That never happens! The song is a fairly tongue-in-cheek, exaggerated take on lack of self-confidence; honestly, the lyrics are basically a delivery mechanism for the hooks in the verses and choruses. I don’t really know anyone named Cathy. Or Kathy.
OMG! How in the world did you totally MISS the absolute best power pop song of 2020, if not the last 10 years!! “41 Miles To Roscoe”, the debut single by The Midnight Callers? Selected personally by Little Steven as a Coolest Song in the World, and in the year end listeners poll made #3! Sheesh! Cheers, Matt