Welcome to our sixth annual collection of should-be hit singles gathered from the artists, albums and tunes featured on Poprock Record in the previous year. You’d think after five tries I would have come up with some kind of rock solid science to make these choices. But, no. Still winging it, going with whatever takes my fancy. I mean, I think you’ll see a pattern: catchy guitar hooks, soaring melodies, earwormy compositions, all accomplished in three minutes or less usually. Putting this list together was particularly challenging this year – positively spoilt for choices! My initial list of possible songs had over 200 selections. The hyperlinks below will take you to the original post about each artist as they first appeared on the blog.
So let’s get to it, Poprock Record’s top 50 should-be hit singles for 2021:
This year’s list privileges strong, strong hooks. I’m talking the jangleliscious guitar work from the ever reliable Boys With The Perpetual Nervousness on “I Don’t Mind,” the relentless driving guitar riffs animating White Fang’s “Never Give Up,” or the delicious 1960s roll out kicking off The Vapour Trails’ “That’ll Do It.” Or the pumping, plinky piano and organ cocktail that undergirds James Holt’s killer single “Mystery Girl.” Then there’s the more traditional poprock Brent Seavers, springing the earworm in the chorus of “More Than a Friend.” Still, there’s room for variety on this list, from the tender acoustic Aaron Lee Tasjan ballad “Another Lonely Day,” to the Beach Boys homage in Daisy House’s “Last Wave Home,” to a folk rock duet from Steve Stoeckel and Irene Pena on “Why,” to the striking sonic heartbreak embodied in Richard X. Heyman’s touching “Ransom.”
Truly, this list is just a bit a fun, one more chance for me to shine a light on the artists whose work had me hitting replay in 2021. But I’m sure you might make different choices. Feel free to tell me all about them! Either way, don’t forget to find some way – buying music, attending live shows (when it’s safe!), or taking up those opportunities to interact with them online – to support their bottom line. They may not only be in it for the money, but money does allow them to stay in it.
Day in, day out, new singles arrive at our Poprock Record headquarters. It’s a wonder we can keep the Technics 1200 turntable running smoothly what with all the needle dropping going on. Especially today with the second installment of our ‘almost summer’ single mixtape event. So get ready for another twenty – that’s 20! – solid selections for your perusal and possible inclusion on a seasonal singles mixtape.
The arrival of any new recording from Aberdeen’s jangle heavyweights The Vapour Trails is something to cherish. Now that band’s main songwriter/guitarist Kevin Robertson has a solo album but it’s something a bit different. On Sundown’s End Robertson goes exploring stylistically and the results are pretty sweet. Case in point: title track “Sundown’s End.” It kicks off with a very VT guitar hook but as it develops the song moves in a more rocky psychedelic direction than we’re used to. Another guy moving in new directions is Jeff Shelton. The hardest working man in powerpop show business has a new project: Deadlights, a slightly more dreamy take on his usual pristine poprock goodness. Turns out, his new path ends up in basically the same place he usually goes, with solid tunes, earwormy hooks, and enticing playing all over the record. Opening cut “Breaking Down” sounds very REM to me with great swirl of vocals and catchy lead guitar lines. Turning to yesterday’s heartthrobs even working class dogs can learn new tricks, if Rick Springfield’s latest release is anything to go by. Album 22 for Springfield has hit the racks under the moniker The Red Locusts and the results are fantastic. The mild jangle, the harmonica, the big rhythm guitar chords and Rick’s great vocal make “Another Bad Day for Cupid” a should-be hit single. The album is like the Wonders meet the Romantics, it’s that fun. From the ‘never lets you down’ file, Brad Marino is a guy who knows what he likes and he delivers it again and again. His solo work and records with The Connections effectively mine the neo-1950s, post pub rock sound of bands like Rockpile to perfection. But on Looking for Trouble Marino leans into Merseybeat on cuts like “Fell in Love Again.” Love the chime on the guitar and sweet harmonies. Was it just a year ago I was singing the praises of formerly-from-Portland band The Memories? The album was Pickles and Pies and the song I couldn’t get out of my head was mini folk masterpiece “Second Try.” Well they’re back with something that is nothing like that. They’ve segued into a kind of Donovan-meets-Jonathan Richman motif on a new EP Beautiful Sunrise, and particularly with the goofy “Banana.” I mean, who doesn’t like a whistling solo? This definitely sounds like beach blanket material.
Seventeen year old Melody Caudill is back with her Career Woman project, still blending an Elliott Smith esthetic into her work with a new shoe-gazy single, “Balcony.” Once again the guitars are up front (though perhaps toned down a bit from her prior “Teacher’s Pet” single), particularly early on in the solo acoustic part of this new song. Something wonderfully Mary Lou Lord or Annabelle Lord-Patey is going on here. Our next artist deserves an apology. I bought their fabulous debut I Swear My Love Is True but then neglected to write about it. And that’s a shame because Donaher’s work is some fun pop punk in the best Me First and the Gimme Gimmes or Bowling for Soup tradition. From that album, “Heather” particularly deserves your attention. Their new EP is Angus Soundtrack 2 and contains a super remake of what sounded like a demo on the prior album, “Courtney.” Another band I really grooved on was Purses whose “Wheels on the Run” was on pretty constant repeat throughout 2016. So when I heard band member Drew Beskin had a solo outing coming out, I shifted mode to ‘interest piqued.’ The album is Problematic for the People but only a few singles are available. So far I’m loving “Going Alright for You” with its early 1980s Pat Benatar rhythm guitar slashes and otherworldly synth background. Damn, if this single isn’t alive with 1980s excitement! Keeping this manic feeling alive, Cult Stars from Mars have a new single and it combines everything that makes them a fun hot mess of 1970s pop rawk. I’d almost swear there was spandex and cheap lighters embedded in “Funny Face” somewhere but the cool ‘whew hoo’s temper the excess. It helps that the chords are extra chunky with a side of pumping piano. Cincinnati’s Flying Underground really arrive with their latest single, “Nothing.” All the elements of the band really come together with the songwriting, singing, and performance. I love the guitar effect on the arpeggiated solo at the 17 second mark, one that is repeated throughout the song. It’s striking track with so many cool musical adornments that it oozes should-be hit.
I can’t keep up with Freedom Fry. Seems like every month or so they’ve got another single, EP or new album. They sing in English and French and offer up creative, often dramatic covers of classic songs as well as finely crafted, engaging original material. Their brand new album is L’Invitation, all new songs, all sung in French, and up to their usual high standards. But here I’m going to reach back, all the way to last December for their happy-go-lucky one-off single, “One Big Happy Family.” The duo really excel at this kind folky, endearing sunshine pop, their voices melding effortlessly against a backdrop of spare musical accompaniment. Both versions of the song are worth getting to know. In rise-from-the-ashes news, I was gutted when The Strypes called it quits in 2018. I couldn’t believe that their last album Spitting Image, which I thought was their best, did poorly on the charts. Now three of the four band members have a new outfit named after an old Husker Du record, Zen Arcade, and I have new reasons to be excited. “Don’t Say a Word” takes the former Strypes fellows into a more punky new wave direction than their previous act. Very Stiff Little Fingers or Mould’s Sugar outfit in terms of musical demeanor. Right now there’s only two singles but what a launch! These guys are definitely going places. Another band I hated to see go was Crowded House. Thankfully, they keep coming back around. Dreamers are Waiting is the band’s first record in 11 years and it gives fans just what they want: midtempo lush melodies and gorgeous harmonies. Many highlights here but I’m digging “Start of Something” for its hewing to the classic Crowded House sound. A band that never really goes away is They Might Be Giants (and that is a very good thing). Their new song is “I Broke My Own Rule” and it is an intricately developed piece of pop songcraft. I don’t know how these guys manage to be so productive, to constantly move in new directions while still sounding oh so TMBG. This is what you get when you apply genius to poprock songwriting and performance. In a more pop punk vein, Indiana’s The Putz prove that Buddy Holly is alive and well and lurking inside their new album, Rise and Shine. It’s all over the last track on the record, “All the Time in the World.” At first I thought this might be some Bond cover tune but the drumming and guitar alerted me that this would be a not-so-pure but still great Lubbock, Texas-inspired event.
Jenny’s Justin Mauer has many different outlets for his creativity and he’s using most of them in his autobiographical comedy play Falling on Deaf Eyes. One of his bands appearing on the soundtrack is Suspect Parts and they have a groovy song in “Alright With Me.” The guitar riff and vocals are so mid-1960s fed through a 1980s indie filter, with just a hint of a punk rock Tommy James. The guitar and organ work here is perfection. Looking for a crazy band origin story? Stephen’s Ruin have got it. Original band arrives mid-1980s to some notoriety and success. Now the son of one of the founders restarts the band with a new crew and some pretty amazing 1960s-meets-1980s tunes. The band’s recent double A-sided single “Runaround”/“Tonight” is a pure retro beat rock and roll delight. The former is a frenetic garage-y melodic rock romp, with spot on new wave call and response background vocals. The latter lulls you with its sweet rumbly guitar licks and pristine harmony vocals. I want a whole album of this! Another act mining the past for good measure are Steve Stoeckel (from The Spongetones) and Irene Peñaon their one-off single, “Why.” This one hits me right in the musical solar plexus, immediately calling up all those beautiful folk rock duets from 1960s, from Ian and Sylvia to more recent efforts by Don Dixon and Marti Jones. The song is so 1965 and Steve and Irene’s vocals blend perfectly. Really, a lovely piece of work that will have you hitting ‘replay’ again and again. Now if you’re looking for something that screams subtle summer movie blockbuster theme song, Tim Jackson is your man. His new single “How Do You Mend a Broken Heart” has the confident pop stylings of a great Hall and Oates or Crowded House single. It’s pretty straightforward keyboards and vocals but the simplicity masks a clever complexity in the melody. This one is an earworm that works its magic in a sneaky ‘I’ll just listen to this one more time’ sort of way. From his soon-to-be-released second album Litter in the Park. Rounding out our pool of twenty artists is the prolific Richard X. Heyman from his recent album Copious Notes. 70 year old Heyman has been rocking since the 1960s and solo album 14 shows no decline in his songwriting and performance standards. “Tell Me When” literally springs out of the speakers with head turning piano trills and impressive vocal gymnastics. And it’s just a damn good song. Another stand out from the album is the moving love song “Ransom.” The achingly beautiful melody is given depth via Heyman’s incredible vocal and baroque keyboard/strings instrumental backing.
Summer’s not going to organize itself. Thankfully your beach tuneage is squared away. With 40 solid poprock artists to choose from your seasonal mixtape this year will be brimming with hooks and jangle.
Time to twist the dial and see what playing across the poprock-o-sphere. This time it’s mostly Europe, with a special guest appearance from Canada!
Sometimes I imagine Scotland to be this place where everybody is just sitting around writing great songs. I mean, the weather’s not that great. Why not strum something by the fire? Be Like Pablo hail from Forres, Scotland, population 18,000, and their delightful accent is all over their hooky single, “My Kind of Girl.” Between the matching Beach Boys shirts and the killer 1980s synth shots, the song is addictive in more ways than one.
Canadian Michael Rault opens his recent album It’s A New Day Tonight with some pretty stylish guitar work before settling into the late period Beatlesque number “I’ll Be There.” Oh, there’s more guitar later, along with some McCartney-like background vocals.
Meanwhile in Norway, band names are meant to get your attention, like Death by Unga Bunga. 2018’s So Far So Good So Cool was hailed by critics for a host of the songs, but few singled out “Turn My Brain Off.” Which seems weird to me because there’s a pretty serious Cheap Trick vibe coming off this track. In a good way.
Back to the UK, London this time, with Tim Jackson and his sort-of comeback, sort of debut album, Better Late Than Never. Jackson’s story is cinematically also-ran, the young fan who grows up too fast to hang on to his dream. But, hey, now he’s back and Better Late Than Never really isn’t false advertising. I love the piano rush that kicks off the title track, definitely hit single-worthy. Double A side nominee? Check out Jackson’s exquisite
In the old days we heard it on the radio and then headed downtown to the record joint to get the vinyl. Now you barely have to control click something to get it. Click on Be Like Pablo, Michael Rault, Death by Unga Bunga and Tim Jackson do some record shopping, new millennium-style.