The Best Singles of 2020, Part One: #40-#21

Best of 2020

Albums: Part One | Part Two

Singles: Part One | Part Two

A silver lining in this difficult year has been the abundance of quality music, resulting in our longest “Best of” lists in years. This week, we’ll be counting down our favorite forty albums and singles from 2020.

Here are the songs that make up the bottom half of our Top 40 Singles of 2020, as voted on by staff writers Kevin John Coyne, Jonathan Keefe, and Zack Kephart, with ties broken by CU alum Dan Milliken.

The Best Singles of 2020, Part One: #40-#21


“Turn Off the TV”

Old 97’s 

A 2020 single nostalgic for 1990’s nostalgia for the 1970’s, “Turn Off the TV” is a double throwback with clever pop culture references. – Kevin John Coyne



“Poet’s Prayer”

Sunny Sweeney

There’s an alternate timeline where Sunny Sweeney actually became the radio fixture she deserved to be in this reality, and the graceful “Poet’s Prayer,” her meditation on the art of songwriting, would be a bona fide classic. – Jonathan Keefe




Lydia Loveless featuring Laura Jane Grace

A coming-of-age narrative that benefits from Lydia Loveless’ starkly honest songwriting perspective, refusing to absolve herself of the culpability that comes with the consequences of growing up, but also very much leaning into the fear of that cycle, too. – Zackary Kephart



“I Don’t Mind”

Sturgill Simpson

Leave it to the genre-averse Simpson to re-record his greatest country and rock non-hits as bluegrass throw-downs… and to score some decent AAA airplay while doing so. – JK



“Black Like Me”

Mickey Guyton

True to the genre’s roots of sharing the lived experiences of everyday folk, Guyton lets us experience the pain and pride that come with being a black woman in America.  – KJC




Ruston Kelly

Ruston Kelly’s darkest song yet, which is saying something, given that it’s an examination and deconstruction of one’s own flailing emotional strength, and is damn-near hypnotic in its execution. – ZK



“We Were Rich”

Runaway June

On their best single yet– and they’ve had a terrific run already– Runaway June offer a genuine, thoughtful reflection on growing up poor, and I honest-to-God can’t remember the last time a mainstream country act did that at all, let alone with this degree of insight and candor. – JK


Orville Peck Show Pony


“Legends Never Die”

Orville Peck featuring Shania Twain

Two artists who march confidently into country music’s campiest territories unite for a triumphant bit of self-mythologizing: Twain as the iconic legacy act and Peck as the ascendant at-least-in-some-circles star. – JK



“Julianna Calm Down”

The Chicks

As part of a recurring theme on Gaslighter, the Chicks insist on breaking the cycle of heartbreak, counseling the girls in their family to never give the heartbreaker the satisfaction of seeing that they’ve hurt you.  – KJC



“The Devil WAP Down to Georgia”

DJ Cummerbund

However commonplace and popular Glee and a hundred thousand YouTube channels have made them, mash-ups are actually incredibly hard to pull off: Its technical perfection and its perfectly chosen form-meets-subject, burn-the-heretics merging of polarized content are what make DJ Cummerbund’s “The Devil WAP Down to Georgia” the year’s most effective bridge-builder. – JK



“I Only See You With My Eyes Closed”

Reckless Kelly

One of Reckless Kelly’s best in years, where that rich, atmospheric groove builds to new tensions as it progresses to echo the endless cycle this character goes through in the wake of a failed relationship.  And even though it’s told through seemingly disconnected images, the power is in the presentation and compositional build, which is unlike anything the band has ever crafted before. – ZK



“Harder Dreams”

John Moreland

A testament to why John Moreland remains one of the best songwriters working today, “Harder Dreams” is a starkly modern examination of how media of all varieties influences the person we are and become, for better and worse. A little too frighteningly real for this year, but also a reminder that what we see – or rather, what we’re trained to see – doesn’t echo real life, and that we’ll all find personal happiness when we realize that. – ZK



“March March”

The Chicks

The Chicks talked about rising to meet the moment when they changed their name this year.  “March March” is a potent reminder that as a band, they don’t just rise to meet the moment.  They make it a point to go looking for moments to meet.   – KJC



“The Time For Flowers”

Emily Scott Robinson

It’s impossible to escape the darkness that clouded over 2020, and in many ways, there were hard lessons within we needed to embrace. “The Time For Flowers” acknowledges that while also offering optimism and hope that didn’t feel like pure escapism this year. If anything, finding the will to push on is the reward, and though the time for flowers will only come after a hard-fought battle, the point is, it will come again. – ZK



“Some Kind of Drug”

Lilly Hiatt

An examination of Nashville, but not the ballad from the starving musician on Music Row we’ve all heard before. This is about Nashville as the cultural melting pot it’s become, inviting in new dreamers like never before, but also offering just as many opportunities to crush them, too. A complex examination of a city that’s struggling to keep up as it gives birth to new characters while others vanish, indicating how all that growth may eventually come at the cost of a cultural soul. – ZK



“New Kind of Outlaw”

D’orjay the Singing Shaman

“I ain’t writing ‘bout drankin’ beer down by the river in my new old truck,” D’orjay the Singing Shaman snarls over a stomping four-on-the-floor beat that Jason Aldean could literally never. She puts the performative “outlaw” posturing of country radio on immediate notice and does so over crisp production that draws evenly from– and is actually respectful of– traditional country, hip-hop, and arena rock. – JK



“When You’re My Age”

Lori McKenna featuring Hillary Lindsey and Liz Rose

Lori McKenna’s songwriting has taken us along with her on her journey from a young girl who lost her mother at a tender age to a young woman being the mother to her own five children.  Those kids are growing up now, and “When You’re My Age” is a reminder that even when your child is grown, they’re still your baby and you’ll always be there for them. – KJC



“Waiting On a Call”


One of the earliest indicators of how musically draining 2020 would be, where the goodbyes hit much harder in the precise moment when two people know it’s the last time they’ll ever see each other again. Yet the message is optimistic, where the deceased does their best to offer comfort to the loved ones left to face the days, months and years ahead. A true gut-punch moment that took on an entirely new meaning this year. – ZK



“How You Get Hurt”

Courtney Marie Andrews

As the penultimate moment on Courtney Marie Andrews’ Old Flowers, “How You Get Hurt” finds her destroying the progress she’s made in moving past a bad breakup. What’s still notable, though, is how self-aware she is of that, and that even though she cycles through old memories in her mind – and knows her significant other is doing the same thing, too – rekindling that fire is only an answer, not a solution. But she desperately wants to try again, and the weight behind that sentiment is crushingly relatable in its framing. – ZK



“South Gotta Change”

Adia Victoria

While today’s mainstream country music likes to paint an idyllic vision of life in the South, Adia Victoria’s powerful “South Gotta Change” gives voice to those whose authentic, lived experiences as Southerners are not captured by the what Music Row sells as an aspirational lifestyle product. Over a skittering beat and dirty, distorted blues riff, Victoria implores, “I won’t love you/I won’t leave you,” because she knows that the South she loves is worth fighting for and that it can fundamentally do better and can do right by all of its people. – JK


Best of 2020

Albums: Part One | Part Two

Singles: Part One | Part Two





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