As a good friend recently stated in her family Christmas card: 2020, y’all.
None of us saw this pivotal year playing out the way it did. When I published March’s mixtape, I gave the obligatory nod to the emerging COVID uncertainty. Little did I know what was coming.
Go back even further. Honestly compare your 1980s vision of 2020 with what unfolded these last 12 months. I will go out on a limb and guess that zero percent of that vision – ZERO – matches what we just went through. Zero.
For me, survival was made possible because of those two in the picture with me. My team. A team that, God willing, will grow by one in the Spring (as the Big Brother-to-be announced in this year’s Christmas card.) We spent way more time together this year than planned. And though it was not without its bumps and stress, it was a great blessing because the big man is growing quickly, and we might have otherwise missed a lot of it.
That said, we are not out of the woods yet, and we head into 2021 with eyes wide open and ready to, in the words of the stoic philosopher, Dory the Fish, “just keep swimming.” This year’s Christmas mixtape is the deep breath you need to help steel you for the next phase of this adventure. The original inspiration for these mixes – expanding Ray Ray’s musical horizons – remains, but the unique nature of 2020 brings some more intentional additions than usual.
Movies and television – a staple of 2020 survival mechanisms – informed a decent bit of this playlist. Per Ray Ray’s request, Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5 and The Wonders’ Dance with Me Tonight (from the movie That Thing You Do!) made the cut. Binge-watching also led me to add James Morrison’s Precious Love. It features prominently in an episode of the multi-Emmy award-winning show Schitt’s Creek, which you should watch if you have not yet already done so.
Like many people, our perpetual house dwelling quickly led to well-defined routines. Sunday afternoons in our house find entertaining the big man while Ray Ray prepares dinners for the week ahead. She does so while listening to a variety of Spotify playlists heavily skewed toward 80s and 90s hits. That latter genre was reinforced after we, like many others, watched the ESPN series, The Last Dance, and were reminded how the Chicago Bulls and hip-hop dominated the decade. Therefore, the playlist includes a less-well-known-but-still-catchy track from Hammer (yes, as in MC Hammer) and Jermaine Stewarts one-hit-wonder from the 1980s, We Don’t Have to Take Our Clothes Off. I am aware that this song will get stuck in your head. That’s exactly why I added it.
KC and the Sunshine band appear again, and I’ve added Dusty Springfield, Blondie, 8th Day, and Honey Cone because Spooky, One Way or Another, She’s Not Just Another Woman, and Stick-Up, respectively, are all great tracks that will get you through a long drive or a long day. And in case you need something funky to get you out of a funk, you’ve got James Brown’s The Good Foot. And if you’ve had one too many Zoom calls, you can turn to Jamiroquai’s Virtual Insanity to blow off some steam. Just make sure to mute yourself before you start singing along.
Of course, it would not be a proper mixtape if I did not once again include music courtesy of KEXP. If by now you have not checked out this station and all it has to offer, that’s on you. On this year-end collection you’ll find Los Bitchos and The Dip, and all female and all male band, respectively. The latter definitely caught our ear and already has a slot on the next birthday mixtape.
I originally slated some songs that would expand Ray Ray’s insight into the more up-tempo world of ska and punk, but I decided to postpone them until the next mixtape. Instead, I felt this December’s collection needed nods to two important themes. The first is, clearly, COVID. Although I hesitated. Why let it once again suck the air out of the room? Still, it sparked incredible creativity in many artists and sometimes that’s just the medicine the patient needs. Therefore, check out the very creative and utterly lovely Stay Away by Randy Newman. Any man who opens a song to his wife with the line, “Venus in sweatpants, that’s what you are” is nothing short of gold.
I also pulled in some great tunes by Drive-By Truckers and a neat medley by Michael Bublé, Barenaked Ladies, and Sofie Reyes. They’re not as comical as Newman’s track, but they’ll make you smile. I even added a track by Big & Rich, which says something if you know my feelings about mainstream pop country music. This track, however, was too good to pass up. For good measure, Foo Fighters’ Times Like These felt appropriate, and I added a dose of Huey Lewis and the News with I Want a New Drug because, well, vaccines!
The second theme demanding attention was the seismic, overdue, and ongoing movement toward social justice. The year’s upheaval produced some great art to help us digest the moment and find – and hopefully fulfill – our unique roles in the just struggle. Janelle Monáe’s Turntables, and Steve Arrington’s Make a Difference are as catchy as they are poignant. For better or worse, Lee Dorsey’s Yes We Can is as applicable now as it was in the 1970s. Finally, Tyler Childers’ Long Violent History is an honest, brutal, and eye-opening assessment in the tradition of solid country music artists who were not afraid to take a stand. These tracks, in my judgment, are worth a close listen.
But we kick things off with Ray Charles’ Hit the Road, Jack, because 2020 wasn’t all bad news.
As always, you can find this playlist on our Spotify station. But fair warning, I can’t find Stick Up or two tracks are missing on Spotify. I can’t find Stick Up or Quarantine Together on Spotify, but you can find them via the YouTube links below.
Happy New Year, everyone.
Ray Charles – Hit the Road Jack
Dolly Parton – 9 to 5
Jamiroquai – Virtual Insanity
Randy Newman – Stay Away
Lee Dorsey – Yes We Can
Skeewiff (feat. The Golden Gate Quartet) - Brutha Noah
Honey Cone – Stick-Up
The Dip – Sure Don’t Miss You
Steve Arrington – Make a Difference
Foo Fighters – Times Like These
Blondie – One Way or Another
Los Bitchos – The Link Is About to Die
8th Day – She’s Not Just Another Woman
Michael Bublé, Barenaked Ladies, Sofia Reyes – Gotta Be Patient
Huey Lewis & the News – I Want a New Drug
The Wonders – Dance with Me Tonight
Janelle Monáe – Turntables
KC & the Sunshine Band – Get Down Tonight
Big & Rich – Stay Home
James Morrison – Precious Love
Drive-By Truckers – Quarantine Together
James Brown – Get On the Good Foot
Jermaine Stewart – We Don’t Have to Take Our Clothes Off
Hammer – It’s All Good
Dusty Springfield – Spooky
Tyler Childers – Long Violent History