A playlist to usher in a better new year

As U2 famously said many years ago, “All is quiet on New Year’s Day.” But if all goes well, things might get a lot livelier this time next year. So this playlist welcomes 2021 with a dozen songs we’ve picked to fit the current mood: We’ll indulge a little crankiness, but mostly we’ll look forward to a year of better times.
Bruce Springsteen, “Where the Bands Are”: Nothing better expresses what music fans were feeling in 2020: “I wanna be where the bands are!” The Boss wrote this tune in 1978, when a legal dispute was keeping the E Street Band off the road. Once concerts rev up again, we’re willing to bet good money that he opens a few shows with it.
Jonathan Richman: “Parties in the USA”: We assume everybody is making a to-do list of main priorities for when things get back to normal. We humbly suggest the words of Richman, the punk philosopher and former Bostonian: “We know we can’t have those times back again. But we can have parties now like there were then. We need more parties in the USA!”
The Decemberists: “Everything is Awful”: When it’s safe to look back on 2020, this tune — whose lyrics consist mainly of the title, repeated many dozen times — should about sum things up. It is, of course, delivered as a jolly singalong. People thought these literate folk-rockers were being wise guys when they wrote this in 2017, but they were just being prophetic.
Colin Meloy, Chris Funk, Jenny Conlee, Nate Query and John Moen with The Decemberists performs during the 2016 Shaky Knees Festival at Centennial Olympic Park on Saturday, May 14, 2016, in Atlanta. (Photo by Robb D. Cohen/Invision/AP)
Van Morrison, “And the Healing Has Begun”: Morrison didn’t do his reputation any favors with a bunch of widely criticized anti-lockdown songs he released this year. But back in the brighter days of 1979, he wrote a more fitting song about coming back to life. The song promises we’ll see a spiritual rebirth; it also promises we’ll stay out all night and dance to rock & roll.
Juliana Hatfield in 2019. Photo David Doobinin
Juliana Hatfield, “Staying In”: Meanwhile, while we’re still stuck being locked down, here’s a song from someone who prefers it that way. Local favorite Hatfield is admittedly an introvert in the best of times; with 2019’s “Weird” she made a concept album about choosing to be alone. This is its haunting opening track, which expresses solidarity with her fellow loners.
British music group The Animals are seen around Jul. 1, 1964. L-R: Hilton Valentine, John Steel, Eric Burdon and Chas Chandler.  In the front is Alan Price. (AP Photo)
The Animals, “We’ve Gotta Get Out of This Place”: Here’s one for everyone who isn’t quite as down with stay-at-home life as Hatfield is. If you’ve got the shutdown blues, you can at least take comfort in knowing that these hip guys in the swinging ‘60s felt the same way.
Genesis, “It’s Gonna Get Better”: Genesis are one of many bands who canceled high-profile tours this year; their big reunion is still set for whenever live music happens. Meanwhile we’ve got this hopeful song from their self-titled 1984 album, which Phil Collins — who hadn’t quite made it to superstardom yet — delivers with some persuasive feeling.
From left, Mike Rutherford, Tony Banks and Phil Collins of the British rock band Genesis perform on stage during their free concert at Rome’s Circus Maximus, Saturday, July 14, 2007. (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)
Future, “Mask Off” Nobody thought twice about the title when this slinky outlaw rap hit two years ago, Future’s tale of opiates and robbery was already provocative enough — not to mention a chorus lyric we can’t repeat here. But the Atlanta rapper did the right thing this year by forming a charitable group that gave out 100,000 masks.
Bill Withers: “Lean On Me”: This one’s here for obvious reasons. Nothing speaks truth like a classic soul song, and Withers said it for a lot of people in the past year.
The Five Stairsteps: “Ooh Child”: Speaking of uplifting soul classics, this is one of the sweetest songs of reassurance that we know. No wonder everybody from Phish to Hall & Oates have covered it over the years — but of course the original is still the greatest.
Stevie Wonder, “Can’t Put It in the Hands of Fate”: When the world needs a pep talk, it can always call on Stevie Wonder. The livelier of the two new songs he surprise-dropped this year, this one opens with a roomful of guest rappers, But then Stevie takes over with some old-school harmonica and a groove right out of “Superstition.” His voice sounds grittier than usual, perfect for the song’s message: Injustice and crises don’t get solved by themselves.
Paul Weller, “A Brand New Start”: Everyone likes to post an uplifting song on Facebook on New Year’s; this has been my own choice for the last few years. Ex-Jam leader Paul Weller is known for his tough swagger — his UK fans call him the Modfather — but in this acoustic number he reminds you that it’s never too late to hit some higher ground. A worthy sentiment even in less chaotic times.

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