Every year about this time, we look back at the past 12 months – in the parlance of The Old Grey Cat, that’s called “Remember December.” But as the New Year nears, the past begins to fade from the rearview mirror and we focus on what matters most: the road ahead. We often vow to do this or that to improve ourselves in some fashion. In my case, for example, one goal is to shed the 10 pounds I’ve put on since the work-from-home life began in March. (Sad to say, but playing with my cat doesn’t burn as many calories as I thought.)

I also have a few resolutions as it pertains to this blog:

  1. More First Impressions. 
  2. More Essentials.
  3. More Other Stuff – aka free-standing essays about matters du-jour and long ago, generally music-related but occasionally not. In years past, I generally coupled these with my Top 5s, but… 
  4. No more Top 5s – unless they’re focused on a single artist or band, that is. The scattershot entries, while fun to create, are – historically speaking – the least popular thing I do. (In other words, sayonara to my oblique homage to High Fidelity!)
  5. Better organization. I’ve already made progress on this: Over the past few days, I’ve streamlined my many categories into ones that make sense. Now, if someone wants to use the categories to look up a specific artist or band, they’ll find relevant entries and not cursory mentions in any of my 234 (yes, you read right) Top 5 posts. (One exception: My much-ballyhooed Album of the Year Awards.) I contemplated doing the same with the individual years and just relying on decades, but…they remain for now.

I also have a few other cards up my sleeve for the New Year. Until then…

I listened to Jackson Browne’s Hold Out yesterday and again today. It’s an album I rediscovered earlier this year after a four-decade break and, in the months since, have played a fair bit. It takes me back to the summer I turned 15, when life’s complications seemed simpler than the simplicities of life today. Granted, the Iranian hostage crisis was ongoing, the economy was anemic and NHL linesman Leon Stickle’s non-call on an obvious offsides had just cost the Philadelphia Flyers their Stanley Cup dream for the season, but I was a teenager. The promise of tomorrow loomed large.

Back then, I often slipped headphones over my ears, laid on my bedroom floor and escaped into in the music emanating from my Realistic stereo system’s turntable. (The advertisement below is for the model I had, which was a Christmas gift from my parents in 1976.) The diamond/sapphire stylus danced along the record’s grooves and discerned my mood as if by magic, never failing to lift me up when sad and/or making good times better.

In 2020, however, the promise of tomorrow often seemed non-existent. Matters of life and death, and tinpot despots, turned the year into a series of vile vignettes that played on a never-ending loop. The incessant drone made writing a challenge, especially in the early going. Many posts read not as the insightful essays I intended but wordy YouTube adverts. C’est la vie. (I’m reminded of the Wallace Stevens poem “Bouquet of Roses in Sunlight,” essentially about the limits of language: “It is like a flow of meanings with no speech/And of as many meanings as of men.”) Yet, even in the bleakest of times, I delved into matters tempo, timbre and the heart with regularity: This has been the first year in which I didn’t take a weekend off.

All of which leads to this: My favorite posts of the year not about Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young. (Those are always among my best.) They’re arranged chronologically, not by preference.

1) The Essentials: Indigo Girls – Self-Titled (1/5/20). Extrapolating insights about life writ large, especially as it relates to a generational sea change, is near impossible, but this piece about the Indigo Girls does it well. As I joke in the lede, “for those of us who came of age during them, the 1980s were akin to the 1960s with the 6 closed off.” (I.e., a lot of freedom had been lost.)

2) The Essentials: Jackson Browne’s Hold Out (3/28/20). Although it suffers from a few too many embedded videos, this is a good example of what I aim for with my Essentials entries, but don’t always achieve. (Plus, it features an oblique allusion to one of my favorite works of fiction, Truman Capote’s Other Voices, Other Rooms.)

3) Roberta Flack’s First Take: The 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition – The Review (8/8/20). The much-delayed reissue, which was pushed back from its original April release date due to the pandemic, is a listening experience well worth undertaking; and I delve deep not just into the music, but its backstory.

4) First Impressions: The Wine of Youth by Zach Phillips (8/29/2020). It’s easy to lose one’s self in despair, especially during this pandemic, but Zach’s album helped me rise like a phoenix from the embers of a deep depression. Perhaps because of that, this review was – hands down – the best thing I wrote all year. 

5) Today’s Top 5: Albums AWOL from Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Albums (9/27/2020). As Paul Simon sings in “The Boy in the Bubble,” “…every generation sends a hero up the pop charts.” Every generation also recasts the past, but rarely without controversy. One example: Rolling Stone’s 2020 all-time album countdown. It ruffled some feathers, especially amongst older music fans, but – as I write in my post – “These lists are not of ‘all time,’ but of their time; they reflect the zeitgeist of the moment, and that moment is generally set by those younger than me.”

And, with that, the annual “Remember December” navel-gazing exercise, circa 2020, has come to a close. On Wednesday, I’ll share my blog-related resolutions for the coming year and then begin implementing them on January 1st.

The Old Grey Cat is wrapping up a banner year – it’s had more visitors and page views over the past 12 months than all of 2014, ’15, ’16 and ’17 combined. (Truly, that stat staggers my mind.) One reason, of course, is the pandemic – with everyone stuck at home, the more time we’ve spent online. Another reason: the wealth of archival posts I’ve accrued since launching this blog in July 2014Unlike new posts, which thrive due to Facebook (and occasionally Twitter), older entries subsist from search engines – Google, especially.

Like most weekend bloggers, I’m sure, I share new posts to my personal Facebook page – where friends generally ignore or miss them – as well as to corresponding Facebook groups. (I don’t join groups to post links, however; that would be rude. Most are fan communities I’ve been a part of for years.) Then, after the figurative FB fire goes out, search engines occasionally reignite the flame. Such has always been the case for this blog, at any rate.

And, with that, here are my overall Top 20 posts of the year (along with the dates that I posted them).

  1. Neil Young: The Best of the Unofficial Canon (9/27/2015)
  2. First Impressions: Neil Young’s Archives II (12/13/2020)
  3. Of Concerts Past: Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band in Philadelphia, 9/24/1999 (7/6/2019)
  4. First Impressions: Bruce Springsteen – The Live Series: Stripped Down (7/25/2020)
  5. The Natalie Merchant Collection – The Review (7/4/2017)
  6. Melody Gardot: Live in Europe – The Review (2/11/2018)
  7. The Essentials: Maria McKee’s Life Is Sweet (6/23/2018)
  8. Shelby Lynne: Here I Am (Movie & Soundtrack) – The Review (8/12/2018)
  9. First Impressions: “Letter to You” by Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band (9/12/2020)
  10. The Essentials: Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Broken Arrow (12/22/2017)
  11. The Essentials: Juliana Hatfield – God’s Foot demos (7/26/2020)
  12. The Essentials: Neil Young – Time Fades Away (5/5/2018)
  13. About (7/12/2014)
  14. Today’s Top 5: Linda Ronstadt’s Rare TV Appearances (1/21/2019)
  15. First Impressions: Neil Young’s Homegrown (6/20/2020)
  16. First Impressions: Melody Gardot’s “From Paris With Love” (6/21/2020)
  17. Neil Young & the Santa Monica Flyers: ROXY – Tonight’s the Night Live -The Review (4/28/2018)
  18. Neil Young’s 1973, Part I: Lonely Weekend, Last Dance, the Tonight’s the Night Acetate (& More) (4/24/2018)
  19. The Essentials: Jackson Browne’s Late for the Sky (2/16/2020)
  20. Today’s Top 5: Linda Ronstadt – Duets (2/12/2017)

(For my Top 20 New Posts of 2020, click here.)

I’ll sidestep an expansive soliloquy, as I have one planned for next week, and instead focus exclusively on matters Old Grey Cat. Overall, including this one, I’ve thus far shared 102 missives in 2020, including 30 First Impressions reviews, 25 Top 5s and 20 Essentials celebrations. (Of Concerts Past remembrances, Song Roundups and assorted ephemera make up the rest.) Today, I thought I’d share my Top 20 new posts from the past 12 months; in the days ahead, I’ll share my personal favorites and the overall Top 20, which features 13 archival treasures.

You’ll notice a pattern, I’m sure…

  1. First Impressions: Neil Young’s Archives II
  2. First Impressions: Bruce Springsteen – The Live Series: Stripped Down
  3. First Impressions: “Letter to You” by Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band
  4. The Essentials: Juliana Hatfield – God’s Foot demos
  5. First Impressions: Neil Young’s Homegrown
  6. First Impressions: Melody Gardot’s “From Paris With Love”
  7. The Essentials: Jackson Browne’s Late for the Sky
  8. The Essentials: Crosby, Stills & Nash’s Daylight Again
  9. First Impressions: Letter to You by Bruce Springsteen
  10. A Bootleg Review: R.E.M., Opal, Steve Wynn, 10,000 Maniacs – May 24, 1987
  11. The Essentials: Neil Young – Trans
  12. First Impressions: Blonde on the Tracks by Emma Swift
  13. The Essentials: Talk Show by the Go-Go’s
  14. First Impressions: The Wine of Youth by Zach Phillips
  15. First Impressions: Melody Gardot’s Sunset in the Blue
  16. Today’s Top 5: 10,000 Maniacs
  17. First Impressions: The Times by Neil Young
  18. Remember November (2020): Album(s) of the Year
  19. Today’s Top 5: Linda Ronstadt Live
  20. The Essentials: Imagination by Gladys Knight & the Pips

Some, no doubt, will scoff at the greying demographic that the above artists and albums represent, but – as I often say – I’m a middle-aged white guy with catholic tastes (“catholic” meaning “broad in sympathies, tastes, or interests” as per Merriam-Webster’s secondary definition, for those unaware of the word’s non-religious connotation). The odds are good, in other words, that something by Neil or Bruce (or Bob Seger, for that matter) will be cranking from my car’s sound system when I’m on the road – or from my desktop speakers when ensconced in my den. (Springsteen’s Live Series – Stripped Down collection is playing as I write this, for example.)

Yet those 20 posts don’t represent the entirety of The Old Grey Cat’s 2020 playlist, as regular readers can attest, just one-fifth of it. The odds are equally as good that I’m listening to Courtney Marie Andrews, Malin Pettersen and Niamh Regan, among other newer artists. That my posts about their works didn’t place high on my year-end chart simply means they don’t have the same readymade fanbase. I have faith that they eventually will.