‘Tis the season for New Year’s playlists, and we can’t help but notice that a lot of the choices we’ve seen elsewhere are either shopworn (you really want to hear that U2 song again?) or a little lame (sorry Dan Fogelberg, but no). We can at least promise that every song on this list is great, including a couple local choices.
Paul Weller “Brand New Start”: This is my personal favorite, the one I’ve played every year since it came out in 2001. The ex-Jam leader and longtime mod cult hero isn’t one for cheap sentiment; the promises he makes here are clear-eyed but clearly hopeful. Lovely tune too.
Graham Parker “New Year’s Revolution”: Another tender song from a tough guy, this one’s a soul strut whose lyrics note that a little love wouldn’t hurt as we pull together to get the world in better shape. Released in the ’90s, any modern-day resonance is purely intentional.
Lightnin’ Hopkins “Happy New Year”: This gritty (but still upbeat) blues makes a nice antidote to all those sentimental New Year’s songs: “Happy New Year baby, ain’t gonna worry me to death/ Don’t think about Christmas, ’cause Christmas just up and left.”
Huey Piano Smith & the Clowns “Happy New Year”: On their wild and classic Christmas album, everyone in Huey Smith’s crew sounds like they’re well into the spiked eggnog (Dr. John is in there somewhere). The reason one of the singers swears he’ll never do the Twist again is lost to history.
The Glad Singers “Happy New Year”: A supremely hip record that I just discovered through a recent reissue. The Glad Singers were a studio group assembled by Miles Davis’ producer Teo Macero; their holiday album Swing Bells! consisted of familiar melodies (“Greensleeves,” in this case) matched with their own festive lyrics. Listen to this and tell me they haven’t just been to the best party in town.
Beverley “Happy New Year”: If your NY Eve turns out to be a bummer, here’s a suitably pissed-off diva to commiserate with. I knew nothing about this terrific record when a friend put it on a holiday compilation; turns out that Beverley is English singer Beverley Martyn (who made a couple albums with her husband, the late folk great John Martyn). In any case, she sings this like she knows she’s too cool to get stood up on New Year’s Eve.
Prince “The Future”: While we’re still teary, some words of wisdom from one of the many greats we lost in 2016. No surprise that it’s a little ominous—it was after all the leadoff song from his Batman soundtrack—but it includes some sage advice: “I’ve seen the future and it works/ So you can’t go like a jerk.” (Sadly, the only versions on YouTube are bad remixes.)
Zigaboo Modeliste “Holiday Kiss”: The great Meters drummer plugs into a smooth retro-soul groove for his holiday tune. Doesn’t even specify the holiday, but it’s a perfect one for anyone who decides to stay home with their partner on the big night.
Lou Rawls “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?”: There are a million versions of this chestnut, but none really swing like this one, and nobody ever sang it with more swagger. And the guitarist is on fire, whoever it is.
Peggy Lee “Song at Midnight”: Instead of including “Auld Lang Syne,” here’s a song about “Auld Lang Syne,” and maybe the most romantic New Year’s song ever.