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Best Soul Songs of 2020

There are certain songs that just make you feel happy. Some can pep up your morning, some make you want to dance like no one’s watching, and others can get a party started after just a few notes. Some happy songs have stood the test of time, while other newer fun songs became must-plays for when you need a boost. Now, more than ever we could use a little extra happiness and upbeat music in our life. So whether you want to celebrate feeling great or just need a pick-me-up, these are the best happy songs of all time that you definitely want in your regular music rotation

According to research done by Harvard Medical School, music can have a myriad of positive effects on the brain, from keeping people relaxed during medical procedures to improving exercise endurance. In short, when you’re feeling blue, a happy song can work wonders to infuse some joy into your day.

Some of these upbeat tracks are rapturous love songs about the wonderful sensation of knowing you’re wanted (Beyoncé’s “Love On Top,” Ric Wilson’s “Yellowbrick”). Others focus on the exhilaration that can be gained from persevering through adversity (Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger,” Swift’s “Shake It Off”). And, of course, we’ve included pop songs about how good it feels to…feel good (Pharrell’s “Happy”). Some of these happy songs even emulate the carefree freedom of a great road trip (CRUISER’s “Go For It,” Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”).

This feel-good playlist will immediately put a smile on your face and make you feel better about the world, and it’ll make you want to dance, too. We’re all dealing with stress these days in one form or another, and when times are tough, jamming out to these catchy tunes is exactly what we need.

Honourable Mention: Acantha Lang – ‘He Said/She Said’ 

‘Aren’t we tired of faking it? / Somebody tell me please’

London-based artist Acantha Lang injected the energy of her ferocious live sets into her debut single ‘He Said/She Said’, a feisty rejection of misinformation and ‘fake news’ with terrific horn work.

10. Ruby Turner – ‘Runaway’ 

‘We’ve got to get back to when it was easy’

Soul veteran Ruby Turner released her 20th studio album Love Was Here at the top of this year. Packed with ’60s inspired soul, the album radiates warmth and familiarity. One of the highlights is ‘Runaway’, a mid-tempo with a touching lyric about escaping the rat race of modern life.

9. rum. gold – ‘Save You’ 

‘You’re the air I couldn’t breathe / You’re the sky I wanna see / You’re the lock and I’m the key / And all I wanna do is save you’

Brooklyn-based artist rum. gold possesses a stunning falsetto vocal that perfectly conveys the vulnerability of his lyrics, put to moving effect on this simple, subdued ballad.

8. Izo Fitzroy – ‘Blind Faith’ 

‘Need a little blind faith to navigate these scenes / Just a little blind faith to put your mind at ease / And even though at times we’re miles away from peace / Just a little blind faith / Have a little blind faith in me‘

A hybrid dance-soul track with a gospel vamp climax, ‘Blind Faith’ is Izo Fitzroy‘s plea for forgiveness in the midst of a turbulent relationship. Fitzrow’s brooding alto adds a real intensity to this number, further lifted by the backing vocals of the Soul Sanctuary Gospel Choir.

7. The Sacred Souls – ‘Can I Call You Rose?’ 

‘Can I call you Rose? / ‘Cause you’re sweet like a flower in bloom‘

Signed to Daptone Records – a key protagonist in the championing of contemporary soul – Thee Sacred Souls are a trio based out of San Diego. Their debut single ‘Can I Call You Rose’ sounds like a Motown cut buried in the vault, with a winning croon from vocalist Josh Lane.

6. We The Commas – ‘Custom Made’ 

‘I’m custom made, custom made for your love‘

Combining their love for soul music with Californian surf culture, We The Commas are a talented trio of brothers with a knack for hypnotic instrumentals. Their single ‘Custom Made’ is the lovechild of Smokey Robinson and the Beach Boys.

5. Yebba – ‘Distance’ 

‘Take me back to the distance / Late night cooking in the kitchen’

Yebba has one of the most pristine voices in contemporary soul. She received a Grammy nomination for ‘Distance’, her only single release of 2020, where she sings with balance and acceptance about the end of a relationship. Tapping into the colours and range of her instrument, she takes the song to dazzling heights.

4. Jarrod Lawson – ‘Love Isn’t Always Enough’ 

We tried to fulfil each other’s needs / To the best of our abilities… We tried so hard but the reality / Is love isn’t always enough‘

Portland-based singer-songwriter Jarrod Lawson released his sophomore album Be The Change this past November in a compelling bid for the best album of the year. The highlight is the sumptuous, melancholic ballad ‘Love Isn’t Always Enough’. The arrangement glistens and Lawson’s voice soars.

3. Nyah Grace – ‘Sooner or Later’ 

‘I don’t have the time for you to take it slow / It kills me but it’s simply divine‘

Nyah Grace emerged in 2020 as a standout talent in the soul and R&B space. ‘Sooner or Later’ harks back to the sensual soul of, say, Minnie Riperton, but also the contemporary, laidback stylings of Corinne Bailey Rae (who sings with Grace on duet ‘My Sister Told Me’). This song shines for Grace’s finesse and the intricacies of the production.

2. Gregory Porter – ‘Dad Gone Thing’ 

‘He didn’t teach me a dad gone thing / But how to sing‘

As Porter explained in his interview with The House That Soul Built, his latest album All Rise drew upon his church background to a greater extent than previous releases. ‘Dad Gone Thing’, well-supplied with Hammond organ and brass, has one of Porter’s most nuanced lyrics – characterised by sadness at his father’s estrangement, but also gratitude for the musical powers he bestowed upon Porter.

1. Lianne La Havas – ‘Bittersweet’ 

‘Bittersweet summer rain / I’m born again’

Featuring a nifty Isaac Hayes sample, ‘Bittersweet’ marked a fantastic return from British singer-songwriter Lianne La Havas. La Havas leverages her magnetic voice to its full potential, belting out the chorus in a triumphant statement of renewal and release.

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