You need a “new” song

Here we go again. Everything new.

New Year’s resolutions. Turning over a new leaf. New beginnings. New goals.

When it comes to music, I’ve become a firm advocate of the practice of listening to new artists with new albums full of new songs. But seeing as this is a blog about rock music of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, I only rarely write about new artists here. The closest I get, I suppose, is when a vintage artist like Robert Plant or Paul McCartney releases something new that I want to spotlight.

In this post, just for fun, I draw attention to rock songs with “new” in the title. Some of these will be new to you, no doubt, while others are probably old familiar friends. As is customary, I have included a Spotify playlist at the end. I hope you enjoy these tunes as you dive into another new year!

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“New,” Paul McCartney, 2013

The diversity of styles and sounds on McCartney’s 2013 LP “New” is due in part to him using four different producers. Mark Hanson, who has worked with artists like Adele, Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus and Bruno Mars, oversaw production of the horn-rich title track, which has what The Daily Telegraph referred to as a “jaunty, Beatlesque stomp.” Said McCartney about the song’s lyrics: “It’s a love song but it’s saying, ‘Don’t look at me, I haven’t got any answers.’ It says, ‘I don’t know what’s happening, I don’t know how it’s all happening, but it’s good and I love you.'” A sampling: “You came along and made my life a song, one lucky day, you came along, /Just in time, while I was searching for a rhyme, you came along, then we were new…”

“New Train,” John Prine, 1995

The late great Prine may be getting increased attention posthumously since his passing in 2020, but upon its release in 1995, “Lost Dogs and Mixed Blessings” was just another in a string of hugely underrated and neglected gems in his wonderful catalog. Heartbreakers bassist Howie Epstein produced this LP, and some say he over-produced it, as evidenced by the sound on the leadoff track, “New Train,” with its upfront drums-bass-keyboards mix, but to me, it sounds right for the optimism expressed in the lyrics: “I’ll be leaving on a new train, far away from this world of pain, /The friends that greet me will be simple and plain when I step down from that new train…”

“New Frontier,” Donald Fagen, 1982

When Steely Dan went on hiatus in 1981 to give Walter Becker a chance to recover from health issues, Fagen went ahead with “The Nightfly,” a solo project that presented a cycle of songs about the late ’50s/early ’60s when he was growing up in New Jersey. The tracks include “The Nightfly,” about a DJ on a late-night jazz station; “I.G.Y.,” about the “International Geophysical Year” of 1957; and “New Frontier,” the Kennedy campaign slogan of hope in a time of Cold War realities in 1960: “Let’s pretend that it’s the real thing and stay together all night long, /And when I really get to know you, we’ll open up the doors and climb into the dawn, /Confess your passion, your secret fear, prepare to meet the challenge of the new frontier…”

“I’m New,” Stevie Wonder, 1995

From 1972 to 1987, Wonder released a series of acclaimed masterpieces that routinely reached the Top Five on US album charts. He seemed to take a break in the early ’90s, but it turned out he had written nearly four dozen songs and was merely taking his time developing and recording them. The resultant LP, “Conversation Peace,” arrived in 1995, full of typically melodious, effervescent music that didn’t bend to the times as much as reinvent his patented style. Take “I’m New,” a gorgeous tune that explores the idea of a person whose life had been devoid of love until fate intervened: “I’m new, new like the fresh morning dew, new like a work of art that’s finally through, /I’m new, new like a first flight of a dove, so safe and secure with your love, I’m new…”

“You Make Me Feel Brand New,” The Stylistics, 1974

Thom Bell is the multi-talented writer/arranger/producer who played a key role in the success of the Philadelphia soul vocal groups like the Spinners, the Delfonics, the O’Jays and the Stylistics. Bell and lyricist Linda Creed collaborated on numerous top R&B hits, both ballads and uptempo numbers. The Stylistics, led by tenor Airrion Love and falsetto king Russell Thompkins, scored a half-dozen Top 20 hits with Bell/Creed tunes in the early ’70s, none bigger than their #2 smash “You Make Me Feel Brand New,” a heartfelt song of devotion: “Only you cared when I needed a friend, believed in me through thick and thin, /This song is for you, filled with gratitude and love, /God bless you, you make me feel brand new…”

“Brand New Day,” Van Morrison, 1970

As he was composing the songs for his brilliant “Moondance” LP, Morrison said he was inspired to write “Brand New Day” after hearing The Band’s “The Weight” on the radio. “I looked up at the sky and the sun started to shine,” he said, “and all of a sudden the song just came through my head. It’s the song on the ‘Moondance’ album that worked best to my ear, and the one which I felt most in touch with.” Critic John Tobler said the song had “a celebratory air, bordering on spiritual joy.”: “Well it shines so bright and it gives so much light, and it comes from the sky above, /Makes me feel so free, makes me feel like me, and lights my life with love, /And it seems like, and it feels like, and it seems like, yes it feels like a brand new day…”

“New Tune,” James Taylor, 1972

One of Taylor’s most overlooked albums, and a favorite of mine, is “One Man Dog,” coming on the heels of his hugely successful “Sweet Baby James” and “Mud Slide Slim” LPs. It offers 18 tracks, some of them less than a minute long, in a sort of suite that holds together as a charming entity rather than as individual songs. There are exceptions, however — “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight” is a jazzy stand-alone that did well as a single, and “One Man Parade” is a great album opener. I’ve always been fond of “New Tune,” a brief, wistful piece of unfinished business that marries Taylor’s guitar and voice with Carole King’s delicate piano and some gentle bongos.

“New Morning,” Bob Dylan, 1970

Beginning in 1968, Dylan had begun to chafe against the “leader of a generation” moniker that critics had saddled him with, and he withdrew to a simpler, more rural lifestyle with family in upstate New York. His 1970 LP “New Morning” is full of songs reflecting Dylan’s more relaxed approach. The Guardian‘s Geoffrey Cannon described the title track as “a marvelous song, pointing to all our best hopes” in its celebration of the simple pleasures of nature and the senses: “Can’t you feel that sun a-shining, groundhog running by the country stream, /This must be the day when all of my dreams come true, /So happy just to be alive underneath the sky of blue on this new morning, new morning, on this new morning with you…”

“Skating Away on the Thin Ice of the New Day,” Jethro Tull, 1974

Following two dense, complicated albums each comprised of 45-minute compositions (“Thick as a Brick” and “A Passion Play”), Tull leader Ian Anderson opted to write “War Child,” an album of more upbeat, radio-friendly tunes that retained the key elements of the band’s sound: wailing flute, crunching electric guitar, sprightly acoustic guitar and Anderson’s spirited vocals and clever lyrics. “Skating Away” speaks with optimism about facing a new world where, in the early ’70s, it was predicted cooler climates would prevail. Although later proven incorrect, it nonetheless reinforces our need to adapt to new challenges: “And as you cross the wilderness, spinning in your emptiness, you feel you have to pray, /Looking for a sign that the Universal Mind has written you into the Passion Play, /Skating away on the thin ice of the New Day…”

“New Kid in Town,” John David Souther, 2011

J.D. Souther, an occasional collaborator with Glenn Frey and Don Henley in the ’70s, had written the chorus to “New Kid in Town” in 1974 but didn’t know what to do with it. When Frey and Henley were working on material for the “Hotel California” sessions in 1976, Souther brought them the unfinished tune and they completed it together, making it about “the fleeing, fickle nature of romance, and of fame,” said Henley: “There’s talk on the street, it’s there to remind you… /They will never forget you ’til somebody new comes along, /Where you’ve been lately? There’s a new kid in town, /Everybody loves him, don’t they? Now he’s holding her, and you’re still around…” It was another #1 hit for The Eagles, and 35 years later, Souther recorded his own pretty rendition that I’ve featured here instead of the familiar Eagles version.

“New Faces,” The Rolling Stones, 1994

It wasn’t all that unusual for the Stones to throw in an acoustic ballad when recording a new album, but it was a surprise when we heard a harpsichord dominate the arrangement of “New Faces” on their 1994 LP “Voodoo Lounge.” It had been nearly 30 years since songs like 1966’s “Lady Jane” and 1967’s “Dandelion” had featured Brian Jones on harpsichord giving the tracks an almost regal flavor. This tune’s lyrics focus on a woman who is falling for a new guy who is not who he seems: “There’s a new guy in town, he’s been dragging around, /He’s the figure of youth and his eyes are so blue… /And his skin is so fair and it shines like his hair as he stands so aloof with an indolent air, and an insolent stare that just shutters the truth…”

“New World,” Robert Plant, 2017

I really admire Plant’s perseverance as a recording artist in the 40+ years since the demise of Led Zeppelin. He may have resisted calls to reunite and tour with his former bandmates except for a couple of isolated instances, but he has moved forward admirably with more than a dozen albums, trying new sounds and new collaborations (Alison Krauss?!). On his 2017 LP “Carry Fire,” Plant again teamed up with the Sensational Space Shifters as his backing band, and “New World” is one of the better tracks: “With songs, we praise a happy landing on yet another virgin shore, /Escape the old world, embrace the new world, /Out here, the immigrant takes all…”

“New Horizons,” The Moody Blues, 1972

During The Moodies’ 1967-1973 period of mind-bending albums and songs, they developed a reputation among fans for almost guru-like wisdom, which began to feel like an albatross at times. On the band’s “Seventh Sojourn” album in 1972, John Lodge responded with a song that admonished his fans, “I’m just a singer in a rock and roll band.” Still, this was always an egalitarian group, with each member contributing songs, and guitarist/singer Justin Hayward’s “New Horizons” continued his penchant for philosophical lyrics: “Well, I’ve had dreams enough for one, and I got love enough for three, /I have my hopes to comfort me, I got my new horizons out to sea…”

“New Killer Star,” David Bowie, 2003

On this 2003 LP, Bowie had said he remained typically obtuse in his lyrics, but noted, “I think there are times when I’m stretched to at least implicate what’s happening politically in the songs that I’m writing, and there was some nod, in a very abstract way, toward the wrongs that are being made at the moment.” On the opening track, “New Killer Star” (a poke at the way the President pronounced “nuclear”), he was referring to the U.S. military presence in the Middle East in response to 9/11: “See the great white scar over Battery Park, then a flare glides over, but I won’t look at that scar, /Oh, my nuclear baby, we’ll discover a star, /Oh, my idiot trance, all my idiot questions, /Like the stars in your eyes, let’s face the music and dance…”

“Brand New Day,” Sting, 1999

Since leaving The Police in 1984, Sting churned out one consistently strong album after another for 20 years, with each LP demonstrating maturity and an increasing degree of sophistication in songwriting. He has also chosen some of the world’s greatest musicians to appear on various tracks, including Brandford Marsalis, Annie Lennox, Mark Knopfler, David Sancious, Wayne Jackson, Cheb Mami and, on the title track of his “Brand New Day” album, the great Stevie Wonder on harmonica. “Why don’t we turn the clock to zero, honey, I’ll sell the stock, we’ll spend all the money, /We’re starting up a brand new day, /Turn the clock to zero, boss, the river’s wide, we’ll swim across, /We started up a brand new day…”

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