“‘Cause I don’t have any answers, but I know what I think about us. When I’m driving through the city with you, it’s like they’ve got all of the lights turned up. And we’re fifty in a thirty. And you’re talking dirty in the front. It hits me like new love. It hits me like new love.” –Tommy Ashby, “Apollo (New Love)”
2019 was a great year for music. I’ve always thought that people who complain that there’s no good music anymore are probably stuck in a cycle of (sometimes, not always) overproduced top 40 hits without knowing how to find the gems. This year saw stellar new albums from some of my favourite artists, including Hozier and Luke Sital-Singh, both of whom I adore and have written about before. I reverted back to being 15 again twice with the long-awaited, highly anticipated reunions of my two all-time favourite boy bands, Westlife and BBMAK, who I finally got to see after 20 years of waiting. What a year to check off 3 of my bucket list concerts (also including Hozier, whose show was so sexy I’m still recovering from it), and they did not not disappoint. If 2020 is anything like it, it will be another smashing year.
I’ve written before about having a song for every year of my life. Some years have been more difficult for others to find one that really connects with me and is also from the same year in question without repeating artists. Last year’s song was pretty easy – “Nina Cried Power” by Hozier – because sometimes songs just move you and become instant classics. However, a lot of years I tend to discover older music or rediscover songs I’ve had and neglected for ages and become a bit obsessed with them, so it’s not always easy to find a song released in the same year that feels right to define an entire year.
I did not have that problem this year, to say the least. By the end of May, I had a feeling I had found THE song but questioned whether it was possible to be so sure not even halfway through the year. By June, I was 100% certain that I would be writing this very blog about it because I couldn’t imagine any other song having the same impact… or number of listens on my iTunes. (Yes, I am old school and actually still download music far more than stream it. What a concept!)
Normally, I would have some honourable mentions, and there were some other songs from other years that I became obsessed with this year (I still love you, Lena Hall’s divine cover of David Bowie’s “As The World Falls Down!”), but none of them came close to the number of listens or love as the winner. The only one that could possibly come close is “Steady Hand” by the same artist.
I’m sure by now you’re saying, “Stop rambling! Get to it already!” First of all, patience, Grasshopper. Some people write whole books about buying and listening to over 365 albums from/in one year after having a breakdown. This won’t take nearly that long.
I’ve always been a firm believer in watching opening acts at concerts. I’ve discovered some of my favourite artists when they opened for others, sometimes even outshining whoever I went to see. More importantly, support acts are often not as well-known as the headliners – they are opening for a reason after all – and it’s nice to just show up for them. In early April, I went to see my beloved Luke Sital-Singh who had two openers. The first one was not bad but not really to my taste. The second one was Tommy Ashby, and let’s just say that I was texting everyone I talk to most with heart eyes emojis, already recommending him as I’m known to do because it was love at first sound.
That feeling hasn’t faded. I quickly got all of his work available but was somewhat disappointed to discover that a particular song I loved wasn’t released. Finally, on the 26th of April, after what felt like years of waiting but was really only a couple of weeks, Tommy Ashby released “Apollo (New Love).” I bought it instantly and loved it even more than when I’d heard it live with just him and his guitar.
I’m sure I’ve written before about being a bit selfish with some of my music, and the same is true of this song. I’ve shared it with some people who I thought would appreciate it to some extent, but I’m always hesitant to share certain songs I love so much because music is such a personal thing and hits people differently, and I know they won’t reach others the way they reached me. I even have a playlist (of course I do!) of songs I refuse to share with others for this reason, and normally I wouldn’t share this with a lot of people, but it’s my Song of the Year, and Tommy Ashby deserves the recognition, so here we are.
Since that initial concert, I’ve seen Tommy Ashby 3 times and have become a big fan of his in general, not just with this song. I can’t really explain why this particular song hit me the way it did and continues to, but the songs we love most tend to be the ones we can’t really explain their impact, anyway. It may not stand out to most people these days, but that’s why it’s just mine. That said, I do have a few guesses about why I love it as much as I do, apart from it just being a great song.
My main guess for my apparently undying love of the song is that “Apollo (New Love)” is sort of a love song to London, the strange and beautiful and strangely beautiful city both Tommy Ashby and I moved to from other countries. There’s even a line about “the minicabs lined up by the tube.” I moved to London in January 2019, fulfulling a dream I’ve had as long as I can remember. It’s a truly magical place if you’re “wide awake” enough to see it as that, and the scene described in the song is so easy to picture, especially if you live in London and have seen all the lights at night. It can be a weird place sometimes, but it’s also so beautiful that I often find myself taking the long way home from some places to experience the magic. Seeing some of the sights, like Tower Bridge, from the front of the top deck of the 78 bus just doesn’t get old, and “Apollo (New Love)” provides the perfect soundtrack for those moments.
There’s a line “Slow minutes, we’re losing track of time” that I think describes the song itself. I have a penchant for songs that, for lack of a better word, flow. Songs that make you lose track of time, usually with one verse going straight to the chorus and vice versa without much pause. As many times as I’ve listened to “Apollo (New Love),” I couldn’t tell you if it’s 2 minutes, 3 minutes, or 4 minutes long because I lose track of time. I often find myself slowly bopping my head a bit to it, losing myself in it completely. And when it suddenly picks up and intensifies in the bridge before slowing right back down without it feeling at all unnatural or forced… Oh, my! Where is my heart eyes emoji when I need it?!
The slightly surprising thing about “Apollo (New Love)” is that it really doesn’t get old. I’ve talked about my Every Day Songs playlist before, and I’m pretty sure it was an instant add to the list from the day I bought it. Still, some of the songs on the list can grow a bit old after a while. However, I’ve listened to “Apollo (New Love)” several times even as I’ve written this, and I still keep repeating it. There’s something about it that keeps it feeling new, like the first time hearing it. When I saw Tommy Ashby headline in June, I told him how obsessed I was (okay, am) with the song, and I’m not sure he understood how serious I was. He was kind enough to introduce me to the co-writer of the song, Karl Zine or Christopher Hutchings. I told him that in just over a month, I had listened to it about 100 times and wondered aloud if that was maybe a bit too much. He reassured me that you don’t always really hear a song until you’ve listened to it 100 times. Beyond that, he said, you start to notice little things you didn’t necessarily hear before. I think that’s true of “Apollo (New Love),” which sounds simple enough at first, but when you’ve listened to it 422 times and counting, you hear all the layers.
2019 was a dark year in a lot of ways for a lot of people. Politics, deaths… “Apollo (New Love)” is a nice escape from all of that. It’s a genuine feel-good song without being too poppy or sickeningly romantic, so even the hopeless romantics-emphasis-on-hopeless and single people can enjoy it. There’s sort of a whimsical, ethereal vibe to it that makes me think it would be just as appreciated and beautiful to listen to under the stars on some country road (Or even better, under the Northern Lights!) as it is in the city. Isn’t that what we all need? A song that can be heard and felt in different settings that lifts your mood for 3 minutes or 5 minutes or however long it actually is? “Do you wanna know what that feels like?” Then listen to “Apollo (New Love)” and let it hit you like new love.
What was your song of the year? Share in the comments below!