Best of 2021: Noah Britton Loved the Young@Heart Chorus This Year

The singer-songwriter talks the senior cover group’s livestream special.

I don’t think there’s a single record that came out this year that I still have every song off of — I listen to a record, and then I take the good tracks, and then I delete the rest — and I think there are maybe four albums where I have any tracks from it at all. 

But that’s for new stuff. You get really old, and your ability to process the unfamiliar gets worse every year, and your love of nostalgia gets so much higher. There’s a certain point, maybe when you’re 30 or 25 or something, where if it’s bad, that doesn’t outweigh the fact that it’s familiar. So I’m at a point now where I’d rather listen to Third Eye Blind’s “Semi-Charmed Life” album than a lot of new music. Even just objectively, I didn’t like that music when I was 15 when it was out — the only thing I like about it is that it’s familiar. But that’s what it’s like to get old. 

This is all leading up to the answer to the question of what new thing I’ve listened to the most this year, and it is literally the oldest music possible: the Young@Heart Chorus

They’ve been one of my favorite bands for 14 years, and during quarantine, they’ve been making these video specials. This summer, they made one called Something Inside So Strong. Just like all the records I listened to, there are some tracks that are great, and then some I don’t care about, but that one has the most awesome stuff on it. The last track, the title track, should have gone viral. It’s so amazing — they rented this theater, and it’s just the singer, John Rinehart, there by himself because of COVID restrictions, on this beautiful stage. His voice is just incredible.

I rip most new music from YouTube, from either live performances of bands I’ve seen recently, or stuff like this, where there is no album that exists. So that video has both really great music that I listen to a lot, and the visual theatrical elements are so good. It starts with this guy doing “All The World Is Green” by Tom Waits, and he’s in this huge field of snow, and it changes to green later on. It’s just a great theatrical drone camera from way up above. 

Bob Cilman, who directs the Young@Heart chorus, has such a wonderful sense of how to make theater; he auditions people who will look good theatrically as well as being good or interesting singers. And all the music — which is all covers from the modern era — is chosen by him, so the people singing have never heard these songs when they sign up. 

Their first big viral hit was the video of “Fix You” done by Fred Knittle. He’s singing it on oxygen onstage, and it sounds so good. His voice is so strong, and obviously he’s been dead a long time now since that was shot.

They’ve been one of my favorite bands for forever. I first saw them at Town Hall in New York with David Byrne — he brought them out to do “Bicycle Race,” a song he wrote, and the Talking Heads song “Heaven.” I was like, This is the greatest show ever. Then they were playing the next day at some tiny spot in Manhattan that was like a cafeteria with folding chairs. I went and David Byrne showed up, so they did those songs again in this tiny room. It was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen them so many times since. But their lineup always changes, because all the members are over 70 so they keep dying. The band I saw 14 years ago probably has zero members in common with the one that did Something Inside So Strong.

That was before their movie came out, and they got much more famous. But it’s been 13 years since then, so now they’re back where they’re just like, “Please donate, we don’t have the ability to perform right now and we want to keep singing, so please give us money.” So I give them money for their live streams all the time. 

I really want them to get another movie special — their documentary is great, but this show should be on a streaming service. It’s so much more interesting than so many other things. That was one thing where COVID was good — they weren’t doing live stream shows before. They were all in person, and if you don’t live in Northampton, it’s hard to get there. Occasionally they tour, but it’s really hard to tour when you’re a band of 25 seniors. So this was a cool thing about COVID, because it forced them to do these streaming shows, which meant I could see them again whenever I wanted. One of the many side effects of COVID that’s really positive! People don’t talk about the upsides that often.

I do want to give a shout out to Bad History Month and Dan Wriggins — both of them made records that I listened to a few tracks multiple times this year. And I want to give a shout out to this compilation of Halloween music that just came out that has people doing their own spin on Halloween themed songs. They asked Old Table to perform and he said, “Can I do the ‘Monster Mash’?” And they said sure, and he did a completely straightforward cover of the “Monster Mash” on acoustic guitar that’s really well-produced. It’s so funny that he took it so seriously — he didn’t try to make it goofy, or even extra sincere. He was just like, “I wanna do the most straightforward cover of the ‘Monster Mash’ possible.” So that, I loved.

Noah in his homemade Young@Heart Chorus merch.

As told to Annie Fell. 

You can donate to Young@Heart on their website.

Noah Britton is a Boston-based singer-songwriter and comedian. He has also performed as ACLU Benefit and Request Freebird, and with the comedy troupe Asperger’s Are Us.