The best YouTube music channels

Pure escapism is hard to find these days. Even on TV, many of the ads have reassuring music that isn’t really reassuring. (See this Slackjaw post: “Are You Trying To Escape Reality By Watching TV? Tough Shit, Here’s Our Coronavirus Commercial.”)

Even on YouTube, you might see an International Rescue Committee ad with Patrick Stewart somberly describing the plight of refugees or cat who hangs out with a refugee family.

But for anyone who wants to be immersed in the wonders of music, the finest art form humanity has ever developed, YouTube is still a pleasant sanctuary. YouTube music channels offer education and entertainment.

You can learn about music theory, dissect your favorite songs or see someone have a bit of fun mashing up songs and styles.

They’ve continued to put out new content while socially distanced. And honestly, they’re better binge-watching than anything on Netflix.

A few of the best:

Top 2000 a gogo: Dutch public radio station NPO Radio 2 has an annual countdown of the Top 2000 songs ever. To go along with it, they chat with the artists who made those songs — not necessarily in sitting interviews but with well-produced, short films.

Todd in the Shadows: A different take on popular songs comes from a music critic with a strange gimmick. He sits at a piano in the dark, visible only in silhouette, and mixes in videos from the artist in question. Many of his videos are reviews of recent pop hits — the latest from Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, Halsey, Adele and so forth. But his best videos fall into a few categories:

  • Top Ten Best or Worst of a given year, sometimes the year that just passed but sometimes reaching back into history. Good example: Top Ten Worst of 1991 (Part 2).
  • One Hit Wonderland, dissecting not just a band’s one (or biggest) hit but also the history of the band and what happened to them after they hit it big. Good example: The Cardigans’ Lovefool, one of several cases in which he points out several other good songs by the band that may have been hits outside the USA.
  • Trainwreckords, looking at albums that sank an artist or band’s career. Good example: Styx’s Kilroy Was Here, one of the oddest things ever recorded by a major band.
  • Cinemadonna, looking at the films of Madonna. It’s a surprisingly long list. Good example: Dick Tracy.

Todd is candid, even cynical, but that just makes his praise that much more sincere. He also provides volumes of research, digging up videos you probably didn’t see on MTV.

Frog Leap Studios: From Norway, metal-minded musician Leo Moracchioli does ironic covers of pop songs with a lot of metal touches — ominous low guitars, double bass drum pedals, growling vocals, etc. His two biggest are Adele’s Hello (57 million views) and Toto’s Africa, the latter done before Weezer’s cover and with an English couple adding some guitar and a compelling female voice.

Ten Second Songs: Anthony Vincent occasionally tackles vocal challenges, but he’s better known for taking a song and recording it in 20 or more different styles. His patrons then vote to pick one, and he does the entire song in that style. His tour de force is Bohemian Rhapsody in 42 styles, including Johnny Cash, Frank Sinatra, Boyz II Men, Daft Punk, Janis Joplin, Bobby McFerrin, Bruno Mars, Aretha Franklin, Muse, medieval music, and a stunning David Bowie impression that should have won the vote for a full-fledged rendition. His Bowie impression won the vote from his Enter Sandman video.

Rick Beato: An Atlanta-based producer has plenty of insight into music theory and production. He makes some top 20 lists — best bass lines, best guitar sounds, etc. — and occasional editorials about trends he hates in the music industry. But his best videos are in the “What Makes This Song Great?” series, in which he goes through a song and isolates specific tracks — bass, guitar, drums, etc.

12tone: Want more music theory? This channel, named after thankfully devoid of a horrible musical style no one outside academia cares about, sketches out the various elements of specific songs.

David Bennett Piano: A young English pianist also has a theory-first approach with videos like “Songs That Use Polyrhythms & Polymeters” and “Picardy Third: When Minor Resolves to the Major Chord.” He also goes meta with lists of songs that “rip off” other songs or classical music.