Coronavirus BRIEFING

Creating a Pandemic Playlist


Since the pandemic began, my VM colleagues have written some terrific and timely Today’s Read pieces aimed at helping readers get through these strange and frightening times. Gwen Plummer wrote how to stay sane during a crisis. Mark Tosh chimed in with suggestions for taking our minds off “that other thing.” Mary Kane share her observations, as well as reports from readers, about our WFH (Work From Home) experiences.

As I prepared for my turn to take over this space, I realized what tough acts these are to follow. While searching for a fresh angle on the COVID-19 crisis, I hit on the idea of curating a Pandemic Playlist, which seemed to offer creative possibilities.

To make the playlist, I’ve selected songs that reflect the common, everyday reality many of us are experiencing: social distancing, sickness and sequestering. Although the writers of these songs and the musicians who recorded them certainly had other things in mind, repurposing them gives them new meaning, as I’ve noted in my accompanying comments. I hope the songs strike a chord that resonates with you while allowing you to get acquainted, or reacquainted, with some good music.

Do you have a song you’d like to add to our Pandemic Playlist? Or perhaps you’d like to curate your own Pandemic Playlist? If so, send a YouTube link to each song, and a blurb about why you chose it, to, and we’ll post it on the VM website.

Don’t Stand So Close to Me 
The Police
This may be the perfect social distancing song. The title says it all, in ways the Police probably never imagined.

Keep Your Distance
Patty Loveless
Another contender for the social distancing prize is Richard Thompson’s warning to his ex about the dangers of reigniting old passions. The words take on an entirely new meaning in the age of COVID-19.
This powerful version by Patty Loveless drives them home.

I Advance Masked
Andy Summers and Robert Fripp

This instrumental composition, released in the early ’80s, serves as a showcase for the textures and moods created by Police guitarist Andy Summers and King Crimson’s axe ace, Robert Fripp. The accompanying video, which is intriguing but somewhat silly, shows the pair being approached by mysterious, dancing women whose features are masked by gauzy veils. Hopefully the dancers are now wearing protective masks, even if they are no longer advancing.

I’m Gonna Wash My Hands of You 
Elsie Carlisle and Sam Browne with Ambrose and His Orchestra

This 1934 recording spotlights the delightful vocal interplay of Elsie Carlisle and Sam Browne, who make the most of Eddie Pola’s clever lyrics and Franz Steininger’s music. The ace accompaniment is provided by Ambrose and His Orchestra. Try singing this one next time you have to wash your hands and you’ll find yourself smiling.

Close Up the Honky Tonks 
Buck Owens

“Close up the honky tonks, lock all the doors. Don’t let the one I love go there anymore.” Or anybody else, for that matter. Country superstar Buck Owens could not have predicted that bars, restaurants, clubs and even honky tonks would be closed to keep people from congregating during the crisis. But he probably wouldn’t have objected, since it would have stopped his girlfriend from “runnin’ with that crowd downtown. ’Cause as long as there’s a honky tonk, she’ll never settle down.”

You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere 
The Byrds

“Tie yourself to a tree with roots, you ain’t goin’ nowhere.”
This verse in Bob Dylan’s lyric was prescient, but the rest of the song’s meaning is harder to pin down. Nevertheless, it become a country rock standard when The Byrds recorded it on their groundbreaking Sweetheart of the Rodeo album. Click on the link above to see head Byrd, Roger McGuinn, talk about the song’s origins and then perform it with Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives. (Fun fact: Stuart is playing a custom, pull string guitar co-invented by legendary picker Clarence White, who played it on the original Byrds recording.)

Ventilator Blues 
The Rolling Stones

When Mick Jagger sang, “Everybody needs a ventilator” he was probably referring to an air cooling system, not a medical device. Yet this tough sounding cut from the classic Exile on Main Street album never sounded as urgent as it does now. Let’s hope Jagger’s pronouncement never comes true. (Fun fact: Mick Taylor created the slide guitar riff that undergirds the song, a contribution that earned him his only writing credit with the Stones.)

Dyin’ Flu 
Albert Collins

Bluesmaster Albert Collins’ blunt lyric, punctuated by his stinging guitar licks, hits as hard now as it did when he wrote and recorded it 50 years ago.
“Well I'm dyin' of the flu
Honey I don't know what to do
Well I'm dyin with the flu
And I don't know what to do
Well my doctor gave me up
He said I can't do no more for you”

Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu 

Huey “Piano” Smith and His Clowns

There’s nothing funny about the coronavirus. But this playful blast of New Orleans R&B can make you smile by offering up imaginary diseases powered by an irresistible groove. Here’s one infection you won’t mind getting. It might even inoculate your soul during tough times.

Cabin Fever 
Clare Fader

Here’s a well-worn theme that most of us can relate to all too well. But Fader keeps it fresh with clever lyrics delivered beguilingly over a hot jazz arrangement. Being holed up at home isn’t so bad when you have music like this to listen to.

Alone Together
Ray Charles and Betty Carter

This romantic ballad, with music by Arthur Schwartz and lyrics by Howard Dietz, is a favorite of jazz musicians and singers. It perfectly captures the situation that many of us now find ourselves in.
“Alone together, beyond the crowd
Above the world, we’re not too proud
To cling together, we’re strong
As long as we’re together”
This duet by Ray Charles and Betty Carter captures the song’s intimate mood.

Love the One You’re With 
Stephen Stills

“If you can’t be with the one you love, honey, love the one you’re with.”
Stephen Stills’ practical advice was born out of the “free love” era. But it could also speak to those of us who are now separated from friends, family and lovers by travel restrictions.

Missin’ You 
Little Feat

This plaintive country tune by the late, great Paul Barrere is written from the perspective of a road-weary musician. But the lonesome feeling it expresses is something we can all relate to, especially now. Lowell George’s harmony vocal adds poignancy to that simple sentiment.