tue 25/06/2024

The Songs of Coronavirus and Lockdown Life | reviews, news & interviews

The Songs of Coronavirus and Lockdown Life

The Songs of Coronavirus and Lockdown Life

The pandemic has given a worldwide cross section of quarantined musicians plenty to write about

Singer Sinéad Harnett laments life slipping by on 'Quarantine Queen'

At the start of March an obscure alt-metal outfit called Cegvera released a concept album titled The Sixth Glare. The physical album featured the headline “DISEASE” alongside a photograph of a woman in a protective facemask, and the sleeve notes expand on the idea that, if we don’t tend to our environment, an illness will arrive to which the world doesn’t have immunity.

It opens with a cut called “Infection”. Looked at now, it’s bizarrely prescient. The Bristol-based, British-Mexican band were ahead of the notorious curve to come.

In the three months since, hordes of musicians have thrown themselves at the COVID-19 crisis with fund-raising songs, at-home gigs, virtual festivals, and podcasts, alongside multitudes of parodies and songs rewritten to fit the times, whether that’s Jay Kay from Jamiroquai on YouTube mucking about with David Bowie’s “Let's Dance” while sprawling bare-legged in a pair of red high heels, or a who’s who of contemporary pop (BBC Radio One's Live Lounge Allstars) reaching the top of the charts with a cover of Foo Fighters’ “Times Like These”. What there’s been less of, however, are notable new songs about the disease itself and the unique chaos it has wrought. But there have been some.

One of the most entertaining is by Brummie rapper Lady Leshurr and her fabulous “Quarantine Speech”, released to coincide with the Queen’s special address to the nation on Sunday April 5. Clad in a disposable white bodysuit and jewelled union jack facemask, she comedically laid out the sudden drastic changes to normality (“Pubs shut down, now bare man are vex/Gyms closed down, now how ya gonna flex?””). Around the same time, singer and TV talent show regular Fleur East released the equally wordy and observant “Not Alone” which humorously captured the disparity between our usual desire to escape the mundane everyday, and more recent hopes that things would return to the familiar routine (“I used to cough to hide a fart and now I fart to hide a cough”).

Below: Watch the video for "Quarantine Speech" by Lady Leshurr

(NB. All songs not featured within the text can be found at the end of the feature)

American hip hop fire-cracker Snow Tha Product recorded a new song, “Nowhere to Go (Quarantine Love)” and made the video in 24 hours, delivering us to a party in her home (“You gonna have to catch this vibe/‘cause, bitch, we can’t go outside”), replete with beer, spirits and, perhaps, more. For those who want to party C19 out, other songs worth listening to include Brooklyn DJ-producer IMarkKeyz trap-flavoured banger that samples a bizarre Insta-rant by hip hop superstar Cardi B telling the world, “Coronavirus – shit is getting real”.

Below: Watch the video for "Nowhere to Go (Quarantine Love)" by Snow Tha Product

Jolly, global party sounds are also at the heart of “La Cumbia del Coronavirus” by Mister Cumbia, AKA Mexican-American Iván Montemayor, a number that advises in Spanish to wash hands and not touch faces, best viewed via a video with loads of nurses dancing to it outside a hospital in Ecuador. Meanwhile, over in Uganda politician-singer Bobi Wine advises on “Corona Virus Alert” that “the bad news is that everyone is a potential victim, but the good news is that everyone is a potential solution”, on a lovely, lilting Afro-pop number.

Below: Watch the video for "Corona Virus Alert" by Bobi Wine

Of course, a few vintage rockers have dived into the game. The Rolling Stones recorded the reggae-flavoured “Living in a Ghost Town” prior to C19 but its mood and lyrics are uncannily in tune with the times (“I’m going nowhere, shut up all alone”). It’s also their best song in ages, even if it does owe a debt to The Specials. Pantomime shock rocker Alice Cooper goes for a more direct, anthemic morale booster on “Don’t Give Up” (“Our enemy is a cold indiscriminate monster… do we fear it? Yeah. Do we cower before it? Hell, no!”) while Sixties rocker Mungo Jerry simply pays tribute to “everybody that keeps us well and safe” on his jaunty music hall stomper “The Lockdown Thank You Song”.

Below: Watch the video for "Don't GIve Up" by Alice Cooper

US hip hop has a long history of social documentation and New Orleans’ Dee-1 fired up a catchy slice of dirty south called “Corona Clap”, featuring a zippy video that draws on cinema's many zombie apocalypses, that suddenly so resonated as our city streets emptied. Heavily tattooed Canadian MC Tom MacDonald takes things more seriously on “Coronavirus” which, although recorded in early March, looks towards the pandemic’s societal effects, from food hoarding to civil unrest, meanwhile Turbo, Gunna & Young Thug’s “Quarantine Clean” and Young L.A.’s “Quarantine Party” both act as if it’s business as usual, with ready available women and money the sole and usual concern.

Below: Watch the video for "Corona Clap" by Dee-1

Of the singer-songwriter brigade, storied septuagenarian master Randy Newman lays down a witty piano blues miniature in “Stay Away” (“Stay away from me – words of love in times like these”), but a song that cuts to the sadness of social distancing is “Six Feet Apart” by US country star Luke Combs, a raw, acoustic-strummed lament on missing family, friends and socialising. Equally heartfelt is “Quarantine Queen” by Brit singer Sinéad Harnett, a rueful isolation-recorded R&B-tinted slowie regretting life passing by, unfulfilled, with a chorus that runs, “What a time to be alive – are we all just pretending that the world isn’t ending?”

Below: Watch the video for "Quarantine Queen" by Sinéad Harnett

Finally, to the poets. Laureate Simon Armitage’s musical unit LYR joined forces with actress Florence Pugh for “Lockdown” on behalf of domestic abuse charity Refuge. Over a throbbing soundtrack and saxophone from London punk-jazzers Melt Yourself Down, the pair weave historical and metaphorical imagery about a “journey, a ponderous one at times”. Best of all though is bearded New Hampshire cabaret host Bob E Kelly’s Tom Lehrer-esque piano romp through Aussie comedian Chris Franklin’s “Stay the Fuck at Home”: “I need the gym, I need the beach, I hear you bitch and moan/You need to grow a brain cell and stay the fuck at home.” Much more music will come of these times but, right now, that last one nails it.

Below: Watch the video for "Stay the Fuck at Home" by Bob E Kelly

Below are all the other videos/songs mentioned in the feature

Jay Kay "Lockdown"

Live Lounge Allstars "Times Like These"

Fleur East "Not Alone"

iMarkKeyz vs Cardi B "Coronavirus"

Ecuadorian nurses dance to “La Cumbia del Coronavirus” by Mister Cumbia

The Rolling Stones "Living in a Ghost Town"

Mungo Jerry "The Lockdown Thank You Song"

Tom MacDonald "Coronavirus"

Turbo, Gunna & Young Thug "Quarantine Clean"

Young M.A. "Quarantine Party"

Randy Newman "Stay Away"

Luke Combs "Six Feet Away"

LYR featuring Flornce Pugh & Melt Yourself Down "Lockdown"


Beautiful lockdown song about missing our loved ones 'From Afar' https://youtu.be/UfnukKmLcqc

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