Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s a pretty good chance you’re currently stuck in your home with a bit more free time on your hands. Have no fears, Connor is here to help you get through the week with a list of songs that will hopefully lift your spirits. I’ve tried avoiding obvious songs such as “‘Heroes’”, “I Will Survive”, and “Livin’ on a Prayer” in order to spotlight these other gems. Without further ado, let’s go!
“Hard Times” – Paramore
We start this list off with a slice of cheerful new wave throwback by the ever lovable Paramore. Take a closer listen however and you’ll find that this song is as gloomy as the times are hard. In fact, one could easily read into this as being about a day in the life of a person with depression. Nowhere is this better seen than in the opening lines “All that I want, is to wake up fine”. Given all this dreariness, why have I chosen this song for this list? There are several reasons. To begin with, this is a finely crafted pop tune that will have you singing along for days. More importantly however, the feelings behind the song are ones we can all empathize with. From the “hole[s] in the ground” to the “little rain cloud[s]” we as humans have our shares of ups and downs. It’s part of the human condition. Sometimes however, we fail to understand that others are going through the same troubles as us. Just like Haley Williams in this song, they may sound cheery, but deep down they’re struggling. By taking such a nuanced approach with this song, Paramore have turned hardship into art. More importantly however, they’ve challenged us to be more observant about people’s emotions. That’s something to be praised.
“Good Times Roll” – The Cars
Similar to “Hard Times” there’s more to this song than meets the eye. What sounds like a cheerful bash about living life to its fullest is actually a sarcastic commentary on the stereotypical good times. With cynical lines such as “Let them knock you around” and “Let them make you a clown”, it’s quite surprising that this slab of new wave/power pop is such an enchanting sing along. Yet even if Ric Ocasek meant this to be a scathing critique of rock and roll hedonism, the constant refrain of “Let the good times roll” can be seen as a means of overcoming all the put downs.
“You Are Not Alone” – Flying Colors
Inspired by singer Casey McPherson’s experiences rescuing people in Houston during Hurricane Harvey, “You Are Not Alone” conveys a universal feeling of camaraderie through suffering that is moving. From somber verses to a hopeful and uplifting chorus, “You Are Not Alone” slowly builds with more and more sounds being added into the mix. By the time Steve Morse finishes his melodically moving guitar solo, you think the song’s about to calm down and fade away but instead are hit by the full force of the chorus which hammers home the idea that we’re in this together.
“Germs” – Weird Al
Sometimes you need to let loose and have a little fun. It’s understandable. While there are several aptly named parodies of The Knack’s “My Sharona” called “My Corona”, we’re gonna stick with the king of parodies for this entry. “Germs”, a style parody/pastiche of industrial rock legends Nine Inch Nails, might not be as laugh out loud hilarious as some of Al’s other songs, but there’s a certain paranoia in Al’s delivery that one can’t help but smile at, especially with lines such as “I rub and scrub until my flesh is raw and bleeding” and “They’re tryin’ to kill me, It kind of upsets me”.
“The World (Is Going Up In Flames)” – Charles Bradley
Here’s what Charles Bradley had to say about the state of affairs back in 2010: “This world is going up in flames, And nobody wanna take the blame”. If that isn’t prophetic I don’t what is. The vagueness of his lyrics lend to a timelessness that is complemented by the retro soul vibe present in the song. The ache in Charles Bradley’s voice when he sings lines such as the one above and “they don’t hear me cry, they don’t hear me try”, is enough to give chills.
“Don’t Give Up” – Peter Gabriel & Kate Bush
Peter Gabriel’s “Don’t Give Up” offers words of encouragement through difficult times. The struggle is more introspective than it is external, but that doesn’t detract from the power of the song. If anything, the focus on inner turmoil makes the song and its message far more approachable and relatable.
“Change for the World” – Charles Bradley
Anyone up for some self-examination? If so, Charles Bradley’s 2016 song about hate and discrimination might be the song for you. It’s quite confrontational in places, but Bradley isn’t trying to lash out at society so much as he’s trying to tell us to replace hate with love. Very admirable, and frankly something that we need to embrace, especially given these current circumstances. Only by giving into love and kindness can we make it through these times.
“Brothers in Arms” – Dire Straits
Laying off the horns a bit, Mark Knopfler and co bring us an incredibly atmospheric song about solidarity in trying times. For a band that is best known for muscular rockers such as “Sultans of Swing” and “Money for Nothing”, they take a surprisingly laid back approach for this song and given the lyrical content, it works. Combine the ambient textures with lines such as “and though they did hurt me so bad, in fear and alarm, you did not desert me, my brothers in arms” and you have a truly gorgeous, meditative work.
“I’m Going Slightly Mad” – Queen
Yes, the idea of going crazy because of quarantine may be a bit too on the nose, but come on, it’s Queen. Admittedly, they don’t get quite as absurd as you’d think they would considering the likes of songs such as “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Mustapha”, but there’s still a solid amount of wit to be had in this number. From the “thousand and one yellow daffodils” to the “banana tree” to the monkey sounds, you can hear that the band is having fun. This is especially interesting given the fact that Freddie was dying when Queen was recording this album, thus highlighting how much we need to stay positive during dark times.
“I’m Still Standing” – Elton John
While I personally believe the definitive version of this song is Taron Egerton’s emotional take from the movie Rocketman, Elton’s original version is still the most fun thanks to its driving energy. The mix of jaded verses, tight hooks, and confident chorus not only make it a gem of early 80s pop rock but also help bridge the gap between more somber numbers on this list like “You Are Not Alone” and more playful songs such as “Germs” by Weird Al. Above all, the song boasts a powerful message of survival that has me singing every time I hear it.
“Potato Song (Cuz I Want To)” – Kesha
Hey, have you listened to the new Kesha album yet? While I have a lot of thoughts about the album, I’ll save my breath in order to highlight the sheer absurdity of this song. What is it about you may ask? A close examination would seem to suggest that it’s about the stresses of adulthood, but it’s delivered in such a ridiculous fashion that you’re likely not going to realize what’s going on, and that’s okay. Combine the absurd delivery with the circus music backdrop and you have a real force of a song that you can’t help but smile at when listening to.
“No Doubt” – Petra
Yes, I know that this slice of 90s Christian Rock might be considered lame by many people, and those people have every right to think that. But for people like myself who do happen to be religious, this song is quite comforting considering its soft melody, John Schlitt’s wispy vocals, and Bob Hartman’s lyrics that reassure us that God is in control. The song might not be for everyone, but for the open minded, they should give this a listen.
“Going Home: Theme of the Local Hero” – Mark Knopfler
If there’s one song that will always get me pumped up, it’s this one. This five minute instrumental is just great. It starts off soft, with its acoustic guitar plucks and atmospheric synth work and builds to a bombastic climax with some wonderful saxophone playing by Michael Brecker. Every time I hear that saxophone riff, you can bet I’ll start jumping around.
“Dare” – Stan Bush
Itching to listen to some cheesy 80s hair metal but sick and tired of the same old stuff by Bon Jovi, Motley Crue, and Def Leppard. Why not give Stan Bush a listen? “Dare” is one of two songs by Bush that happens to feature in the original 1986 Transformers movie, and the track is an absolute banger. From staccato synths driving the verses to Stan belting out the chorus, the song finds a nice balance between being a genuinely motivational piece about beating the odds and being pure camp. A quintessential 80s song.
“Vienna” – Billy Joel
Serving as a counter to the more carefree, spirited headbanger that is “Dare”, Billy Joel’s “Vienna” prompts the listener to slow down and take stock of how we’re using up our time. In this case, Billy is imploring us to not spend so much time stressing ourselves to the point that we burn out. Instead, we should appreciate what we have in life, and look forward to the future.
“Octopus’s Garden” – The Beatles
Sometimes you just need an escape from all the shit that’s going on in life. If that’s the case, why not take a trip with Ringo “under the sea, in an octopus’s garden in the shade”. I don’t know what an octopus’s garden is, but that’s not gonna stop me from enjoying this song. Nor is it gonna stop me from pretending that I’m hanging out with Ringo. You could see it as a metaphor for Ringo wanting out of the constant infighting that was going on during the making of the Beatles Abbey Road album, or you could merely see it as the fun pop ditty that it is. Either way, there’s no denying Ringo’s charm as a performer.
“Best of You” – Foo Fighters
“I’ve got another confession to make”, I love this song. I just find it so inspirational. You can hear the passion in Dave Grohl’s voice when he’s belting out that chorus. It hits you like a brick. There’s no subtlety, just pure pathos. Even in the toughest of times, there’s no denying Dave’s words of encouragement.
“The Unsung Heroes” – Kansas
I’m aware that 70s progressive rock isn’t everyone’s thing, but this list wouldn’t be complete without a song by my favorite band ever. Thankfully for potential listeners, I’ve chosen a relatively shorter piece from the band’s catalogue. “The Unsung Heroes” – from 2016’s The Prelude Implicit – might be one of the album’s weaker cuts, but its sentiment is something to be praised. There’s a certain earnestness in the way singer Ronnie Platt delivers lines such as “When tragedy strikes, we come together like a chain” that is so optimistic that you can’t help but forgive the overly sappy message at the heart of this song.
“What About Us” – Pink
While there are many people doing as much as possible to help others out during these times, there are still some who have failed to consider what is at stake for the average American. As Pink notes in this song, “We are billions of beautiful hearts” and “We are children that need to be loved”. There are those in the government who would rather save the economy at the cost of thousands of lives than enact initiatives to give people the help they deserve. They should be ashamed of themselves.
“You’ll Never Walk Alone”
I know I said I’d avoid obvious songs, but this song just means too much to me. This song will forever be tied with my experiences in marching band, and those experiences will live with me for all my life. It’s one of only a few songs that gets me teary eyed. The simple idea of solidarity and companionship during dark times such as these is something that we need to take to heart. I can’t list just how many great versions of this song there are from Elvis Presley to Aretha Franklin to Frank Sinatra to Louis Armstrong to Judy Garland, the list goes on.
So those were my songs, but I’m aware that my choices might not be to everyone’s tastes. With that in mind, here are some picks from other people (mostly my friends).
“Stand up Tragedy” – The Fratellis
“An excellent song, the music video is also the cutest thing I’ve ever seen.”
“Crocodile Rock” – Elton John
“A good choice for any occasion.”
“You Can’t Hurry Love” – Phil Collins
“Don’t Stop Believin’” – Journey
“I’ve always liked this song and sometimes believing can make all the difference.”
“I Will Survive” – Gloria Gaynor
“We could all do with the occasional positivity.”
“Don’t Stand So Close to Me” – The Police
“Social distance, please.”
“Touch-Tone Telephone” – Lemon Demon
“It’s really catchy and the chorus is a little over twenty seconds so my sister started singing it when washing her hands and now I keep singing it too. Also, it’s about a conspiracy theorist calling a conspiracy radio show host, what’s not to love??”
“Sunlight” – Hozier
“‘Sunlight’ sounds like what the Ecstasy of St. Teresa looks like. Listening to that song does not make you want to dance, it makes you want to ascend.”
“You’ve Got To Have Freedom” – Pharoah Sanders
“When you hear people talking about how jazz is what art sounds like, this song is what they are talking about. Never before has a saxophone brought me to my feet quicker.”
“Human Voice” from Anna and the Apocalypse
“‘Human Voice’ reminds me of so much of what’s going on now and makes me feel. It’s a song that was ahead of its time. It goes to show you that we understand what everyone feels.”
“No One is Alone” from Into the Woods
“‘No One is Alone’ from Into the Woods is a powerful song and it comforts me when I’m feeling alone. It reminds me that I have others to support me.”
“I Am A Poor Wayfaring Stranger” – Jos Slovick
“‘I Am A Poor Wayfaring Stranger’ is a calming song and helps me to relax.”
“When I Look to the Sky” – Train
“‘When I Look to the Sky’ brings me comfort when things feel out of control.”
“Sing Together” – Train
“It reminds me of my friends and family!”
“Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” – Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell
“It’s just a really good pick me up song that I like to listen to.”
“I Just Wanna Shine” – Fitz and The Tantrums
“I like this one because it makes me feel like getting up and doing something instead of laying in bed all day.”
“I Want You Back” – The Jackson Five
“This one makes me feel like dancing, which is good to do in times like this.”
“A Thousand Bad Times” – Post Malone
“This one makes me feel like I can get something done quick but also reminds me that I can get through this quarantine and it will just make me stronger.”
“Birdland” – Maynard Ferguson
“It makes me feel good.”
“That’s Life” – Frank Sinatra
“Frank Sinatra’s cool.”
“Coconut Champagne” Maynard Ferguson
“Grace Got You” – Mercy Me
“I can sing to this entire song because it’s just so positive and it’s meant to make you dance, which I always do when I listen to it.”
“Masterpiece” – David Dunn
“This one I can also sing to most of, and it’s incredibly positive because it reminds me that everything will work out the way it’s supposed to.”
“Symphony” – Switch
“Same as Masterpiece, this has a great beat and flow and it reminds me that everything is working out exactly how it’s supposed to.”
“Fight For Me” – Gawvi
“This one is just really catchy and it reminds you to stay strong when things aren’t going so great because you’ll get through it no matter what.”
“Demi Moore” – Phoebe Bridgers
“Phoebe Bridgers isn’t exactly known for making uplifting songs but this one about loneliness has a surprisingly hopeful ending to remind us that good things are inevitable even in bad times.”
“Lilacs” – Waxahatchee
“This song is sun soaked and ready for spring. With a cheerful melody and a message about self-care, it’s perfect for a quarantine walk outside.”
“Martin” – Car Seat Headrest
“With what might be their poppiest song yet, Car Seat Headrest gives us a story about how friends can help turn our mood around. There’s no reason to lose touch with people just because we can’t see each other in person!”
“Attack of Panic” – Aly & AJ
“Yes, that Aly & AJ from Disney fame, are still making music and their current sound is exquisite synth pop. They dropped this anthem about remembering to breath during panic attacks just in time for global panic.”
“Apartment Story” – The National
“The National makes being locked inside sound fun on this track. Let this song convince you that a stereo and a TV are all you need.”