Side Effects of Covid-19 Include Making Us Sing. That’s a Good Thing.
I’ll admit there was a moment, specifically the moment when I saw the video of Paul Anka reworking his 1958 hit “Put Your Head on My Shoulder” into “Take Your Head Off My Shoulder,” when my own head threatened to explode.
“Stop,” I said aloud, startling my wife. “Just stop. Everybody, every one of you who owns a guitar or a keyboard, step away from the microphone. Turn off your mounted iPhone. Please, take five. You don’t have to do this.”
I’m not blaming Paul Anka here. His homevideo, just Paul accompanying himself on keyboard, was no further beyond the pale than Neil Diamond turning “Sweet Caroline” into a plea for “hands washing hands.”
Or a dozen parodies of “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Or the Marsh Family’s “One Day.” Or Neil Sedaka’s satellite radio song expressing hope that “the virus ends soon / So Neil can continue his croon.”
The playlist goes on. Covid-19 may have inspired more songs than the moon.
So I snapped.
But I was wrong.
The songs must go on. They’re part of the resistance, and we need the resistance.
Sure, it’s possible to look at these songs as one of the few things we can do in a situation where we can do nothing.
But we’re not doing nothing. We’re adjusting to a whole different set of behaviors, from home schooling to talking with our friends at a distance normally reserved for repo men.
Millions of us are still going to work every day to keep lifelines like food stores open. And that’s not even counting the medical community out there on the front line.
We’re sewing masks, we’re delivering groceries, we’re finding ways to keep our kids entertained and our families fed. Or we’re just staying home on beautiful days when we’d love to be outdoors. Down at ground level, most of us are trying to do what we can.
That includes making music, because music is part of the popular culture that ties us together. Seeing Nick Lowe sing “What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding” can’t replace a paycheck, but it can remind us there’s a light out there somewhere. Just knowing that Paul Simon will still pick up a guitar and sing “The Boxer” somehow feels good.
This much is certain: When it comes to songs that are teed up for parody or reshaping, we’ll never run out.
“Go the Distance” from Hercules has already been reworked by Clay Agnew and Randy Rainbow, among others.
“Stand By Me” is ripe for the taking, and the Carpenters’s “Close To You” can’t be far behind, though I have to admit hearing that one could make my head explode again. There are already multiple parodies of the Police’s “Don’t Stand So Close To Me,” though the larger question might be why it needs a parody.
Actually, parodies don’t have to jump off from a related theme. They just require the right number of syllables. “Quarantine,” to the tune of “Kokomo,” has 2.1 million YouTube views and “Stayin’ Inside,” pinched from the old Bee Gees fave, has passed 2.5 million. Comedian Rob Bartlett turned “Yellow Submarine” into “Corona Quarantine,” and Bartlett gets extra points for nailing the call-and-response at the end.
It’s true that most parodies aren’t musically memorable, maybe because phrases like “social distancing” and “shelter in place” aren’t quite as poetic as, say, “I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day with my girl.” Songwriters have over the years rarely incorporated words like “coronavirus,” though the late Warren Zevon did sing “I pawned my Smith-Corona” in “Carmelita.”
Mainly it’s true that when all this ends, even the cleverest parodies and remakes will be artifacts of a crisis, not something we’ll keep singing.
No matter. While I may never check out “I Can’t Get No Sanitizer,” I adore the currently circulating version of “The Weight” that features Ringo Starr, Robbie Robertson and dozens of singers and musicians from around the world.
I still don’t know what “The Weight” means, and probably never will. But when I listen to this extended performance I hear exhilaration and defiance, at a time when we need both.