Song Writing

Hands... Washing Hands - Songs Reworked For The Age Of Coronavirus

by Carl Wiser

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Certain songs have taken on new meaning during the coronavirus pandemic. "Happy Birthday" for the first time was put to use outside of birthday parties because singing the chorus two times covers the 20 seconds needed to wash hands properly. The Fifth Harmony hit "Work From Home" got very literal, becoming a soundtrack to the millions who were forced out of the office. R.E.M.'s "It's the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" spiked in streams and became one of the most-viewed Songfacts entries as the virus sent us into survival mode. Even "My Sharona" got a bump, only because it rhymes with "corona."

Homebound artists, clearly with some time on their hands, have been reworking their songs to encourage good practice during the crisis. Here is a chronicle of some notable musical moments during the outbreak.

Foals Show How To Properly "Wash Off"
March 9
To demonstrate proper hand-washing, Foals posted a lyric video to their 2019 song "Wash Off" using a 20-second loop of someone with impeccable technique. This served a valuable public service: At the time, most of us had no idea how to wash our hands according to CDC guidelines.

The song has nothing to do with personal hygiene - "wash off" is a metaphor for overcoming challenges and seizing the day - but the title is certainly apt.

Brandon Flowers Washes Hands To "Mr. Brightside"
March 15
For those of us numb in brain from singing "Happy Birthday" during our hand washing, Killers frontman Brandon Flowers offered a more stimulating musical timer: the chorus to the group's 2004 hit "Mr. Brightside." Check out these lyrics:

Jealousy, turning saints into the sea
Swimming through sick lullabies
Choking on your alibis
But it's just the price I pay
Destiny is calling me
Open up my eager eyes
'Cause I'm Mr. Brightside

It takes 27 seconds to sing, but it's worth it. The song is about Flowers' real-life cheating ex-girlfriend; perhaps turning her into a hand-washing meme is the best revenge.

The post is an early example of the kind of candid, unkempt video that celebrities started making after days of quarantine, with no concern for appearance or lighting. Even with bedhead and a wrinkled T-shirt, Flowers pulls it off really well. He also keeps a very clean bathroom.

Jojo Advocates Staying In
March 19
Jojo was 13 when she released her 2004 hit "Leave (Get Out)," a song where she gives a disrespectful boyfriend the boot, telling him to get out right now. In her update, the now 29-year-old singer is dealing with a guy who is flaunting expert advice by hanging out with friends, exposing himself to the virus and putting others at risk. Re-working the song as a Pitch Perfect-style a cappella, Jojo sings:

Stay in, right now
Do it for humanity
I'm deadass about that
But we will survive

So you gon' learn how to cook now
And practice good hygiene
I know you're bored and want to f--k around
But not on me

Jojo makes it clear she has no use for a guy who won't do social distancing.

Neil Diamond Encourages Washing Hands, Not Touching Them
March 22
"Sweet Caroline" is meant to bring people together. It's rather intimate, encouraging the kind of physical contact that can spread disease:

Hands, touching hands
Reaching out, touching me
Touching you

Adapting the song to the age of coronavirus, Diamond sang a new version from home that he posted on his social media accounts:

Hands, washing hands
Reaching out, don't touch me
I won't touch you

The song has a certain soothing quality that Diamond attributes to a higher power. "I think there's a little bit of God in that song," he said.

This isn't the first time he's deployed "Sweet Caroline" in a time of crisis: A week after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, he showed up at Fenway Park to perform the song. For this appearance, the normally rhinestone-spangled Diamond wore his civies; he dressed down even further for the coronavirus update, wearing a hoodie and baseball cap (Neil Diamond owns leisurewear!).

Introducing the coronavirus version from in front of his fireplace, Diamond said: "I know we're going through a rough time right now, but I love ya, and I think maybe if we sing together, we'll feel a little bit better."

March 23, 2019
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