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

by Carl Wiser

Certain songs took 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, reworked their songs to encourage good practice during the crisis, and then when the vaccine appeared, to convince fans to get the shot. Here is a chronicle of some notable musical moments during the outbreak.

Foals Show How To Properly "Wash Off"
March 9, 2020

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.

Liam Gallagher Rewrites "Wonderwall" as "Wonderwash"
March 21

View this post on Instagram

New tune WONDERWASH c'mon you know LG x

A post shared by Liam Gallagher (@liamgallagher) on

Looking rather grizzly and a bit unhinged, Liam Gallagher posted three hand-washing videos of himself singing updated versions of Oasis songs:

"Wonderwash" (to the tune of "Wonderwall")
Today is gonna be the day
That they're gonna throw it back to you
By now you should've somehow
Realized what you gotta do
Wash your hands, scrub your toes
Scratch your ass and pick your nose
Come on, you know

"Champagne Soapernova" (to the tune of "Champagne Supernova")
Some day you will find me
Caught beneath the landslide
In a champagne soapernova in the sky
Wash your hands, you little f--kers

"Soapersonic" (to the tune of "Supersonic")
I need to be myself
I can't be no one else
I'm feeling soapersonic
Give me gin and tonic
You can have it all but how much do you want it?
Wash your hands, you little f--kers

It's not surprising he doesn't respect the sanctity of the original lyrics: The songs were written by his brother/arch-nemesis, Noel.

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."

Willie Nelson Accepts We'll Be Talking To Walls For A While
April 20

Willie Nelson's song "Hello Walls" is about a guy who is left talking to the walls and windows after his girl leaves him. It's a classic country heartbreaker, but a more literal interpretation makes it a perfect shut-in song.

On April 20, 2020, at precisely 4:20 p.m. CST, Nelson staged the "Come And Toke It" live stream to celebrate his favorite holiday: 4-20. Along with his sons Lukas and Micah, he changed the lyrics to describe how many of us were feeling:

We got to all stick together or else we'll lose our minds
I've got a feeling we're going to be here a long, long time

Nelson wrote the song before he became a recording artist. The first version was by Faron Young in 1961.

Dolly Parton Turns "Jolene" Into Pro-Vaccination Song
March 2, 2021

Remarkably, about a year after coronavirus took hold, a vaccine was available. But not everyone wanted it, and an anti-vaccine movement spread online. Dolly Parton, who donated $1 million to Vanderbilt University Medical Center, made her position clear.

When Parton got the shot at Vanderbilt Health, she adapted her song "Jolene," singing:

Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine
I'm begging of you please don't hesitate
Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine
'Cause once you're dead then that's a bit too late

Parton also set the standard for vaccine fashion with a cold-shoulder top that would wow on the runway yet also provides easy access for the needle.

Offspring Want To Come Out And Play
March 22, 2021

Like most bands, The Offspring were eager to get out from behind their screens and play to a live audience, especially since they had a new album coming out in April. But they couldn't do that if their fans didn't get vaccinated.

To spread the word, the band tweaked their 1994 hit "Come Out And Play," with the line, "You gotta keep 'em separated" changed to, "You gotta go get vaccinated."

"Let's face it... live shows aren't gonna happen until you go get vaccinated," they posted.

March 23, 2020, updated March 29, 2021
More Song Writing

Comments: 1

  • Elisa from OhioThis made me laugh aloud and feel wonderful. Thanks, Neil!
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Thomas Dolby

Thomas DolbySongwriter Interviews

He wrote "She Blinded Me With Science" so he could direct a video about a home for deranged scientists.

Mike Scott of The Waterboys

Mike Scott of The WaterboysSongwriter Interviews

The stories behind "Whole Of The Moon" and "Red Army Blues," and why rock music has "outlived its era of innovation."

Lajon Witherspoon of Sevendust

Lajon Witherspoon of SevendustSongwriter Interviews

The Sevendust frontman talks about the group's songwriting process, and how trips to the Murder Bar helped forge their latest album.

Album Cover Inspirations

Album Cover InspirationsSong Writing

Some album art was at least "inspired" by others. A look at some very similar covers.


QueenFact or Fiction

Scaramouch, a hoople and a superhero soundtrack - see if you can spot the real Queen stories.

90210 to Buffy to Glee: How Songs Transformed TV

90210 to Buffy to Glee: How Songs Transformed TVSong Writing

Shows like Dawson's Creek, Grey's Anatomy and Buffy the Vampire Slayer changed the way songs were heard on TV, and produced some hits in the process.