Happy Tuesday, Music Lovers. Today we have something a little bit special: a guest post from a Manchester writer, the fantastic Stuart Cannell, who has compiled, just for us, some of the best tunes to hit the web over the last few months.
Over to you, Stu.
The year – 2020. A pandemic panics the nation. Britain searches desperately for hand sanitiser. Bog roll’s like gold dust. But what’s worse, so much worse, your favourite band have cancelled their gigs. Fans, previously excited, suddenly miserable. Robbed of the chance to see their idols. Robbed of the community of the Live Show.
But then some musicians, rather than shrug and say ‘oh well, maybe next year’ decided to reach out, to recreate as best they could that experience of connection with their fans, of giving something back to the public that supports them. And out of the carnage of a crisis, something really rather unique emerged.
Separated from their audience and access to resources, musicians did not despair. They picked up their instruments and video cameras, clicked record and played and sang. They performed with the minimum of tech, perhaps just with an acoustic guitar and a good set of lungs. No big label production studio to play with. Just the contents of their houses and the will to entertain. And what we have here is the result.
The following list includes what I think are the best of the best of all the songs performed and recorded live in lockdown – but I’d love to hear what you think. Hit the comments below to give us your verdict. You can find the full playlist of the videos I’ve featured here.
Manic Monday – Billie Joe Armstrong & Susanna Hoffs
Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong is supposed to be on his Hellamega tour now, and I was due to take my twelve-year-old son to see them for his first live band experience this month. Thankfully Billie’s thought of his fans, slightly appeasing my sulky pre-teenager, and set about working on a new project – #nofunmondays. It’s actually a lot more fun than he gives himself credit for. Several of the videos are a keystone of the live at home trend, as each week he’s brought out a new cover of an old song, played and sung in his own inimitable style. The one I’ve chosen here is easily the best of those he’s released, not just because he gives the song a slightly grittier edge, but because he’s also brought in original artist Susanna Hoffs of The Bangles to sing and play along with. Two rock stars into the bargain! The result – a catchy earworm that you’re only too glad to have playing over and over in your head, even after the video’s finished. Other highlights from this collection are ‘Amico’ (Billie Joe sings in Italian!) and ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’ (Billie Joe sings with his sons!). If you’ve an hour to kill you could do worse than listen to the whole lot!
River Cross – Eddie Vedder
This performance was part of the ‘One World: Together At Home’ virtual concert that aired on the BBC a few weeks ago. Of all the songs that featured on the programme, Eddie Vedder’s ‘River Cross’ was definitely my favourite. What makes it stand out, of course, is the behemoth of an organ he plays and the bold, severe sound it produces. This, together with Eddie’s powerful but fragile vocals, combine to make a supernatural, almost religious experience for the listener. You can’t help but stop everything you’re doing and listen, as Eddie solemnly repeats the final phrase ‘Share the light / Won’t hold us down’. A sober song with a serious, but ultimately uplifting message. If you’re interested, you can find details of the organisation supported here.
Fortune – Laura Marling
If the lockdown has got you feeling a little gloomy, you could do worse than listen to this hauntingly gorgeous melody from Laura Marling. Fans of her work will know she’s not just a folk singer with a resonant, distinctive and wholly unique voice, she’s also a master storyteller. Here she sings the song ‘Fortune’ as part of Later with Jools Holland, and it’s as thoughtful and poetic as it is moving. “At least we agree / That we’ve wasted our time / We’ll give up the hope / That we’ll meet down the line / Better off measured / In coffee, and wine”. Perhaps a little pessimistic, Laura, but who amongst us hasn’t felt like this at least once over the last couple of months? You might also want to check out her tiny desk concert for more of her live at home songs.
Don’t Dream It’s Over – Crowded House
If not for the gleeful irony of a band called Crowded House where each member is performing separately at home, then at least for the clear talent on display, these slightly seasoned professionals are a joy to watch. This song is an absolute classic, and it’s great to see that Neil Finn and his crew haven’t lost their touch. ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’ makes the list for just how appropriate it is in the current climate. It stands both as a musing reflection on our homely incarceration and as an echo of our yearning to be free again. It’s also just one of those songs that stands the test of time and makes us smile as much now as it did decades ago when it was written. You can find more excellent quarantined renditions of their songs on their YouTube page. Not a stinker among them!
Mad World – Curt & Diva Smith
If you’re a fan of weird movies, you may well have watched and enjoyed the time-twisting, mind-bending oddity Donnie Darko, famously including the brooding eighties anthem, ‘Mad World’. That song was a cover, sung then by Gary Jules, and was, bizarrely, a Christmas UK number one. Seventeen years later, the song has been performed again, this time in quarantine by original artist Curt Smith of Tears For Fears and his daughter, Diva Smith. It’s a fittingly stripped-down, poignant performance, just father and daughter, voices and guitars, addressing the strangeness of the current world climate. But it’s also beautiful in its intimacy and its directness, and the pairing of Curt’s wistful crooning with Diva’s dreamy, romantic spirit make for an absolute must listen. Truly moving stuff.
All I Wanna Do – Sheryl Crow
Perhaps the most colourful of the videos on this list, ‘All I Wanna Do’ is undeniably groovy. Each of the band playing from their eclectically decorated Nashville homes, Sheryl’s children donning an assortment of animal masks (for some reason), and with everyone sincerely enjoying themselves, they’re clearly living up to the lyrics of the song. This performance is not just a feast for the ears, it’s a feast for the eyes too, a perfect blend of cheery country and upbeat rock that’s just what the doctor ordered after a hard day’s work. Or homeschooling. Or watching Judge Rinder on daytime TV.
French Exit – Cuffed Up
Looking for something a little less mainstream? I’ve got you covered. This is a band so new on the scene they don’t even have an LP yet, but their songs are so instantly appealing I’d defy you not to love them. The major draw for this video is that it’s so no-frills – each of the band are playing in small, unassuming bedrooms and dispensing with studio acoustics and expensive equipment, so the sound quality’s a bit scrappy and it’s hardly a glamourfest. But so what? It’s all about the music. Their timing is tight, the riffs are faultless, the singing is effortlessly seductive. They’re a band with gutsy intensity, integrity and fierce artistic vision and they’re part of a new wave of fantastic female-led bands at the forefront of new rock music at the moment. Also check out False Advertising, Sœur, Hilma Nikolaisen, Spare Parts For Broken Hearts and Saint Agnes for fresh, addictive, unusual melodies with strong, powerful frontwomen.
Dreaming Of You – Blossoms & James Skelly
While we’ve got international artists of great repute on this list, perhaps we need something closer to home, a little community spirit to get us through these dark days. Cue the awesome pairing of both The Coral and Blossoms. A nineties classic played by the UK’s most authentic contemporary popsters, Blossoms incorporates the song’s original singer, James Skelly, to create a nostalgic summer hit that feels fresh and new. It’s a cover with a sunny disposition, too, perfect to listen to in the garden on a hot day, partly due to the Mediterranean backdrops on display, partly for the breathtaking harmonies, partly for the combined cheeriness of trumpet, organ and guitar. Blossoms have made quite a few of these lockdown sessions, including Paperback Writer, There’s A Reason Why and The Less I Know The Better. The videos show meticulous craftsmanship as Tom, Charlie, Josh, Joe and Myles play multiple musical refrains and synchronise them perfectly. Truly astounding, and gorgeous to watch.
Oh My God – Kaiser Chiefs
What beats a nostalgic song in lockdown from a UK artist with an upbeat melody? One with a raucous, tongue in cheek sense of humour of course! Early 2000s pop favourites, Kaiser Chiefs, turned out to be just the band we needed right now, resurrecting one of their chart-toppers and tinkering with the lyrics to create a bonafide post-isolation hit. Lyrics like “You’re taking advice from a band named Kaiser, covering your body in hand sanitiser.” It’s wry dad-joke style comedy gold, and it can’t help bring a smile to your otherwise downturned lips. As well as a catchy tune to listen to, it’s also great to have a bit of a laugh, and thankfully Ricky Wilson and his gang are happy to oblige.
All Together Now – OK Go
Of all the songs on this list, this is the only one written in lockdown and then performed live in quarantine. So while, for the others, the appeal of recreating an established hit was relatively assured, OK Go opted for much riskier territory, especially given the scope and ambition of what they’ve created. If you’re familiar with the band, you’ll know that they’re famous for making mind-blowing films to accompany their songs. Take a look at the videos for Obsession, Upside Down And Inside Out and The One Moment and you’ll find gorgeously choreographed masterpieces that seem to defy your eyes – and the laws of physics. Here we’re just seeing the band at home, but it’s still as astonishingly complex in its orchestration given the limits of the resources available to them. It’s a song that builds from a single voice, to harmonies, adding on overlapping handclaps, tambourine, then guitar, then bass, then drums, then more guitar, then piano, then toy piano and on and on, perfectly combining into a beautiful symphony of sound. And the lyrics are poetic and profound, getting to the core of everything we’re experiencing right now – “Everything’s untouched but forever changed” is a thought-provoking reprise. This song encompasses and symbolises everything that’s good and positive to come out of this terrible time – a true diamond, amongst a whole lot of rough.
There are a few videos you might think of that I’ve missed off here, though for good reason. The ensemble videos of Times Like These and Lean On Me are a case in point, featuring famous singers and musicians from all over the world. The star wattage on these is, admittedly, through the roof, but while some stars sparkle others noticeably fizzle and the net result is something less than the spectacular talentfest than was likely intended. Still, they’re a fun and endearing watch and worth a look if you have a few minutes to spare. Also worth watching (as if you’ve not watched them a million times already) are the singalong sessions from Matt Lucas and friends featuring a certain oven-cooked root vegetable. If you’ve only got time for one of these then this one tickled my funny bone the most. That’s about it I think, but if there are any glaring omissions I’m happy for you to point them out to me – that’s what the comments are for!