Since pre-history music has helped people through their most difficult moments: whether it be heartbreak, hardship, or other kinds of loss. So it is understandable that many musicians responded to the global pandemic in the way they know best – by sharing their music with a message of love and solidarity.
Lockdowns have caused chaos for the music industry with postponed albums, cancelled festivals, the banning of live concerts, and countless musicians left without a source of income. When times get tough however, many musicians get creative, and this has led to a huge boom in homemade videos, ranging from hi-tec zoom-type arrangements involving many artists, to short acoustic clips shot by an individual on little more than a phone. The videos chosen below represent a diverse mix, but the one thing they do have in common is that they were in some way inspired by the Covid-19 crisis, coupled with a generous dollop of goodwill. Here are Guitars Exchange’s top 10 lockdown licks:
10) Bono - Let Your Love Be Known
As Coronavirus spread across the world from the East, Italy became one of the first major hotspots in Europe, and U2’s Bono responded by writing a song on his piano at home. He was inspired by the Italian lockdown, the Irish, and a desire to send a message of support to all health workers who were forced to risk their lives by the crisis.“For the doctors, nurses, and carers on the frontline, it's you we’re singing to,” he says in his presentation.
This was Bono’s first ‘release’, either with his band or solo, since 2017’s Songs Of Experience. Its simplicity captures the spirit of many lockdown songs and his lyric referring to “walking through the streets of Dublin and no-one was near” sounds real and authentic. “Sing and you are never alone. Sing as an act of resistance…. Let your love be known,” he intones, as he expresses his powerful message of solidarity.
9) John 5 - Now Fear This
The lesser-known John 5, of John 5 and The Creatures, sits on his sofa at home and plays his Fender Tele, attached to a small amp, in a way that many Guitars Exchange readers will recognize. Unfortunately not many of us will ever reach the heights of his technical skill, or his feel, but then not many of us have worked alongside Ozzy Osbourne, Dave Lee Roth, Rod Stewart and Marilyn Manson. Either way, we can appreciate and enjoy his amazing riffs and style; this track was originally released on Season of the Witch in 2017.
8) Metallica - Blackened 2020
When I first heard the acoustic reinterpretations of Motorhead’s Ace of Spades and Eric Clapton’s Layla, I never thought I would hear such radical changes again, but Metallica’s reworking of Blackened is definitely up there alongside them. If you have any doubt compare this wonderful version with that from their 1989 Seattle live concert (see video below), and see what you think.
The song, co-written by James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich and ex-Metallica bassist Jason Newsted, is highly appropriate for these times as it deals with a biblical-level apocalypse. Listen to Hetfield playing his acoustic Gibson on this version and then enjoy Kirk Hammet letting rip on the solo with his famous “Greeny”; Peter Green’s 1959 Les Paul he bought in 2017.
7) Twenty One Pilots - Level of Concern
Frontman Tyler Joseph wrote and recorded this quarantine song in Ohio in April 2020 while in self-isolation. Joseph shares his vulnerabilities as he is seen on the video seeking comfort from his wife Jenna and their baby daughter, Rosie. The lyrics take inspiration from when Joseph first met his wife-to-be. "I was ready to date her. I was ready to dive right in and she was a little more hesitant," he says. "And not to compare a pandemic with the uncertainties of a relationship, but in that moment, for someone who maybe isn't getting, you know, their feelings reciprocated, in their world it does kind of feel ... a little anxious. So I wanted to kind of pair those two stories and move them down the lane at the same time."
It is reportedly the first song that Joseph wrote on his electric guitar, before sending it to drummer Josh Dun to add the rhythm. “Panic on the brain, world has gone insane… wondering would you be my little quarantine…you could bring down my level of concern,” he sings, in what is perhaps the first use of the word ‘quarantine’ on an international hit.
6) Sting - Message In A Bottle
Message In A Bottle originally went to number 1 in September 1979 in the UK and stayed at the top spot for several weeks. Guitarist Andy Summers reportedly said it was the “greatest track I’ve ever played on.” With so much misinformation on the Internet it is refreshing to hear Sting praise ‘our healthcare workers’ and to say clearly that “the best thing we can do to help them is not to get sick, because we are all in this together.”
Sting plays this huge Police hit, along with Fragile and Englishman in New York, at his home studio; but it is Message In A Bottle that stands out, partly because of its twin themes of isolation and reaching out. It is easy to see why Sting chose this song, although one wag joked online that Don’t Stand So Close To Me might have been a more appropriate choice!
5) Live Lounge Allstars; covering Foo Fighters’ Times Like These
Organized by Radio 1, the ‘Live Lounge Allstars’ version of the classic Foo Fighters’ song Times Like These, is one of the biggest productions that emerged from the lockdown. Featuring around 25 stars, the contributors include Dua Lipa, Ellie Golding, Biff Clyro, Simon Neil, Rita Ora, Rag ‘n’ Bone Man, Paloma Faith, Bastille and Chris Martin, among many others. The ‘Live Aid style line up’ may be seen as cheesy by some, but the quality of both the song and the participants mean that you would have to have a pretty cold heart not to be moved by it.
Dave Grohl’s lyrics: “I am a little divided, Do I stay or run away, and leave it all behind? … It's times like these you learn to live again” resonate strongly during this period, on a tune he has called “The best song I've ever written.” The track became a staple at Foo Fighters’ live concerts, was heavily used in a US presidential campaign, and now all profits from this version are going to charity. What’s not to like about it?
4) John Fogerty - Have You Ever Seen The Rain?
When John Fogerty wrote Creedence Clearwater Revival’s 1971 classic Have You Ever Seen The Rain? he had in mind the departure of his brother Tom from the band, and it made him very sad. Later, when he had a daughter, Kelsy, it reminded him of the rainbows that come with the rain and, he says, it made him happy. This year, Fogerty has given the song another twist as he uses his acoustic to invoke feelings about the pandemic as he sings the legendary line once more: "I want to know - have you ever seen the rain, comin' down on a sunny day?"
Fogerty sings the famous song along with Bad Moon Rising and As Long As I See The Light; but it is the former that stands out. And his good sense and great humanity shine through as he presents the songs by reminding us to “take the advice of medical people, [and] the shorter this will be. Be well, everyone.”
3) Bruce Springsteen and Patti Scialfa - Land Of Hope And Dreams
Bruce Springsteen’s fan favourite has been through many incarnations. Originally based on a Curtis Mayfield song, both the rhythm and arrangements have been frequently changed, and it has even been accompanied by electronic drums and a gospel choir, but on this Gibson acoustic-driven version, The Boss is simply - and beautifully - accompanied by Patti Scialfa. The duo follow it with an acoustic version of Jersey Girl, but it is the former song that chimes best with these times: “This train carries saints and sinners, This train carries losers and winners, This train carries whores and gamblers, This train carries lost souls, This train’s dreams will not be thwarted, [On] this train faith will be rewarded.”
2) Queen + Adam Lambert - You Are The Champions
It is hugely welcome that this classic uplifting Queen song, so well known at sporting events across the globe, should have been reinterpreted during this period. And it is particularly moving that it should be dedicated to health workers and that all proceeds are going towards The World Health Organization’s Covid-19 Solidarity Response Fund.
Collaborating in their homes in Los Angeles, Cornwall and London, Brian May, Roger Taylor and Adam Lambert reworked one of Freddie Mercury’s many masterpieces to be more direct in its message. This apparently came about spontaneously when Lambert was jamming with the two Queen stars on Instagram, when he suddenly altered the lyrics mid-song. That change made it especially hit home among the ‘frontline warriors’, one of whom wrote: “You don’t know what this means to me. I am a nurse and this really touched me to the core. Thank you.”
1) Roger Waters -Two Suns In The Sunset
I appreciate that a song about imminent nuclear holocaust, which first appeared on Pink Floyd’s The Final Cut, is ‘more Waters than Floyd’, and will not be everybody’s number 1 lockdown choice; but this is an outstanding reworking. Waters had already released a new version of Mother when Two Suns In The Sunset appeared, but the latter has the edge here, because it specifically addresses our vulnerability in the face of an overwhelming external force. Waters sings “And as the windshield melts, My tears evaporate, Leaving only charcoal to defend,” as he expresses our profound human frailty that also reflects this particular moment in history. The whole song is then lifted by a superb choral accompaniment by Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig and a haunting sax outro - originally played by Raphael Ravenscroft -, which is here beautifully interpreted by Ian Ritchie. “Ashes and diamonds, Foe and friend, We were all equal in the end,” Waters sings, as the song starts to fade out. If anyone was in any doubt about the tune’s final message of equanimity and defiance, it is reinforced by Waters closing statement as it ends: “Wow, how fucking good is that!” he quietly exclaims. And it is.