I sat on this idea for a few weeks because I felt it would maybe be in poor taste to run with it while people were still expelling fluids from orifices, but now that the norovirus has run its course (and its way through the staff of the Manitoban), this edition of Essentially A Playlist looks at great and/or questionable songs about illness and viruses. You’d be amazed at how many selections were ruled out because they were about mental — and not physical — illness (or maybe you’re not at all surprised at this).
Mudhoney — “Touch Me I’m Sick” [from March To Fuzz]
All credit to my friend and co-worker, Jared McKetiak (who hosts The Sounds of Science, Wednesdays, 3-5 p.m. on UMFM — it’s good, you should listen), for suggesting this one and reminding me of it. The band that put Sub Pop on the map during that genre’s first golden era (we’re in the midst of another one now), Mudhoney got overrun by grunge and didn’t blow up big like Nirvana and Pearl Jam.
Bjork — “Virus” [from Biophilia]
Biophilia is Bjork’s 10th, and most recent record. The cutting edge Icelander offers more than a record — Biophilia was designed as a “suite of interactive iPad and iPhone apps” and the development involved scientists, engineers and video-game designers. Since I have neither iPad nor iPhone, I’ll have to rely on the word of others to confirm these songs are more than songs.
Reba McEntire — “She Thinks His Name Was John” [from Read My Mind]
I had never heard this song before researching this column. I discovered that the lyrics tell the story of a woman who contracts HIV from a man she can’t quite recall (thus the title), and she eventually develops AIDS. In the end she dies. It’s not the darkest song on this list — McEntire’s maudlin delivery can’t match the man known as E.
Eels — “Hospital Food” [from Electro-Shock Blues]
You’ve got to go to the prince of darkness (no, not Ozzy Osbourne) for a truly dark song. Mark Oliver Everett, also known as E, is the man behind an album that tackles suicide, death and cancer. And Electro-Shock Blues isn’t even the darkest album in Eels’ catalogue.
10cc — “The Hospital Song” [from 10cc]
In the hospital? This is a little easier to choke down than the “Hospital Food,” but it’s still a tough pill to swallow. The song begins with: “Nobody sends me birthday cards / Nobody brings me flowers / I’m just here for operations / I’ve been out for hours / When I come to I’ll wet my bed.” Believe it or not: it’s a love song.
Jimmie Rodgers — “T.B. Blues” [from Blue Yodel]
T.B. stands for tuberculosis, which is an infectious disease caused by mycobacteria that primarily affects the lungs and can be lethal. The disease is spread in an airborne manner, and in the U.S. in the early 1900s, concern about spreading T.B. through expectorate led to prohibiting public spitting other than into spittoons. I’m not sure if Jimmie Rodgers (1897-1933) ever used a spittoon, but eventually the U.S. would reduce the incidence of T.B. by a factor of 10.
The Kinks — “Hay Fever” [from Learning To Crawl]
Best I can tell, Ray Davies really was talking about allergic rhinitis (AKA “hay fever”) and not using it as a code for something else; though he does talk about using “pills and powders” which may be referring to heavier drugs than Claritin. Then again, he may just being using the symptoms of hay fever as a comparison point for being driven crazy and having his head muddled by a woman.
Deltron 3030 — “Virus” [from Deltron 3030]
Here’s another one simply called “Virus,” this time from a band (project?) comprised of producer Dan the Automator, rapper Del Tha Funkee Homosapien and turntablist Kid Koala. They’re really a triple-threat of oddball hip-hop; which is exactly what their self-titled record dishes up in abundance. Automator’s own label, 75 Ark, released this record as well as albums by Dr. Octagon, The Coup and Antipop Consortium.
Fugazi — “Give Me The Cure” [from 13 Songs]
Fugazi are kind of like the punk/hardcore version of the Velvet Underground. It’s likely there are more people who formed bands as a result of listening to Fugazi than who actually bought their records. Which is a shame because albums like Red Medicine and 13 Songs (the latter a compilation of EPs) are among the finest in the genre.
Humble Pie — “Stone Cold Fever” [from Shine On]
I just finished reading Jerry Shirley’s autobiography, Best Seat In The House. Shirley was Humble Pie’s drummer and he really did have the perfect vantage point for chronicling the history of this English super-group. Barely sixteen when he joined the band, Shirley had been gigging professionally since he was nine and was hand-picked by Steve Marriott to keep the beat for the group Marriott started upon leaving the Small Faces.
Matthew Sweet — “Sick Of Myself” [from 100% Fun]
Released in 1995, 100% Fun is Sweet’s fifth album and to me it’s the apotheosis of his power-pop song-craft. “Sick Of Myself” is the leadoff track and it sets the tone for the entire album — chugging guitars, breathy but muscular vocals, propulsive drums and an earworm melody. If you’ve never heard the record, head to this column on themanitoban.com and check out the performance on Conan O’Brien (back when he was hosting Late Night on NBC), I’ve linked to on Youtube. Then go track down a copy of the record.