Three writers pick the best self- isolation songs to make you laugh, cry and feel inspired – whether it’s advice from an American arranger to a humourous reimaging of a indie-rock staple, these tracks are soon to become anthems in their own right.
‘Stay Away’ – Randy Newman
As the world is stuck in lockdown and the news endlessly grim, we now need more than ever something to put a smile on our face. Step forward master songwriter Randy Newman with a new track, aptly titled ‘Stay Away’, that casts a satirical eye on the ongoing crisis and offers us a portrait of domestic life under lockdown with helpful advice to boot. It boasts his trademark charm and wit, providing us a crowd-pleaser built for this moment.
Newman has a gift for saying a lot with few words, conjuring up entire worlds and characters in just a few lines. Look at how he sets the scene in ‘Rednecks’ with the voice of a frustrated redneck, or how he covers hundreds of years of history in just a few minutes in ‘The Great Nations of Europe’. In the opening lines of ‘Stay Away’, we hear that he’s singing to his ‘Venus in sweatpants’ – his love who, despite lounging around in comfortable clothes, remains beautiful to him. He ends the first verse with the promise that ‘when this mess is over/I’ll buy you a car/We’ll drive that car/So fast and so far’. It’s an easy dream to relate to – whilst we’re stuck in, being able to go for a long drive just for the sake of it is something we can only imagine.
‘Stay Away’ won’t live on as one of Newman’s best songs, but it’s not aspiring to be
He also offers us some musical advice: ‘stay away from me’, ‘wash your hands’, ‘don’t touch your face’. They may be the same familiar guidelines but, presented over a bit of swing piano, they take on a life of their own. They don’t feel like governmental instructions so much as suggestions from a friend. As Newman says, ‘stay away from me’ should be understood as ‘words of love in times like these’ – it may not be easy to isolate from our loved ones, but it’ll be better in the long run. Newman is fortunate to be isolated with his wife, and he even sneaks in a few lines for her: ‘You’ll be with me 24 hours a day/What a lucky man I am’.
Newman wraps up with some words of comfort for those having difficulty spending time together in quarantine: ‘be kind to one another/Tell her you love her every day/If you’re angry about something, let it go.’ It’s hard to be stuck with the same people constantly, and they will annoy you, but these nuisances are small in the grand scheme of things. What matters more is that we are kind, because we are all in this together. No matter how much your cohabitants annoy you, tell them that you love them – as we’ve seen, anyone and everyone is susceptible to the virus, and we can’t take each other for granted.
if the relatability puts a smile on your face, it’ll be worth it
‘Stay Away’ won’t live on as one of Newman’s best songs, but it’s not aspiring to be – it’s a song built for a moment and, in this moment, it’s exactly what we need. It speaks to a personal experience that we are all having to go through, yet Newman’s gentle drawl and piano capture it in a fresh new way. You may not want to spend any more time with the Covid-19 crisis, but I recommend you listen to the tune – if the relatability puts a smile on your face, it’ll be worth it.
‘Six Feet Apart’ – Alec Benjamin
When the entire world is facing the same crisis, it is only natural for music to reflect this. Songs about self-isolation are being released at an increasing rate as artists take inspiration from their drastic lifestyle change. One of the many musicians contributing to this self-isolation theme is American singer-songwriter Alec Benjamin with his new track ‘Six Feet Apart’.
Benjamin took to Instagram to explain that the song was made entirely in his own home: “the vocals and guitars were recorded on my phone and the song was written and produced over facetime.” The track deals with anxiety and emotions surrounding the pandemic and particularly focuses on the struggle of social distancing from those we love and are used to being around. Benjamin is known for his lyrical descriptive story-telling and acoustic-driven sound – or as I like to call it, sad boy pop. ‘Six Feet Apart’ fits his discography perfectly by taking on a blue but comforting tone that simultaneously breaks and heals your heart.
In such a scary and challenging time, music with a level of relatability becomes increasingly important in creating a sense of unity and reassurance
Benjamin’s track enforces the importance of social distancing for the greater good whilst expressing his personal struggle with being apart from the one he loves and the strain that can have on a relationship. ‘Six Feet Apart’ refers to Covid-19 as “the elephant in the room” and Benjamin stresses that we “can’t ignore him…not anymore”, advocating for the necessity of isolation and encouraging people to take the situation seriously.
The driving lines of the chorus touch more on the difficulties of isolation and explore not only the physical but, perhaps more prominently, the emotional distance from the people in our lives. Benjamin’s lyrics convey anxiety over the lack of connection available in relationships during isolation as he shares fears of potential heartbreak: “I miss you the most at six feet apart when you’re right outside my window but can’t ride inside my car…too far to hold, but close enough to break my heart”.
‘Six Feet Apart’ is a perfect summary of the emotionally challenging time we are facing
Talking about the song, Benjamin expressed that he “wanted to let people know they weren’t alone” in dealing with the mental toll that self-isolation can have, and admits to his own personal battle in the lyric “I’m relatively close to breaking down because right now I feel so alone.” In such a scary and challenging time, music with a level of relatability becomes increasingly important in creating a sense of unity and reassurance.
Benjamin speaks for everyone when he wishes to “build a time machine and go back to a time when we didn’t need to measure six feet on the ground.” ‘Six Feet Apart’ is a perfect summary of the emotionally challenging time we are facing, and it has become the soundtrack to my quarantine.
‘Oh My God (Stay At Home Edition)’ – Kaiser Chiefs
If a poll was taken of the most frequently used daily phrases during the Coronavirus lockdown, ‘Oh my God’ has got to be pretty high on the list. So, seeing that indie gems Kaiser Chiefs have brought out another song with exactly that title is cathartic, to say the least: there’s no better outlet for your stored up rage and boredom than Ricky Wilson shouting through your speakers.
Whilst the original isn’t technically a self-isolation song – it was released back in 2005 under the band’s Employment album – the Kaisers have recently revamped it to make it fit our current, nightmarishly surreal reality. The lyrics have been changed to reference staples of the UK’s lockdown culture: ‘banana bread’, ‘Netflix’, ‘hand-sanitizer’ and Joe’s at either end of the extreme (‘Exotic’ and ‘Wicks’) all get a passing mention.
In their typical witty and referential style, the Kaisers aren’t afraid to poke a bit of fun at the British public too: ‘Then the weekend sitting in the park spreading pathogens’ obviously refers to the controversial past-time of certain citizens during the lockdown, and we’ve all been caught ‘running around’ our favourite supermarket like an ‘Andrex puppy’ in an effort to grab the last pack of toilet rolls.
It proves that the Brits still have their sense of humour – as self-deprecating and self-effacing as ever, even without their pubs to let off steam
Like many creators, the song was recorded abiding by current social distancing measures, resulting in a mash-up of, if not slightly dissonant, sounds, all lovingly pieced together in a similarly patchworked video. I appreciate that they decided to leave it unpolished – they probably have the resources and money to have made a better music video, but for a song written and recorded away from the studio, it only feels right that the video has the same homespun quality.
Kaiser Chiefs have also released a great fan cover of their hit single ‘Ruby’: however, I chose ‘Oh My God’ not only because of the creative twist but because the track in its original form is still an ode to modern times. Lyrics like ‘you work in a shirt with your name tag on it/ Drifting apart like a plate tectonic’ evoke the monotony of ordinary, working life, and act as a reminder that pre-Corona life still had its dull moments.
The choral refrain of ‘Oh my God I can’t believe it/ I’ve never spent this much time at home’ hits particularly hard as the UK lockdown looks, at this point, to be extended long past my 30th birthday: as always, the British indie gems act as a vessel for a bit of a moan and a laugh. The song proves that us Brits still have our sense of humour – as self-deprecating and self-effacing as ever, even without our beloved pubs to let off steam.