As we celebrate our one-year quaranniversaries, I invite you to sing!
When I began this series last March, I titled the first post after this song… even though the song I performed was Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.” By the third Plague Song, I began using a lyric from each song as the title. But, at the beginning, well, what better way to start than with Joe Raposo’s generous invitation to sing?
Raposo (1937-1989) wrote the song for a 1971 episode of Sesame Street. I don’t see that first version on YouTube, but here’s a performance from 1974.
From the very beginning, the song included Spanish lyrics. I use the lyrics from the Spanish version on the record Sesame Street: Fiesta Songs! (1998), which doesn’t translate the “Don’t worry…” line. Discovering this version, I see that Luis has translated it! Had I heard his before recording mine, I would have used his version. (In the spirit of the lyric, I will not worry that my version is not good enough!)
By the time Bob, Luis, Susan and the Kids sang the version above, “Sing” had already been a major hit for the Carpenters (1973) and a minor hit for Barbara Streisand (1972). The song has also been recorded by Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire, Shirley Bassey, the Ventures, Ivy, Pink Martini, Kristin Chenoweth, Jane Monheit, and the Chicks (with Muppet chickens!).
Here’s a playlist of 23 different versions, including one in German — “Singt ein Lied.”
As I approach a year of doing these Plague Songs (once a week for the first 22 weeks, roughly once a month after that), I am struck by the fact that three were written for children: this one, “Rainbow Connection” (written by Paul Williams & Kenny Ascher for The Muppet Movie, 1977), and “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” (written by Fred Rogers for Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, 1967).
Also, all three of these songs date to my early-1970s childhood. Though I am not nostalgic for my youth, songs of the era do offer comfort — and a bit of melancholy. When rehearsing “Rainbow Connection,” I arrived at the verge of tears more than once. When learning “Sing,” I had a similar experience at the “la la” chorus: the melody is cheerful, but the G –> G maj 7 –> C maj 7 chord progression has a kind of wistfulness to it. Are 7th chords more likely to create this emotional response? Or is it simply that this particular song calls me back five decades in time?
I don’t know, but I do think a song with emotional tension between music and lyrics can “stick” more powerfully. Robyn’s “Dancing on My Own” (also one I performed) is one such song: broken-hearted lyrics set against a bouncy pop tune.
As we await access to the vaccine and a gradual move to some less fraught “normal,” I hope you are finding the songs that sustain you. And I hope you are singing.
Indeed, why not perform a song? Singing will lift your spirits. Trust me. Need ideas? The playlist below offers many places to start.
- Plague Songs
- Sing. Sing a Song. #PlagueSongs, no. 1 (17 Mar. 2020). Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.”
- Do Not Touch Your Face. #PlagueSongs, no. 2 (24 Mar. 2020). The Weeknd’s “I Can’t Feel My Face.”
- The Bright Side. #PlagueSongs, no. 3 (31 Mar. 2020). Monty Python’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” Also the first post where I began my practice of using a lyric as the title.
- It’s later than you think. #PlagueSongs, no. 4 (7 Apr. 2020). Prince Buster’s “Enjoy Yourself.” (Also: the discovery that I cannot play ska.)
- There doesn’t seem to be anyone around. #PlagueSongs, no. 5 (14 Apr. 2020). Tommy James and the Shondells’ “I Think We’re Alone Now.”
- Be an optimist instead. #PlagueSongs, no. 6 (21 Apr. 2020). The Kinks’ “Better Things.”
- Kick at the darkness. #PlagueSongs, no. 7 (28 Apr. 2020). Bruce Cockburn’s “Lovers in a Dangerous Time.”
- So far away, but still so near. #PlagueSongs, no. 8 (5 May 2020). Robyn’s “Dancing on My Own.”
- If you just call me. #PlagueSongs, no. 9 (12 May 2020). Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me.”
- In the end, they’ll be the only ones there. #PlagueSongs, no. 10 (19 May 2020). Hanson’s “MMMBop,” and a few chords from Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
- No matter how I struggle and strive. #PlagueSongs, no. 11 (25 May 2020). Hank Williams’ “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive.”
- Love. #PlagueSongs, no. 12 (1 June 2020). Medley of Nick Lowe’s “(What’s so Funny ‘Bout) Peace Love, and Understanding” and the O’Jays’ “Love Train,” with brief snippets of the Staple Singers’ “This Train” and the Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love.”
- This is the time. #PlagueSongs, no. 13 (9 June 2020). Lou Reed’s “There Is No Time.”
- My neighbor and my friend. #PlagueSongs, no. 14 (16 June 2020). Fred Rogers’ “Won’t You Be My Neighbor.”
- If you’re lost, I’m right behind. #PlagueSongs, no. 15 (23 June 2020). Everything But the Girl’s “We Walk the Same Line.”
- Live to see another day. #PlagueSongs, no. 16 (30 June 2020). The Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive.”
- Offer me solutions, offer me alternatives, and I decline. #PlagueSongs, no. 17 (7 July 2020). R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine).”
- Someday we’ll find it. #PlagueSongs, no. 18 (14 July 2020). Kermit the Frog’s “Rainbow Connection.”
- Can’t control my brain. #PlagueSongs, no. 19 (21 July 2020). Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated.”
- 4’33” #PlagueSongs, no. 20. AND 43 notes on silence, time, and the corona era (28 July 2020). John Cage’s 4’33”, plus an essay inspired by the piece.
- Mann, wer hätte das gedacht, dass es einmal soweit kommt #PlagueSongs, no. 21 (4 Aug. 2020). Nena’s “99 Luftballons.”
- Banish sadness and strife. #PlagueSongs, no. 22 (21 Aug. 2020). “Look for the Silver Lining,” composed by Jerome Kern and Buddy DeSylva. My version is based on the Chet Baker recording.
- Don’t write yourself off yet. #PlagueSongs, no. 23 (27 Oct. 2020). Jimmy Eat World’s “The Middle.”
- What’s that sound? #PlagueSongs, no. 24 (3 Nov. 2020). The Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth.”
- Go tell that long-tongued liar. #PlagueSongs, no. 25 (17 Nov. 2020). A song known variously as “Run on for a Long Time” and “God’s Gonna Cut You Down.”
- I got the medicine. So, you should keep your eyes on the ball. #PlagueSongs, no. 26 (21 Dec. 2020). BTS’ “Dynamite.”
- I’m lucky to be here. #PlagueSongs, no. 27 (5 Jan. 2021). Warren Zevon’s “Don’t Let Us Get Sick.”
- Don’t run. #PlagueSongs, no. 28 (9 Feb. 2021). The Ventures’ “Walk — Don’t Run.”
- What Is Your COVID-19 Routine?