The best virus and isolation songs listed by decades

Don’t spend self-quarantine in silence

The Rolling Stones recorded “Ventilator Blues” nearly 50 years ago, but the song couldn't be more timely with the lack of ventilators being one of the greatest detriments in battling the COVID-19 virus. Entertainment Editor Andy Gray creates stuck-at-home playlists from the 1950s and earlier up to current charts. (Photo by Greg Allen/Invision/AP, File)

Working from home means many things.

Every day can be casual Friday if you want it to be. If the coffee pot is empty, you finished it. Best of all, you can play your music as loud as you want without disturbing your co-workers.

When staying at home because of a looming virus under self-quarantine, not just any soundtrack will do. On Facebook, I asked my friends to suggest songs for a self-quarantine playlist, and the suggestions were overwhelming, far more than any one list could contain.

I took their ideas and many of my own and decided to give each generation its own playlist — one featuring songs primarily from the 1950s or earlier, a second dedicated to the ’60s and ’70s, a third covering the ’80s and ’90s and a final one for the 21st century.

I’ve used my Spotify account, under the name agray-ticket, to create public playlists for each one, so read the story, enjoy the music and, with luck, both will help pass the time.

Shuffle if you must, but I’ve made my share of mixtapes and mix CDs in my life. Like Rob Gordon, John Cusack’s character from “High Fidelity,” I’m a firm believer that a good mixtape is a subtle art with many dos and don’ts — “You gotta kick it off with a killer. Then you have to take it up a notch, but you don’t want to blow your wad, so then you’ve got to cool it off a notch. There are a lot of rules.”

Ticket Self-Quarantine, ’50s and Earlier

1.”No Particular Place to Go” — Chuck Berry

2. “Rockin’ Pneumonia and Boogie Woogie Flu” — Huey “Piano” Smith

3. “Lonely Avenue” — Ray Charles

4. “In My Solitude” — Etta James

5. “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” — Hank Williams

6. “Are you Lonesome Tonight” — Elvis Presley

7. “In My Own Little Corner” — Julie Andrews, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella”

8. “Mr. Lonely” — Bobby Vinton

9. “All Alone Am I” — Brenda Lee (1962)

10. “I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself” — Dusty Springfield

11. “Only the Lonely” — Roy Orbison

12. “Fever” — Peggy Lee

13. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” — Jewel (but really Judy Garland)

This is the shortest playlist and one where I had to settle for some secondary tracks because the versions I wanted weren’t on Spotify.

Chuck Berry is a safe bet when looking for a killer song to start. And with nearly everything shut down, “No Particular Place to Go” pretty much sums up life at the moment.

“Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu” definitely kicks it up a notch. Boomers know the song best from Johnny Rivers, who had a top 10 hit with it in 1972, but the original was recorded by Huey “Piano” Smith in 1957. That’s the version here.

This playlist leans toward mellower, melancholy fare, but any playlist featuring Elvis Presley, Hank Williams and Roy Orbison at their peaks is worth a spin.

I cheated and put Dusty Springfield’s version of Burt Bacharach’s and Hal David’s “I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself” on here, even though it was released in the mid ’60s. It fit the mood better on this list. There may be a lot of rules for a mixtape / playlist, but they can be broken if it makes for a better listening experience. (If you love this song, Elvis Costello does a great cover of it).

I would have preferred Billie Holiday’s version of “In My Solitude,” but it’s not on Spotify. Etta James is a worthy substitute.

More frustrating is the unavailability of Judy Garland’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” from “The Wizard of Oz.” In the face of a pandemic, ending on an upbeat note seemed like the best philosophy to follow for each of these playlists.

I opted for Jewel over Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s ukulele-accompanied rendition because it fit better alongside the other songs.

Ticket Self-Quarantine, ’60s and ’70s

1. “Tired of Being Alone” — Al Green

2. “I’m Sick Y’all” — Otis Redding

3. “I Am a Rock” — Simon & Garfunkel

4. “One” — Harry Nilsson

5. “All By Myself” — Eric Carmen

6. “Alone Again, Naturally” — Gilbert O’Sullivan

7. “Lonely People” — America

8. “Isolation” — John Lennon

9. “The Loner” — Neil Young

10. “Ventilator Blues” — Rolling Stones

11.”Where Have All the Good Times Gone” — The Kinks

12. “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” — Blue Oyster Cult

13. “So Far Away” — Carole King

14. “Stayin’ Alive” — Bee Gees

15. “I Will Survive” — Gloria Gaynor

Al Green is perfect to kick off any party or playlist, and “Tired of Being Alone” will sum up the feelings of many by day two of being quarantined.

Otis Redding kicks it up with a song that will be unfamiliar to many but feels so right here.

Next we get a hit by one sad, whiny white guy after another, but these tracks capture the mood needed. “All By Myself” was the second song I thought of when I decided to do this. And for those who check out the Spotify playlist, I spared you the super maudlin 7-minute version and included the 4-minute, 32-second single edit.

I chose Harry Nilsson’s version of “One” instead of Three Dog Night’s because Nilsson wrote it and he’s an underrated genius. The man did a lot more than “Without You” and “Coconut.”

Before anyone considers slitting their wrists, the tempo accelerates with Neil Young’s “The Loner.”

With a lack of ventilators being one of the primary concerns in keeping patients alive, how could I possibly leave off a song called “Ventilator Blues”?

This list is light on females, but Carole King’s “So Far Away” may be the best song on it.

There are some dark tunes here, but the final tone is celebratory — and danceable.

Ticket Self-Quarantine, ’80s and ’90s

1. “Life During Wartime” — Talking Heads

2. “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” — The Police

3. “Keep Your Hands to Yourself” — Georgia Satellites

4. “Splendid Isolation” — Warren Zevon

5. “99.9” — Suzanne Vega

6. “Everybody Knows” — Leonard Cohen

7. “At My Window Sad and Lonely” — Wilco

8. “In a Lonely Place” — Smithereens

9. “Sick of Myself” — Matthew Sweet

10. “Boredom” — Buzzcocks

11. “You Sound Like You’re Sick” — The Ramones

12. “Everything’s Broken” — Bob Dylan

13. “Everything Has Changed” — The Clarks

14. “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” — REM

15. “Better Things” — The Kinks

There are a few big rock radio hits and obvious choices here, but I also tried to mix in more obscure tracks from big names and some of my favorite artists.

The opener, “Life During Wartime,” is dark and manic, but it feels right when people are fighting over toilet paper.

The Police and Georgia Satellites songs are two of the obvious ones, but they’re so on the nose that their absence would be noticeable. Billy Idol’s “Dancing with Myself” didn’t make the cut because I used something similar in the next playlist.

“Splendid Isolation” is the one that inspired these lists and may be one of my top 10 favorite songs period. If you only know Warren Zevon for “Werewolves of London,” spend some of your exile from the world familiarizing yourself with his catalog.

Another song I love is Suzanne Vega’s “99.9,” the title track for an album inspired by the AIDS crisis. With rising temperatures being one of the early symptoms, this track reflects that unease beautifully.

With the lyrics “Everybody knows the plague is coming / Everybody knows that it’s moving fast,” Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows” had to be here. The lyrics “Everybody knows that the boat is leaking / Everybody knows that the captain lied” are just as appropriate.

Regular readers of Ticket won’t be surprised I included a Wilco song. Bob Dylan, The Smithereens and The Ramones also get a lot of play in the Gray household.

REM’s “It’s the End of World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine)” would provide for an energetic finale, but it’s a little dark, so I ended with The Kinks’ “Better Things,” something we all hope to see.

Ticket Self-Quarantine, 21st Century

1. “Toxic” — Britney Spears

2. “Lonely Boy” — The Black Keys

3. “Alone in My Home” — Jack White

4. “The World Is Over” — Red Wanting Blue

5. “Go It Alone” — Beck

6. “Cough Syrup” — Young the Giant

7. “Are You Bored Yet” — Wallows

8. “Be Well” — JD Eicher

9. “Harder to Breathe” — Maroon 5

10. “Troubled Times” — Green Day

11. “Perfectly Lonely” — John Mayer

12. “I Know I’m Not Alone” — Michael Franti + Spearhead

13. “Stressed Out” — Twenty One Pilots

14. “You’re Not Alone” — The Mowglis

15. “Dancing on My Own” — Robyn

16. “Recovery”– Frank Turner

The 21st century playlist has a local / regional flavor with “Be Well” by Canfield’s JD Eicher and “Are You Bored Yet” by Wallows, featuring Howland native Braeden Lemasters.

Readers won’t be shocked I found a way to get Red Wanting Blue on here. The drummer on this recording is Ed Davis, now the drummer for The Vindys. And if RWB can play its May gig at Westside Bowl, the drummer will be current Youngstown resident Dean Anshutz, who joined the band shortly after this 2010 album was released

There also are cuts by Akron’s The Black Keys (“Lonely Boy”) and Columbus’ Twenty One Pilots (“Stressed Out”). And I couldn’t resist putting the Black Keys and Jack White back-to-back on the playlist. (For some fun reading, do a web search for White’s feelings about the Black Keys).

The playlist also will get listeners moving, particularly with the first track, Britney Spears’ “Toxic,” and it’s penultimate one, Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own.”

I’m not a regular watcher of “Grey’s Anatomy,” but the three women in my household are, so I see the show more often than not. When times are tough on there, Meredith’s advice is to, “Dance it out.” Let these 59 songs, at least some of them, help you dance it out in private until everyone can dance it out in public.

The final offering of the 59 selections on these four playlists may be my favorite song of the last decade, definitely top five. We will need a lot of physical, emotional and financial “Recovery,” but its final line offers the greatest words of hope — “One day this will all be over.”


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