The Pandemic’s Greatest Hits: Musical Blasts from the Past

As I write, Miley Cyrus’s Party in the U.S.A. is sitting at number 17 on Apple’s iTunes US singles chart. Nothing remarkable, you may think. Except that Party in the U.S.A. was originally released in 2009, some 12 years ago. Suddenly it’s back on the charts. Gwen Stefani’s Hollaback Girl is sitting at number 21 on the same chart. That song was released in 2005. Carly Simon’s You’re So Vain, from 1972, is at number 39. Hootie & the Blowfish’s Let Her Cry, 1994, is 32.

The Four Seasons’ Oh What a Night, 1975, is in position number 48. The Pet Shop Boys’ Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money,) 1985, is a couple of slots below at 50. Jackson Browne’s Somebody’s Baby, 1982, is at number 55. And the Monkees’ Daydream Believer, 1967, is right behind at number 59.

What’s going on?

Well, it seems that the pandemic has unleashed an intense longing for the way things used to be before the world as we knew it came crashing down in March 2020. The decades before lockdown have now become a golden era, and people seem to be reaching out to the music that defined those years for affirmation and reassurance. In these uncertain times, people are reaching back to the oldies but goldies. Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline, 1969, went to number 5 on the Apple Music chart on Mar 7 of this year. And it’s not just a US trend. Sweet Caroline reached number 1 on the Canadian iTunes on March 1, and number 16 in the UK.

The soul classics have been resonating during the pandemic. Otis Redding’s (Sitting 0n) the Dock of the Bay, 1968, got to number 8 on the chart just about a month ago. The Temptations have charted again with My Girl, 1964. It was number 10 on iTunes on February 22 of this year. Smokey Robinson’s Cruisin’, 1979, made it up to number 26 in January. The Supremes’ Baby Love, Where Did Our Love Go, and Stop in the Name of Love were all back on the chart this year. Stevie Wonder’s Isn’t She Lovely, 1976, was number 20 on February 18.

The phenomenon is not confined to singles. Carole King’s Tapestry album, 1971, got to number 3 on the Canadian iTunes chart this February. It was in position number 6 in Spain, also in February. Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, 1977, was the number 3 album in Australia in January and number 1 in Canada last October. Madonna’s Bedtime Stories, 1994, was the number 1 album in the US, Brazilian and Canadian iTunes stores on April 30, 2020. James Taylor’s Greatest Hits, Vol. 1, originally issued in November 1976, was back to soothe rattled nerves in 2020. It got to number 3 in the US, 4 in Australia, 4 in Brazil, and 7 in Canada. One of Taylor’s greatest hits, included on the album, tellingly was Shower the People (You Love with Love.)

Are we living a time warp? Not really, we’re just trying to get through a difficult patch leaning on some songs that made us feel good in the past. This month, the 1985 Tears for Fears hit Everybody Wants to Rule the World was back at number 8 on the chart, number 5 in Canada. Rule can be read as a stand-in for just get back to some semblance of the lives we used to have. And lest there be any doubt about our shared need for comfort and consolation right now and for our desire to get well past where we find ourselves, look no further than number 80 on today’s chart. It’s the ultimate song of resilience, Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive, originally released in 1978.