Songs about the early years of HIV/AIDS
October 17, 2013 2:46 PM   Subscribe

What are some songs about the early years of HIV/AIDS in the US and the politics surrounding it? Think musical equivalent of something like Angels in America.

I'm running in a 5k for my local HIV/AIDS fund this weekend. I have an playlist that I listen to when I run, but for this particular occasion I want to add in some songs as a reminder of why I picked this run in particular for my first-ever 5k. (I was in part motivated by a friend who was a major local ACT-UP and syringe exchange activist, if that gives you any ideas.)

I know a bit about the literature that comes out of the early days of HIV/AIDS: Angels in America, The Normal Heart, People in Trouble, etc. But what, if any music was there?

All that matters to me for my playlist is that the songs are musically uptempo. Lyrically they can be anything from defiant "fuck you Ronald Reagan, people I love are dying" to more mournful tribute songs. Thinly or not-so-thinly veiled allusions that don't directly talk about AIDS/queer communities, etc are okay, so long as you can grasp the basic idea of what the songwriter's getting at. Heck, I'll even give slow songs a chance; I'm interested in music of this period more generally, even aside from my playlist.

Am I looking to punk for this? Were there pop songs that managed to fly under the radar? I'm too young to remember this period much at all.

I've seen this question, which gets at some of the political ideas I'm after, but I'm interested in focusing in on HIV/AIDS and its effects in queer communities more specifically.
posted by ActionPopulated to Media & Arts (34 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Lou Reed " Halloween Parade"
posted by brujita at 2:53 PM on October 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Chains of Love by Erasure - all that stuff about "remember once there was a time" seems to me to be about pre-AIDS gay communities.

Red Hot + Blue was a benefit album for HIV research that came out in 1990 - it's not precisely what you're looking for, but as far as the flavor of time time went!

The Pet Shop Boys - Dreaming of the Queen is canonical.

Ani Di Franco, "On Every Corner"

Oh, and geez, Diamanda Galas's Plague Mass, although if you can run to that, I take my hat off to you. But again - the temper of the time!
posted by Frowner at 2:54 PM on October 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Queen "The Show Must Go On".
posted by Melismata at 2:55 PM on October 17, 2013

Another benefit album was the No Alternative compilation from 1993.
posted by scody at 2:56 PM on October 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

And if you're accepting a 1993 compilation, Sugar's The Slim off of 1992's Copper Blue is a really wrenching track about the personal aftermath of AIDS.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 3:08 PM on October 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The entire soundtrack of Rent. While obviously very different from Angels in America in many respects, it is and was a musical version of Angels in several key ways. Some of the more up-tempo songs might be good for running; the anthem What You Own comes to mind.
posted by zachlipton at 3:30 PM on October 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

Much of the soundtrack of Rent could potentially work. Dealing with HIV/AIDS is a pervasive theme throughout the show, even if it's not always explicitly referenced in the music. "Goodbye love" perhaps most explicitly deals with the death of a character due to AIDS.
posted by kylej at 3:32 PM on October 17, 2013

Best answer: There was a whole musical written about this, called "Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens". Quite a moving work!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 3:37 PM on October 17, 2013

Springsteen's "The Streets of Philadelphia" comes to mind, and every time I clean up syringes from the gravel strip near my home, Prince's "Sign O The Times" plays in my head.

Both are dirges, though, and not really runnable. Queen it is !
posted by Kakkerlak at 3:39 PM on October 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Remember Suzanne Vega? (I loved her.) She had an album called 99.9 Fahrenheit Degrees, and it had a song called, "Blood Makes Noise."
posted by MoxieProxy at 3:45 PM on October 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Red Hot + Blue is in my top 10 albums of all time.
Don't Leave Me This Way was a bit of an anthem, and is very uptempo. I'm partial to the Communards version.
posted by spinturtle at 3:49 PM on October 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Well, what we were listening to at the time, and songs about AIDS are kind of 2 different things...

Some music that was both:
Michael Callen
Pansy Division

Red Hot and Blue generated a whole slew of benefit compilations, of which one was No Alternative. Red Hot and Rio, etc.

This is an interesting list.
posted by gingerbeer at 3:53 PM on October 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Coil's cover of Soft Cell's version of Tainted Love. Some more background here.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:57 PM on October 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Dreaming of the Queen is canonical.

"Being Boring" is perhaps even more canonical.

The linked list offers "All Your Jeans Were Too Tight" for American Music Club, but their big AIDS song was "Rise", written for a dear friend of Mark Eitzel's who was living with the disease.

Laurie Anderson's "Strange Angels" and "Love Among the Sailors".
posted by mykescipark at 4:16 PM on October 17, 2013

TLC's "Waterfalls" has a verse about AIDS.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:22 PM on October 17, 2013

" Billy Don't Fall", The former Terrence Trent D'Arby.

Perhaps something from Bronski Beat's " Age of Consent"?
posted by luckynerd at 4:54 PM on October 17, 2013

Google Steve Schalchlin. His musical about AIDS has a ton of stuff. Also, "My Brother Lived in San Francisco" and everything else from Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens by Bill Russell and Janet Hood.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 5:14 PM on October 17, 2013

Shocked no one mentioned American Music Club specifically "Sick of Food".

"Glynis" off of the No Alternative benefit was about Glynis Johnson, former bass player of Red, Red Meat. Ridiculous singing by Billy Corgan but that song is just heartbreaking.
posted by playertobenamedlater at 5:41 PM on October 17, 2013

Alex Chilton - No Sex

Played for gallows humor, but 1986 and on topic.

I'm really worried about the future
Junkie blood is gonna pollute ya
Pretty soon we're all gonna get it
It's time to buy some stuff on credit

posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:25 PM on October 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Frankie Goes to Hollywood: "Is Anybody Out There?" (1986)
posted by ryanshepard at 8:47 PM on October 17, 2013

Nobody has mentioned Bowie and Freddy Mercury's Under Pressure?! It is the quintessential song about this time in my opinion... And so beautiful!
posted by pazazygeek at 8:59 PM on October 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Bongwater - Folk Song.
posted by nixt at 9:57 PM on October 17, 2013

I've always been of the impression that Concrete Blonde's "Tomorrow Wendy" was about HIV. Not really upbeat, though.
posted by Sara C. at 10:15 PM on October 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

"We Don't Have To Take Our Clothes Off" by Jermaine Stewart.
posted by lemonwheel at 10:39 PM on October 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Leonard Cohen, "Everybody Knows," 1987.
Everybody knows that the Plague is coming
Everybody knows that it's moving fast
Everybody knows that the naked man and woman
Are just a shining artifact of the past
Everybody knows the scene is dead
But there's gonna be a meter on your bed
That will disclose
What everybody knows
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 4:03 AM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

One of the major themes of Zappa's Thing Fish, is AIDS.

I'm a huge Zappa fan, but Thing Fish is one I do not revisit often.
posted by Homemade Interossiter at 4:22 AM on October 18, 2013

Best answer: How has no one yet mentioned The Flirtations? They played in the movie Philadelphia, even! Some of the specifically AIDS-related songs they do:

Living in Wartime

The Boy From New York City

I'm sure there's more.

You might also want to look in the folk direction? Seems to me like something Holly Near or similar artists would have a song or two on.
posted by eviemath at 4:29 AM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

(Ah, I guess the Michael Callen links cover this.)
posted by eviemath at 4:35 AM on October 18, 2013

Living in Wartime, above, was the most powerful expression of what it felt like to me as an AIDS Activist in the 80s/90s. Living with AIDS was a very early song by Romanovsky & Phillips that seems very dated now, but brought me to tears every time I heard it for about 10 years.
posted by hworth at 6:47 AM on October 18, 2013

Stephen Yerkey's epic "The Final Word" on the 1994 album Confidence, Man, is about the early days of HIV/AIDS in San Francisco through the unique lens of a singer/songwriter more influenced by classic country than anything else.

"It's not enough to say it don't concern you / it's not enough to say that you're straight / because our brothers are dying in the Mission / and our brothers are dying in the Haight."

(Yerkey is amazing and criminally overlooked, called "one of the greatest little-known songwriters and singers west of the Mississippi" by The Rough Guide but now mostly playing in Sacramento strip mall pizza joints, far as I can tell.)
posted by bassomatic at 6:50 AM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Not really the early years (1994, I think) and not really political, but Seal's "A Prayer For The Dying."
posted by chocolatepeanutbuttercup at 8:49 AM on October 18, 2013

Pretty Boys and Pretty Girls by Book of Love is one of the first pop songs to tackle the topic.
posted by kuppajava at 9:12 AM on October 18, 2013

Best answer: Hit the Ground Running by Tim Finn

(less politics, more just living through it)
posted by kristi at 2:41 PM on October 18, 2013

Response by poster: Man, how did I forget about being obsessed with Rent in high school when I posted this question? Probably because I've come to sympathize with Sarah Schulman's critiques of Rent since then, and she's got some good points about problematic racial dynamics/glorification of poverty. But the music is still damned catchy; gonna throw 'What You Own' in there for nostalgia's sake.

Lots of other great options here too. The best-answered ones (or selections from them) are on the playlist, but I will definitely be exploring the others when I'm not on a horrendously slow internet connection.

Thanks everyone! Keep 'em coming if you've got others.
posted by ActionPopulated at 12:00 PM on October 19, 2013

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