In times of turmoil, many of us turn to music for comfort, uplift, and escape, and that’s certainly been true since the coronavirus swept through the U.S. and kept most Americans at home. While music streams were down in the first few weeks of social distancing, they’re slowly returning back to normal, according to numbers from Alpha Data, the data analytics provider that powers the Rolling Stone Charts.
Which songs, in particular, have spoken to us? While classics like Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me” and the Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends” continue to do well, what intrigued us were songs that showed double- and triple-digit leaps. Rolling Stone examined song sales and on-demand streams in the U.S. between March 12th — when stay-at-home orders slowly took root in select states — and April 23rd to see which tracks have seen the biggest spikes.
1. R.E.M., “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)”
The alt/indie heroes’ sardonic and frenetic ode to a frazzled planet, all of 33 years old, jumped a whopping 110 percent in streams for a total of 5.6 million during the March to April period. Was it the line about a “tournament of lies” or the line “Team by team, reporters baffled, trumped, tethered, cropped”? Capitol T, anyone?
2. The Police, “Don’t Stand So Close to Me”
Forty years after its release, the song’s original message – mutual lust between a teacher and one of his female clients – took a back seat to its hooky chorus and newly relevant context. The song saw a 508 percent increase in song sales and an 81% increase in streams (3.4 million during this period).
3. Joy Division’s “Isolation”
Another far lesser known song from 1980, but its early-Eighties synths are no match for the repeated drone of the title. While its total streaming number (298,000) aren’t huge, that number represented a 112 percent increase; those streams doubled starting March 6th, the first week of the lockdown.
4. Andra Day, “Rise Up”
The singer’s anthem of empowerment and renewal, first released five years ago and partly inspired by watching a friend grapple with cancer, connected anew to a huge audience. Its uplifting lyrics, like “We gonna walk it out/And move mountains,” has newly resonated with audiences, pulling in 13 million streams for a 307 percent spike in sales.
5. Tears for Fears, “Mad World”
The images populating the band’s 1983 track — “worn-out places, worn-out faces,” “children waiting for the day they feel good,” “went to school and I was very nervous” — were written decades before the coronavirus. But they could have been written this spring, which likely explains why the song’s sales doubled from March 13th through April 23d.
6. Mariah Carey, “Hero”
Carey’s 1993 ballad, which she also performed at the 9/11 tribute concert in New York, was reborn as a salute to health care workers around the country: “And then a hero comes along/With the strength to carry on/And you cast your fears aside/And you know you can survive.” The result was a 75 percent increase in song sales and streams of over 1.7 million.
7. Carole King, “So Far Away”
“It would be so fine to see your face at my door/It doesn’t help to know you’re so far away,” King sings on her landmark Tapestry album. No wonder the track saw a 74 percent jump in sales. In late March, King released a video that included a portion of the song with revamped lyrics: “Everybody has to stay in one place anymore/It would be so fine to see your face at my door/Doesn’t help to know /You’re just time away.”
8. The Five Stairsteps, “O-o-h Child”
When it was first a hit in 1971, this soothing pop hymn implied a brighter day after war and improved civil rights. These days, its lyrics – “Someday, we’ll walk in the rays of a beautiful sun/Someday when the world is much brighter” – are equally potent and applicable. Although the song has been covered by everyone from Nina Simone to Hall & Oates to Kamasi Washington, the original version by the Chicago family soul group saw a 72 percent increase in sales and 3.2 million total streams.
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