‘Oh Doctor, I’m In Trouble’: What’s On Your Coronavirus Playlist?

Do you know all the songs about diseases? From songs to which actress Helen has danced, to songs by Taylor Swift?

8 min read

Seene Mein Jalan, Aankhon Mein Toofan Sa Kyun Hai,
Is Sheher Mein Har Shaqs Pareshaan Sa Kyun Hai.

This Suresh Wadkar song from ‘Gaman’ (1978) best describes the human condition in the Time of Coronavirus.

Hindi film songs have delved into every aspect of life, but strangely, by and large, have stayed away from disease and sickness. Dard-e-Dil, Dard-e-Jigar, Prem Rog do not count. This ‘affliction’ has stayed with the human race from the very beginning, and is not going away. Sardi Na Khansi Na Malaria Hua (‘Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman’, 1992) misleads the listener into believing that a medical song is underway, before it shows its true colours – Main Gaya Yaaron, Mujhko Loveriya Hua.

Sar Jo Tera Chakraye, Ya Dil Dooba Jaaye (‘Pyaasa’, 1957) is almost there but not quite.


‘I Get a Fever That’s So Hard to Bear’

But one song, completely unacceptable in today’s troubled times, stands out.

‘Tum Haseen Main Jawaan’ (1970) had a song Chheenk, Meri Jaan Chheenk – a cabaret song by the ‘Cabaret Queen’ Helen. She appears as a jalpari, happily moving around, sneezing into the faces of the audience. By the time she finishes, the entire restaurant is sneezing. Please don’t do this, especially these days. Though to be fair to Helen, she did do the right thing in the title song (a cabaret) of ‘Jaane Anjaane’ ( 1971) where she cautions Milenge Phir Kabhi Jhoom Ke Hazoor Se, Aaj To Dekhiye Dur Hi Dur Se – sound advice in these days of social distancing.

But English songs have no such limitations. They have explored every ailment that there is. The songs number in the hundreds. For every world-famous singer, there are five lesser known singers who have explored this territory. Let’s discuss a few of them. Songs such as Fever by Peggy Lee ( “When you put your arms around me, I get a fever that's so hard to bear”) and Goodness Gracious Me by Sophia Loren and Peter Sellers (“Oh doctor, I'm in trouble, for every time a certain man is standing next to me, a flush comes to my face , and my pulse begins to race”) do not count.

‘Why Does It Hurt When I Pee?’

The supergroup Cream of the 1960s (Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker) came out with a song in their album Fresh Cream (1966) called, most bizarrely, NSU, or Non-Specific Urethritis, a disease on the inflammation of a man's urethra. Eric Clapton was rumoured to have it. Though the song’s contents have nothing to do with the disease, the band members, having a bit of fun, thought it would be a good title for the song. The song was a staple in all their concerts including the re-union concert they had in 2005.

Continuing with the urology consult, Frank Zappa , the craziest and the most talented musician in rock music, came out with Why Does It Hurt When I Pee ( Joe’s Garage, 1979) with the lyrics – “Why does it hurt when I pee? I got it from the toilet seat, it jumped right up, 'n' grabbed my meat”. This triple album was a concept album set in an America where music has been banned. It was typical of Zappa’s twisted sense of humour, and contempt for any convention – musical or otherwise – to write such a song.

What happens when you suffer from recurrent violent nightmares? Paul Simon (formerly of Simon and Garfunkel) used to have them. He visited Abadiania, a small town in central Brazil, that was home to the healer ‘John of God’. The visit was a success, and Simon came away feeling that something had been cleansed from his being that had been troubling him. This experience inspired the song Proof of Love (‘Stranger to Stranger’, 2016).


Songs About Cancer: From David Bowie to Dolly Parton

Peter Gabriel (formerly of Genesis) released Moribund the Burgermeister in his first solo release (‘Peter Gabriel’, 1977). The song is about Saint Vitus’ Dance which is a nervous disorder called chorea, which causes rapid jerking motions, usually in children. In the Middle Ages, its victims prayed to St Vitus, who was said to have the cure. Gabriel got the idea from a book about Middle Ages epidemics. We could probably expect him to do an encore on this present-day scourge!

Cancer has several songs.

David Bowie was battling liver cancer and wrote Killing A Little Time (‘Lazarus’, 2016). This was an angry song – “I lay in bed, the monster fed, the body bled, I turned and said “I get some of you all the time, all of you some other time. This rage in me, get away from me.”

Another cancer song Chemo Hero (‘I Believe in You’, 2017) was recorded by Dolly Parton for her niece who had got Leukemia when she was four. She survived.

Anastacia sang Broken Wings (‘Resurrection’, 2014). She was battling breast cancer for the second time, and makes a reference to her beautiful scars.

Similarly, Sheryl Crow in Make It Go Away (Radiation Song) (‘Detours’, 2008) deals with her experience with breast cancer. Ironically, she was diagnosed with it a few weeks after her break-up with the world-famous cyclist and cancer-survivor Lance Armstrong.

Kylie Minogue too, in No More Rain (‘X’, 2007) deals with her experience with breast cancer.


Songs On PTSD, Schizophrenia, Insomnia & AIDS

Taylor Swift’s Ronan (‘Single Release’, 2012) was inspired by a little boy Ronan who died in 2011 of neuroblastoma, a common form of cancer in infancy. She did another cancer song Soon You’ll Get Better (‘Lover’, 2019) about her mother’s cancer. She also did a song on anorexia in Tied Together With A Smile (‘Taylor Swift’, 2006).

Pink Floyd released Jugband Blues (‘Saucerful Of Secrets’ ,1968). This was Syd Barrett’s last contribution to the band. It’s about his self-diagnosis of schizophrenia, explained by the lines, “I’m most obliged to you for making it clear that I’m not here”, and “I wonder who could be writing this song?”

Metallica came out with Confusion (‘Hardwired... to Self-Destruct’, 2016) which explores the concept of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The band explained that the condition is widespread in society, and not just restricted to the armed forces.

Green Day came out with Brain Stew (‘Insomniac’, 1995). Their lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong wrote the song when he was suffering from insomnia (as in sleep disorder, not the Neend Na Mujhko Aaye, Dil Mera Ghabraye, Chupke Chupke Koi Aake, Soya Pyaar Jagaye (‘Post Box’ 999, 1958) variety).

Elton John, in his song Ballad Of The Boy In The Red Shoes (‘Songs from The West Coast’, 2001), wrote on AIDS. “That old man wouldn’t listen” is a reference to the former US President Ronald Reagan and his inaction in funding for research on fighting AIDS.


Songs About Lesser-Known Ailments: From ‘Male Menopause’ to

‘Lyme Disease’

And sometimes, the medical theme can turn eccentric. Suzi Quatro sang 48 Crash (‘The Best of Suzi Quatro’, 1973), a massive hit, which she claimed (not the lyricists though) that it was about male menopause. This condition can occur in men around age forty-eight when they experience many symptoms of female menopause (hot flashes, fatigue) as well as sexual dysfunction.

And a band that all the fans of Priyanka Chopra will recognise – Jonas Brothers. They came out with A Little Bit Longer (‘A Little Bit Longer’, 2008) which deals with Nick Jonas’ struggle with Type-1 diabetes. He wrote the song in the empty ballroom of a hotel when he was having a rough day.

Dream Theatre did Constant Motion (‘Systemic Chaos’, 2007) which is about Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder afflicting the band’s drummer.

Avril Lavigne sang Head Above Water (‘Head above Water’, 2018) about her battle with Lyme disease which can cause fatigue and joint pain, and is potentially fatal.

Styx did Miss America (‘The Grand Illusion’, 1977) about a rare, incurable condition called porphyria – “This dream that you must live, a disease for which there is no cure”.

And this is a unique song. A song that forewarns a family member about his family medical history. Robbie Williams in Mother…ker (‘Heavy Entertainment Show’, 2016) addresses his two-year-old son, forewarning him about his family’s history of mental illness. Wonder if his son understood what the hell his dad was singing about!


Not All Diseases Affect Humans – Some Affect Bunnies – And We Have Songs About Them!

The songs need not be about diseases afflicting humans. Radiohead did Myxomatosis (‘Hail to The Thief’, 2003) about myxomatosis – a disease that is prevalent in rabbits! England had a huge problem with it in the late 90s. But still – rabbits?

Sometimes, songs are written to convince someone to seek medical attention. Lady Gaga in Speechless (‘The Fame Monster’, 2009) wrote the ballad hoping to convince her father to seek medical treatment for his heart condition. The musical plea worked, and her dad undertook the heart operation.

AC/DC wrote a song on Gonorrhoea called The Jack – Australian slang for the disease. (‘High Voltage’, 1975).

A song very relevant in these disturbing times was done by George Michael called White Light (‘Single Release’, 2012) dealing with his battle with pneumonia during which he came close to losing his life. “Was its science that saved me, or the way that you prayed for me? Either way I thank you, I ‘m alive”, he sings.

Twenty-six years back, the American hardcore punk band Minuteman released – hold your breath – a song called Corona (‘Double Nickels on The Dime’, 1984). But before they be treated as the modern-day Nostradamus who predicted the disease, it must be mentioned that the title was derived from Corona Extra, the Mexican beer.

And so the list continues. Covering a wide gamut of diseases and conditions.


The ‘Coronavirus Playlist’

Can songs on the coronavirus be far behind? The fast spread of the disease has led to an equally rapid release of songs on the subject. A playlist created by Spotify shows more than four hundred songs and counting. It covers all genres and all countries. Some songs feature coughing (as percussion), some contain public service announcements (Wear Your Face Mask), one song is sung by a sock puppet made from a blue medical glove.

India too has seen Hindi and regional songs mushroom over the last few weeks. Some of the songs explain the precautionary measures to be taken (Dhinchak Pooja’s Hoga Na Corona). While Baba Sehgal sings Namaste Corona Virus, a group of women sing Corona Bhaag Ja during Holi celebrations (their video went viral). Even bhajans are being sung – Narendra Chanchal’s Kithon Aaya Corona has been appreciated by lakhs of amused viewers who find the video clip hilarious.

It is to be seen how many of the international and Indian songs on the coronavirus remain timeless, and how many will disappear when the threat of the virus disappears.

And disappear the threat will certainly one day – sooner than later.

Rajesh Khanna in Safar (1970) sang in despair – Hai Pareshan Nazar, Thak Gaye Charah Gar (doctor), Koi Samjha Nahin Koi Jaana Nahin. But there is no need for such despair.

As the song in Boot Polish (1954) teaches us – Mutthi Main Hai Taqdeer Hamari, Humne Kismet Ko Bas Mein Kiya Hai. It is up to us to combat the menace with fortitude, discipline and faith. If we do that there is no reason why wouldn’t, as the song further declares –Badley Ga Zamana Yeh Sitaron Pey Likha Hai.

(Ajay Mankotia is a former IRS Officer and presently runs a Tax and Legal Advisory. This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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