Sound Salvation began as a radio show on a now-defunct alt-rock station out of Fort Walton Beach, Florida. My dear friend Chris Wilkes, a longtime concert promoter who’s been the talent buyer for Pensacola’s Vinyl Music Hall since its inception, and I, a veteran of writing about music and entertainment for more than two decades, were recruited to create a show by former program director and all around great guy Matt Stone. Matt had caught us passionately discussing music and showing off our nigh-bottomless reservoirs of musical trivia on Facebook, and thought there could be a show in it.
We hit upon the idea of themed playlists pretty quickly. Rather than just have a seemingly random collection of songs, we’d find some way for each show to feature an overall connection. This could be as simple as “songs about cars” or holiday shows to more esoteric topics such as songs featuring guest appearances or tracing the history, lineage and influence of an act, such as the Husker Du-themed show we did following the passing of Grant Hart.
As the show aired on Sundays, we hit on the name “Sound Salvation,” taking a page from Elvis Costello’s “Radio Radio” — music being our church, in a sense.
We had a blast doing the show and were disappointed when, some months after Matt left the station, the station left us. (And not too long after, changed format.)
But the dedication to themed playlists has remained. I enjoyed putting them together, picking songs (then, in conjunction with Chris), setting them up in the best possible playing sequence and talking about them to an audience, hopefully introducing people to new and exciting sounds. Since the show ended, I’ve continued the hobby here and there, making occasional new playlists and sharing them with friends.
Now we find ourselves in the age of the coronapocalypse, and music is one of our only means of connection in a world where we aren’t supposed to get physically close to anyone and there’s little to do outside the home but buy groceries. It’s a perfect time to bring Sound Salvation to a wider audience via the Internet, albeit in a different form.
So, with Chris’ blessing, I’m doing just that. Twice a week, I’ll present a new themed playlist with some accompanying text talking about the theme and a few key bits of business on some of the acts and songs therein. I may delve back into some topics we covered on the old show, now no longer encumbered by a need to keep the show (quite broadly) within the station’s alt-rock format. But mostly, I’ll tackle new topics and new ideas.
I’m starting by addressing the elephant in the room: The ‘Rona. Just putting together a list of songs that deal with illness, in title or in content, would be easy enough, but I wanted to address more about what this particular virus is bringing to the world; not just disease but the “social distancing” of it all — the isolation and loneliness, the inability to hug or shake hands, the constant handwashing, the boredom … all of it.
I think this collection of songs does that without getting ponderous or exacerbating the situation — after all, it still has to be worth a listen and hopefully offer some respite, too. So here is it, the COVID-19 playlist.
Mudhoney — “Touch Me I’m Sick”
I mean, it’s right there. Mudhoney’s greatest song advocates that you do exactly what you SHOULD NOT DO right now. If someone around you is sick, get some gloves, wash your hands and isolate. And rock out to this amazing song.
Nirvana — “Stay Away”
Joy Division — “Isolation”
Depeche Mode — “Shake the Disease”
When everyone was doing those “wash your hands to a song” graphics, I couldn’t believe nobody had hit on this one before me. The title is obvious, but it’s also all about distance and isolation, albeit more on a romantic level. For those old enough to remember the original release in the middle of the AIDS epidemic, 35 years ago, who read those times into the song, this will be all too familiar.
Ramones — “I Just Wanna Have Something to Do”
You’re getting bored, right? So’s everyone. This should be the anthem of the quarantine.
The Smiths — “Hand in Glove”
Could’ve gone with “Still Ill,” but the Smiths’ brilliant debut single works on multiple levels for this theme. Not only is the title something you really must be doing if you’ve got to go out and touch, say, an ATM screen or a checkout device at the pharmacy, the lyrical theme, in Morrissey’s own words, is “complete loneliness.” Yes, it’s a recurring theme for miserable ol’ Steven Patrick, but nobody does it better.
Matthew Sweet — “Sick of Myself”
This one’s really all in the title. But any excuse to play this power pop gem is a good one.
Stubborn All-Stars — “Wash Away Evil”
Do you know there are surprisingly few songs about washing or scrubbing? Maybe that’ll change in the near future. But this soulful number from Stubborn All-Stars’ sadly overlooked 1999 album, “Nex Music,” would be a standout even in a more populous lyrical field.
The Magnetic Fields — ” ’92: Weird Diseases”
MGMT — “Mystery Disease”
Sometimes when I’m putting these together, I’ll throw in a few Google searches on relevant topics and come across things that are new to me, too. While I was certainly familiar with both bands before, I didn’t know these particular tracks, but I quickly came to really love them, especially the Magnetic Fields track from the ambitious 2017 concept album, “50 Song Memoir,” begun on frontman Stephin Merritt’s 50th birthday and encompassing an autobiographical song for each year of his life.
Tame Impala — “Solitude is Bliss”
Phantogram — “Bill Murray”
I’m not sure why Phantogram titled this ode to loneliness for American treasure Bill Murray, but if I had to hazard a guess, it has something to do with Sofia Coppola’s classic 2003 film, “Lost in Translation.”
Buzzcocks — “Why Can’t I Touch It”
This is where Spotify’s feature that shows you what your friends are listening to comes in handy. While I was working on this playlist, this song popped in my feed courtesy of my old friend, Amazing Royal Crowns frontman Jason Kendall. I was happy for the reminder.
Paul Simon — “The Boy in the Bubble”
Laurie Anderson — “Language is a Virus”
I probably hadn’t heard this 1986 avant-garde classic since 1986, when it was something of a fixture on MTV, but the ‘Rona brought it roaring back to mind, and I’m glad it did.
KMFDM — “Virus (12″ Mix Edit)”
Oingo Boingo — “No One Lives Forever”
As I write this, there’s literally a full moon in the sky. I don’t know whether it’s the hour of the wolf, but I don’t want to die, so sorry, Danny Elfman, I won’t be having a party. Still, this cheerful tune reminds us to enjoy life while we can.
The Police — “So Lonely”
Initially, I had the seemingly more obvious “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” in the mix, but that song really only fits in title alone, where this gem off the band’s debut, 1978’s “Outlandos d’Amour,” speaks more to today’s sense of distance.
Cake — “I Will Survive”
We have to end on a bright note, right? Cake’s take on the Gloria Gaynor classic adds a sardonic edge, so it’s not TOO upbeat, but still, we persevere.