We’ll dance in the garden in torn sheets in the rain: Songs about AIDS

The era of the red bow created lasting art borne of misery. Coinciding with the end of the Reagan-Bush era, the AIDS epidemic cracked its knuckles to do real damage at the dawn of the 1990s. Willie Colon’s harrowing “El gran varón,” about a transgender woman left to die of AIDS. “It Couldn’t Happen Here,” released in late ’87, was the first of Pet Shop Boys’ elegies to a generation that wore high heels, drunk too much, and woke up everyone. Other songs nodding as subtly as two men separated by bottles and fear in a bar appeared, disguised as nostalgia pieces: Athens bands R.E.M. and The B-52’s remembrances of hedonism past, for example. MC Lyte and Salt-n-Pepa were lively about it. Reba McEntire flipped the gender at the end of a misbegotten era when we invented a heterosexual AIDS epidemic to get funding, which is not to smother the HIV-infected woman in “She Thinks His Name Was John” under a fire blanket.

The dance artists like Latour seem the most eloquent: I can’t believe in the pre-Soundscan era that this house thumper scraped the lower regions of the top 40 with an ironic slogan worthy of Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Dj Sprinkles’ “Hush Now” has for a decade hit me as an AIDS song. I’ll even take Madonna’s clumsy as hell “In This Life,” proof that she writes her melodies and lyrics because no pro would’ve come up with lines this clunky.

1. The B-52s – Deadbeat Club
2. Latour – People Are Still Having Sex
3. Meshell Ndegeocello – Leviticus: Faggot
4. Pet Shop Boys – It Couldn’t Happen Here
5. Lou Reed – Halloween Parade
6. George Michael – Jesus to a Child
7. Salt-n-Pepa – Let’s Talk About Sex
8. MC Lyte – Eyes Are the Soul
9. Reba McEntire – She Thinks His Name Was John
10. Madonna – In This Life
11. Suzanne Vega – Blood Makes Noise
12. Jimmy Somerville – Read My Lips (Enough Is Enough)
13. Bruce Springsteen – Streets of Philadelphia
14. Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth – Skinz ft. Grand Puba
15. Boogie Down Productions – Jimmy
16. R.E.M. – Nightswimming
17. Willie Colon – El gran varón
18. Gwen Guthrie – Can’t Love You Tonight
19. DJ Sprinkles – Hush Now
20. Erasure – Always

One thought on “We’ll dance in the garden in torn sheets in the rain: Songs about AIDS

  1. Great list – I remember listening to many of these tracks at the turn of the 90s. Despite its shortcomings, I always think of Coil’s cover of Tainted Love as an AIDS song when it was reissued in the early 90s.

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