Coronavirus Column: Six albums to re-visit during quarantine

While the world is still on pause, press play on some of these classic albums.


Art by Michelle Rodriguez.

Corey Rose, Contributing Writer

Summer 2020 is gone, and all of our favorite music festivals, from Essence Fest to Coachella, have either been canceled or placed into the virtual realm. If you’re running out of new music and looking for some old jams to quarantine to, take a look at some of these classics you may have missed while scrolling through Spotify or Apple Music as we enter our sixth month of quarantine.

1. Michael Jackson’s “Off the Wall” (1979)

Expertly produced by Grammy Legend Award-winner Quincy Jones, the late King of Pop’s fifth studio album is a warm hug from the disco era. Tunes like “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” and “Rock With You” fasten the listener in for a funky ride through the cosmos, while the lush instrumentation of somber tracks “She’s Out of My Life” and “I Can’t Help It” are so detailed that you might find yourself falling into a 70s dream sequence of your own. “Off the Wall” is a perfect vehicle for escaping the hum-drum of quarantine and delving into your own imagination.

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2. Brittany Howard’s “Jaime” (2019)

In a haunting step away from her blues group Alabama Shakes, Howard’s debut solo album “Jaimeexplores her upbringing, relationships, spirituality, and so much more. With a voice that meets you somewhere between Billie Holiday and Jimi Hendrix, Howard takes you to a dark place with “Short and Sweet,” and shows you with “Baby” that it’s not so bad on the other side. Play this album all the way through if you feel like pondering the meaning of life and re-examining your relationships, and then call up your therapist to schedule your next appointment.

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3. Prince’s “Parade(1986)

If some of the tracks on Prince’s eighth studio album sound weird or strangely dramatic, it’s because “Parade” is also the soundtrack to the 1986 film Under the Cherry Moon, directed by and starring Prince himself. In 80s terms, the album is big fun, one of Prince’s best. “New Position” and “Girls + Boys” sit tightly at the intersection of crazy, sexy, and cool. The piano and bass guitar on “Venus De Milo” say what words can’t, and punchy pop songs “Kiss” and “Anotherloverholenyohead” will have you dancing through your house like it’s 1999. Shuffle through “Parade” as you primp and prepare for a FaceTime date with your socially-distant significant other.

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4. Toni Braxton’s “Toni Braxton” (1993)

Relationships have become increasingly difficult to navigate in the age of COVID-19. If you decide it’s better to stay six feet apart forever, Toni Braxton will be there to help you pick up the pieces with her self-titled debut album. From the dreamy “Breathe Again” to bittersweet “Another Sad Love Song,” Braxton and her sultry tones weave a tale of love, loss, and healing. Produced by Babyface, even drier tracks like “Love Affair” are dripping with the same cool-toned drama that influenced later 90s songstresses like Brandy and Monica. The layering and harmonies on “Seven Whole Days” and “Candlelight” are perfect for days when you don’t miss them – and the nights when you do.

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5. Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” (1971)

You won’t find any belted high-E’s or sustained riffs on Gaye’s eleventh studio album, but you will find a vivid search for understanding amidst a rapidly changing world. The narrative structure of the album delves into the mind of an American soldier who has returned from Vietnam, only to be shocked and confused by the acts of violent racism, ecological destruction, and political corruption that were landmarks of the early 70s, and especially poignant today. 

Gaye begs for conversation and mutual understanding with “What’s Going On” and expresses the need to “Save the Children,” before it’s too late. When he sings about the search for true love with “Right On,” the concept almost seems foreign, and his quest for a genuine connection on “What’s Happening Brother” seems all too current. The album turns 50 years old next year but speaks to today’s issues with more clarity than any of today’s artists. What’s Going On is the answer to its own question and prime listening for anyone looking to make sense of the world around them.

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6. Beyoncé’s “B’Day” (2006)

“B’Day” takes us back in time before the three beautiful children, the billionaire husband, and the faux-royal title ‘Queen Bey” to a 25-year-old woman’s attempt to make a bigger name for herself than the lead singer of one of the best-selling girl groups of all time. Beyoncé’s second studio album is a genre-breaking classic, blurring the lines between pop and R&B with feel-good throwbacks and independence-asserting bops that have stood the test of time. 

“Resentment” and “Irreplaceable” will give you the confidence to have the tough conversations with loved ones you’re now forced to spend every day with, while “Deja Vu (feat. Jay-Z)” is perfect for cheering you up after. Comparing the bridges for songs like “Check On It (feat. Bun B and Slim Thug)” and “Upgrade U (feat. Jay-Z)” with those on her more recent projects like “Lemonade” and “The Gift”, the growth is undeniable. “B‘Day” is a mood-boosting soundtrack for all occasions, from quarantine cleaning to livening up your Zoom brunches.

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These albums are a safe bet for any post-COVID-19 activities, from masked morning jogs to late-night self-care rituals. Next time you’re in the doldrums of quarantine boredom, pop one of these records in for a socially-distant good time.

Corey Rose is a contributing writer for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or tweet him @CoreyARose.