Today marks the 32nd anniversary of the first report of the virus that would become known as HIV. In 1998, singer-songwriter Dan Bern released a song called “Cure for AIDS”; there have been countless jokey songs about the disease, including Ween’s “The HIV Song” and “Everyone Has AIDS” from Team America: World Police, but Bern’s seemingly lighthearted track was profound in its idyllic vision of a world free of the disease. Fifteen years later, an end to the epidemic feels like a very real possibility. Nearly 30 million people have reportedly died from AIDS, but each week seems to bring news of another breakthrough in the decades-long quest for a vaccine or cure. We thought this would be a good time to look back at some of the music inspired by the crisis that (eventually) galvanized a generation into action.
Lou Reed, "Halloween Parade" (1989)
With “Halloween Parade,” rock icon Lou Reed recounted the effects of the AIDS crisis during the 1980s on New York’s annual display of pageantry and disguise in his signature sing-talk style.
Pet Shop Boys, "Dreaming of the Queen" (1993)
The Pet Shop Boys might be the pop-music act with the most (and earliest) nods to the ravages of AIDS in their songs. “Dreaming of the Queen,” which Neil Tennant called “an anxiety dream” about the disease, stands out for its lush orchestral backing and sad hook sung in the guise of Princess Diana: “There were no more lovers left alive/And that’s why love had died.”
Cyndi Lauper, "Boy Blue" (1986)
Cyndi Lauper’s deceptively bouncy “Boy Blue” was based on a children’s story and written for a friend who died early in the epidemic. The single wasn’t a huge hit, but it foreshadowed the prominent role the singer would take in the gay-rights movement later in her career.
Elton John, "The Last Song" (1992)
Probably one of the most famous songs about the AIDS crisis, Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s tearjerker is poignantly told from the perspective of a dying man, “as light as straw and brittle as a bird,” reuniting with his estranged father.
George Michael, "Jesus to a Child" (1995)
Written in the wake of his partner Anselmo Feleppa’s AIDs-related death, the first song from Michael’s 1996 album Older is a tender ballad composed in the bossa-nova style of Feleppa’s native Brazil and features stinging couplets like “The words you could not say, I’ll sing them for you/And the love we would have made, I’ll make it for two.”