Red Hot doesn’t just make music to raise money and give it away. We also make music to raise awareness. No one else has produced and collaborated on so many great songs that address the AIDS epidemic.
Our first project, Red Hot + Blue, took the music of Cole Porter and gave it a contemporary twist that resonated with the AIDS crisis and the stigma about being gay in a predominantly straight culture. Neneh Cherry transformed “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” into an anthem that began with a rap that put the word AIDS into the middle of pop culture. Jean-Baptiste Mondino’s video took it even further, showing the words on the screen along with gyrating men in what looked to everyone like giant condoms. Sexy condom costumes at that. Other songs on the album such as “Ev’ytime We Say Goodbye,” in the voice of Annie Lenox, became poignant in the context of the epidemic. Others such as “So In Love” took on a slyly subversive quality when sung by k.d. lang, who is shown in Percy Adlon’s video washing the clothes of her partner, who has died. And David Byrne’s twist on “Don’t Fence Me In” became an anthem for everyone who was different and wanted to celebrate his or her difference.
Red Hot + Dance was the next project. It was aimed at club kids and focused mostly on remixes but it also had originals by George Michael including the smash hit “Too Funky” and another track expressly about AIDS, “Do You Really Want To Know,” which had this timely refrain about HIV testing: “what you don’t know can really hurt you.”
Paul Heck joined Red Hot in the early 1990s and brought “No Alterative” into the mix. Paul talked some of the most important bands at the time to write songs specifically about AIDS. Urge Overkill’s “Take A Walk” was a particularly poignant example, made even more direct with Matt Mahurin’s video. Billy Corgan wrote a song about a friend and fellow musician who died of AIDS in “Glynnis,” which the Smashing Pumpkins performed live on MTV for the TV show. And Patti Smith read a poem about her friend Robert Mapplethorpe that was made into one of the final films Derek Jarmun ever made.
The next few Red Hot projects tackled AIDS in American communities where homophobia made the stigma particularly difficult to teach prevention education—Hip Hop and Country. “Stolen Moments: Red Hot + Cool” had several outstanding tracks about AIDS including Michael Franti/Spearhead’s “Positive,” French rapper MC Solaar’s “Un Ange En Danger” and The Pharcyde’s “The Rubbers Song.”
Red Hot + Country had many songs that touched upon the issue of AIDS in the context of a benefit album, such as “Teach Your Children” on which Crosby, Stills and Nash were joined bySuzy Bogguss, Alison Krauss and Kathy Mattea and Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young,” which Johnny Cash recorded. But Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “Willie Short” was the only song that dealt directly with the issue—telling a story of a real person who had died of AIDS. The closing track on the album was a cover version of “The TB is Whipping Me” by Wilco, which we chose because it was partially written by and about Jimmy Rogers, the father of country music who died of the most devastating incurable disease of his day. It was the first track Wilco released on record after the break up of Uncle Tupelo.
“America Is Dying Slowly” was a more straight-ahead Rap album than “Stolen Moments.” The title track by Wu Tang Clan remains one of the greatest songs ever written about AIDS. But the album was full of rhymes that directly addressed the issue such as “No Rubbers, No Backstage Pass” by Biz Markie with Chubb Rock and Prince Paul and “Blood” by Goodie Mob (with a young Cee Lo) and Big Rube.
Over time, Red Hot followed the trajectory of the epidemic, making albums that dealt with AIDS in Africa and South America along with songs dealing with those issues in a way that actually make them something you want to put on your playlist and listen to over and over again—rather than get dragged out by some journalist once a year on World’s AIDS Day.
Red Hot Songs about AIDS, part 1 by John Carlin