The 20 Most Uplifting Rock ‘n’ Roll Stories of 2020
In a year filled with bad news, we looked to our favorite music for inspiration.
Our list of the 20 most uplifting rock 'n' roll stories of 2020 includes many tales of artists overcoming adversity and helping others do the same. They played benefits, wrote songs and delivered messages of hope for all of us, while legends like Brian May and Ozzy Osbourne dealt with new health challenges with positive attitudes. And as the coronavirus pandemic hit, stories of music's uniting power helped us believe that we can get through it.
Read all about them below.
Brian Johnson Says AC/DC Fans Saved the Band
In a video message posted shortly after the release of Power Up, AC/DC singer Brian Johnson spoke about how they bounced back four years after many people thought they "were all but over." He added, "They forgot about the AC/DC fighting spirit." Johnson, who didn't know if an experimental procedure to fix his hearing would work until the band's first rehearsal, gave full credit to their fans. “You stuck with us through thick and thin, and we’ll never forget it," he said. "We never will. And when this is all over, guys – when this crap is over – we want to see you in your hometown. We’ll try everything we can to get there, play for you live and play these great tunes.”
Recovered COVID-19 Patients Hear 'Don't Stop Believin'' Upon Discharge
In April, patients discharged from New York Presbyterian Queens Hospital after receiving treatment for COVID-19 heard Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" as they exited the building. A segment about it was broadcast on ABC's Good Morning America. It caught the attention of their former frontman, Steve Perry, who retweeted it because he "wanted to share a little cheer. ... We’re all in this together, and we’ll get through this together."
Queen Re-Enact Live Aid Set for Australian Firefighters Benefit
In February, Queen + Adam Lambert played the same 22-minute set that Queen performed 35 years prior at Live Aid. The six-song performance — comprised of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Radio Ga Ga,” “Hammer to Fall,” “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions” — was part of Fire Fight Australia, a multi-artist concert designed to raise money for those affected by the country's bushfires.
Jon Bon Jovi Pulls a Shift at His Food Kitchen
In the early stages of the pandemic, Jon Bon Jovi spent some time at the Red Bank, N.J., location of his JBJ Soul Kitchen Community Restaurant. A photograph of him washing dishes was uploaded to the restaurant's Instagram account with the caption, "If you can't do what you do... do what you can." The phrase inspired a new song from Bon Jovi. He asked fans to contribute a verse about how they were getting by, and a full-band version was included on 2020, whose planned May release was delayed until October due to the pandemic. Bon Jovi were also one of the first bands to outright cancel their tour, rather than postpone it, because they felt the money that fans already spent on tickets would be better served in their own hands at a time when they might need financial help.
Video of Eddie Van Halen Visiting Jason Becker Surfaces
Two months after Eddie Van Halen's death, a video of him visiting former David Lee Roth guitarist Jason Becker in 1996 was uploaded to Becker's YouTube page. Van Halen was there to make a video promoting awareness of ALS, with which Becker had been diagnosed six years earlier, and the footage shows Van Halen giving Becker a guitar and talking about creativity. Becker said that he released the video, even though at the time he was "very weak" and "couldn’t breathe, talk or eat," because he "wanted to show the incredible love I have received from Eddie Van Halen." He added, "Not only was he a master of the guitar, his heart and soul are here for all to see."
Rick Allen Recalls How Fans Encouraged Him After Car Crash
After a 1984 car crash that caused his left arm to be amputated, Def Leppard drummer Rick Allen thought about quitting. But he said in September that, during his recovery, letters of support from fans all over the world started pouring in. "I don't know what happened, but I discovered the power of the human spirit and just said, 'You know what? I can do this,'" he said. "It was really a collective thing. It was all this encouragement I was getting from other people, and then it just manifested in wanting to succeed. And that's exactly where it came from."
Lindsey Buckingham Offers Hope for 2021
During a December livestream, Lindsey Buckingham spoke about the challenges he, and everybody, have faced recently. In addition to the pandemic, he spoke about his ousting from Fleetwood Mac and his open heart surgery, feeling that the worst is behind us. "All I can say is that I truly believe that what's coming in the next few years is going to make total sense out of what has been," he said, "and it's going to be very healing for all of us.”
Ozzy Osbourne's Daughter Reveals His Health Program
Aimee Osbourne, the oldest child of Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne, described how her father is exercising his way back into shape after a series of health issues forced him off the road in 2018. “He's doing really well,” she said. “He got an incredible physiotherapist, and he has really just come leaps and bounds. He swims an hour a day and does his physio an hour a day, and he's a very regimented, disciplined person. So that's very inspiring.”
Keith Richards Quits Smoking
In February, Keith Richards revealed that he hadn't had a cigarette since October 2019. His decision to quit after decades as a smoker — he's said that it's harder to quit than heroin — was precipitated by his desire to keep the Rolling Stones on tour for as long as possible. "I think both Mick [Jagger] and I felt that on the last tour we were just getting going," Richards said. "[We]'ve got to continue this."
Read More: Keith Richards Has Finally Stopped Smoking
U.S. Army Band Pays Tribute to Neil Peart
A month after Neil Peart's death, members of the United States Army Band honored the Rush drummer and lyricist with a version of 1987s "Time Stands Still" for a small string ensemble and piano. SFC Tim Whalen, who arranged the new version, said he chose the song because its lyrics "have always resonated deeply with me, and they show Neil’s heart." He added, "I wanted to showcase the deep humanity he had in his writing. The song is about life moving too fast, due to both things we can control and things we can’t, and the desire to hold onto something just a little longer. This is such a universal message, whether it be children growing up too fast, a loved one dying, or a soldier leaving home wondering if they’ll ever see their family again."
Metallica Screen Concert at Drive-Ins
The closest we were able to get to a full-fledged rock concert this summer was a 16-song Metallica set performed at a Northern California vineyard and shown at drive-in theaters across North America. "Music helps us through all things... including this [pandemic]," James Hetfield said during the performance, "Alright, this next one has nothing to do with what I just said, but let's play!"
Brian May Recovers From Health Scares
Over the spring, Brian May had several health issues. The first was a torn gluteus maximus that he injured during a bout of what he called "over-enthusiastic gardening.” That was followed by the revelation that he had a compressed sciatic nerve, which may have been due to years of having a guitar around his neck, and a minor heart attack. As if all that wasn't bad enough, an adverse reaction to his heart medication resulted in a stomach hemorrhage. By September he said that his heart is now "working better than it was," adding, "I'm incredibly grateful that I now have a life to lead again."
Dave Mustaine Reaches Out to Bruce Dickinson
After being diagnosed with throat cancer, Megadeth leader Dave Mustaine called up Iron Maiden singer Bruce Dickinson, who had his own bout with it a few years back, for advice. Dickinson told Mustaine to "surround yourself with good, upbeat, positive people, places and things and try not to cause any unnecessary stress on yourself.” Mustaine added that he was able to overcome the disease because he "listened to the doctors, prayed a lot, took care of myself and had a great support group."
Musicians Unite to Save Our Stages
With musicians unable to tour for the bulk of 2020, the newly created National Independent Venue Association estimated that 90 percent of U.S. clubs and theaters would go out of business in six months without federal assistance. They sent a letter to Congress co-signed by hundreds of artists, including Robert Plant, Neil Young, Alice Cooper and Dave Grohl, asking them to intervene. Kenny Loggins helped raise money for the organization by performing a solo concert at the 147-year-old Lobero Theater in Santa Barbara, Calif. The $15 billion Save Our Stages act was incorporated into the $900 billion stimulus bill passed by Congress in December 2020.
Joe Walsh Goes on the Air to Support Public Radio
Knowing that listener funding for public radio would decrease during the pandemic, Joe Walsh reached out to his favorite local station, Los Angeles' KCSN, and offered to host a weekly two-hour program. The guitarist said that his Joe Walsh Old-Fashioned Rock ’n’ Roll Radio Show would be "a mixture of music I love, music I think people will want to hear and stories behind some of these songs that I’m pretty sure no one knows about."
Read More: Joe Walsh Becomes Public Radio DJ
Neil Finn Gets Fleetwood Mac Bandmates to Help on Benefit Song
After finding out that a childhood friend had recently lived in a homeless shelter, Neil Finn began writing a song called called "Find Your Way Back Home." He enlisted his Fleetwood Mac bandmate Christine McVie to help him finish it and another, Stevie Nicks, to guest on vocals. Proceeds from the track went to the Auckland City Mission, a shelter in the largest city of his native New Zealand.
Neil Peart Narrates Video About the Power of Music
Five months after his death, an eight-minute video Neil Peart wrote and narrated called "Growth Rings" surfaced. The piece was about how "music marks moments in our lives," with the Rush drummer comparing how you can examine music to understand an era in the same way scientists study tree rings. “Like those growth rings," he said, "popular music also reflects the weather of its times – evokes and embodies the moods and movements that gave it context."
Read More: Hear Neil Peart Narrate Inspirational Video
Baseball Player Air Drums to Rush's 'The Spirit of Radio'
During spring training prior to the 2020 Major League Baseball season, Toronto Blue Jays catcher Caleb Joseph fashioned a makeshift drum kit out of buckets and small orange cones and air-drummed along to Rush's "The Spirit of Radio." Joseph, who also plays real drums, wrote, "Rush is my favorite band and Neil my favorite drummer. The reason I even picked up drum sticks was because of Neil.'
Queen Fan Plays 'We Will Rock You' on Guitar From Roman Balcony
With people being unable to congregate, the videos of Italians making music from rooftops and balconies became one of the most uplifting moments of the year. Our favorite was of a man named Marco Di Marco, who has a YouTube channel devoted to Brian May, playing the solo from Queen's "We Will Rock You" from the balcony of his Roman condominium. In Chicago, Bon Jovi fans were encouraged to sing "Livin' on a Prayer" as the city's stay-at-home order — a plan endorsed by Jon Bon Jovi himself — went into effect.
Music Students Cover 'Pet Sounds'
The world got a glimpse at the potential next generation of rock musicians back in May when students at the Los Rios Rock School in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., recreated the Beach Boys' landmark 1966 album Pet Sounds. The six instrumentalists and 13 singers spent three months rehearsing, then a day in the studio recording the work. “It took time but I loved every step of the way because it made me into a better singer,” said 18-year-old Anna Moellenhoff.