Saturday, 18 September 2010

Suffragette Ditties - Politics and Pop

Music and politics make for specious bedfellows. Three minute potted versions of ideologies or praxes tend to sell them a bit short. Or maybe by punching your fist in the air to the anthemic chorus, the walls of Jericho/Babylon/Disneyland will inevitably crumble and fall. But generations of youth WILL persist in believing they can dance their way into wreaking radical change. Mind you, with the boot on the other foot, when politicians try and hitch to the music bandwagon, they just end up looking risible. Anyone remember Red Wedge?

Yes there are the occasional successful yokings, Jerry Dammers' "Free Nelson Mandela" twinned with a Wembley concert being one. But Rock Against racism for example, ended up by being a battle to win hearts and minds of sections of its own audience attracted to skinhead bands such as Madness and Sham 69, while being diametrically opposed to the politics being espoused from the stage. And what prompted the rise of the movement in the first place? Outrage at Eric Clapton expressing support for the views of Enoch Powell.

Anyway, for your delectation and possible amusement, here is a list of 11 political songs. Don't get me wrong, I love all 11, but let's just say some of their sentiments fall a tad short of reality.

1) "Motor City Is Burning" - MC5

Ah the 1960's, the Vietnam War, Civil Rights and students up in arms. Detroit residents MC5 take John Lee Hooker's song and give it some pep to mark the denizens of their home town taking it upon themselves to indulge in some urban clearance. Only everybody forgot the renewal part of the process.

2) "Up Against The Wall" - Tom Robinson Band

THE late 1970's political band with songs such as "Glad To Be Gay" and "Ride On Sister". This ditty named a lot of the issues that saw the Labour government booted out in 1979, and anticipated generational confrontation. But the "Panic in County Hall" line didn't really come to fruition. Instead, under the free market, County Hall is now an aquarium.

3) "Handsworth Revolution" - Steel Pulse

Released prior to the 1980's riots, "If it takes ammunition/ Then we revel in Handsworth Revolution" came true. Except the revolution bit that is. It is still rather a beautiful song, giving a hint to the gospel influence behind it, but "Babylon is falling/ It was foolish to build it on the sand" could have been said of UK reggae music itself, having been eclipsed by rap, hip-hop, grime and dub step.

4) "English White Boy Engineer" - Three Johns

Three lads from Leeds all called John and not a drummer between them. This was an anti-apartheid song that actually reveals great intelligence, but the Three Johns were never a band with the mass appeal for the song to help bring down some regime in a far away land.

5) "We've Got A Bigger Problem Now" - Dead Kennedys

San Francisco punks rewrote their own earlier song about Californian Governor Jerry Brown and updated it for another son of the Golden State made good, Ronald Reagan. In the era of Silicon Valley and Friedman's Monetarism, American punks and fans alike got in their gas guzzling cars and played gigs in towns which would have them. The nation didn't fall. "California Uber Alles" is a nice touch though.

6) "1824 Overture" - Conflict

Don't be misled by the seeming erudition of the title, (the year the Vagrancy Act was introduced), for this song rhymes "SUS" with "bus".

7) "Armagh" - Au Pairs

The Troubles in Northern Ireland was the backdrop to many a song. Some of the actual natives like Stiff Little Fingers directly confronted the issues, others like The Undertones opted to ignore them and concentrate on songs about chocolate and girls. Birmingham band Au Pairs were all about sexual politics, showing that men and women together could make, like music man. This song was about a women's prison in Armagh, which by curious numerological coincidence contained 32 female prisoners, accused of fighting for the unification of the 32 counties.

8) "Illegal Attacks" - Ian Brown

Recipient of the New Musical Express' 2006 "Godlike Genius Award" wears his heart on his sleeve about the recent wars the UK has been dragged into. His planetary sized brain offers that they are in all likelihood "Commercial crusades", but neglects to offer the legal proofs suggested by the song's title. "How many mothers to cry?/How many sons have to die?" is a really rather tired lyric these days. Not quite so god-like after all. But the video is rather good.

9) "Cry No More" - Poison Girls

Poison Girls were a hardcore (politically not musically) anarchist band associated with the likes of communards Crass. But this song rather beautifully enunciates compassion fatigue before we had a name for it, even if that isn't its original intention.

10) "Police And Helicopter" - John Holt

I'm not going to get flippant about this one at all, since it's possibly the most searingly militant song I've ever heard. It's a single issue song about the battle over Jamaica's marijuana production. Holt's slice of roots reggae starts with the class deference of "Yes boss, yes, boss, yes boss" but ratchets up the stakes with the ferocious eye for an eye declaration "But if you continue to burn up de herbs, we gonna burn down the cane fields". And cannabis is supposed to be a becalming drug?

Special bonus track (this one goes up to 11)

11) Public Enemey - "Fight The Power"

Cos I like it!

1 comment:

ganymeder said...

Cool post, but I'm wondering what it says that I've never heard any of these songs. Perhaps either that they weren't that effective or simply I'm not that musical. I strongly suspect the latter.

Thanks for sharing!