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.
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.
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!