POST #50: Politics in Music...

Now playing:
Porcupine Tree - Russia On Ice
via FoxyTunes
So, this morning I fired up The Clash. Yeah, you remember The Clash. Unless you were born in the mid 1980's, and somehow missed hearing "Should I Stay, or Should I Go?" and "Rock The Casbah". Anyhow, it gave me an idea for a new post. Politics. In music! Yeah, it's been around since...well...probably since the cavemen first decided to start a war with the clan next door. Their ritualistic banging rocks on the walls probably became a little more animated, with the accompanying grunts becoming more angry. Yes, Bob Dylan was not the first person to do politically charged music, but he perfected it in the 60's. Now, I grew up during the 70's and 80's, so I missed the Bob Dylan bandwagon. I have been a fan of Bob's music, or should I say SONGWRITING, for the past several years, but it hasn't been until the last month that I have actually gotten into Bob, himself. Early Bob. The Bob you can understand. Pissed off Bob. Anyhow, as you probably gathered by the opening lines of this post, The Clash was the most political band I listened to growing up. Well, with the possible exception of Midnight Oil. Wow. The Oils... now THAT is political. Go figure that I am writing this post on Earth Day, 2008. And that is honestly just a coincidence. The first year I remember hearing anything about Earth Day, was probably 1991. I remember the big news story that year. Midnight Oil performing live on the flatbed trailer of a semi truck in downtown Manhattan... right in front of the headquarters for Exxon. It was in protest of their handling of the Exxon Valez oil spill that devastated the coastline of the Northwest. If you haven't seen the DVD video collection of Midnight Oil, it features that notorious concert, as well as their candid music videos. What a great band, not just musically, but from a political standpoint.

Anyhow, after listening to The Clash, it made me want to list some of my favorite politically charged songs. So let's get on it! These will appear in no particular order, and I'm sure I will forget a few, but let's hope I get most of them...

U2: "Sunday, Bloody Sunday" (Rattle and Hum motion picture version); "New Year's Day"; "Running To Stand Still"

Yeah, so I took the liberty to put down three songs. The first two deal with the centuries old strife in Northern Ireland, the latter dealing with the heroin problems of Dublin. Passionate music, no matter how you look at it. If you don't believe me, just watch Rattle & Hum.

MIDNIGHT OIL: "Beds Are Burning"; "Put Down That Weapon".
The first song deals with the plight of the Australian aborigine, the latter... well, if you haven't figured that out, then go sit down and watch some bad reality TV on VH-1. You deserve it.

THE CLASH: "Know Your Rights"
This song taken from COMBAT ROCK is fantastic. Musically, it's fun to listen to, and the irony is enough to make you think about the state of the world. "You have the right to free speech... as long as you don't actually try it." Oops, I just did. My bad!

NEIL YOUNG: "Southern Man"
This song, written about the plight of colored people in America, criticizing slavery, is a classic piece of music. The completely ironic thing about this song, is that Lynyrd Skynyrd wrote their song "Sweet Home Alabama", where they confront Neil Young directly. What are they defending?? Slavery??? Geez, how redneck can one band get??

PETER GABRIEL: "Shock The Monkey", "Red Rain"
The first song takes on animal cruelty in scientific experimentation, the latter deals with environmental concerns. Both great songs from a great artist. For those of you who only know Peter Gabriel by the radio hits, push them aside and delve into his deep album tracks. That is where the gold is.

The machine is another name for "the man". You figure it out. These boys don't take crap from ANYONE! And Tom Morello's guitar kicks butt(ocks).

Probably the most confrontational song that I have heard in a good many years, this song takes on Mr. Bush and his senseless war. For those of you not familiar with Michael Franti, go to his website:, and see what he has to offer. The thing I noticed about his fantastic album "YELL FIRE", is that Michael Franti went from the peace loving songwriter, filled with positive messages and hope, to the peace loving songwriter who is PISSED at a government that only cares about the money being poured into their pockets... $3.39/gallon at a time! Not to mention the poor soldiers who are not being supported by the administration that placed them in harm's way. Powerful, powerful stuff. Also, check out his work with THE DISPOSABLE HEROES OF HIPHOPRISY. They were busy creating waves in the Hip Hop world when Flava Flav was still busting out his left wing rhymes.

BRUCE COCKBURN: "Nicaragua"; "If I Had a Rocket Launcher"; "If a Tree Falls..."
I would be seriously amiss if I didn't list Bruce Cockburn. Probably the most outspoken singer/songwriter to come along since Bob Dylan... even more so, if you ask my humble opinion. These three songs were taken from the 80's, when the world was in turmoil under the leadership of the charismatic Ronald Reagan. "Nicaragua" deals with...Colombia! Just kidding. Figure that out yourself. Both the first and second songs dealt with the state of the world back in the early 80's. "If a Tree Falls..." is another environmentally conscious song. All great songs, so if you haven't heard them, investigate the matter. Not to mention, Bruce is a kick butt(ocks) guitarist.

GIL SCOTT-HERON: "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised"
This song is an underground classic, from one of the forefront artists of the Black Pride/civil rights movement. Great precursor to Hip-Hop and Rap.

Nothing like Johnny Rotten and the boys taking on abortion. Yeah, I was as surprised as you, the first time I heard it. If I recall correctly, Veruca Salt did a cover of this song. It appeared as a B-side on one of their singles. IF I recall correctly.

BOB DYLAN: "Masters of War"; "Blowin' in the Wind"; "A Hard Rain's A Gonna Fall"; "All Along The Watchtower"
Need I expound? Three of these four tunes are classics. Hopefully known by everyone on your street. Including the little old lady two doors down.

So, I think that is a good place to stop. There are too many to list. Know that I appreciate a good protest song. I love music that truly comes from the heart, music that moves me. Feel free to list some of your favorite political artists. I know I have left off many, including those of the Punk genre. I'm not talking the sissy Emo punk of the 21st Century. I'm talking those bands that took animosity in music to whole new level. Crass, Angst, Dead Kennedy's, etc. How about the new generation of political Punk? Anti-Flag, anyone? "F*** Police Brutality"? Yeah, that isn't the candy coated Punk Pop that your 13 year old listens to. Unless he/she is really pissed off, that is...


Mike White said…
Hey Zeke, in the spirit of this list, and your previous list of top five songs, here's my top eight songs ever from my youth....

8) Mandinka - Sinead

7) Great Southern Land - Icehouse

6) Joy - The Lightning Seeds

5) Bad (Live) - U2

4) Souvenir (Moby Remix) - OMD

3) In the Valley - Midnight Oil

2) Arizona Sky - China Crisis

1) Slave to Love - Bryan Ferry

I think it's still a pretty solid list, even today.