Politics has been on my mind constantly. If you follow me over on Twitter, you know that I’m angry about a lot of things going on in the world. That’s my little soapbox. Music is one of the few things keeping me sane. The meme below sums it up.
I’d never run for political office. I don’t think the world is ready for me as a politician. I’m too blunt and too fiery. You mean I’d have to move back to America in order to run for office? Yeah, no. Hard pass. I left for a reason and it’s foolish of me to go back. My American friends and family are telling me to not come back.
I had hopes of moving back to the states, well at least before the primaries because I thought Bernie would be the nominee. Well, I was wrong and I have too much confidence in voters. So much for moving to the west coast. Wish I could renounce my citizenship when I first get the chance, if only the government didn’t charge you $2,450 for the privilege. Just why?
Edit 13/4: Bernie has since dropped out. Liberalism has beat social democracy. I’m sad. It shocks me that people support Bernie’s policies, but can’t stand him because something something Jewish New York accent sounds like yelling, but it’s not yelling.
That’s enough rambling. This isn’t a recipes/cooking blog. This is a classic rock blog and it’s time to talk about 20 more political songs. If you want me to keep going and writing about more political songs, as my playlist of political classic rock songs keeps growing, let me know! There’s a lot I missed and I want to keep writing about things you’re interested in.
Without further ado, 20 more political songs and their stories!
21. The Revolution Will Not Be Televised – Gil Scott-Heron (1971)
History, Race relations
“The revolution will not be televised, will not be televised, will not be televised, will not be televised, The revolution will be no re-run, brothers. The revolution will be live”
Gil Scott-Heron was a spoken word performer and rap pioneer. His songs were often political and inspired hip hop artists. He was born in Chicago to an American mother and a Jamaican father, and raised by his grandmother in Tennessee. His dad was the first black man to play for Celtic Football Club in Glasgow.
He went to secondary school in New York City, starting in a public school, but transferred to a private school after earning a scholarship for his impressive writing skills. His biggest influence in writing was Langston Hughes. He was one of only 5 black students at the school and felt alienated and noticed a socioeconomic gap between him and his classmates.
In his 20s, he wrote two novels and got into the Black Arts Movement, particularly a group called The Last Poets, who were a huge inspiration to him. While he didn’t get his undergrad, he did graduate with an MA in creative writing and taught literature and creative writing courses.
In 1971, he release his most famous song/poem “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” from the album, Pieces of a Man. The title comes from a popular 60s Black Panther slogan. Throughout the poem, you’ll hear references to pop culture and current events of that time. This song is a real history lesson about the late 60s.
Why this lyric is relevant today: Over time, people are trusting journalists less and less. It’s clear that mainstream media have biases and agendas and won’t televise revolutionary political movements because it’s a threat to the status quo and their advertisers. You need to look beyond the TV set and newspaper to find the revolutionary spirit and movements.
I noticed the coverage blackout of Tulsi Gabbard and Andrew Yang’s campaigns, which had many passionate supporters. Tulsi who? The media said. Andrew Yang’s $1,000/month, a pipe dream, the media said. They tweaked the debate rules to favour candidates with no real support like John Delaney, Tom Steyer, and Mike Bloomberg. The latter bought his way onto the debate stage and embarrassed himself.
And when a political movement is too big to ignore, in the case of Bernie Sanders, the figures in it get smeared and everything they say is taken out of context. The media shoved the unpopular Hillary Clinton and the mentally declining Joe Biden down our throats.
One thing I notice is that people really do want Medicare For All and tuition free university, but there’s a rot at the core of Washington. Corrupt politicians everywhere sucking corporate dick. Pardon my French, but it had to be said.
22. (Don’t Worry) If There’s a Hell Below We’re All Going to Go – Curtis Mayfield (1970)
History, Black pride, Race relations
“Everybody smoke, use the pill and the dope.
Educated fools from uneducated schools
Pimping people is the rule
Polluted water in the pool
And Nixon talking ’bout, ‘Don’t worry’
He say, ‘Don’t worry'”
Curtis Mayfield was one of the first popular musicians to incorporate more socially conscious themes of civil rights and black pride in soul music. Even earlier in his career you can find political songs like “Keep on Pushing” and “People Get Ready”.
“(Don’t Worry) If There’s a Hell Below We’re All Going to Go” is the opening track on his solo debut album, Curtis, which has other political songs like “The Other Side of Town”, “We The People Who Are Darker than Blue”, “Miss Black America”, and “Wild and Free”.
The message of the song is basically that race relations are so bad in America, people are so divided and treat others horribly that everyone’s basically doomed to go to hell.
Why this lyric is relevant today: Like in the late 60s, people are still smoking weed (likely to cope with all the crazy things going on in the world). The people running the show and who have the most power are from the upper class and go to fancy schools and are in this sheltered bubble where they can’t comprehend what it’s like for poor people. They’re in this ivory tower and out of touch with the common people. Climate change is getting worse and worse and the changes are basically irreversible. Childhoods are being stolen and climate refugees will be coming soon. Meanwhile, politicians liberally sprinkle platitudes all over their speeches.
23. Out in the Fields – Gary Moore & Phil Lynott (1985)
“It doesn’t matter if you’re wrong or if you’re right
It makes no difference if you’re black or if you’re white
All men are equal till the victory is won
No colour or religion ever stopped a bullet from a gun
“Out in the fields, the fighting has begun
Out on the streets, they’re falling one by one
Out from the skies, a thousand more will die each day
Death is just a heartbeat away
“It doesn’t matter if you’re left or to the right
Don’t try to hide behind the cause for which you fight
There’ll be no prisoners taken when the day is done
No flag no uniform ever stopped a bullet from a gun”
A cross-border collaboration between Belfast born Gary Moore and Dublin raised Phil Lynott. Gary Moore left Belfast for Dublin at the age of 16 just as The Troubles were beginning. His biggest inspiration was Peter Green of Fleetwood Mac and he liked The Shadows, Elvis, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, John Mayall, and Cream. His specialty was blues rock, but he went into hard rock and a bit into metal later on in his career.
The first serious band he joined was Skid Row (not to be confused with the American glam metal band from the 80s) and that’s how he met Phil Lynott. For a few years off and on, Gary Moore was a member of Thin Lizzy, but for the most part he was in other bands including his own band and Colosseum II.
As for the song, “Out in the Fields”, he wrote the song and Phil Lynott played on it – one of his last recordings before his death. This was their best selling solo work, reaching the top 5 in the UK and Ireland.
Why this lyric is relevant today: While this song is about The Troubles in Northern Ireland, this song is about equality and peace. No one truly wins in a war. Rather, each side loses people. A bullet won’t be stopped just because of your identity: nationality, ethnicity, religion, etc. In war, everyone is equal.
24. Clampdown – The Clash (1979)
Workers’ rights, Anti-establishment, Anti-capitalism
“But you grow up and you calm down and working for the clampdown. You start wearing blue and brown, you’re working for the clampdown. So you got someone to boss around, it make you feel big now. You drift until you brutalise make your first kill now”
The Clash are one of the best known punk bands and arguably one of the most successful. What I love about them is that their discography is diverse in influences. Not just rock and roll, but also borrowing from reggae, disco, ska, and hip hop. Another thing I love about them is that they’re not afraid to get political and make it sound good. It amuses me when conservatives and neoliberals love The Clash, but I guess they didn’t pay attention to their lyrics.
It was hard to pick just one of their songs for this list, but I decided on “Clampdown”.
Why this lyric is relevant today: On political compass tests, there’s usually a question about if you think accepting authority and being at peace with the establishment is a key part of growing up and maturity. Often, older family members tell me that I’m just an idealistic young person and eventually I’ll grow out of my progressive politics, become more moderate, and make peace with the establishment. I don’t want to be working for the clampdown though. I have self respect and it’s not me to conform.
We saw it this year in the US presidential primaries, working class people vote against their own interests voting for Biden over Bernie, despite wide support among the same voters for universal healthcare and tuition free university – which Joe Biden is against.
There’s this propaganda of the American Dream. Everyone can make it. America is the land of equal opportunity. I wish those things were the case. Growing up in middle class America, I thought this was the case. I was living in a bubble. It wasn’t until I was in university and spoke to my working class peers that I saw that it wasn’t the case at all.
Many working class people bootlick for the rich and see themselves as temporarily embarrassed millionaires. People don’t know the truth of these very rich people. Many of them inherited their wealth – like with Donald Trump and his “small loan of a million dollars”. If life was a theme park, having money is a fast pass that gets you to jump the queue and get whatever you want right now. Rich people have a special unlimited fast pass.
Politicians divide people by creating an us and them, pointing at groups of people and saying people should look down upon them and they scapegoat them. These groups include homeless people, unemployed people, single mothers, immigrants, and ethnic minorities. Many working class Americans won’t admit to being proletarians, they like to think they are better off than they are. Maybe it’s a coping mechanism. The just-world hypothesis. The rich got their money because they worked hard and they’re smart. The poor are poor because they’re dumb and irresponsible. Things happen for a reason, you reap what you sow.
The truth is the rich people at the top are screwing all of us over. Ultimately, we are divided by class. We’re living in an age where the rich have a larger share of the wealth than ever before in modern history.
25. Pigs – Pink Floyd
Economic inequality, Anti-capitalism
“Big man, pig man. Haha, charade you are. You well-heeled big wheel. Haha, charade you are. And when your hand is on your heart, you’re nearly a good laugh, almost a joker. With your head down in the pig bin sayin’, ‘Keep on digging’. Pig stain on your fat chin. What do you hope to find down in the pig mine?”
Pink Floyd are a band well known for concept albums. Animals, released in 1977, is a political album inspired by George Orwell’s Animal Farm. The album has three parts: “Dogs”, “Pigs”, and “Sheep” – each standing for parts of society.
Dogs represent the ruthless, aggressive business world. They are a wolf in sheep’s clothing, looking innocent with superficial charm, but are in actuality preying on the most vulnerable people in society.
The Sheep are self-explanatory. They’re the bootlickers and followers of the rich. They don’t question the status quo.
Why this lyric is relevant today: The Pig is the most iconic symbol and Pink Floyd would often have a giant pig balloon in their concerts. Roger Waters also used pig balloons in his live shows, like The Wall. Pigs symbolise the people at the top, those with the most wealth and power. They manipulate those below them in the hierarchy, pitting them against each other so the pigs can stay in power. It was true 40 years ago and it’s true now, in a time when the gap between the rich and poor keeps growing and the rich find more ways to extract what little wealth the working class have.
In Roger Waters’ 2017 Us + Them Tour, during “Pigs”, there are anti-Trump visuals that show up on the screen with the words “Fuck Trump” (earlier in the tour) and “Trump is a Pig” (later in the tour). Of course, conservative boomer fans did not take kindly to this and they walked out and booed. Did they miss something when listening to Pink Floyd? Were they on too many drugs in the 70s? Distracted by David Gilmour’s guitar solos?
26. The Eton Rifles – The Jam (1979)
Worker’s rights, Classism
“What chance have you got against a tie and a crest?”
The Jam are another political punk band, like The Clash, but mod and sadly not as appreciated Stateside. “The Eton Rifles” references an elitist public* boarding school in Eton, Berkshire. Only accessible to the rich and no girls allowed.
The song is based on real life events that happened in the late 70s.
*Note for American (or non-British) readers: In England, it’s not just driving that’s backwards. Public school in a British context means what Americans and Canadians call private school. Publicly funded schools are called state schools. But they’re not just ordinary private schools, these are the schools that the richest of the rich send their kids. Tuition at these schools is tens of thousands of pounds a year. More expensive than going to university. The reason it’s called “public school” is because they’re open to any public citizen who can pay the fees, that is. Yeah, not a lot of people.
Why this lyric is relevant today: The rich have their club and you’re not in it and you’ll never be in it. Social mobility? Sure, you can maybe move from working class to upper middle class living comfortably, but you won’t be part of the aristocracy. A lot of wealth is generational and inherited and because the rich screw over the poor, they don’t have a chance.
Kate Middleton is a commoner? Well compared to the Royal Family, she’s not from as rich a family, but let’s not pretend she grew up on a council estate. Her family are well off.
It is true, what chance do those of us who have to work for a living have against those boarding school attending trust fund babies? They have access to way more opportunities and the cycle will continue. They’ll keep extracting more and more wealth. There is a class system in our society and it’s a problem.
27. People Have The Power – Patti Smith (1988)
General uplifting song, could be interpreted as a protest song
“People have the power.
The power to dream, to rule
To wrestle the world from fools
It’s decreed: the people rule
It’s decreed: the people rule
Listen. I believe everything we dream
Can come to pass through our union
We can turn the world around
We can turn the earth’s revolution”
Poet punk laureate Patti Smith is someone with political views I generally agree with. One of her best known protest/political songs is “People Have the Power”, which she has sang at rallies for Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader back in 2000 and at Democracy Rising events. I hope one day America does have a viable third party. This two party system is broken.
Why this lyric is relevant today: Progressive movements are grassroots. It’s we the people who have the power. We can do something about the injustices going on in the world. We’re more powerful than we think and if we unite, we can accomplish a lot more. It upsets me when people get all fatalistic and say that they’re one person, what can they do? Imagine if civil rights and gay liberation activists said that. Nothing would have gotten done. What if all or even half of the people who said I can’t make a difference went out and did something to make a difference?
And I think about the coronavirus. There are things you can do to make a difference to the people around you. Don’t be selfish – practise social distancing and don’t panic buy. Pick up groceries for your elderly neighbour or neighbour who doesn’t have a car, call a food delivery for a friend, don’t spread misinformation, and just talk to the people in your life – it’s a lonely time and even human contact through a video call or voice chat is a big help.
28. Give Ireland Back to the Irish – Wings (1972)
The Troubles, Bloody Sunday
“Great Britain and all the people say that all people must be free. Meanwhile, back in Ireland, there’s a man who looks like me and he dreams of god and country, and he’s feeling really bad and he’s sitting in a prison. Say, should he lie down, do nothing? Should he give in or go mad?”
Paul McCartney is an English person who is proud of his Irish roots. His maternal grandfather was born in County Monaghan in the Republic of Ireland. If you’ve ever heard a Liverpudlian speak, you’d have a hard time understanding the combination of accents that make up Scouse: a mix of Northern English and Irish, due to the large Irish diaspora there. Liverpool is an important port city and a lot of trade with Ireland (and other countries) happened there.
The early 70s was the height of The Troubles: political violence broke out all over Northern Ireland. This song was written in response to the events of Bloody Sunday – a mass shooting in Derry on 30 January 1972 – 14 people died (one of them died 4 months after being injured). It was the highest number of people killed in a single shooting incident during The Troubles.
If you were an Irish person living in the UK, life wasn’t easy either. You’d see signs that say “No Blacks. No Dogs. No Irish.” There was a lot of Anti-Irish sentiment and Irish people were falsely accused of terrorism, notably in the cases of the Birmingham Six, Guildford Four, and Maguire Seven.
Northern Ireland born Henry McCullough played on the track and his brother was beaten in an Irish pub because of that.
Paul McCartney said that after Bloody Sunday people were finally starting to question what the British were doing in Ireland and why can’t they just give up the six counties in the north. The British public got a filtered version of what was going on there and are told a completely different story than the Irish.
He wasn’t the only Beatle to write a song about Ireland. John Lennon was also very vocal and wrote “The Luck of the Irish” and released it a few months after “Give Ireland Back to the Irish”.
The BBC and Radio Luxembourg banned the song, but it still ended up in the charts because it sold well.
Why this lyric is relevant today: Things are peaceful now, but this is a part of history that we’ll never forget. People draw parallels between Northern Ireland and Palestine. The UK occupies Northern Ireland and historically did that by planting Scottish people in Northern Ireland starting in the 1600s – The Ulster Plantation.
Even to this day, many British people don’t have a lot of knowledge of Irish history or the history of any of the countries colonised by their country – what they’re taught is very whitewashed and downplayed. If you go to Kensington in London, you’ll see a road called Cromwell Road. In England, Oliver Cromwell is seen as someone who did good things, but ask an Irish person and they’ll say something completely different – Cromwell was a murderer.
Similar to what Americans know about Native American history – it’s whitewashed and downplayed: Columbus seen as a hero, Manifest Destiny being seen as a positive.
Israeli settlements are areas where Israelis live outside the 1949 armistice agreement. You may have seen that map graphic where you see Palestinian land shrinking and Israeli land expanding. In the Palestine territory of the West Bank, there are 121 officially recognised Israeli settlements populated by 400,000 Israeli Jewish citizens. This started in 1967 after the Six Day War. People against the occupation say that Israel has no legal right to occupy it. People who are for the occupation argue that there were Jewish communities in the Palestinian territories that were destroyed and they’re trying to rebuild.
You could also say there’s similarities between these situations and how Native Americans were treated by the British, Canadians, and Americans – kicked out of their land and pushed to a reserve) and how black South Africans were treated by white South Africans (pushed to Bantustans and their movements controlled).
It’s all colonisation and oppression.
29. Bye Bye Badman – The Stone Roses (1989)
History, 1968 Paris Riots
“Every backbone and heart you break will still come back for more. Submission ends it all”
Twenty years after the Paris student riots of 1968, The Stone Roses wrote “Bye Bye Badman”. One of the symbols of the Stone Roses is the lemon slice. Lead singer of the band Ian Brown said that while he was travelling around Europe, a French man told him that lemons were used as an antidote to tear gas, which was used in the 1968 protests. On the Jackson Pollock inspired cover, you can see the French tricolour.
Another interpretation of this song is that the album and its songs symbolise Jesus’s life with “I Wanna Be Adored” symbolising his birth, “Bye Bye Badman” symbolising his crucifixion, and “I Am The Resurrection” referring to his resurrection.
Why this lyric is relevant today: Protests are still going on now, well before the coronavirus lockdown that is. You can compare the 1968 Paris student protests to more recent ones like the 2019 Hong Kong protests, 2016 DAPL protests, 2014 Black Lives Matter protests, or the Arab Spring in the early 2010s. The police still oppress the protesters by beating them, spraying tear gas, and arresting them for peacefully protesting. No dignity.
People will continue to protest because their lives depend on it and if they submit, it’s over. Either way it is when you’re being oppressed.
It’s no wonder that ACAB – All Cops Are Bastards – is a slogan commonly used by protesters.
30. The American Ruse – MC5 (1970)
Anti-war, protest song
“They told you in school about freedom, but when you try to be free they never let you”
This song was another political song written about the Vietnam War and Nixon’s presidency. Many young people weren’t happy with it. This could be an alternative national anthem for America. 50 years later and we’re still sick to our guts of the American Ruse.
Why this lyric is relevant today: Americans grow up in a very patriotic country. I have no problem with patriotism, but rather the American brand of it. If you dare question America, you’ll get a lot of disapproval. If you suggest that other countries do something better, you’ll get glared at. You don’t support the troops? You’re literally Hitler.
The whole freedom thing is pushed on you with America being called the greatest country ever and the free world, but you find out as you grow up that you’re not really free. Sure you have more free speech than in other countries and you can own a gun, but what good is that when if you get sick, you could very well die because you can’t afford healthcare? Why is owning a gun seen as a good thing?
America is number one! Yeah, but not in the ways you want it to be: in medical debt, student loan debt, and school shootings. Not in important things like life expectancy, healthcare, infrastructure, education, or worker’s rights.
31. God Save The Queen – The Sex Pistols (1977)
“There is no future in England’s dreaming”
The Sex Pistols took the title of the national anthem and gave it a sarcastic twist, writing a nihilistic song against the monarchy. They equated the queen with fascism and said that the country doesn’t have a future.
Why this lyric is relevant today: Over 40 years later, this lyric still rings true. The boomers voted for Brexit and Tories. The Tories cut funding to the NHS and social safety nets and Brexit will crush small businesses, independent musicians, move British jobs to other parts of Europe, takes away opportunities for British citizens to get jobs in Europe, embolden xenophobes, and lower Britain’s status in the world. Most importantly, the working class will be hurt the most. To the rich, it makes no difference.
32. Politicians In My Eyes – Death (1975)
“The number one biggest game
It’s when they gain the most fame
It’s like a race to the top
Because they wanna be boss
They don’t care who they step on
As long as they get along”
Death were a forgotten rock band of the 70s, but thanks to crate diggers and people who are into vintage obscurities, there was a resurgence in popularity and they got recognised after the fact as one of the earliest punk bands. The world wasn’t ready for Death in 1975. Clive Davis wanted them to change their name to something more marketable, but they said no – they weren’t going to compromise and give up their identity.
They were a rock band made up of 3 brothers from Detroit: Bobby, David, and Dannis Hackney. They originally played funk music, but were inspired to change their direction after seeing The Who in concert in the early 70s.
They released only one album, For The World To See. Two of my favourite songs on it are “Keep on Knocking” and “Politicians in My Eyes” (I love the bassline on this one). If the Nixon presidency did anything good, it was inspire bands to write great protest songs. Well he also started the EPA because of pressure from the hippies. Overall, I’d rather it if we had a different timeline when Nixon was never president – he was the man who started the war on drugs.
Why this lyric is relevant today: The fashion, technology, and music may have changed, but politicians will be politicians. I’ve interviewed musicians and politicians and I can tell you I dread talking to politicians. Even the progressive ones are a pain to interview and still don’t give straight answers.
America has many career politicians. These people have been in Washington for decades and over time they’ve grown out of touch and are in an ivory tower. They’re here to serve the corporations, not the common people. Nope, they step on the common people. Over time, the government has gotten rid of restrictions on campaign donations and it’s worse than ever before. We don’t have any party of the people anymore. The Democrats and Republicans are both guilty. It’s just the Democrats are whoring themselves out for cheaper than the Republicans. They’re both the business party.
There is indeed a race to the top and it seems like everyone wants to be top dog and hold, arguably the most powerful position in the world, President of the United States of America. The Democratic primaries were crowded with so many candidates and so many of them just clones of each other. Politics is also one of the nastiest worlds out there and I don’t think you could pay me enough to run for office. Mentally it can’t be good for you.
33. Ohio – CSNY (1970)
History, Kent State Massacre
“What if you knew her and found her dead on the ground? How can you run when you know?”
The most popular murders ever committed in America were the Kent State Massacre on May 4, 1970. People call this America’s Tiananmen Square. Students protested against the Vietnam War. In 1968, Richard Nixon promised to end the war but he broke that promise.
Months before the shooting, there was the My Lai Massacre in South Vietnam, a war crime which resulted in over 400 deaths and is now known as the most shocking episode of the Vietnam War.
The most poignant image from the Kent State massacre is of a woman crying and kneeling next to a dead student and this lyric refers to that picture. It’s a memorable picture that makes you cry.
Why this lyric is relevant today: There is no need to shoot protesters. These lyrics are still emotional and can be applied to recent protests. People like to rewrite history and say they sided with the protesters, but in actuality, 58% of Americans believed that the students were to blame for the shooting and only 11% blamed the National Guard. Ronald Reagan, then the governor of California, said that he didn’t care if student protests ended in a bloodbath – he didn’t want to see a protest. Victim blaming is a real problem in our society.
In 2018, Kent State graduate Kaitlin Bennett walked around with a gun on campus, as if she had no idea what happened and how insensitive and dangerous it is. She organised an open-carry rally at her university. Most famously, she pooped in her pants and people online rip on her because of that. At Ohio University, students threw cups of water and toilet paper at her to send the message that she isn’t welcome. She is an obnoxious, disgusting person who holds racist and misogynistic views. It’s best to ignore her. If anything good came out of the coronavirus, it might be that we don’t see any videos of her harassing university students for a while.
34. Mexico – Jefferson Airplane (1970)
“There are millions of you now. I mean it’s not as if you were alone
There are brothers everywhere just waiting for a toke on that gold”
Grace Slick wrote this song in response to Richard Nixon’s 1969 anti-drug initiative Operation Intercept to stop the flow of marijuana from Mexico to the US. Starting in the 70s, drug arrests skyrocketed and addicts started being treated as criminals. America has the largest prison population and the highest incarceration rate of any country. It’s ridiculous. After the fact, people in the Nixon administration admitted it was a way for them to legally arrest people for being minorities or having political views they didn’t like.
In the very early 20th century marijuana, cocaine, and heroin were all legal, but it wouldn’t be long until they were outlawed. Think about it, a lot of rock musicians have done these drugs and some of them have been arrested for it. Do we think of rock stars as criminals? No! So why are average people who do the same thing considered criminals?
Why this lyric is relevant today: What’s the point of prohibition on drugs? It only makes sense to legalise them. People are going to smoke marijuana anyway and it’s not even that harmful, especially compared to legal drugs like alcohol, tobacco, and addictive prescription drugs. Didn’t we learn from the Prohibition Era that it doesn’t stop people from drinking alcohol? It’s safer to legalise, tax, and regulate it. Also, it’s not the government’s business if you like getting high. As long as you don’t hurt others or violate anyone’s rights, who cares?
It’s only this past decade that states are waking up and realising that weed isn’t so bad and they’re legalising it. I hope one day all drugs are legalised, but I’m a bit of a radical on the issue. Your body, your choice.
The War on Drugs is racist. End of story.
35. Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud – James Brown (1968)
“Some people say we’ve got a lot of malice. Some say it’s a lot of nerve. But I say we won’t quit moving until we get what we deserve”
James Brown wrote this empowering two part call-and-response black power funk song with his bandleader Albert Ellis. It became an anthem for the black power movement, talking about the injustices black people experience.
Why this lyric is relevant today: Because there are people who still say that “why do black people get a song and why don’t white people get a song like this?” Excuse me but have your ethnic group been marginalised, disenfranchised, and institutionally oppressed? No, then you don’t get a song like this.
Discriminatory attitudes among individuals and in government institutions still exist and the war on drugs, police brutality, and prison industrial complex are issues that are important to this day.
36. Love Me, I’m A Liberal – Phil Ochs (1966)
Satire of liberals (not progressives/leftists, but neoliberals)
“I love Harry and Sidney and Sammy. I hope every coloured boy becomes a star
But don’t talk about revolution, that’s going a little bit too far
So love me, love me, love me, I’m a liberal”
Phil Ochs wrote this song back in 1966 and the lyrics all refer to historical events and pop culture of the early 60s. This song is a real mini history lesson and a look at what the early half of the decade was like. It shows how hypocritical and NIMBY liberals (read: not progressives) are. He described liberals like this: “An outspoken group on many subjects, ten degrees to the left of centre in good times, ten degrees to the right of centre if it affects them personally.”
Why this lyric is relevant today: This song describes so many people I encounter on Twitter and in my own family. I can’t stand conservatives, but at least I know what I’m getting into when I talk to them and they’re what they say on the tin. There are modernised versions of this song on YouTube and they’re perfect.
With liberals, and I don’t mean progressives, I mean neoliberals – centrists, at best, who are cool with the gays and abortion, they have this fake woke “I’m so accepting and progressive” veneer, but don’t you dare raise your voice and be upset about the oppression you’re facing.
“Be nice to me or I won’t give you rights.” and people don’t believe me when I say they’re nearly as bad as conservatives.
I understand what Martin Luther King was getting at with his frustrations with the white moderate, he was talking about people like Phil Ochs described in “Love Me I’m a Liberal”. And it angers me when people act like they would have sided with MLK back in the 60s. Sure Jan, most Americans didn’t like him and called him an extremist. You know what liberals say about Bernie Bros, they would have been calling MLK supporters King Bros, or probably something worse.
Just now on Twitter I saw a Democratic politician dying on the hill of defending Joe Biden who has been accused of sexual assault. This is such a disgusting rape apologist comment. It’s crazy how a woman betrays her sex and is aligning herself with the patriarchy and rape culture. You can’t tell me she’s a feminist.
People were so quick to defend Dr Blasey-Ford when it came to her accusations against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, but when Tara Reade came forward it was crickets, deafening silence at best, and at worst smears and accusations of being a Russian plant trying to take down the Democratic Party.
Incrementalism got us Trump – people got frustrated and felt betrayed by the Democrats, you can’t change my mind.
37. Subdivisions – Rush (1982)
Social stratification, Conformity
“In the mass production zone, nowhere is the dreamer or the misfit so alone. Subdivisions! In the high school halls, in the shopping malls, conform or be cast out”
In the mid 20th century, you saw a lot of white people moving to the suburbs, white flight. In the suburbs you see even more cliques and the need to conform. Back when I was 12, I remember being turned away from lunch tables by kids saying “someone’s sitting there” and thenI went to the “reject table” and looked over at the table and no one sat there. They didn’t want me to sit with them for whatever stupid reason.
The movie Mean Girls summed it up really well. Teenagers are shallow and form cliques based on style and social group: the football team, basketball team, thespians, cheerleaders, anime/video game nerds, art kids, A/V nerds, skaters, stoners, band kids, mathletes, etc. At that age, you feel a lot of peer pressure.
Outside of secondary school, there are still cliques and a lot of social stratification and that’s what “Subdivisions” is all about. How much money do you have? What’s your job? What’s your ethnic background? Where did you go to school? What’s your gender and sexual orientation? What’s your religion? What’s your reputation? Are you keeping up with the Joneses?
People can be so closed minded and refuse to interact with you just because of those things. The sad part is you miss out on some really interesting people by being narrow minded.
Why this lyric is relevant today: People say that the current day is one of the loneliest times ever. People get especially lonely after they graduate from school and transition from going to school to going to work and if they work from home, it’s even lonelier because you don’t get face to face interaction with people at work.
People are feeling isolated and as a result many people have mental problems because of that and some people turn to drugs. There’s definitely pressure to conform or be cast out and I think this is something linked to cancel culture. Cancel culture isn’t great because it doesn’t allow for nuance or context and it hurts those who depend on their community for support. If they do one small thing wrong, they could be excommunicated from their support system and then they feel especially lonely and worst case scenario might think of ending their life or they self harm. People can change and grow from their mistakes.
38. What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye (1971)
Anti-war, Race relations
“Brother, brother, brother, there’s far too many of you dying
You know we’ve got to find a way to bring some loving here today”
What’s Going On is considered Marvin Gaye’s best album. The album’s song cycle is a story from the point of view of a Vietnam veteran returning to the US witnessing what’s going on: hatred, suffering, injustice, and the environment going to shit.
The title track is the exposition, we are introduced to the events of the early 70s: grieving mothers crying because they lost their sons in a war that only causes destruction, students protesting and police brutality related to that, and older generations judging the youth for growing out their hair.
Why this lyric is relevant today: Far too many people are dying in the US and it’s not just because of endless war. It’s how the government treats people. Look at how the politicians are handling the coronavirus. Look at how the supposed richest and greatest country in the world can’t look after its own people, even if they served for their country. Veterans are treated like yesterday’s rubbish, politicians who say they care about veterans are just virtue signalling most of the time. People are saying that coronavirus should be treated for free, but so should every illness. America needs Medicare for All now. It’s a shame that the Democrats and Republicans are just looking out for their rich friends and the corporations first.
39. Put Out The Fire – Queen (1982)
“Put out the fire! You need a gun like a hole in the head”
Queen aren’t a political band at all. They were one of the bands who did not boycott South Africa, and played Sun City in 1984. Their reasoning is that they aren’t political and they didn’t want to deprive fans in any country of their music – they did play in a lot of countries, after all. As someone who is of Venezuelan descent, I found it cool that they played at the Poliedro in Caracas. Not a lot of rock bands have played in Venezuela, so I think that’s special to me. One thing they did do though was ensure that the crowd were integrated.
“Put Out The Fire” is from their polarising album, Hot Space, and is one of the few songs on the album that is more rock and roll. In those days, Freddie and Deaky wanted to play more poppy disco sounding music, while Brian and Roger still wanted to play rock and roll.
This song is an anti-gun song and makes the point of how guns are bad by telling a story about a crazy man who solves his problems by shooting people. He’s disappointed with you? Bang! You’re dead! He catches his girl in bed with some other man? Bang, you’re both dead! The narrator justifies his pro-gun stance by using the typical “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” cliched argument.
Why this lyric is relevant today: Whenever Americans take the piss out of Europeans or Canadians, the Europeans and Canadians’ typical clapback is “at least our schools aren’t shooting ranges”. There is still a gun culture in America and many people support the second amendment. It seems like there wasn’t a day that went by that we didn’t hear about a mass shooting. Americans often have no idea that active shooter drills aren’t a regular occurrence in other countries. Many people want more gun control, but politicians won’t pass it and get in the way. Groups like the NRA lobby politicians and buy them. I think attitude changes are needed and it’s sad that guns are so ingrained into the American identity. Are guns really freedom? Queen were right, we need guns like we need a hole in the head.
40. Get Together – The Youngbloods (1967)
“Come on people now, smile on your brother
Everybody get together, try to love one another right now”
It was hard to pick a song to end this list, but I wanted to end this on a happier note and with a call for unity, peace, and love. We need this for sure. The 60s had a lot of peace and love songs, and this is one of my favourite ones.
“Get Together” was originally performed by The Kingston Trio in 1964 as “Let’s Get Together”. Other bands who recorded it before The Youngbloods include We Five and Jefferson Airplane (personally my favourite version, I love Signe Toly Anderson’s voice). This is a hippie anthem.
Why this lyric is relevant today: The world is more divided now than ever before. At the end of the day we’re not that different after all. We all have emotions, desires, and dreams. I think of this twitter thread by an Asian-American nurse who experienced a lot of racism during the coronavirus epidemic and she agreed with an op-ed from presidential candidate Andrew Yang: we don’t solve the problems by shouting “racist” at people, we need to have compassion. Bigotry is a disease and we don’t cure diseases with violence, punches, and excommunication. We need patience, love, and peace.
I’ll end this with some hippie dippie wisdom from Orb Mom Marianne Williamson:
What are your favourite political classic rock songs? Share your thoughts in the comments section!
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Great post! Enjoyed reading it!
Btw I too blog @ The Confessions Of A Music And Book Addict and would appreciate some support!
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[…] teacher is Bob Dylan. If you want to read more about political classic rock songs, you can read these blog posts where I talk about the meanings behind these songs and highlight key lyrics. There’s a lot […]
A great pair of lists! Glad to see someone who still understands “Love Me I’m a Liberal”. Phil Ochs was vastly underrated and died too young. I’d add pretty much all of John Prine’s first album (“Paradise” if you want only one), Richard and Mimi Fariña’s “House UnAmerican Blues Activity Dream”, Leadbelly’s “Bourgeois Blues” off the top of my head.
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Thank you! I’d love to write another one of these blog posts and make it a proper series and look at songs that not everyone knows.
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Regarding the Phil Ochs song, Jello Biafra and Mojo Nixon covered this and updated the lyrics on their 1994 ‘Prairie Home Invasion’ album.
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