Timeless lyrics from political classic rock songs: Part 3

One of the most popular posts I’ve written this year is the one about lyrics from political classic rock songs that still apply to today. And there’s a Part 2! A lot of the songs in these two parts are ones that you would know and what people usually think of when they think classic rock protest songs, but in this one I want to mix some songs that you’re familiar with, with a few curveballs and obscure songs. This isn’t your garden variety classic rock blog. I want readers to find songs that are new to them and that’s what I aim to show in this blog post. Enjoy!

1. “Khochu Peremen” (roughly translates to “Changes”) – Kino (c. 1987)

Perestroika anthem (although Viktor Tsoi didn’t intend it to be)

“Перемен требуют наши сердца,
Перемен требуют наши глаза,
В нашем смехе и в наших слезах,
И в пульсации вен
Мы ждем перемен.”

“Our hearts require the changes

Our eyes require the changes

Into our laugh and our tears and into pulse of veins


We are waiting for changes.”

I wanted to start this blog post with a song that few of my readers would know. Kino (Russian for “cinema”) were one of Russia’s best known rock bands of the 80s, and had a huge influence on  and frontman/songwriter/band leader, half Korean, half Russian Viktor Tsoi was a real talent and very much loved by Russians. At the time the band were at their most famous, it was during glasnost/perestroika. His music stood for change and that’s what young people wanted.

He was one of those rock musicians who was gone too soon. Kino were working on an album in 1990 and the whole band were in Latvia. Coming back from a fishing trip, Viktor Tsoi fell asleep at the wheel while driving and his car crashed into a bus and he died. He was only 28 years old.

Newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda wrote about him just after his death:

“Tsoi means more to the young people of our nation than any politician, celebrity or writer. This is because Tsoi never lied and never sold out. He was and remains himself. It’s impossible not to believe him… Tsoi is the only rocker who has no difference between his image and his real life, he lived the way he sang… Tsoi is the last hero of rock.”

Tsoi performed “Peremen” in the Kazakh film, Assa, and it was one of the band’s most popular songs. It was an anthem for the perestroika era. This song and the album, Gruppa Krovi (Blood Type) kicked off Kinomania.

He was no average rock star. Being Soviet means that your rock band got no support from the government, your music would often be pirated, and you need money to make money and get fame, so he worked a day job in an apartment building boiler room. People found him relatable and saw him as a rock star of the people.

I highly recommend listening to Kino, if you’re going to listen to any Russian rock music. They’re amazing!

Why this lyric is relevant today

The Soviet Union may have broken up and Russia is now capitalist, but there are still young people who want changes. Protesters in Russia and former USSR countries will still play and sing this song. In 2020, there were protests in the Russian Far East and people sang this song. Millennials and Zoomers in Moscow sang “Peremen” in Pushkin Square.

You don’t have to be Russian to relate to this song. If you’re tired of the status quo, this is your song.

2. “Breadfan” – Budgie (1973)

Capitalism, Greed

Take it all away
Never give an inch
Gotta make a mint
Gotta make a million”


One of Budgie’s best known songs, it’s quite obvious from the title that this song is about someone who is focused on making money, gaining status, and getting rich. The guitar riff is guaranteed to hook you in and it is an example of early metal. Burke Shelley’s vocals are very androgynous and he is often mistaken for female and compared to Janis Joplin. As the song goes on, the person realises they don’t need money to be happy.

Why this lyric is relevant today

Capitalist countries, especially America, are a meat grinder: the rat race, keeping up with the Joneses, living the “American Dream”. It’s no wonder our mental health is so messed up. Everything ultimately comes down to money in society. The more money you have, the more comfort, convenience, and opportunity you have. Reducing economic inequality and improving material conditions would do a lot for people and make our society more egalitarian.

Being from an immigrant family, there is that pressure to do better than your parents because they sacrificed so much to get to the new country and your immigrant parents expect you to get that job, make lots of money, be a homeowner, contribute to society. Lots of pressure to figure it out in your early 20s.

Capitalism is ruthless and leaves so many people behind. People are greedy, that’s just our nature. It’s a feature, not a glitch.

3. “Soviet Snow” – Shona Laing (1987)

Cold War

“We’re teasing at war like children
Love is the one solution”

Shona Laing got her breakthrough in music at the age of 17 with her song “1905” and had some popularity in the 70s. She went more obscure in the late 70s and early 80s. She made her comeback in the late 80s with her album South. This song wasn’t the biggest hit on the album, but it reached the top 40 in the US Dance charts with its electronic remix.

The song is about the Cold War and probably to some extent, Chernobyl. In the Cold War days, people were afraid and were worried about nuclear war breaking out and the end of the world. There was a nuclear arms race.

Why this lyric is relevant today

The US and Russia still don’t have good relations. I sometimes question if we are still living in the 80s because of the way that American politicians talk about Russia and socialism. They otherise Russia and will direct their anger at the country as a whole, rather than just Putin and the government. Democrats blamed Russia for their shortcomings, when they’re out of touch with the working people that the party used to champion. Focus on getting the people free healthcare and affordable housing, not Russia! Do you think Putin really has all that time on his hands?

There are no winners in a war. It’s all destruction and people die. At the end of the day we are all human – the average Russian and average American really aren’t all that different. We all have emotions, dreams, wishes, goals, people we love. The people who are most at risk and vulnerable are your common people, not these rich politicians in their own little bubble. The poor are the ones sent to war, while the well off get their exemptions and deferrals to go to university.

No doubt has Russia done a lot of bad things: invading Crimea and Georgia, treatment of LGBT people, Putin being a dictator and pretty much staying in power forever. The US also has done their share of bad things: police brutality, endless war, not looking after its people but rather corporations.

All I want is peace. I’d rather see diplomacy and talking peacefully. No war!

4. “Africa Suite” – Manfred Mann’s Earth Band (1983)


“What do they do to a man?
They take away his freedom”

Manfred Mann is associated with the British Invasion with his band in the 60s named after him, and it surprises people when they find out that he’s not British, he’s originally from South Africa and immigrated to the UK when he was 21. He was vocal about being against apartheid, even getting himself banned from the country he was born in. That’s what makes this album stand out from your typical white rock star goes to Africa and makes album. Manfred’s actually from there and he’s using his privilege and platform to speak out and make an album.

This song is the multi-part epic on the album Somewhere in Afrika, and starts with Shosholoza, a traditional song with Zulu and Ndebele words sang by miners. Everyone from South Africa knows this song and it’s considered a second national anthem. The above lyric is from the second part of the song, “To Bantustan?”. During Apartheid, Black South Africans were restricted in where they could live and work. Their movements were controlled and they had to carry around passes – a police state. Bantustans were created by the racist National Party to segregate. Based on your ethnicity, you were sent to a certain Bantustan. Doesn’t matter if you lived in a certain area your whole life and that’s all you knew. The government would forcibly remove you and take you to your “homeland” that they designated for you and you’re stuck there.

Meanwhile if you’re a white South African, you could go wherever you want and live where you want. People’s freedoms were taken away. Black South Africans were treated as second class in their own land: couldn’t vote, couldn’t go to the beach, couldn’t intermarry, couldn’t go to certain schools, couldn’t take certain buses, couldn’t live and work where you wanted, couldn’t go to certain hospitals, human rights abuses everywhere. Forced into a life of poverty, hopelessness, no freedom.

Why this lyric is relevant today

Apartheid had a lot of similarities to Jim Crow, how the Nazis treated Jews and Roma, and what’s going on right now in Israel. Israel is an apartheid state. That’s the truth right there. How the Palestinians are treated in their own land is not too different to how Black South Africans were treated or how Native Americans were treated.

Kim Iversen has some good videos talking about her visit to the West Bank. It’s really eye opening and shows the sad reality of life for Palestinians.

Even in America, Black people and Native Americans aren’t truly free. Police brutality is a real problem and the effects of racist policies still harm them. The War on Drugs is still ongoing. Are the Democrats doing anything tangible on racial inequality? No.

5. “Only So Much Oil in the Ground” – Tower of Power (1974)

Environmentalism, 1973 Oil Crisis

“No excuse for our abuse
We just assume that what we use
Will not exceed the oil supply
But soon enough the world will watch the wells run dry”

The opening track of their album, Urban Renewal, this song was inspired by the Arab-Israeli War and the 1973 oil crisis connected to that war. The US supported Israel and Arab countries that were members of OPEC banned the export of oil to the US, raising the oil prices by 400%

Why this lyric is relevant today

Even without the oil crisis, we know that fossil fuels pollute the air and lead to climate change and poor air quality. Drilling has an impact on the environment. Fracking is bad. Once oil is used up, it’s gone – it’s not going to last forever. We need green energy. Fossil fuels are not renewable or sustainable like wind, solar, or geothermal power. No matter where you are in the world, climate change and transitioning to a green economy are hot topics.

In America, it’s especially bad because of the lack of public transport thanks to the automobile industry lobby. America’s infrastructure has a D+ rating. High speed rail? Non-existent. Efficient, direct public transport? Even New Yorkers can’t say that about their public transport system, they complain about delays and the rising fares. Modern, clean, inviting airports? Haha NOPE! Americans have this mentality of “I don’t use it, so why should I foot the bill?”

Over the past 40+ years, people worldwide have become more affluent and that means more consumption and that has an environmental impact. Much of the emissions come from developed countries where people have very modern, high standards of living: large houses that have lots of electronics, households with a car or even multiple cars, buying new clothes every month, eating imported and not in season food, and so on.

Old people in the government don’t care about the environment. They don’t care because they don’t have much time left on this planet. But you know who does have a long time? The young, and we’re the ones who are going to have to live with these terrible decisions made by people in power.

6. “He’s Gonna Step On You Again” – John Kongos (1971)


“Hey rainmaker come away from that man, you know he’s gonna take away your promised land.”

The better known version is by Happy Mondays, but the original is by John Kongos. The song is about an imperialist conqueror, the person who will step on you again. He’s taking your land and dehumanising you. However, neither John Kongos nor Chris Demetriou, who cowrote the song has confirmed it’s about colonisers, but we can interpret it as being about colonisation through context, song lyrics, and the African drumming in the intro. Either way, the song is about a jerk.

Why this lyric is relevant today

Sure, Britain has fucked off out of many of the places that it has colonised, but there are still effects to this day. And keep in mind it wasn’t that long ago that these countries weren’t independent, some countries only got their independence in the 60s and 70s. Many of these countries had resources taken by these European colonisers and the local people didn’t see any of that money. People’s cultures and land were taken away from them. It’s not as easy as kick the colonisers out and get that back. Go to museums in Europe and you’ll see so many priceless artefacts from countries they have colonised. Shouldn’t those works of art go back to the countries so the people there can see them displayed in their original context? Multinational companies from overseas still do business in developing countries and money spent with them doesn’t stay in the local economy. This is not a history blog so I’ll leave it at that.

7. “White Man” – Queen (1976)

Colonisation, Native Americans

“White man, white man
You came with a gun and soon our children died
White man, white man
Don’t you give a light for the blood you’ve shed?”

Queen aren’t really thought of as a political rock band. Most of their songs aren’t political, but they had a couple of overtly political songs like this song, “Put Out The Fire”, and “Hammer to Fall”.

This song was written about the suffering of Native Americans under European colonisation, and even after that with American colonialism and expansionism. Pushing their religion and customs onto Natives who have their own rich, unique cultures and customs – cultural genocide; slaughtering them and taking their land; destroying the nature and disrespecting sacred sites; and erasing their history.

Why this lyric is relevant today

Native issues aren’t spoken enough about. Many Americans and Canadians aren’t aware of the magnitude and all the atrocities committed against the indigenous peoples. I was talking with my friend Amanda about this and she said that so many Canadians have no idea about the residential schools, which took children away from their families, abused them, and erased their culture. The last residential school only shut down in the 90s! This isn’t distant history. A lot of people are also not aware of the large numbers of missing and murdered indigenous women. Indigenous women are 10-12 times more likely to be murdered and many of these cases go unsolved and unlogged and the families don’t get justice. Most of these incidents are committed by non-natives.

Some people even believe that there are no Native Americans left, yet many will claim that they have a great great great grandparent or something that was a “Cherokee Princess”. A lot of people have stereotypical ideas of Native Americans and how they live and look. There’s very little representation of Natives in the media. History classes are whitewashed and Native Americans are left only as a side note in their own land’s history.

Even to this day, conditions on reserves are very poor and poverty and addiction are problems and there’s systemic discrimination against natives. Colonisation isn’t over and there are still effects – people are trapped in a cycle of oppression.

Recently, there’s been a movement to take down statues of colonisers and the football team in Washington are planning to change their name. Still, we have a long way to go. Symbolism is only a start and one battle. Systemic change and reparations are needed and long overdue.

8. “Brainwashed” – The Kinks (1969)

Conformity, capitalism, questioning authority

“The aristocrats and bureaucrats
Are dirty rats
For making you what you are
They’re up there and you’re down here
You’re on the ground and they’re up with the stars
All your life they’ve kicked you around and pushed you around
‘Til you can’t take any more
To them you’re just a speck of dirt
But you don’t want to get up off the floor
Mister, you’re just brainwashed”

This song is off the Kinks’ 1969 concept album, Arthur, based on Ray and Dave Davies’ brother in law who moved to Australia. The Kinks aren’t afraid to get political in their music and have quite a few songs about politics, especially in the 70s.

This song just bluntly says it, people are brainwashed in society. Makes sense that The Kinks also brought you “Apeman” and “Supersonic Rocket Ship”. Who wants to live in a world like this where you’re being dehumanised everywhere and everything is about money. What can you do but conform? Can you really change anything? Do you stand a chance fighting with a billionaire?

Why this lyric is relevant today

It was true in 1969 and it’s true today. The people at the top are indeed greedy bastards and enjoy their power and ruling over working people and making them their slaves. People have no choice but to live in this society. You’re just a cog in the machine and easily replaceable and your boss will always hold that over your head, reminding you that you don’t want to live in poverty. People aren’t treated like people and it’s always been that way.

Sad to say that there are still many bootlickers in society who will make excuses for their oppressors.

9. “Alternative Ulster” – Stiff Little Fingers (1978)

The Troubles

“Is this the kind of place you wanna live?
Is this where you wanna be?
Is this the only life we’re gonna have?
What we need is an alternative Ulster”

Stiff Little Fingers are a punk band from Belfast making music at the height of the Troubles in the 70s. Ulster is in reference to the northernmost counties of Ireland, most of which make up Northern Ireland, three counties though are in the Republic: Donegal, Cavan, and Monaghan.

At that time, the economy wasn’t good either. Northern Ireland wasn’t like other parts of the UK or Ireland. No freedom and no peace. During this time, the army would patrol the streets, profile Catholics, the were checkpoints and walls, cities and towns were segregated, bombs going off all over the place, gun violence, roads would close down and that made it hard for people to go to work or school or appointments, it was a war zone.

Why this lyric is relevant today

Sinn Fein and the idea of a United Ireland is growing in popularity. More and more people are supporting a United Ireland, especially after the Brexit vote – which Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to remain in the EU. Brexit no doubt will weaken the UK’s position in the world and losing EU citizenship and freedom of movement is huge loss for people and small businesses. What benefit is there to staying in the UK anymore? Record numbers of UK citizens who qualify for Irish passports applied for them, showing that people like freedom of movement and being a part of the EU. What about the border? Will we have a hard border? If so, that would undermine the peace process.

Will the UK break apart and will we see an Independent Scotland and all 32 counties of Ireland becoming one again? We can only hope.

10. “Save the Country” – Laura Nyro (1968)


“And I got fury in my soul
Fury’s gonna take me to the glory goal
In my mind I can’t study war no more
Save the people! Save the children! Save the country now!”

Laura Nyro wrote this song calling for peace in the turbulent year of 1968. She wrote it right after the RFK assassination. It has been covered by The 5th Dimension (who have covered quite a few of her songs), Julie Driscoll, Paul Revere and the Raiders, Thelma Houston, Roberta Flack, and Rosanne Cash.

Why this lyric is relevant today

2020 is a bunch of years combined: 1918-1920s Spanish Flu, 1930s Great Depression, and the unrest of 1968. You said you wanted to live in the past, well this is the monkey’s paw… You’re living in all those years at once. Careful what you wish for.

This song makes me think of the protesters in the US and Hong Kong for sure.

This summer had a lot of protests all around the US and the world and the people have fury in their souls and their goal is equality – a world where your life matters and where the politicians work for the many and not the few. Protests are peaceful for the most part, but you know how the police are reacting? Militarised, shooting innocent protesters, throwing tear gas, arresting people for no reason. We’re not free. Save the people, the children, the country!

11. “Mister, You’re a Better Man Than I” – The Yardbirds (1965)


“Could you tell a wise man
By the way he speaks or spells?
Is this more important
Than the stories that he tells?
And call a man a fool
If for wealth he doesn’t strive?”


“Can you condemn a man
If your faith he doesn’t hold?
Say the colour of his skin
Is the colour of his soul?
Could you say that men
For king and country all must die?”

This song was written by Manfred Mann drummer/keyboard player Mike Hugg and his brother. It was the b-side to The Yardbirds’ hit “Shapes of Things”. This is one of my favourite songs of theirs and it talks about real issues and is an early example of psychedelic rock. That guitar solo by Jeff Beck though.

Why these lyrics are relevant today

It doesn’t matter what year it is, people have implicit biases based on all sorts of things from appearance to the way someone speaks to identity labels. We need to work on this and unlearn some of these stereotypes and misconceptions like certain accents being perceived as less educated or intelligent sounding. Listen to the content of what people are saying, rather than their accent or voice. Don’t tone police. Different people want different things in life. Why should we negatively judge someone because we think they aren’t “ambitious”. Colour psychology is very much real and this lyric makes me think of the movie, Malcolm X and that one scene in the prison where a prisoner helps Malcolm X unlearn some of these internalised racist ideas: like that being black is a curse or the negative connotations associated with the colour black versus the more positive connotations and associated with the colour white. A really powerful and memorable scene in the movie: “you gotta take everything the white man says and use it against him”

12. “Controversy” – Prince (1981)


Do I believe in god? Do I believe in me?
Some people wanna die so they can be free
(I said) life is just a game, we’re all just the same”

Controversy overall is a very political album and my favourite track on it is the title track. Prince was a unique person and people made a lot of assumptions about him based on how he looked and styled himself – like thinking he was bisexual like David Bowie because he liked to dress androgynously. But does any of that matter? No. In this song, religion is questioned too.

At the end of the song, after the Lord’s Prayer, he chants “People call me rude, I wish we were all nude. I wish there was no black and white, I wish there were no rules”. To me, this is all about egalitarianism and freedom. 

Why this lyric is relevant today

As time goes on, people are questioning religion more and more. I’m 26, but I remember in my childhood people were a lot more religious, conformist, and patriotic and people didn’t take kindly to you being an atheist/agnostic, a rebel, or questioning your country or not being proud of where you’re from. Why be proud to be from a country? I didn’t choose my place of birth and I didn’t earn it. More and more people are doubting there is a god and what can you believe in instead? Yourself.

People sometimes feel trapped in life and naturally fear death, but they feel like in a way it is freeing me from expectations and responsibilities. It’s the one thing that is certain in life, it’s not forever.

At the end of the day, we aren’t that different and we need to stop dividing each other and sticking people in boxes. A label doesn’t tell a person’s entire story and we shouldn’t reduce people to it. And fuck rules!

13. “Sixteen Tons” – Tennessee Ernie Ford (1955 – original version was by Merle Travis and released in 1947)


“You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt

Saint Peter don’t you call me, ’cause I can’t go
I owe my soul to the company store”

This song was written sometime in the 30s about coal miners who were overworked and lived in a company town, before the labour movement and all these worker’s rights that were fought for thanks to union members. Before there were requirements to pay workers actual money, workers were paid in company scrip that they would spend at the company store, because it wasn’t legal tender. This would go on even into the early 50s! Workers were even in debt bondage and how do you pay off your debts without cash?

Why this lyric is relevant today

You might know this song thanks to South Park, who used it in the episode “Unfulfilled”, where Amazon come to South Park and build a warehouse. Because Amazon set up shop in South Park, where people could get next day deliveries and get goods for cheaper thanks to economies of scale, small locally owned businesses and the unique flavour of South Park died and so people had to get jobs at the one place hiring, the Amazon warehouse. In the clip below, you see the song play to a montage of Mr Stotch’s daily routine as an Amazon warehouse worker. It’s monotonous and a lot of work and there are dystopian generic company slogans on the walls of the sanitised looking workplace. Doesn’t this look like an episode of Black Mirror or like the company WorryFree in the movie Sorry to Bother You? Mr Stotch spends his wages on stuff from Amazon and has a Prime Membership and buys stuff to give his family that little dopamine boost. But does consumerism make you truly happy?

The plot of Sorry to Bother You centres on poor people trying to survive and working for this evil corporation that sells slave labour through the subsidiary WorryFree, basically as indentured slaves living in company housing. Cash has to decide if he wants to do the right thing and stay with the worker’s union or work his way up the ranks to get money, but at the expense of the working class. Late Stage Capitalism: The Movie!

14. “Mississippi Goddamn” – Nina Simone (1964)

Civil Rights

Hound dogs on my trail
School children sitting in jail
Black cat cross my path
I think every day’s gonna be my last”

Nina Simone wrote and performed this song, which she dubbed her first civil rights song. From this point, her music turned more political. She composed this song in one hour and wrote it in response to the killing of Medgar Evers and the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, both of which happened in Mississippi. She famously performed it at Carnegie Hall and at the end of the Selma to Montgomery marches when she, Sammy Davis Jr, James Baldwin, and Harry Belafonte crossed police lines.

Why this lyric is relevant today

Black people are still oppressed in the US: school to prison pipeline, an ongoing war on drugs, unequal sentencing, and police brutality. Stop criminalising students. Legalise all drugs and wipe the records of those convicted of non-violent drug offences, and defund the police. Invest resources into programmes that will help the people instead of spending it on the police.

I often see my black friends in the US living in fear and wishing they could get out. It saddens me every time I see these posts. Have things really changed in the past 60 years?

15. “3e sexe” (Third sex) – Indochine (1985)

Gender, Sexuality

“Et on se prend la main
Une fille au masculin
Un garçon au féminin
Et eux ne valaient rien
Et on n’en a plus besoin”
“And we take each other’s hands
A girl in the masculine sense
A boy in the feminine sense
And they aren’t worth a thing
And we don’t need them anymore”
Indochine are one of the most famous French bands. They were formed by brothers Nicola Sirkis and his friend Dominique Nicolas in Paris in 1981. Nicola’s brother Stéphane was in the band too. A talented band, they got a record deal after they played their first show at a cafe in Paris. They were best known for their albums L’aventurierLe peril jaune, and 3 and they sold hundreds of thousands of copies of these albums throughout Europe. Basically, everyone in France knows this band and they are very influential.
This song is a pro-LGBT song and one that rejects gender roles. An androgyny anthem! Who cares what your gender is and how you express your gender? The 80s were a time when androgyny was celebrated and it was cool for rock stars to wear makeup, clothes from the women’s section, and long hair.

Why this lyric is relevant today

If someone really cares about gender roles and how you “need” to express yourself in this way or that way, their opinion isn’t one that you should take into account. Be a feminine man. Be a feminine woman. Be an androgyne! Be an alien! Who cares?

16. “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” – Dead Kennedys (1981)


You fight each other, the police state wins
Stab your backs when you trash our halls
Trash a bank if you’ve got real balls

You still think swastikas look cool
The real Nazis run your schools
They’re coaches, businessmen and cops

In a real Fourth Reich you’ll be the first to go”

If you know your punk history, you’ll know that punk is inherently a political statement and it isn’t compatible with conservatism or authoritarianism – those two ideologies are everything that punk is against. The Dead Kennedys would write satirical songs about liberals and conservatives and there were some Nazis that would co-opt their music as a way to recruit vulnerable youth and show up to punk shows. Frontman Jello Biafra was not happy with that and wrote the song “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” as a clear message that nazis and fascists were not welcome to their shows.

Why this lyric is relevant today

As the Overton Window shifts further and further to the right, we’re seeing Republicans (who would be considered mainstream) resembling Nazis and fascists. Nazis are appropriators. The swastika wasn’t their original symbol and was used in Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism. Aryan didn’t originally mean blonde haired and blue eyed, but was originally used for South Asians. Nazis appropriate the punk aesthetic and subculture too. Nazis in reality are cowards and aren’t as tough as they try to make themselves appear.

Looking at what’s going on in America right now, there’s no doubt that it’s a police state. I compare and contrast my life here versus there and I fear the police more in America simply because they are armed and they have so little training compared to other countries. The working class need to unite into a multiracial coalition to take on the rich because they outnumber them. The real rebellious and punk thing to do is to take on the oppressive institutions.

17. “99 Luftballons” – Nena (1983)


“99 Jahre Krieg
Ließen keinen Platz für Sieger
Kriegsminister gibt’s nicht mehr
Und auch keine Düsenflieger
Heute zieh’ ich meine Runden
Seh’ die Welt in Trümmern liegen”

“Ninety-nine years of war

Left no place for victors

There are no longer any ministers of war

And also no jet fighters

Today I’m making my rounds

I see the world lying in ruins”

“99 Luftballons” was an interesting one hit wonder. The original German version had more success than the translated English version, which was not a direct translation and had a different meaning. The song was inspired by band member Carlo Karges attending a Rolling Stones concert in West Berlin and seeing all these balloons floating up, up, and away into the air and together it looked like a UFO. As Berlin had a wall going right through it, he wondered what people were thinking on the other side if they saw the balloons coming towards them. Would someone investigate? Would there be a war? And that’s what the song tells the story of. A cataclysmic war lasting nearly a century, all this destruction and loss of life over balloons.

Why this lyric is relevant today

No matter how long a war is, there are no winners. At the end of the day, we’re all going to die and life is too short to be fighting a war.

18. “Don’t Step on the Grass Sam” – Steppenwolf (1968)


You waste my coin Sam, all you can
To jail my fellow man
For smoking all the noble weed
You need much more than him

You’ve been telling lies so long
Some believe they’re true”

The War on Drugs took off in the 60s at the end of LBJ’s presidency because he wanted to curtail the social unrest and what do hippies do a lot? Smoke weed. This set a precedent. Some people saw what was coming and that it was only gonna get worse from here. I mean, the government is full of old, out of touch people who believe in reefer madness.

Nixon took this anti-drug policy and ran with it. Sure, you can’t jail people for their politics or skin colour, but you can for behaviours. Most of those arrested for marijuana possession were black, even though marijuana usage rates were the same across different ethnic groups. Incarceration skyrocketed since the 70s. The US used its powerful position in international relations to pressure other countries to crack down on drug usage or else.

Spending lots of money on enforcing drug laws and throwing people in jail. Very small government. Very fiscally conservative. Wouldn’t that money be better spent on education and healthcare? The government have no common sense.

Why this lyric is relevant today

Marijuana legalisation is becoming more and more popular each year, yet the more “progressive” party, the Democrats, rejected marijuana legalisation even though two-thirds of Americans support it and three quarters of Democrats support it. Who are the Democrats trying to appeal to? Karens in the suburbs? Republicans who hate Trump? I guess that’s what The Lincoln Project is for.

Decriminalisation is a step in the right direction, but if you’re going to go that far, go all the way! It’s like what I thought about people who were against gay marriage, but supported civil unions. Why not go the whole 9 yards? If you support racial justice, support legalising marijuana… and I’d argue all drugs as well, as a libertarian. Drug use shouldn’t be treated as a crime, but as a health issue and we don’t jail people for smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol.

Legalise, tax, and regulate marijuana at a bare minimum. Free all those in prison on marijuana charges and give them a fresh start and clean slate. It’s a waste of money to imprison people when there are real crimes out there being committed.

People have been lied to about marijuana. It’s no worse than drinking alcohol. In fact, it’s better. There are actual health benefits to smoking weed, so feel free to smoke! Don’t step on the grass, Sam!

19. “Ghost Town” – The Specials (1981)

Unemployment, collapse

“This town, is coming like a ghost town
Why must the youth fight against themselves?
Government leaving the youth on the shelf
This place, is coming like a ghost town
No job to be found in this country
Can’t go on no more
The people getting angry”

This song was written about the social issues Britain faced during the late 70s and early 80s: cities decaying and deindustrialising, violence breaking out, and youth unemployment. At the time the song was a hit, there were riots in cities all over Britain and music journalists praised the song as a good piece of social commentary and gave it the honour of “Single of the Year”.

Why this lyric is relevant today

Outsourcing, deindustrialisation, youth unemployment, big businesses displacing small locally owned businesses, are huge problems even today. What happens when youth feel hopeless and have no future? They might turn to crime, violence, drug use, drinking, and even taking their own lives.

Think about it. Look around at the stuff around your house and count how many things are made in your country. Probably not a lot. Think of how many workers in your country belong to a union. Look at the increase of gig workers and the gig economy, a race to the bottom – who can accept the lowest pay for a job? Politicians don’t think people deserve a living wage and without enough money, people struggle to make ends meet and it hurts the economy. Why is it that when the stocks go up, we don’t see any of that, but when they go down, we get harmed the most?

All of this was made even worse by the coronavirus pandemic. Months of no clubbing, drinking, eating in restaurants turns vibrant and active cities into ghost towns. People don’t have jobs so they spend less money in the economy. The US is worse off now than in the Great Depression. Let that sink in.

20. “Beds Are Burning” – Midnight Oil (1987)

Oppression of Aboriginal Australians, Colonialism

How can we dance when our earth is turning?
How do we sleep while our beds are burning?”

Midnight Oil wrote this song after touring the Outback, playing for remote Aboriginal communities, and seeing the awful conditions that people were living in and criticised the government and people for ignoring this issue, sweeping it under the rug.

The song became an international hit on the opposite sides of the Earth (as far away as the UK, Ireland, France, and Canada) and lead singer Peter Garrett, who later went on to be a politician, was surprised and said this:

“Who would have thought an Aboriginal land rights song would travel that far?”

Why this lyric is relevant today

Similar to the US government and Native Americans, the Australian government are failing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people face: mental and physical health problems and a lack of funding for proper care, lack of access to nutritious food, lack of opportunity, their land being used for fracking – poisoning the air and water, lack of representation in government, whitewashing of Australia’s history and hiding any mentions of invasion of land and oppression of indigenous people, land and culture being taken away, being seen as a problem and not people, a cycle of despair, and no self determination.

How do people sleep at night knowing that this is going on? It’s a privilege to ignore it knowing that you’re going to be fine no matter what because it doesn’t affect you.

More and more Australians though are refusing to celebrate Australia Day, which many call Invasion Day since January 26 was the day the British ships first arrived in Australia – instead marching in solidarity with indigenous people or volunteering. There’s a movement to change the date of Australia Day so it doesn’t coincide with the day the British invaded because that’s not something to be celebrated.

Learn something new? What political classic rock songs are your favourites? Talk about it in the comments section!

Shoutout to my friend Patrick for supporting the blog!

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