Leftists and Socialists of Classic Rock Part 2: The 70s

Welcome to part 2 of our leftist/socialist classic rock musicians series! Part 1, published on International Workers’ Day, was about musicians of the 60s. In this post, we’ll be looking at musicians from the 70s, from Roger Waters to Tom Robinson! You might even find some surprises in here! Enjoy!

Left Wing Musicians of the 70s:

Roger Waters:

One of the most outspoken classic rockers and arguably the best known socialist classic rocker on this list. You may not agree with his views, but no doubt did he shed light on issues going on around the world and he doesn’t shy away from politics in his live shows.

Bassist and one of the vocalists of Pink Floyd. He was born George Roger Waters in Surrey. His father, Eric Fletcher Waters was a schoolteacher and a member of the Communist Party. He never knew him because he died in the Battle of Anzio, in Italy on 18 February 1944, when Roger Waters was an infant. He was a conscientious objector and a pacifist at the beginning of the war, driving an ambulance, but later joined the Army. Roger’s mother, Mary, was a teacher. Mary and her two sons moved to Cambridge, where they were raised. As you can see in The Wall and The Final Cut (he dedicated the latter to his father), Roger Waters losing his father inspired the writing of the songs on those albums. He also didn’t like school because of the rampant bullying from students and teachers, which you can hear in “Another Brick in the Wall”.

While at Regent Street Polytechnic, Roger Waters met future bandmates Nick Mason and Rick Wright and they started playing music together. He briefly studied architecture before becoming a musician and had considered being a mechanical engineer. Roger Waters originally played rhythm guitar, before switching to bass guitar when Syd Barrett and Bob Klose joined the band. Barrett and Klose were friends of Roger Waters from Cambridge. Future bandmate David Gilmour is also from Cambridge, but went to a private school called The Perse School. In 1965, the band started using the name “The Pink Floyd Sound”, later shortened to The Pink Floyd and then what we know and love them as, Pink Floyd. Until 1968, Syd Barrett was the leader and main songwriter of the band. Then Roger Waters became the leader and changed Pink Floyd from a psychedelic rock band to a more political, philosophical prog rock band. He remained the creative force in the band until he left in 1985. To this day, he still feuds with David Gilmour and it’s become a meme in the Pink Floyd fandom. In 2020, Roger Waters revealed that he was banned from Pink Floyd’s website and said that David Gilmour thinks he owns the band and that Waters is irrelevant and should keep quiet. He is also banned from Pink Floyd’s Facebook page.

Ever since Roger Waters was a teenager, he was involved in politics and activism. When he was 15, he was chairman of the Cambridge Youth Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Throughout Pink Floyd’s discography in the 70s, Roger Waters wrote songs about politics. On Dark Side of the Moon, the opening track “Breathe (In The Air)” has lyrics that refer to the realities of work and how overworking leads one into an early grave:

“Run, rabbit, run
Dig that hole, forget the sun
When at last the work is done
Don’t sit down, it’s time to dig another one

Long you live and high you fly
But only if you ride the tide
Balanced on the biggest wave
Race towards an early grave”

– “Breathe (In The Air)” by Pink Floyd

From that same album is the overtly anti-capitalist “Money”:

“Money, it’s a crime
Share it fairly but don’t take a slice of my pie
Money, so they say is the root of all evil today
But if you ask for a rise it’s no surprise that they’re giving none away”

– “Money” by Pink Floyd

“Welcome to the Machine” and “Have a Cigar” from Wish You Were Here criticise fame and the recording industry, which we all know is exploitative, with some musicians finding that the fame didn’t last forever and that they got screwed over with bad record deals that left them with almost no slice of the pie, so they had to go back to day jobs.

Animals, inspired by George Orwell’s Animal Farm, is easily Pink Floyd’s most anti-capitalist album. The album is primarily made up of long songs, each named after different kinds of animals, each representing a different class in society: dogs as predators, tyrannical pigs, and brainwashed sheep. Just a few of my favourite lyrics from the album:

Doesn’t this describe politicians?:

“You have to be trusted by the people that you lie to
So that when they turn their backs on you
You’ll get the chance to put the knife in.”

– “Dogs” by Pink Floyd

Too close to home:

“I gotta admit that I’m a little bit confused
Sometimes it seems to me as if I’m just being used
Gotta stay awake, gotta try and shake off this creeping malaise
If I don’t stand my own ground, how can I find my way out of this maze?
Deaf, dumb, and blind, you just keep on pretending
That everyone’s expendable and no-one has a real friend
And it seems to you the thing to do would be to isolate the winner
And everything’s done under the sun
And you believe at heart, everyone’s a killer.”

– “Dogs” by Pink Floyd

Feels like the 2020s:

“What do you get for pretending the danger’s not real
Meek and obedient you follow the leader
Down well trodden corridors into the valley of steel
What a surprise
A look of terminal shock in your eyes
Now things are really what they seem
No, this is no bad dream”

“Sheep” by Pink Floyd

Everyone knows The Wall, one of the greatest rock operas and concept albums of all time and if you haven’t seen The Wall live, just watch the video of it, it’s an incredible show – unforgettable, very political. I always find it funny when Trump supporters unironically used the Wall imagery when the album is an anti-fascist album and doesn’t portray the jaded rock star Pink as a hero or the good guy, he’s got a lot of demons in his head. The fascist imagery is satire. The fascist rally is a hallucination, he wants it to stop, and he feels guilty, places himself on trial in his head, tears down the wall, faces the real world, but there’s no real ending, just existential crisis. Politically, it isn’t so much a socialist album, but an anti-authoritarian and anti-war album, and those ideas are part of socialism for sure.

In this interview, he talks about The Wall and how his life experiences shaped him and influenced the album (part 2 here):

The follow-up, the polarising The Final Cut (which people think of more as a solo Roger Waters album than a Pink Floyd album) continues on the anti-war theme and was heavily inspired by Roger’s father, Eric – one of many soldiers betrayed by the British government, and current events, the Falklands War. David Gilmour didn’t like this political direction Pink Floyd were taking and so Roger Waters left the band and David Gilmour kept going with the Pink Floyd name and so the beef between the two began.

Here’s my Socialist Pink Floyd playlist:

And now for my favourite part of the blog post, quotes about politics from the musician himself:

In a Rolling Stone interview, Roger Waters said this about socialism being a no-no word and America’s healthcare system.

“Socialism is a good thing! What is wrong with socialism? You are the only country that I’ve ever heard of that buses its kids to school in the morning. What is that if not socialist? I am serious! I know nowhere else in the world. Then you go, “What the hell is that about?” “Well, we don’t want our kids to walk through dangerous neighbourhoods to get to school, so we send a bus to pick them up at their front door and take them home afterwards.” And you go, “Wow, great.” That is pure socialism, and it is correct.

“If you had socialised medicine as well, then we could really start calling you a socialist country. At least you have a better medical system now, thanks to Barack Obama, thanks to the executive branch of this administration that we are now seeing draw to a close. But it’s nothing like the healthcare you get in any of the other 30 major civilised countries in the world. Your healthcare is great if you are very, very, very rich and you have some rare form of cancer. You have the best brain surgeons or whatever in the world, but they service a tiny, tiny proportion of people. But by and large, your healthcare is dreadful, and the cost of it is almost double anywhere else in the world, and you get half the service for it. You know why?

“Because it goes to the fucking insurance companies and to the profits of the drug lords and drug companies. It has skimmed off its profit, and it shouldn’t be! Medicine should be provided to all the people, all of the time, for a moderate cost. Of course the drug companies should make moderate profits and of course insurance companies should make moderate profits, but they don’t. They are like loan sharks. They are ripping the heart out of everyone, and they are gouging as hard and fast as they can. That is the world we live in.”

– Roger Waters

Roger Waters also talks about universal healthcare and privatisation here in this interview with Michael Moore:

In the interview, he refers to Thatcher and Reagan as “the great devils of the neoliberal economic revolution which has destroyed most of the western world.” You can definitely see causation in graphs before 1980 and after 1980: everything’s more expensive, the poor are worse off now, more offshoring and outsourcing, the environment in shambles.

If you want to see more of him talking about human rights and the evils of neoliberalism and imperialism, here’s an interview with Al Jazeera:

A quote from the video on why he’s political:

“I’ve always been very involved politically. I was born into a very political household. My mother was a, and my father before he was killed, were card carrying members of the Communist Party. When I was a young teenager, maybe 13 or 14, one day my mother said to me, ‘You know Roger, you’re going to come up against difficult decisions that you have to make later in your life and when you do, it’s extremely important, A. That you identify that those decisions are there to be made and then you have to do research. You have to look at these questions from every different angle that you can. Listen to all arguments. Figure it out. And then you will have done the difficult work, the time consuming work. After that, what happens next is easy. You simply do the right thing. That was the lesson that my mum, she’s been dead for about 10 years now. That’s a lesson I’ve never forgotten.”

Gil Scott-Heron:

I’m certainly not the first to talk about the socialist side of Gil Scott-Heron, here are some great articles from Socialist Alternative and Socialist Worker.

Poet and soul/jazz musician and hip-hop pioneer described as a revolutionary man of peace. He was born in Chicago to an opera singer mother named Bobbie Scott and a Jamaican footballer who played for Celtic FC in Glasgow named Gil Heron. He was raised by his grandmother in Tennessee before moving to the Bronx to live with his mother when he was 12. Early on he showed a lot of talent in writing and he got a scholarship to study at the prestigious Fieldston School. He stood out there because he was poorer than the other students and was only one of five black students. As a teenager, he told the admissions board in the interview when they asked him how he’d feel commuting to school by public transport when some kids arrive in a limo, “Same way as you. Y’all can’t afford no limousine. How do you feel?” Woke and badass. He went on to earn an MA in creative writing and teach literature and creative writing and published books such as The N****r Factory and The Vulture.

In 1970, he released his debut album, Small Talk at 125th and Lenox, which was more of a spoken word album. In the liner notes for the album, he cited musicians Richie Havens, John Coltrane, Otis Redding, Jose Feliciano, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, and Brian Jackson as influences. As for non music influences, he listed Langston Hughes, Malcolm X, and Huey Newton. If you’re looking for political poems, listen to “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” (he re-recorded this on his follow up album Pieces of a Man), “Brother”, “Comment #1”, “Evolution (And Flashback)”, “Whitey on the Moon”, and “The Vulture”. There is a song on there with a homophobic slur in the title, let’s just say that’s a product of its time and was wrong then too. Overall, a great spoken word album that talks about the struggles of working class black Americans.

A quote from “Brother”

“Never can a man build a working structure for black capitalism.
Always does the man read Mao or Fanon.

I think I know you would-be black revolutionaries too well.
Standing on a box on a corner, talking about blowing the white boy away.
That’s not where it’s at, yet, brother.”

– “Brother” by Gil Scott-Heron

One of Gil Scott-Heron’s most famous lyrics – still relevant today but replace it with “White billionaire’s gone to space”:

“I can’t pay no doctor bills
But Whitey’s on the moon
Ten years from now I’ll be paying still
While Whitey’s on the moon”

– “Whitey on the Moon” by Gil Scott-Heron

And here’s Gil Scott-Heron calling out the white moderate:

“Over 50 you have killed in Mississippi since 1963
That doesn’t even begin to begin all of those you have maimed, hit and run over, blinded, poisoned, starved or castrated
I hope you do not think that a vote for John Kennedy took you off my shit list
Because in the street there will only be black and white
There will be no Democrats, Republicans, Liberals, Conservatives, Moderates or any of the rest of that shit you have used”

– “Enough” by Gil Scott-Heron

Pieces of a Man is a more conventional album with it having more music than spoken word and it being a studio album. Overall another very political album. Here’s are two great quotes from “The Needle’s Eye”

The first one calling out the military industrial complex and how there’s always money for war, but not for uplifting the poor:

“All the millions spent for killing
Seems the whole world must be dying
All the children who go hungry
How much food we could be buying”

– “The Needle’s Eye” by Gil Scott-Heron

And about the realities of having to work for a living. When you’re poor you’re just focused on survival:

“People wake up every morning
And simply push their lives aside
They seem to carry all their feelings
Crushed and crumbled up inside
Inside, inside, inside”

– “The Needle’s Eye” by Gil Scott-Heron

His 1972 album Free Will once again is another very political album with working class and black power themes throughout. One really good quote is from the song “Speed Kills”. It’s about desperate people being the easiest people to exploit and distract. One example is the long term unemployed who end up working as strikebreakers (scabs) because they’re so desperate for work even though by doing that, it’s hurting themselves and workers as a whole. On that same album is a song called “Ain’t No New Thing” which talks about how white musicians rip off black musicians, enriching themselves, while black musicians get less credit and less money.

“Issues in the paper (somehow I’m not concerned)
Seems that I’ve been here before
Here before, but I never learn”

– “Speed Kills” by Gil Scott-Heron

In total, Gil Scott-Heron released 20 albums.

Here’s a playlist of his songs with socialist themes:

Brian Eno:

Glam/art rock musician turned ambient/electronic musician, record producer, and visual artist. Interestingly enough, he describes himself as a “non musician”. Regardless, he’s had a lot of impact on the music industry and is easily one of the most influential and innovative musicians. I mean what other classic rocker composed the startup noise for Windows 95, composed music for video games like Spore, and even created some iOS apps with music on it? Pretty cool and I love how he went from rock to ambient.

He was born in Suffolk to a postal worker/clock repairer father and a Belgian mother. He has a younger brother, Roger, who also composes ambient music and they’ve recorded albums together, such as the 1983 album Apollo, also recorded with Canadian record producer Daniel Lanois, and the 2020 album Mixing Colours. He’s now an atheist, but he went to Catholic school as a kid. His confirmation name is from the school: Brian Peter George St John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno (say that five times fast!). As a kid, he had an interest in art and music, but he knew he never wanted to work a 9-5 and so he went to the Ipswich School of Art, where he did a foundation art degree. From there, he went on to do a diploma in Fine Arts at the Winchester School of Art, where he once attended a lecture given by Pete Townshend, a former student of new media artist Roy Ascott. He joined his first band, The Black Aces, while in art school, and he was part of an avant-garde, art, and performance trio called Merchant Taylor’s Simultaneous Cabinet. At the end of the 60s, he moved to London. Before founding Roxy Music, he was in the Scratch Orchestra and Portsmouth Sinfonia and worked at a newspaper and was an electronics dealer.

Roxy Music, where he got his big break, were formed in 1971 when Brian Eno met saxophone player Andy Mackay by chance at a train station and they bonded over electronic music. Eno later said that had that encounter not happened, he would have been an art teacher. Meanwhile former art teacher Bryan Ferry had just lost his job and he wanted to start a band with a bassist from Newcastle he knew named Graham Simpson, and so they placed an ad looking for a keyboard player. Bryan Ferry auditioned for King Crimson to replace Greg Lake, who left to form ELP, but the band didn’t find his voice suitable for the music. Interestingly enough, Brian Eno would later on work with King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp. Andy Mackay answered the ad, but he played saxophone and oboe, but he recommended Brian Eno for the band. Even though Eno wasn’t a musician, he could play synthesiser and had a reel to reel tape machine. Brian Eno at first didn’t play on stage with the band, but after they got a record deal, he joined them on stage playing synthesiser and it was like a contest between him and Bryan Ferry over who was the more flamboyant one. Both are incredibly stylish and had an over the top flamboyant glam rock look. This certainly contributed to disagreements between the two and Brian Eno left the band in 1973 because he didn’t like that Bryan Ferry wouldn’t let him incorporate his ideas.

Brian Eno released his first solo album in 1973, Here Come the Warm Jets. That album and the next three had an art pop sound. His best known song from this post-Roxy Music pre-ambient period is “Third Uncle”, famously covered by Bauhaus and 801. In a way that song is proto-metal. He also recorded albums with Robert Fripp during this time as Fripp & Eno. In 1974, he worked with Kevin Ayers and later in the decade he worked with David Bowie, DEVO, and Talking Heads.

While Brian Eno didn’t invent ambient music, he was the one who popularised the term and he’s easily the most famous in the genre. His music is lifechanging. Never fails to calm me down when I’m in an anxious mood. He defines ambient music as something that is ignorable but interesting and he came up with the idea to start making ambient music after a girlfriend bought him a record of harp music but because his stereo was malfunctioning it sounded funny, but he let it be because he was too tired, but he found by accident a new way to listen to music. So in 1975, he made his foray into ambient music with Discreet Music before starting his ambient series: Music for Airports (what a meme worthy title, and he had an album not in this series called Music for Films), Plateaux of Mirror (with avant-garde/ambient musician Harold Budd), Day of Radiance, and On Land. He also composed for sound installations all over the world.

As far as Brian Eno’s politics, while he previously worked for the Liberal Democrats in the noughties as youth affairs adviser, he supported Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour Party leadership election in 2015 and endorsed him in 2019 during the general election. He’s also outspoken about being anti-war, pro-Palestine – even being one of 100 artists who signed an open letter to call for boycotting Israeli political and cultural institutions, anti-Brexit, supports freeing Julian Assange, and is a founding member of the Long Now Foundation, which promotes better long-term thinking. In February, he wrote a short opinion piece about the war in Ukraine. In this piece, he says he’s against war because it’s a distraction, enriches the friends of politicians, and it’s a violation of agreements made at the end of the Cold War.

Here are some quotes from Brian Eno about politics:

On why music in the classic rock era was better, from this Apartmento Magazine interview:

“I have to say there is a lot of amazing music out there now, especially in England. But there certainly are some differences from the old times. For me the biggest difference is really based in the social arrangements we have now, as opposed to the ones we had in the past. If you think of the period from the end of World War II until about 1975, economists call it ‘the golden age of capitalism’, because women acquired more rights, as did ethnic minorities and disabled people, people of different classes were able to move through society, workers got better protection, unions were more powerful. All the things that socialist governments want. So in my opinion it shouldn’t be called the golden age of capitalism. It should be called the golden age of socialism. This was a time during which some version of socialism really worked well.
One of the things that resulted from that was a new level of social mobility. So kids like me, from a working-class background, got a decent education because it was free. That’s disappearing. We got proper healthcare, because that was free. And that’s disappearing, too. And most important of all, when you left college, as I did, and didn’t get a job, because you wanted to do something creative, the government looked after you—somewhat reluctantly, but it did. So many good bands and good artists came out of that period.
This is a big difference between the music business now and then—the absence of a working-class voice. There’s a lot of fantastic music now, and it’s nearly all from the middle-class voice. I have no problem with this; it’s the voice of people who have an expectation of stability and increase. But it’s just one voice. I want to hear voices with some anger in them, voices of people who live closer to the edge. Some struggle. Some desire to change the world. And that’s what the working-class voice can offer. The middle-class voice is one of melancholy. The working-class voice is one of anger. If you think of The Beatles, it’s very nice pop music, but they were angry too. There’s something about John Lennon’s voice that has that kind of resentment. You don’t hear it so much today, at least not outside Afro-American music.”

– Brian Eno

In the same interview, he talks about supporting UBI:

“I think the only thing the human race is really good at is generating and developing knowledge. Everything we can do as a species comes from that. The reason we can live at all is not because we’re fast or strong, but because we’re clever. We know how to look at the world and find things out about it and control it in different ways. Intelligence is our medium, our nourishment. Therefore, I want to make a society that produces a lot of knowledge. And to do that I think we have to use everybody in it. Not just a few people who go to posh schools, but all kinds of intelligence. The intelligence that kids who do graffiti have, or kids walking on a trapeze. So, what does it take to be creative? A certain cast of mind, but more importantly, it takes the right situation. You can’t be creative if you’re tired from doing a horrible job and all you want to do is get home and get drunk.”

– Brian Eno

In more current issues, Brian Eno has spoken out against NFTs, here’s what he had to say about why he’s not getting into the NFT game (good take):

“I’ve been approached several times to ‘make an NFT’. So far nothing has convinced me that there is anything worth making in that arena. ‘Worth making’ for me implies bringing something into existence that adds value to the world, not just to a bank account. If I had primarily wanted to make money I would have had a different career as a different kind of person. I probably wouldn’t have chosen to be an artist. NFTs seem to me just a way for artists to get a little piece of the action from global capitalism, our own cute little version of financialisation. How sweet – now artists can become little capitalist assholes as well.”

– Brian Eno

If you want a real treat, here’s a conversation with both Brian Eno and Roger Waters about politics and the pandemic:

If you want to know how much he hates the Tories, here’s a song he wrote about them, with proceeds going to charity:

Eric Faulkner:

One of the most surprising inclusions on this list, if not the most surprising. We don’t think of members of boy bands as political people, we just see them as teen idols who play poppy music and we don’t expect any substance, but the truth is that there’s human beings in these bands and there’s a lot more to them than the boy band image and you might be surprised when you learn more about them. Keeping an open mind and never making assumptions are values I always want to encourage on this blog. I certainly was surprised to find this out when I was researching the Bay City Rollers for the book I’m working on.

Eric Faulkner was born Eric Falconer in Edinburgh. His father was a GMB union shop steward, Communist Party member, and Scottish Trade Union Congress delegate, so Eric definitely grew up with politics in the house. As a child, he played viola and was in a youth orchestra, and he also knows how to play mandolin, bass, and keyboard. Best known as the guitarist and one of the main songwriters of the Bay City Rollers, he was definitely one of the most talented in the band and very much loved by fans. One of his trademarks was wearing lots of flair buttons on his outfit. Like the other band members, his stagewear was full of tartan and he had his name on his outfit.

Rollermania may have lasted just a couple years in the 70s, but Eric kept making music afterwards and branched out into different types of music and wrote even more songs. His most recent work is folk rock and he has an interest in protest and political songs and writing poetry. In 2007, he joined leftist politician Tony Benn at Glastonbury opening for him with a set of protest songs before introducing him on the Left Field stage. In 2015, he published a book of poetry called An Edinburgh Lad, under his birth name of Eric Falconer. In the book he refers to his dad as Comrade Dad.

Although he used to tour with his own Bay City Rollers group, he’s rather private about his life now and doesn’t really like to talk much about the Bay City Rollers and life in the band. Understandable considering the band’s manager, Tam Paton, was controlling and abusive towards all the members and Eric overdosed on sleeping pills while in the band, was constantly body shamed, and berated if a single he wrote didn’t reach #1. After a decade long battle in court to get millions in royalties that hadn’t been paid to the band, the band members only got £70k each, insulting and a far cry from what they should have received considering the band sold 120 million records, many sold out concerts, and lots of band merch. And then there’s Tam Paton and Derek Longmuir’s run-ins with the law. As well, in 2015, he contracted viral encephalitis and nearly died, but because he was quickly diagnosed and treated, he made a full recovery, although it cost him financially so he had to get help from Help Musicians and PRS Benevolent Fund.

Of politics and music he told The Herald:

“Even when I was in the Bay City Rollers I used to talk about issues, but it didn’t fit the agenda. The record company and management just wanted the boy next door thing. Now I do stuff by Pete Seeger, Ewan McColl and my own songs. It’s not a soap box but I want to challenge the apathy in music and help bring back the protest song.”

– Eric Faulkner

From his poem, The Party – We’ll Keep the Red Flag Flying High:

“In the corner, by the door, the next revolution plotted:

Earnest and true the comrades debated,

Earnest and true, the comrades waited

Earnest and true, the party fated

Earnest and true the Party marched”

– Eric Faulkner

From The Party – The Unions – Tory Five Year Plans:

“Back to the Tory Press, back to the struggle;

Another picket line, another closure.

The power struggle, the greed,

The poverty, the sophistry,

The bottom line – if you don’t ask you don’t get.

The capitalism – the bugger who’ll work for less

Here he comes, vanned in through the picket line crush:

Mr Arse Licker, Mr Yes Sir No Sir!

Mr Pay Me What You Want Sir!

Mr I’ll Clean Your Shiny New Car Sir!

Mr Scab Sir!”

– Eric Faulkner

From “Take No More”:

“They fill our lungs with their CO2. I’m in a sweat, got the greenhouse blues. Building walls is their racist cure. Whilst the rich get rich, the poor get poor. If you ain’t gonna take no more, Sing… ‘We ain’t gonna take no more'”

– “Take No More” by Eric Faulkner

Eric’s website has his music available to download for free.

Patti Smith:

Punk rock musician and poet of the 70s, punk poet laureate. While she’s considered to be the Godmother of Punk and a feminist icon, she doesn’t like being called that because she doesn’t want to be just seen as a female rock star. She was born Patricia Smith in Chicago and raised in New Jersey. Her mother was a jazz singer and Jehovah’s Witness and her father was a factory worker. Her parents raised her to be religious, but she later rebelled and rejected organised religion. She’d later go on to famously sing “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine” in her cover of Van Morrison and Them’s “Gloria”.

Growing up, she was tomboyish and wasn’t sure about her gender because of the rigid traditional pre-women’s lib-era gender roles, but thanks to seeing representation of non-feminine women in art, she felt more confident in herself. As a teenager, she started listening to Bob Dylan, one of her biggest influences. She was also inspired by jazz music, The Rolling Stones (especially Brian Jones), and the French poet Arthur Rimbaud. As a teenager, she got a job at a factory, which she hated and her experiences there inspired the lyrics of her song, “Piss Factory”. Some of my favourite lyrics from it are: “Forty hours, thirty-six dollars a week. But it’s a paycheque, Jack. So hot in here, hot like Sahara. You could faint from the heat. But these bitches are just too lame to understand. Too goddamned grateful to get this job to know they’re getting screwed up the ass” and “Hey sister, it don’t matter whether I do labour fast or slow, there’s always more labour after.” That’s life when you’re based and Marx-pilled and surrounded by people who are asleep and living capitalist life on autopilot.

After dropping out of university in the late 60s because she found it to be too restrictive, she moved to Manhattan, where she met photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, who was her boyfriend until he came out as gay. The two remained close friends until his death in 1989. He took the cover photo of Patti Smith’s debut album, Horses. The two worked at a bookstore and lived pretty much hand to mouth. After Patti Smith travelled to Paris with her sister in 1969, she started busking and doing spoken word performances and acting in plays. In the early 70s she would frequent CBGB’s and Max’s Kansas City. Before she got famous with The Patti Smith band, she potentially could have been the lead singer of Blue Öyster Cult. While that didn’t materialise, she co-wrote “Debbie Denise” (based on one of her poems), “Baby Ice Dog”, “Career of Evil”, “Fire of Unknown Origin”, “The Revenge of Vera Gemini”, and “Shooting Shark”. She even got published in some famous music magazines, writing a review for Rolling Stone and having her poetry published in Creem. In 1973 she read her poetry, opening for androgynous glam rockers The New York Dolls, and also opened for socialist folk singer Phil Ochs.

At the age of 28, she finally got her break and dreams started coming true. She met her idol, Bob Dylan, when he came to her show at the Bitter End, an honour! Because of the press, Clive Davis signed Patti Smith to Arista Records. Horses is released a month before her 29th birthday and is a success, selling over 200,000 copies. If you’re looking for another working class themed song, “Free Money” is on that album and talks about the realities of growing up poor. Her 1978 album Easter was her most commercially successful album. That’s the album with one of her best known songs “Because The Night”, credited to her and Bruce Springsteen. Springsteen couldn’t complete the song and gave it to Patti Smith and she added her own lyrics.

Patti Smith married Fred “Sonic” Smith of the MC5 and spent much of the 80s in semi-retirement, raising her two kids, a son named Jackson and a daughter named Jesse. However, she did release an album in 1988 called Dream of Life, which has one of her most popular songs, “People Have the Power” – she later performed this song at Green Party rallies:

Fred Smith died in 1994 and shortly after, Patti Smith’s younger brother Todd passed away. She was inducted into the Rock Hall in 2007.

Source: Patti Smith Fights the Good Fight by Vish Khanna on exclaim.ca

Now let’s talk about things Patti Smith has talked about politics, in her own words.

Similar to Ray Davies, Patti Smith doesn’t think of herself as a political person:

“I wouldn’t say that I’m political; I don’t know much about politics. I really hate politics but I care about our world. I’m a mom and I care about the world in terms of my children and everybody else’s children. My parents were both concerned with the human condition and so am I. I wouldn’t say it makes me political; I would like to think I’m a humanist.”

– Patti Smith

Patti Smith said this about her relationship with religion in a Rolling Stone interview:

“I left organised religion at 12 or 13, because I was brought up a Jehovah’s Witness. I have a very strong biblical background. I studied the bible quite a bit when I was young and continue to study it, independent of any religion, but I still study it.

“My sister is still Jehovah’s Witness. We talk all the time. I like to keep abreast of what she’s doing and what she believes in. I believe there is good in in all religions. But religion, politics and business, all of these things, have been so corrupted and so infused with power that I really don’t have interest in any of it – governments, religion, corporations. But I do have interest in the human condition.”

– Patti Smith

On feminism and rock and roll:

“I think we’ve made tremendous strides. When I was young, I never saw any girls playing electric guitar, but now girls do whatever they want. But in terms of equality, I’m more concerned, truthfully, with the equality of people having water, people having food, people dying of starvation all over the world. I don’t worry about whether rock and roll is equal for one gender or another. That’s a fight each musician can fight on their own. I have sympathy for mothers who can’t feed their children.”

– Patti Smith

Patti Smith is a supporter of the Green Party and is a big advocate for peace, freedom of speech, and the environment. She said this about the environment being the most important issue in an interview with The Guardian:

“I think the climate movement is the most important thing on the planet right now. It permeates everything. Civil rights, human rights, women’s rights.”

– Patti Smith

In that same interview, she talked about backlash she’s received for going against the political establishment:

“Oh, I mean I’ve been punished in many ways. I’m not allowed in China, the Chinese government doesn’t allow my art to be in galleries or museums there. After I campaigned against attacking Iraq, it was hard to get work or airplay. A lot of people were angry at me. But I thought going into Iraq was an act of aggression and revenge, it was morally wrong. Over and over, either from the right or the left I’ve had criticism because I don’t really navigate in a way that people want me to navigate. But I just refuse to be anybody’s poster child, I do things my own way.”

– Patti Smith

In 2003, Patti Smith called out then president George W. Bush and his policies at a concert in London:

“Just as the revolutionaries indicted King George III, so we indict George Bush:

For refusing to abide by international agreements for the protection of the environment,
for abandoning Alaska to the oil companies,
for abandoning Afghanistan,
for humiliating the United Nations,
for squandering a vast federal surplus,
for giving tax breaks to the rich,
for refusing to participate in international courts, prosecuting crimes against humanity, for flouting the Geneva convention by sequestering captured prisoners at Guantamano Bay,
for holding captured Iraqi’s in barbaric conditions, where neither their families or the Red Cross have access to them,
for destroying the Baghdad International Library,
for destroying the oldest copy of the Koran,
for napalming Iraqi soldiers,
for killing innocent Iraqi citizens,

– Patti Smith

On the Green Party and the direction it’s going in, she said in 2005:

“I’m not a political organiser, so it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to predict. You need strong leaders, people who can speak and comprehend local issues. One has to be careful not to get caught up in politics, which is a dirty and difficult game, and become discouraged. Ralph [Nader] quoted someone in saying, ‘Democracy is something worth losing for over and over and over again. You lose the fight until you win.’ There are certain issues, the anti-war movement and the environment, that are worth losing over and over until we break through…. I would say to the third party, one has a difficult road ahead and…don’t give up just because you’re going to lose, or there is not much recompense. One almost knows they are going to lose. When we marched against the strike on Iraq, I knew it was not going to make any difference, but I was determined to show and be counted. I wanted our government to know how I felt. So that is my thorn-in-the-side philosophy. You just have to keep poking until it bleeds.”

– Patti Smith

At the end of the day Patti Smith rejects being called an activist or a musician, but she says she’s an artist who stands up for what is right and uses her platform to talk about important issues and advocate for common sense positions.

Joe Strummer:

Lead singer, founder, and lead guitarist of The Clash, billed as The Only Band That Matters. Easily one of the most influential and best known punk rock bands, their influences cover a wide range of genres: reggae/ska, rockabilly, funk, and hip-hop. They tried their hand at all these genres over their six studio albums released from 1977-1985.

Joe Strummer was born John Mellor in Turkey to an English father and Scottish mother from The Highlands, besides that, he was ⅛ Armenian and ⅛ Jewish. His Indian-born father worked in the foreign service, which explains why he wasn’t born in the UK. Neither of his parents were musical people and they would move around a lot, and so Joe went to school in various different countries throughout his childhood. At the age of 9 or 10, he and his brother, David, attended boarding school in England, while his parents worked in Africa. As his father was a government employee, the government paid for his boarding school tuition and for travel for family visits, but these were only once a year and during these visits he would go wherever his parents were stationed, often in Africa or Iran. As a kid, he loved going camping because it was a nice escape from school. As a teen he got into blues music, R&B, folk music (especially Woody Guthrie – he even was nicknamed Woody, after him), and rock and roll – especially the Rolling Stones, listening to them made him want to be a musician. When he was 16, he got his first guitar. Academically, he was a better student than he gave himself credit for, getting A Levels in English, History, and Art. When he was 18, his brother, David, took his life and it was traumatic for him because he had to go and identify his body. Joe Strummer later said that David fell into a far right rabbit hole, became a Nazi and part of the National Front, got into the occult, and became estranged from his family. In 1970, Joe Strummer attended art school and enrolled in a foundation course because he wanted to be a cartoonist. After that, he moved to Wales with a girlfriend and was in a band called The Vultures and briefly worked as a gravedigger in a cemetery and at a carpet factory before going back to London. He performed music on the street and squatted with friends at 101 Walterton Road in Maida Vale. His pre-Clash band were named the 101ers, in reference to where they were squatting. In order to invest in his music career and fund the purchase of musical instruments, he had to work various odd jobs. In 1975, he adopted his stage name Joe Strummer, with his last name being a self-deprecating description of his skills on the ukulele. You can watch a documentary directed by Julien Temple called Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten here. I really liked this one anti-consumerist thing Joe Strummer said to the audience:

“You make, you buy, you die! That’s the motto of America. You get born to buy it. And if there’s anything going to be in the future, it’s going to be from all parts of everything, not just one white way down the middle of the road.”

– Joe Strummer

Inspired by The Sex Pistols, who opened for the 101ers, Joe Strummer wanted to take his music in a punk direction. Bernie Rhodes and Mick Jones approached him after the show and asked him to join their group, which became a certain famous punk band we all know and love. Bassist Paul Simonon gave the band their name, The Clash. Another big influence on The Clash were The Ramones, who the band saw in Camden in 1976. After that, they practiced and got better as a band.

In 1977, The Clash released their debut album, as punk was at its height of popularity. NME called 1977 “The year of The Clash”, but people accused The Clash of being sell outs and killing punk because they got a major record deal that year. Impressively they got a record deal with CBS Records, after only playing about 30 gigs and never really playing a headline show, but it wouldn’t be long until they were playing headlining shows and touring. What really made The Clash special was that they’d talk politics in their music and they talked about topical things. For working class kids, this was like reading a newspaper. You could think of The Clash like a punk rock Phil Ochs, protest song-writing rock and roll journalists and they thought about the world! Both Phil Ochs and Joe Strummer were fascinated with Latin America and didn’t just talk Western socialism. Joe Strummer didn’t just care about human rights, he also cared about animals rights and was a vegetarian from the early 70s until he died in 2002. His vegetarian origin story? Watching Arthur Brown’s “Fire” being performed and saw a rooster accidentally being incinerated. It horrified him and he gave up meat.

Joe Strummer became a leftist and got into world music because he lived in a working class, diverse part of London and travelled the world at a young age and he saw the inequality around him and wanted to speak out. He was no fan of nationalism and had a very internationalist approach and was proud to tell people he was born in Turkey. He said this about nationalism in an NME interview:

“I’d been shat on by the system, as it were, and seen it from the underside – any patriotism at all made me wanna throw up. As far as I saw it, we’re all earthlings – not English or French. And if we ever discover a new civilisation, that’s gonna get more in perspective. I mean, think of us all on this planet, fighting and shooting each other. You crack up thinking about it. That’s how I used to think. I still do, mind, but I do feel patriotic, y’know, when England does something good. But what about Northern Ireland, how can you feel patriotic with all that going on? We gotta sort something out.”

– Joe Strummer

He also had a reputation for being genuine and generous with friends and fans alike. He always made sure that fans got bang for their buck with their albums: London Calling was a double album and Sandinista! was a triple album and The Clash took lower royalties and gave fans a triple album for a low price. In a way they said screw you to the record label. Unfortunately for The Clash, the popularity was their downfall and Joe Strummer particularly didn’t like the commercialism and celebrity status. When “Rock The Casbah” became a huge hit, he considered leaving The Clash because it felt like a hypocrite singing socialist/revolutionary songs when he’s a rich rock star. Besides his work for The Clash, Joe Strummer did soundtracks and even tried his hand at acting, appearing in a few movies in the 80s.

Not only did Joe Strummer write songs with socialist themes, The Clash also got involved in Rock Against Racism, picketed outside the National Front’s headquarters in London with reggae band Steel Pulse, and right before he died Strummer was part of a benefit concert for striking firefighters.

Now it’s time to share some wisdom from Joe Strummer because I can write all I want about the politics, but I like letting the musician’s quotes speak for themselves:

Joe Strummer said this about his political views in an interview with Paul Du Noyer of NME:

“My politics are definitely left of centre. Yet I believe in self-determination. I don’t believe in Soviet Russia at all, because there’s hardly any choice. You’ve still got a ruling class riding around in big cars. Our bass player went to Moscow to see for himself and he said that people walk around like this [heads down]. Tourists and party members have special shops, but your normal Joe Russian isn’t even allowed in the bloody shop, never mind that he’s got no dough to spend in them. And where’s that at?

“I believe in socialism because it seems more humanitarian, rather than every man for himself and I’m all right and Jack and all those arsehole businessmen with all the loot. But you can’t bring socialism in with orders. I mean, look at the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. They just massacred and butchered the whole country to make them to do what they were told. That’s ten times worse than the shit we’ve got going on here.

“When I left art school, I took a dive: no future, no skill, nothing. So I just laboured and doled, fucked off around the place. Took a job when I was really skint, if I could get one, got fired every time for late timekeeping. The usual.

“And I made up my mind from viewing society from that angle. That’s where I’m from and that’s where I’ve made my decisions from. That’s why I believe in socialism. When I was on my uppers, every door was slammed in my face. Once I asked a lady outside a sweetshop to buy me a bar of chocolate. I’d been hitching all day and I was really hungry. I just thought I’d turn around and try society on. And this lady came along and I said, ‘Would you give me the rest of the money for this bar of chocolate?’ And she just said ‘No, why should I?’ Things like that annoyed me.”

– Joe Strummer

Joe Strummer said this about the beliefs of The Clash:

“I think people ought to know that we’re anti-fascist, we’re anti-violence, we’re anti-racist and we’re pro-creative. We’re against ignorance.”

– Joe Strummer

A quote against incrementalism:

“The way you get a better world is you don’t put up with substandard anything.”

– Joe Strummer

A more libertarian quote:

“Authority is supposedly grounded in wisdom, but I could see from an early age that authority was only a system of control and it didn’t have any inherent wisdom. I quickly realised that you either became a power or you were crushed”

– Joe Strummer

Another way of saying there’s a big club and you’re not in it:

“All the power’s in the hands of people rich enough to buy it.”

– Joe Strummer

You might be thinking it’s hypocritical that a famous rock star has socialist views. You might be wondering how he reconciled making big money with his political views. Here’s what he had to say on that and the realities of making show biz money:

“I have a weird life because I live on songwriting royalties, which are a strange income. Sometimes it rains, sometimes it doesn’t.”

Socialist Worker said it well:

“Strummer was a decent and inspiring man. Since his untimely death, so many friends have remembered him: ‘he had great integrity’, ‘man of the people’, ‘a left wing punk’, ‘he didn’t give up’.”

Here’s a playlist of socialist Clash songs:

Paul Weller:

Lead singer of mod revival/punk band The Jam and singer of pop band The Style Council. Well known as The Modfather. He was born John William Weller on 25 May in Woking, Surrey, a suburb of London. His parents would call him Paul. He grew up working class with his father being a taxi driver and his mother being a cleaner. With his music being heavily inspired by music of his childhood in the 60s, it’s no surprise his biggest influences are groups like The Beatles, The Who, The Kinks, and The Small Faces as well as 60s American R&B, but the experience that really made him want to be a rock star was seeing Status Quo in concert in 1972 – they have a great reputation as a live band, always top notch and they make simplicity sound brilliant. As a teenager, he formed the first incarnation of The Jam and his father was their manager, which is really cool. Always great when parents support your dreams! Later, the band’s lineup was finalised with Bruce Foxton on bass and Rick Buckler on drums. Paul Weller especially got into the Mod subculture in 1974 and got his band to dress like mods. From that point on, he became very dedicated to the subculture, famously saying “I’ll always be a mod. You can bury me a mod.”

In 1977, The Jam got a few big breaks: they performed on Marc Bolan’s show Marc, opened for The Clash (who were early fans) on their White Riot tour, and their debut single “In The City” reached the top 40. Because they were a rock band during the time when disco was at its peak in popularity, it was hard to place high on the charts, but they still had some chart success and made appearances on Top of the Pops. The early 80s, which was a very conservative time in politics with Thatcher and Reagan and rock and roll responded with protest songs, was their peak popularity with hits like “The Eton Rifles”, “Going Underground”, and “Start!” – the latter two reaching #1 and the first one reaching #3. Unfortunately, the huge success in the UK didn’t translate to success across the pond and The Jam remained rather underground in the US. They also had big hits with “Town Called Malice”, “The Bitterest Pill (I Ever Had to Swallow)”, and “Beat Surrender” before breaking up in 1982. In 1983, Paul Weller formed The Style Council with former Merton Parkas keyboard player Mick Talbot. After that broke up, Paul Weller went on to have a successful solo career. He still tours to this day.

In a 1988 interview, he said this of his politics:

“Our politics are closest to socialism, but socialism is always open to so many interpretations that it’s always hard to pinpoint, you know. Cos you got the Trotskyists and you got the Leninists and you got this and you got the mainstream and you know. It’s always hard to define it, really. But we just basically believe in basic human rights and equal rights for people and not the capitalist monopoly that exists at the moment. But at the same time we also believe that people should enjoy themselves as well. There’s some socialists who have this kind of dour kind of workers’ image of the world, which is nonsense really.”

– Paul Weller

Ever since The Jam got famous, Paul Weller has been political. One of his first comments to the media on politics was a piss take, saying that he would vote for the Tories. There’s no evidence that he’s actually conservative and since then, he’s been solidly left wing, advocating for many left wing causes like Nuclear Disarmament, the Miners’ Strike, he was involved in the formation of the short lived collective Red Wedge, a group of left wing entertainers trying to get the youth to vote for left wing politicians to oust Thatcher (he later regretted being in this group, which got criticism from some leftist musicians, he said he felt used), he released an anti-war song called “A Bullet For Everyone” critical of Tony Blair and George Bush, and he endorsed Jeremy Corbyn in 2016.

Since the late 80s, Paul Weller took a hiatus from talking politics, but in 2008 he called out then Conservative Party leader David Cameron who called “The Eton Rifles” one of his favourite songs. He famously said, “It wasn’t intended as a fucking jolly drinking song for the cadet corp.” Paul Weller told Mojo Magazine:

“The whole thing with Cameron saying it was one of his favourite songs… I just think, ‘Which bit didn’t you get?’” People say, ‘Why don’t you write any more political songs?’ But I would just write exactly the same fucking things I wrote thirty-odd years ago. Every time they fire a missile in the Middle East, that’s £850,000, right? And then they talk about the NHS, fucking selling it off or it crumbling. So nothing’s really changed, has it?”

– Paul Weller

In 2002, he talked about how he regretted being part of Red Wedge, a group that he saw as performative and egotistical – a little insight on why he doesn’t talk politics as much. You can find more on this in this article:

“It was the biggest mistake ever for me because once you get involved with those people you see how it’s all run. It’s more about their egos and it’s not about really making a difference.”

– Paul Weller

On revolution and party politics, Paul Weller said:

“I don’t think the answer is necessarily in politics – I think it’s in us human beings, and that’s a far bigger question. There’s no one political party that’ll lead us out of the darkness – it’s going to have to come from the people; but who knows if that’ll happen. I think all we can do is be conscious of it as best you can, and be as good person as you can.”

– Paul Weller

Here’s a playlist I put together of some of The Jam and Style Council’s more political songs. You’ll find rebellious kinds of songs, ones that talk about working class life, songs that criticise the government, and songs against gentrification and consumerism. You can really hear a lot of Townshend, Davies, and Marriott influences:

Tom Robinson:

Punk singer turned DJ. He was born in Cambridge to a middle-class family. As a child, he went to a Quaker boarding school before being sent to Finchden Manor, a therapeutic community for youth who were at risk or had mental illnesses, at the age of 16 – he credits his time there as something that saved his life. He attempted suicide because at the time homosexuality was illegal. At 13, he realised he was gay when he found he had a crush on another boy. While he had relationships with both men and women and eventually ended up marrying a woman, he considers himself to be more gay leaning and came to terms with being bisexual, even wrote a nice letter of advice to a young bi-curious fan. David Bowie, especially his song “Bewlay Brothers” was a big influence on Tom Robinson, who grew up feeling alone and unrepresented, feeling as if he was the only gay kid around. A great example of why representation matters.

As a teenager, he played in a band and listened to John Peel’s The Perfumed Garden on pirate radio station Radio London. Founding Father of British Blues Alexis Korner was also a big influence on him when he visited Finchden Manor. After leaving Finchden Manor, Tom Robinson formed a group called Café Society, who recorded one self-titled album in 1975 under Ray Davies’ short lived record label, Konk Records. The group were discovered when Alexis Korner and Ray Davies came to the Troubadour Club and Ray took an interest in the group. He had high hopes to get famous then, but he was put on the back burner, found Ray to be a bit flaky, and the album only sold about 500 copies. In the years following, Tom Robinson and Ray Davies wrote diss tracks about each other, but I suppose they’re on better terms now since Tom Robinson interviewed Ray on his BBC radio show.

At the height of punk’s popularity and inspired by the Sex Pistols, Tom Robinson tried his hand at fame again and this time it was a success. Earlier in the decade, he got into the gay liberation movement and wanted to incorporate activism in his music. Keep in mind that this is decades before gay rights became mainstream and corporations and the establishment co-opted the rainbow flag and other gay liberation symbols. He formed Tom Robinson Band with his friend from Finchden Manor, Danny Kustow. At the time, Tom Robinson was broke, but his fortune changed when EMI signed the Tom Robinson Band and it wouldn’t be long until they ended up on Top of the Pops, with Tom Robinson proudly donning a gay pride pin. “2-4-6-8 Motorway” reached the top 5 in the charts and it’s kind of surprising because the song’s chorus is based on a gay liberation chant and is about a gay lorry driver (trucker), but that flew over the straight people’s heads. Take a closer look at the band’s album Power In The Darkness and you’ll find a lot of overtly political songs like “Glad To Be Gay”, “Up Against The Wall”, “Ain’t Gonna Take It”, “Long Hot Summer”, “The Winter of ’79”, “Man You Never Saw”, “Better Decide Which Side You’re On”, “You Gotta Survive”, and “Power in the Darkness”. The band weren’t all talk with politics; they regularly appeared at Rock Against Racism concerts and Tom Robinson supported Anti Nazi League carnivals. He also volunteered for Switchboard, a hotline for LGBT people staffed only by LGBT people.

When asked in a 1978 interview how he reconciles being a political musician with having hit records, he said this:

“You always got to compromise anyway because you put ‘Glad To Be Gay’ out a year ago on TV, when it came out on Top of the Pops, they wouldn’t touch it. They wouldn’t let us play it. So we played another song off the same record on Top of the Pops because in that case I felt the means justified the end, definitely. Because at least people had the chance to know there was a record out and then they could go out and buy it and hear it for themselves and we managed to chart the record at #18 and if that meant to compromise of accepting a different song for Top of the Pops, well we had to do it.”

A great quote about how David Bowie and The Sex Pistols changed his life and what made him want to be a gay activist musician:

“Having grown up bisexual in the 60s and thought I was the only queer kid in my class, in my school, in my village, in Essex, you know the whole fucking world. Nothing I heard off the radio from pop music or magazines or TV or books or anything gave me anything other story than boy meets girl. It was boy meets girl, boy meets girl and it was only in 1972-1973 when I stumbled across David Bowie’s music. I’d seen articles about it and I thought that’s a bit ponce-y with the fishnet stockings and dyed hair and painted fingernails. I didn’t think at all I could be doing with that, but then I heard the music and it blew my head off. The Hunky Dory album, I went, ‘This is music about me!’ Finally! Music of my life! And so I just said to myself then, ‘If I ever get the chance to do that for somebody else in the course of trying to make a career in music, then I will pass that on.’ Because that has transformed my life and if I can do a fraction of that for somebody else…”

“Actually I’d come out as soon as I moved to London in ’73, so I never had the possibility of a career in music in the closet because I was already out so you can’t go back in once you’re out. Although a few people have tried. So I became a gay activist while in Café Society and that was on the side from my music career. I had a music career signed to Ray Davies, him producing our album, hoping to make us, not making it. On the side. I was turning up at gay benefits and singing protest songs and doing time on Gay Switchboard as a volunteer and it was only after the Pistols that I went, ‘Hold on! You could bring the two sides of your life together. But one of the tenets of gay liberation that was the scales falling from your eyes. The Gay Liberation Front was a very political organisation and they said you can’t divide your freedom, you can’t say that women’s place is in the home, but then say gay men are ultimately allowed to do what they want. You can’t say let’s not have any more immigrants in this country. The same people who hate us are the same people who hate them. We have common enemies. The police are using the sus laws to beat up gay men in Earls Court, but they’re also using the same sus laws in Notting Hill, in Brixton, so Rock Against Racism is a natural thing to support. And it just sprung out of where I was coming from. Also it didn’t make sense to be a ‘gay band’. You’re losing your audience and it isn’t just about that. You either live in a free and fair society or you don’t.”

– Tom Robinson

And here are some great song lyrics:

From “Up Against The Wall”

“High wire fencing on the playground
High rise housing all around
High rise prices on the high street
High time to pull it all down”

– Tom Robinson Band

From “Power in the Darkness”:

“Freedom… we’re talking bout your freedom
Freedom to choose what you do with your body
Freedom to believe what you like
Freedom for brothers to love one another
Freedom for black and white
Freedom from elitism, male domination
Freedom for the mother and wife
Freedom from Big Brother’s interrogation”

– Tom Robinson Band

Honourable Mentions:

Dafydd Iwan:

Welsh singer-songwriter, politician, and Welsh nationalist and Welsh language activist. He is best known for his patriotic song “Yma o Hyd”, which translates to “Still Here”. It was written during the age of Thatcherism, when coal mines and factories in Wales were being shut down and the public turned its nose up at devolution, voting against their own best interests, leaving Dafydd Iwan feeling demoralised about his country and so he wrote this uplifting song. It’s so powerful and beautiful, it sends shivers down my spine, and I don’t even understand Welsh. It revived interest in preserving the Welsh language The song has since become the 2022 World Cup anthem for the Welsh football team and topped the iTunes charts in June 2022. If you love Irish rebel songs, you’ll love “Yma o Hyd”.

Of the meaning of the song, he told Wales Online:

“‘Er gwaethaf pawb a phopeth, r’yn ni yma o hyd’ – that is the message of the song, in spite of everyone and everything, we are still here. In spite of the challenges we face, we are still here and I think people to this day can relate to that. We are still here, overcoming challenges and fighting for a better future. The strength of the song is that it can be relatable to anyone, politics or not. As individuals we might feel we have gone through difficult times, perhaps football or rugby teams may feel they have gone through difficult times too.”

– Dafydd Iwan

He was born Dafydd Iwan Jones in 1943 in Brynaman, a mining village in Carmarthenshire to a political, Welsh speaking family. He spent most of his youth in Bala before going to university in Cardiff, studying architecture. His grandfather was a founding member of Plaid Cymru. As a child, he performed music and got into political activism, joining Plaid Cymru. He joined the Welsh Language Society when he was a student at University of Wales, Cardiff. In 1970, he spent a few weeks in jail for defacing English language road signs in Wales and refusing to pay the fine. At first, he refused an offer to be released from jail early because he wanted to draw more attention to the cause, making Welsh an official language of Wales. The Archbishop of Wales, Glyn Simon, paid the fine on his behalf and Dafydd Iwan accepted because he thought it was important to go home to his wife and young child. He wrote the songs “Pam Fod Eira Yn Wyn” and “Peintio’r Byd Yn Wyrdd” about the road signs campaign. It’s because of this activism that Welsh is an official language now.

His influences were not just Welsh, but also American folk and protest musicians like Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and Bob Dylan (although in the case of Bob Dylan, he was more inspired by his protest song style than his music style). He wrote a song inspired by Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” called “Mae’N Wlad I Mi” that talks about how every part of Wales is part of Welsh people’s heritage.

He founded the Welsh language record label Sain in 1969 with fellow singer-songwriter Huw Jones and businessman Brian Morgan Edwards. Sain became the biggest Welsh record label and releases Welsh music of all genres: punk, folk, rock, pop, country, and rap. The first single released by the label was Huw Jones’ “Dŵr”.

The song title translates to water and is a political song about the drowning of the village of Capel Celyn (a Welsh speaking community) in the Tryweryn Valley in North Wales. In the 50s, the Liverpool City Council wanted to flood the valley and build a reservoir there to supply water for those living in the city. There was pretty much unanimous opposition from the Welsh people. Protesters were not listened to and the residents living there were displaced in 1965. Shows that the 60s was not a swinging party for all in the UK. Plaid Cymru’s argument that Wales was basically powerless in the UK was strengthened and people made cases for devolution, transferring more power to Wales. In 1999, 20 years after 80% of Wales voted no to devolution, the Senedd Cymru (Welsh Parliament) was founded, replacing the Welsh Office. Forty years later, the Liverpool City Council apologised for the flooding, but it was too little too late and frankly insulting to those who were affected since that was home for them for generations and it’s one of many times when England plundered Wales.

Not only is Dafydd Iwan for Welsh independence, he’s also a republican, as in being against the monarchy. He wrote the satirical song “Carlo” as a protest against then Prince Charles’ investiture as the Prince of Wales. Fifty years after his investiture, the two met. He said, “I am still a republican… but Charles and I have more in common than I had realised”. His opinion on protesting any future investitures has changed to picking his battles with him saying, “I would never campaign against something like the investiture again when there are more important things to do like building a new Wales.”

Here’s what he had to say about the Welsh language being a social justice issue:

“In fighting for the Welsh language, we’re fighting against injustice in every country…fighting for the people of Vietnam, Biafra, the second-class citizen in every country.”

– Dafydd Iwan

Nation.Cymru described him as the Welsh Victor Jara and said that socialism, equality, and change are some of his greatest beliefs, all things needed for an independent Wales. His nationalism is an anti-racist nationalism:

“The nature of society is so important. We need to be outward looking and believe in the equality of choice, chance, opportunities, and of course we must fight all forms of racism. There is always a danger of course that our fight for keeping Wales Welsh can turn into an anti-English thing.”

– Dafydd Iwan

Selda Bağcan:

Turkish singer-songwriter and activist. She was born in 1948 in Muğla, in southwestern Turkey and raised in Van, a predominantly Kurdish city known for the Van cat, and the capital of Ankara. She grew up with music in the house because her father liked playing music, knowing how to play saxophone and flute and encouraged his kids to learn instruments. Selda herself learnt to play mandolin when she was 5. As a teenager, she learnt to play guitar. She studied physics and engineering at Ankara University before starting her professional career as a musician in 1971. She started out playing traditional Turkish songs with acoustic guitar before going political with her music. She quickly gained popularity, with her first two singles selling over a million copies, and was chosen by the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs to represent her country in the international Golden Orpheus song contest. She is especially popular among leftists in Turkey because her songs expressed solidarity with the working class and criticised right wing ideology and imperialism. She also toured all over Europe and as far away as Australia. Sadly though in 1980, there was a coup and she was one of those persecuted, because of the messages in her music. She was arrested and jailed multiple times and had her passport taken away so she couldn’t attend WOMAD, a music festival founded by Peter Gabriel. To help her out, the organisers of the festival put one of her songs on the official WOMAD album and helped get her passport back and so she got it back in 1987 and she was able to play festivals internationally again. Even into the 2010s she played festivals. She now runs a music production company called Majör Müzik Yapım in Istanbul. Her songs have been sampled by musicians all over the world, the most famous of them being Mos Def and Dr Dre.

You can read more about her on Flabbergasted Vibes and the Anatolian Psych wiki.

Jim Fitzpatrick:

Artist best known for his 1968 painting of Che Guevara (who was partially of Irish descent and is often referred to here as Che Guevara Lynch), whom he had met just a few years before while working at a pub in Kilkee. Yes, that painting of Che Guevara seen on countless t-shirts and posters. He never received royalties from that work of art and that was on purpose. But decades later he claimed ownership of it so he could transfer the rights to Che Guevara’s family and the people of Cuba. His classic rock connection is designing most of Thin Lizzy’s album covers: Vagabonds of the Western World, Nightlife, Jailbreak, Johnny The Fox, Black Rose, and Chinatown. He got into doing album covers because he was working in advertising and one day he was introduced to Thin Lizzy lead singer/songwriter/bassist Phil Lynott and they became good friends.

He was born in Dublin in 1944 into a very creative family. His father was a photojournalist and his grandfather was a political cartoonist. At a young age, he got really into Irish mythology, which you can see a lot in his artwork. Not only that, but he’s also done artwork of Irish revolutionary figures such as James Connolly, Constance Markievicz, Éamonn Ceannt, Joseph Plunkett, Seán Mac Diarmada, Thomas Clarke, Thomas MacDonagh, and Pádraig Pearse. He also did a series of drawings of famous Irish authors, three of which were socialists: Brendan Behan (Bob Dylan’s a huge fan), James Joyce, and Oscar Wilde. He also did a series of drawings of American revolutionaries like Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Frederick Douglass, and Angela Davis. Another big influence for Jim Fitzpatrick was Marvel comics, which he loves collecting (this art style influenced the Jailbreak cover).

In an interview, he said this about the role of an artist in society:

“I don’t think the artist has a role in society. The artist’s role is to produce work. Brendan Behan used to say if you want a message, you’re going to ask about his work. If you want a message, call Western Union. Artists aren’t there to give messages, they’re there to reflect society, perhaps. But they’re also there to add imagination and colour to our lives, you know? And I hope for instance, my older Celtic work that I do, that I’ve done something to revive an interest in our own history and mythology.”

– Jim Fitzpatrick

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