Tuesday, May 30, 2006


Rocking Right, Left & In Between

Over at National Review, my friend John Miller has put together a list of 50 "conservative" rock songs. It will undoubtedly be a source of great conversation and debate -- as music lists always are, even without the political veneer added to them. Here's the top 15 of John's picks (go to the link for the explanation of everything after the first five):

1. "Won't Get Fooled Again," by The Who. The conservative movement is full of disillusioned revolutionaries; this could be their theme song, an oath that swears off naive idealism once and for all. "There's nothing in the streets / Looks any different to me / And the slogans are replaced, by—the—bye. . . . Meet the new boss / Same as the old boss." The instantly recognizable synthesizer intro, Pete Townshend's ringing guitar, Keith Moon's pounding drums, and Roger Daltrey's wailing vocals make this one of the most explosive rock anthems ever recorded — the best number by a big band, and a classic for conservatives.
2. "Taxman," by The Beatles.A George Harrison masterpiece with a famous guitar riff (which was actually played by Paul McCartney): "If you drive a car, I'll tax the street / If you try to sit, I'll tax your seat / If you get too cold, I'll tax the heat / If you take a walk, I'll tax your feet." The song closes with a humorous jab at death taxes: "Now my advice for those who die / Declare the pennies on your eyes."
3. "Sympathy for the Devil," by The Rolling Stones. Don't be misled by the title; this song is "The Screwtape Letters" of rock. The devil is a tempter who leans hard on moral relativism — he will try to make you think that "every cop is a criminal / And all the sinners saints." What's more, he is the sinister inspiration for the cruelties of
Bolshevism: "I stuck around St. Petersburg / When I saw it was a time for a change/ Killed the czar and his ministers / Anastasia screamed in vain."
4. "Sweet Home Alabama," by Lynyrd Skynyrd. A tribute to the region of America that liberals love to loathe, taking a shot at Neil Young's Canadian arrogance along the way: "A Southern man don't need him around anyhow."
5. "Wouldn't It Be Nice," by The Beach Boys.Pro—abstinence and pro—marriage: "Maybe if we think and wish and hope and pray it might come true / Baby then there wouldn't be a single thing we couldn't do / We could be married / And then we'd be happy."

6. "Gloria," by U2.
7. "Revolution," by The Beatles
8. "Bodies," by The Sex Pistols.
9. "Don't Tread on Me," by Metallica.
10. "20th Century Man," by The Kinks."
11. "The Trees," by Rush.
12. "Neighborhood Bully," by Bob Dylan.
13. "My City Was Gone," by The Pretenders.
14. "Right Here, Right Now," by Jesus Jones.
15. "I Fought the Law," by The Crickets.

Already challenging John is washingtonpost.com's Jabari Asim, who presents the "The Top Liberal Rock Songs".

Of course, both lists are problematic. Jabari complains that John's list is too white -- and wonders if even some of them can rightly be considered "conservative." He offers a much smaller -- five -- list of songs coming out of the Sixties and Seventies protest movements:

"A Change Is Gonna Come" by Sam Cooke.
"Mississippi Goddam" by Nina Simone.
"Wake Up Everybody" by Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes.
"What's Going On" by Marvin Gaye.
"You Haven't Done Nothin"' by Stevie Wonder.
But if John is vulnerable to the question of "What is 'conservative' in the context of popular music, Jabari opens himself up to the question of "Are these 'rock' songs -- or just soul-oriented protest songs?"

He notes:

Exactly when did rock 'n' roll, once the province of Fats Domino, Chuck Berry and Little Richard, become so white? The only black band listed is Living Colour, whose "Cult of Personality" is less a praise song to conservatism than a blast at egotistical leadership of any political stripe. The National Review list suggests that blacks have become little more than a footnote to a cultural phenomenon they are largely responsible for creating -- or, more plausibly, that black conservatives rarely express themselves via rock songwriting.
Well, the fact is that rock is largely a rebellion-based art, so there seems to be a conflict between conservatism and rock. However, it's not surprising that John Miller puts the Sex Pistols' anti-abortion rant, "Bodies" on the list. British punk was partly a rebellion against the "no future" that the Labour Party was offering in the mid-70s.

But is "rock" just guitar, bass and drums in 4/4 time? Or is it something more, something that reflects a broad cultural mix of youth-oriented music that stretches from it's birth in the 1950s through the present and covers rock 'n' roll (the Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Elvis, Stones, Beatles varieties), R&B, soul, reggae, punk, rap and goodness knows what sort of varieties exist now?

If it is the latter, it seems to me that Miller and Asim are both doing themselves an injustice. Each ignores James Brown's late '60s period which produced both "Say It Loud, I'm Black And I'm Proud" -- which could be considered the prototype liberal "identity politics" anthem -- and
the fiercely self-reliant
"I Don't Want Nobody to Give Me Nothing (Open the Door, I'll Get It Myself)." Hello, conservatives! This is the guy who endorsed Richard Nixon a few years later!
Conversely, even though Asim expands the definition of what "rock" is, he manages to look only at the black music of the Sixties and Seventies and completely overlooks the most blatantly political music of recent years -- rap. Public Enemy, anyone?

In any event, while agreeing with many of John and Jabari's choices, I offer, in no particular order, 20 personaal favorite political/protest/social comment songs of musical and ideological variety:

"Get A Job/Stand Down Margaret" -- English Beat
"Forgotten Years" -- Midnight Oil
"Life During Wartime" -- Talking Heads
"Rockin' In The Free World" -- Neil Young
"Ms. Jackson" -- Outkast
"We Don't Need This Fascist Groove Thang" -- Heaven 17
"Sunday Bloody Sunday" -- U2
"Young Americans" -- David Bowie
"Free Nelson Mandela" -- Special AKA
"Johannesburg" -- Gil Scott-Heron
"F*** Tha Police" -- N.W.A.
"Fight The Power" -- Public Enemy (and just about all of It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back)
"Glad To Be Gay" -- Tom Robinson Band
"Redemption Song" -- Bob Marley
"Killing In The Name Of..." Rage Against The Machine
"Ohio" -- Crosby, Still, Nash & Young
"Happy Birthday" -- Stevie Wonder
"Clampdown" -- The Clash
"Television: Drug Of A Nation" --
Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy
"Go Your Own Way" -- Fleetwood Mac [No, it's not exactly a political song, but I always thought that this is the song conservatives should have adopted as the perfect alternative rejoinder to counter the Clintons' '92 adoption of "Don't Stop (Thinking About Tomorrow)". And, hey, denouncing Stevie Nicks because
"Shacking up is all you wanna do..." has gotta give Lindsay Buckingham some conservative cred. ]

UPDATE: A contribution from the Comments section deserves to be elevated.

"Madscribe" responds to "An Interested Party" and then makes some neat observations on rock, anti-liberalism -- and the black community:

"Ya know, I'm as much of a political junkie as the next person on this blog, but sometimes people, like Miller, read way way way too much into things and try to shoehorn them into what they want to believe...to paraphrase the famous cliche, sometimes a song is just a song..."
I agree, but "Bodies" by the Pistols did turn me against abortion, even as a (then) flaming, liberal teen Democrat in 1984 when I bought the Bullocks album.

"Dying little baby, screaming! MOMMY! Screaming F*CK*NG bloody mess!
I'm NOT an animal, it's an A-BOR-TION!!!"

Ronald Reagan and the Pope could only wish to be as convincing as John Lydon (LOL).

Actually, I love a lot of Lydon's PiL albums, as he had to be THE most Catholic punk rocker of them all.

"Body" from the Pil album Happy? (my favorite college era new wave album) pretty much summed up my feelings about the liberalism that had poisoned Black America:

When you run around without precautions
You'll get disease, and need abortions
Up 'til now, no vaccination
Can give you back your reputation...

And then the chorus, like the Welfare State, chimes in:

We WANT ... We WANT your BODY!
We want your body!
We want your body!

Robert Christgau dismissed this song as a mere anti-sex rant. What a bleeding heart idiot he is...

Also, best song about divorce (wasn't that the comic book thread?), "Ma and Pa" by Fishbone from Truth and Soul (another college fav):

There once was a ma that wanted her
There once was a pa that wanted her

I know she’s confused, she’s my blood sister
She told me the blues as she start to shiver
Only a child in the middle of a war
She’s a problem child now because of a divorce

Hey ma and pa What the hell is wrong with ya’ll?
Hey ma and pa What the hell is wrong with ya’ll?

Well there’s a lot of money
For all the attorneys

It’s just not a fight for child custody
’Cause ma and pa’s revenge
Is making little sister bleed
Fussin’ and fightin’ through a family life
Make her wanna take drugs and be out of line

Hey ma and pa What the hell is wrong with ya’ll?
Hey ma and pa What the hell is wrong with ya’ll?

Fighting for love on an angel’s feather
Why don’t y’all get your sh*t together?

Madscribe 05.30.06 - 2:31 pm
Wow, I had forgotten both the PiL and the Fishbone albums MS may well be right about Lydon as perhaps the most Catholic punk rocker ever, though, of course, Catholicism can manifest itself in many different ways. Henry Rollins, I think, is Catholic.

"Ma And Pa" fits into what my friend, Bill Stephney, says is the young black male perspective on social matters that today seems only expressed in the nihilistic formulations of gangsta rap. Public Enemy explored some of it in a more nuanced way -- as did N.W.A in their first album (yeah, I know, N.W.A. "nuanced," but listen to Straight Outta Compton very closely. N.W.A.'s best writer, Ice Cube, does so in his first few solo releases as well. It's the frustration that goes beyond economics, but drifts into the social deprivation many black males feel because the welfare state helped make them obsolete in certain circumstances -- particularly when it comes to them being nurtured into being responsible fathers for their children (as Daniel Patrick Moynihan warned in the 1960s) . And, yes,
as we indeed discussed below, toss divorce into it and you have all the ingredients for social anarchy.

On a side note: Fishbone gave two of the greatest live shows that I ever saw -- one in which my glasses were nearly crushed after I foolishly got too close to the stage at the beginning of a show in Washington D.C.'s original 9:30 Club. It was on their first national tour after the release of their debut EP (the one with "Ugly" and "Party At Ground Zero" on it).

Ah, sweet memories.

Madscribe, thanks for bringing them back -- and making some really interesting points.

UPDATE II: Via Hugh Hewitt's blogger Mary Katharine, we are directed to Joseph over at the John Locke Foundation, who suggests some conservative hip-hop. By the way, Mary Katharine has a great list of links to this entire conversation.

UPDATE III: Let me return the love to Karol and note her guest blogger Dorian Davis' list of conservative songs (much more musically inclusive than my pal Mr. Miller's).

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