A followup to the previous post, I’ve been musing for a while about political songs. And their seeming absence – last weekend the musicians (insert drummer joke here) thought that drumming while shouting buzzwords like Unity and Solidarity would work. And when that didn’t fire the crowd they put on the worst performance of ‘We Will Rock You’ I think I’ve ever heard. (It might have helped if they’d gone for clap/clap/arms rather than stamp/stamp/clap given the slightly waterlogged ground. But you don’t get anything back if you don’t even attempt the verses).
Yes, there is protest music still around. The Folk Song Army is still there, and the Red Leicester Choir at Saturday’s march brought out pieces including There is Power in the Union (something I found ironic). Bruce Springsteen is still touring. As is Billy Bragg. And others. But it’s a matter of “still there”. The last new protest group breaking through I recall were Chumbawumba, although Pulp probably also qualify. And Rage Against the Machine had the Christmas Number 1 only a few years ago in an anti-corporate protest. Come to think of it, of all unlikely artists, Nick Clegg has been widely played although with only moderate chart success.
But this is nothing compared to the seventies. The Clash spring to mind, as do the far more nihilistic Sex Pistols (who were banned from number 1), Dylan, and many people mentioned above. Before that we have Woodie Guthrie, Sixteen Tons, et al.
So what happened? I have four theories.
1: I’m missing things. Entirely possible. I’m not paying that much attention. But looking at the Top 40, I don’t think so.
2: I have a … distorted view of the past. I wasn’t there. And the music that lasts isn’t that which was acclaimed at the time. Possible, but I doubt it especially given the attempt to keep the Sex Pistols off the number one spot.
3: Things aren’t as bad as they used to be. There hasn’t been anything like the Red Lion Square Disorders in a long time; by comparison to the National Front, even the EDL/Casuals United are a storm in a tea cup. Despite the best efforts of Osbourne and co, we’re a lot better off than we were under the three day week (and I do mean best efforts – the government is trying to privatise the NHS and break up the planning committees – both huge changes).
4: Corporate media caught on. And are blocking the avenues – I believe Woody Guthrie et al sang to children because they were banned from singing to adults for being socialists. Just another example of blowback. And there’s a block against left wing songs being allowed to break out. I don’t believe this one, but it’s a hypothesis.