I’ve held this over from last week, which perhaps would have been a better time for it…but never mind. Songs about politics and all relating to it are an age old idea, but still even after all these years one with legs. And after a quick scan of my collection suggested loads and loads for this, I quickly was able to narrow the selection a little, down to songs about politics and America – which still left me with many options!
Any other suggestions (and I have no doubt there will be many, many more) feel free to add them in the comments.
The oldest song I’ll be featuring in the list, one of Sabbath’s greatest songs that somehow managed to use the analogy of witchcraft to depict the warmongers of the late 1960s – one of a long line of political songs that came about during the Vietnam war (which could have made a list of it’s own, frankly).
World Leader Pretend
Moving a bit further on, into the eighties and the height of the Cold War, this marvellously cold and detached track was a great summary of the futility of the situation at the time of release, just a couple of years before the world changed forever. Interestingly another track on the same album – Orange Crush – was their furious, rampaging take on Vietnam.
Fight The Power
Fear of a Black Planet
Talking of furious, when rap music exploded into the public eye during the eighties there were some acts who were using the medium for more than just bragging. Chuck D’s Public Enemy were one such act, who certainly made the greatest Rap album of all time in It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back, and Fear of a Black Planet isn’t far behind it. Fight The Power pretty much sums up everything you need to know about PE and what they stand for, and remains one of the most defiant tracks I’ve ever heard.
Fuck tha Police
Straight Outta Compton
N.W.A took a different approach, their rage about their situation and life in Los Angeles in the mid-eighties making them appear almost larger than life – and this track in particular saw them get attention from the US Government, banned in various places…and considerably more sales as a result than they otherwise might have done. Still, this track simply crackles with rage as a result of the band member’s dealings with the LAPD at the time, and still sounds dangerous even now. This isn’t the only track to show US cops in a bad light – from the other side of the country, Swans‘ Cop not only details rough treatment by the police, but sounds like a police beating too.
Psalm 69: The Way to Succeed and the Way to Suck Eggs
As we moved into the nineties, the Cold War had ended…and George HW Bush was in power. And not for the last time, Al Jourgensen was raging against those with the power, cutting up samples of the elder Bush’s voice through a stomping industrial metal track whose power still holds up.
Rage Against The Machine
Still in the early nineties, RATM appeared on the scene with a highly political album of seething rap-metal that managed not to be cheesy at all – and became another band to attract Government attention. I probably could have picked any track from this album for this list, but Wake Up‘s take on US Government oppression and the FBI has always been a particularly effecting one – even if the music just ripped off the riff from Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir…
Moving forward further still, there has been no shortage of music released in recent years dealing with the George W Bush administration. Trent Reznor’s Nine Inch Nails had never really touched upon politics in their music until the release of Year Zero, an album that was full of content and concepts relating to Dubya. The bizarre swing-time beats of this track took a back-seat to the vicious lyrics detailing the then-President and his actions. Also of note from that album – God Given, taking an eye to the relationship between the Bush Administration and God…
The Mob Goes Wild
One of the most contentious events to come out of the outgoing Bush Administration has been the Iraq war, and like other subjects there are quite a few songs about this too. My favourite is this groovy-as-fuck rocker about the treatment of the families of the dead soldiers coming back in a “box made of pine“. It all sounds pretty jolly and fun…until you pay closer attention to the lyrics.
The Holy Bible
British artists have often made a point of writing songs about America and it’s relationship with the wider world, and the last two songs here look at this. Firstly, comes this track from the Manic’s best and most harrowing album, which I think it’s safe to say the title makes pretty self-explanatory. Remarkably, by the way, the forthcoming Manics album will be composed entirely of lyrics written by Richey Edwards, according to an interview with the NME in the past Week…
Ghost Of Cain
Finally…going back to the eighties again for this rousing track about Thatcher and her relationship with the US and the Reagan Administration – the idea that the UK is always in thrall to US policy, of course, hardly being a new one nowadays…
Other suggestions/ones that didn’t make the cut
Leonard Cohen | Democracy
Dead Kennedys | California Ãœber Alles
Bruce Springsteen | Born In The USA
Cyanotic | Insurgence
Gil Scott-Heron | The Revolution Will Not Be Televised
Neil Young | Let’s Impeach the President
Others dealing with politics outside the US:
Sex Pistols | God Save The Queen
System of A Down | War?
Elvis Costello and the Attractions | Shipbuilding