Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Opinion8: Protest Songs

A blog that lists 8 of the best/worst/most common of any example, including songs, movie clichés, movies, best characters and so forth, some with explanation, some needing none.

So, here are my eight favourite songs with a message, songs that highlight an issue, a condition or a cause.Links to the songs in the titles.

1 Bullet and a Target – Citizen Cope
Vital, immediate, intelligent, heartfelt, you can't beat Citizen Cope. There’s so much going on musically when you listen carefully. I particularly love the syncopated handclaps.
‘Mrs Dalai Lamas/Another sister's shootin' heroin tomorrow/Amputees in Freetown, Sierra Leone's/The church wasn't honest/The state put the youth in a harness/Creatin' hostility among us/Teacher said no college/Still the kid's gonna get a check/With a couple of commas/People wanna bomb us/More people gotta scatter and run from us’
The second to last line quoted I heard as ‘People want Obamas’ which I think is even better.

2 For America – Jackson Browne
Passion and disillusion, a fiery combination. Lights the touchpaper every time. Jimmy Guterman calls it ‘both a prayer and a love song, which damns 'a generation's blank stare.’
‘I have prayed for America/I was made for America/Her shining dream plays in my mind/By the rockets' red glare/A generation's blank stare/We better wake her up this time’

This version reminds me of how I used to listen to Bob Marley songs, taped off the radio, playing on a small radio cassette recorder I insisted on carrying round everywhere, even on country walks, to my Dad’s dismay. A song that transcends age, gender, class and race with consummate ease, that is as at home on my radio cassette as it is at the ATP Tennis Players’ Party in Monte Carlo.
‘Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery/None but ourselves can free our minds’

Love the spirit, love the lyrics, love the tone, Prince’s show and tell, with urgent vocals and laidback beat, is totally compelling.
‘In France a skinny man/Died of a big disease with a little name/By chance his girlfriend came across a needle/And soon she did the same/At home there are seventeen-year-old boys/And their idea of fun/Is being in a gang called the Disciples/High on crack, totin’ a machine gun’
A plea to us all to recognise the suffering of others and stop feeling sorry for ourselves, his gentle strumming and what sounds like a lot of echo on his voice somehow make this even more convincing.
‘In the all night café/At a quarter past eleven/Same old man sitting there on his own/Looking at the world/Over the rim of his tea-cup/And each tea last an hour/And he wanders home alone’
A passionate wake-up call.
‘They stretched the Earth's resources and built a funeral pyre/Through the smoke the children wander, 'neath the stark and shattered sky/There is no hope or reason while the corporations roar/Disregarding truth and sacred law’

Oh for the days when people used to protest properly, peacefully, over things that actually mattered.
‘Well, come on all of you, big strong men/Uncle Sam needs your help again/He's got himself in a terrible jam/Way down yonder in Vietnam/So put down your books and pick up a gun/We're gonna have a whole lotta fun’

More of a lament than a message song but simple, melancholic and conducive to contemplation.
‘Has anyone here seen my old friend Martin?/Can you tell me where he's gone?/He freed a lot of people/But it seems the good die young, yeah/I just looked around and he was gone.’

Extract from another blog, bemoaning the lack of ideas in most current chart music. This blog can be found here.
The charts are full of these so-called songs, which consist of one refrain, sung or played over and over ad infinitum, often this refrain being a sample from an older song (so not even an original tune), usually with all the passion or feeling leached out of it, so it sounds as if it’s been sung by an auto-tuned automaton (again the Black-Eyed Peas are a perfect example with their soulless rendition of ‘Time of My Life’) and then some extremely childish rap with clichéd rhymes, for example, ‘it’s the girls on the coast, I like the most’, or words repeated ‘I see my friends, friends, friends’ or mingled with uninsightful lyrics, such as Jlo’s ‘Let me introduce you to my party in the club’. This nonsense spreads like wildfire. It’s infinitely depressing to me to think that this is all anyone wants to hear: songs with the singer boasting about how sexy they are, how they’re going to rock the club, or repeating their own names, etc. There are occasional exceptions, such as Beyoncé’s ‘Halo’ but they really only serve to prove the rule. Sometimes there’s a snatch of a pleasant-enough tune but the mindless drivel of words that accompanies it is like Chinese water torture - it infiltrates everything until it’s ubiquitous and erodes my will to live. Nobody wants to hear real sentiments or ideas any more. Gone are the days of wordsmiths and tunesmiths like Neil Young or Gordon Lightfoot. Or rather gone are the days when writers of such calibre could achieve mainstream recognition while expressing different takes on society or challenging ideas. In the 60s and 70s, it was considered a virtue to write something deep, moving or politically resonant. Now it’s a very difficult climate for intelligence or authenticity. There are musicians out there who are creating worthwhile songs, whose lyrics have integrity, like Citizen Cope, but the market is on the decline.

Other contenders
Ohio – Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young
What's Going On – Marvin Gaye
Vietnam Cowboys – Ray Davies
Angola (Wrong Side of the Law) – Ray Davies
Give Me Love, Give Me Peace on Earth – George Harrison
Old Empire – Nova Mob
A Gallon of Gas – the Kinks
Dead-End Street – the Kinks
Shipbuilding – Robert Wyatt
Flag Day – the Housemartins
One in Ten – UB40
Get over It – Eagles
Goodnight, Saigon – Billy Joel

Wistful wish-fulfilment
Harvest for the World – Isley Brothers
Give Peace a Chance/Imagine – John Lennon
Earth Song/Heal the World – Michael Jackson

1 comment:

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