Monday, June 19, 2006

Best Liberal Songs? *UPDATE 1*

John J. Miller over at National Review just came out with a list of "the fifty greatest conservative rock songs", and I have to tell you... I think he reached a little bit.

"One" by Creed (47) - Instead of the song against racism that it is, he seems to believe it's a song against Affirmative Action.

"Won't Get Fooled Again" by The Who (1) - Does this tool think disillusionment is something only conservatives feel? "Meet the new boss/ same as the old boss" is hardly a conservative concept. UPDATE: Pete Townshend has written on his own blog about being picked for number one and why the song's inclusion on the list was totally wrong. Read it HERE.

"I Can't Drive 55" by Sammy Hagar (38) - He describes it as a song about the "nanny state". Does that mean red states don't have speed limits?

"Small Town" by John Mellencamp - (31) - If it was truly a conservative anthem, wouldn't there have been a line in it about how nice it would be if a Wal-Mart opened up and shut down all the independent businesses?

There are a few that I think he's right on the money with. "Sweet Home Alabama" was an angry reaction to Neil Young pointing out that there was racism in the South--- So I can understand a conservative being upset enough to see "Sweet Home Alabama" as an anthem.

It got me thinking about liberal songs with truly liberal concepts. And I'm working up my own list. It's a little bit harder since I'm actually trying to find songs that are overtly liberal, as opposed to theirs which... Well, appears to depend on interpreting the songs very narrowly.

1 - "American Idiot" by Green Day. This song screams for America to pay attention to what it's done to itself over the last six years. "Don't want a nation under the new media/ Can you hear the sounds of hysteria?/Calling out to Idiot America". It's the perfect song for the era of terror alerts, and a searing indictment of a media so complacent that its sole purpose seems to be terrifying a nation into getting behind... Well, an American Idiot.

2 - "Peace Sells, But Who's Buying?" by Megadeth. This song could have been written last week, as relevant as its lyrics still are today. "What do you mean I don't believe in God?/ I talk to him every day". "Can you put a price on peace?" Please allow me to check with Halliburton and get back to you.

3 - "The Way It Is" by Bruce Hornsby & the Range. Standing in line marking time- Waiting for the welfare dime/ 'Cause they can't buy a job/ The man in the silk suit hurries by As he catches the poor ladies' eyes /Just for fun he says "get a job". This song tackles it all--- Unemployment, class divisions, racism... It's a wonder Pat Robertson hasn't declared a fatwa on Bruce Hornsby.

4 - "Strange Fruit" by Billie Holliday. Lots of songs have dealt with racism. Few have dealt with it as starkly as this one. Southern trees bear strange fruit,/Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,/Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,/Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees. Anyone can talk about something--- It takes a true artist and visionary to hold a mirror up to society in the way Billie Holliday did when there was indeed "Strange Fruit" hanging from the trees.

5 - "War Pigs" by Black Sabbath. "Politicians hide themselves away/They only started the war/ Why should they go out to fight?/ They leave that role to the poor." This has to be the first time anyone in the human race has said this, so here it goes... Ozzy spoke wisely.

6 - "Jeremy" by Pearl Jam. Not strictly a political song--- But every time "Jeremy speaks in class today", and there's another school shooting, conservatives everywhere pretend that this is something that never happens.

7 - "Rockin' In the Free World" by Neil Young. Neil has done so much, that a top 50 list could really consist of saying "buy any six of his albums". But when he released this one, he had the Reagan/ Bush the Elected crowd pumping their fists in the air, singing a song that they thought was about comparing our lives to the lives of those behind the Iron Curtain... When in fact, he was talking about poor Americans.

8 - "In the Ghetto" by Elvis Presley. Hamfisted? Sure. Heavy-handed? You bet. But the Elvine heart was in the right place, and the message was a little risky considering that he largely had a southern fan base by the time this one was released.

9 - "Where Is the Love?" by the Blackeyed Peas. Yeah, I'm sure you don't really need to hear it again. But if you've got the album, hang on for a few seconds after it ends--- You'll be treated to "Third Eye". And how can you not love lyrics such as "If George Bush is Pinnochio, Pinnochio/ Then who the hell is Gepetto, Gepetto?"

10 - "Scarecrow" by John Mellencamp. I only know of two artists with the balls to write about a topic as unsexy as farms being foreclosed on. Mellencamp is one of them. And he put his money where his mouth is by forming "FarmAid" with Willie Nelson.

11 - "Foreclosure of a Dream" by Megadeth. Remember I told you only two artists had the balls to write about something as unsexy as farm forclosures? Dave Mustaine is the other one.

12. - "One" by Metallica. It's the sad tale of a soldier returning from war somewhat less than complete (Based on a novel by the McCarthy-blacklisted Dalton Trumbo). It's a reality that conservatives try to avoid facing when they talk about Iraq. It should have been the theme song to "Baghdad ER" when it ran on HBO. "Land mine has taken my sight/ taken my speech/ taken my hearing/ taken my arms/ taken my legs/ taken my soul - Left me with life in hell". Someone who has truly taken this song to heart can't lightly send someone else to be in that situation. In fact, I should go ahead and recommedn a Metallica double feature to conservatives, paired with "Disposable Heroes".

13 - "Vietnow" by Rage Against the Machine. This lovely little ballad is their tribute to Rush Limbaugh. It closes out with an interesting question. "Is all the world jails and churches?" I live in a city with more churches than gas stations, so I'm not sure how to answer.

14 - "We Shall Be Free" by Garth Brooks. First of all, I loathe country music. So you know a country song really has to be something to make a list of mine. "When the last thing we notice is the color of skin, and the first thing we look for is the beauty within," and "when we're free to love anyone we choose, when this world's big enough for all different views..." are definitely risky territory for a country artist to take on. My hat is off to him (If he can wear a cowboy hat without being a cowboy, then I should have my own ridiculous looking piece of headgear. How about my hat is a Viking helmet?). Now, we've just got to get him to quit doing Wal-Mart ads.

15 - "My Sweet Lord" by George Harrison. Some were quite offended that he would sing about God, and put in words of praise from other religions. But what better acknowledgment is there that there's one God with many names?

16 - "The End of the Innocence" by Don Henley. This one would have placed much higher based on the merit of its lyrics, but... Damnit, I hate the song. "O beautiful, for spacious skies/But now those skies are threatening/Theyre beating plowshares into swords/For this tired old man that we elected king/Armchair warriors often fail/And weve been poisoned by these fairy tales/The lawyers clean up all details/Since daddy had to lie".

17 - "America First" by Merle Haggard. What else can you say about this song? "Let's get out of Iraq an' get back on the track,/And let's rebuild America first. " Let's put him in a debate against Charle Daniels and see who's most coherent, shall we?

18 - "Fortunate Son" by Creedence Clearwater Revival. John Fogerty knew then, just as we know now, who gets sent to war.

19 - "I'm Eighteen" by Alice Cooper. Not strictly a political message, but the song is iconic simply because it's the tale of a young man coming of age in the Vietnam era. He's only a boy, but he's old enough to die.

20 - "They Ain't Making Jews Like Jesus Anymore" by Kinky Friedman. This song was branded "racist" by people who heard the endless strings of epithets in the lyrics. What they didn't pay attention to--- He was making fun of the "cowboy nerd" slinging them. Kinky's running for Governor of Texas now. His campaign slogan--- "Kinky for Governor. How hard could it be?" Judging by their last couple of offerings...

21 - "Trickle Down" by Ani DiFranco. First, let me thank Sarah for recommending this one. I was not familiar with it, but it's a damn good one. "the president assured us/it was all gonna trickle down/like it'd be raining so much money/that we'd be sad to see the sun". That's a nice indictment of what our current president's father once referred to as "Voodoo Economics".

22 - "Bonzo Goes to Bitburg" by The Ramones. Again, thanks to Sarah for getting me thinking about The Ramones. In 1985, Ronald Reagan went to Bitburg, Germany and visited a German military cemetary where 49 members of the Nazi Waffen were buried. Among the people bothered by this--- The late, great, Joey Ramone who penned the lyrics "You're a politician/don't become one of Hitler's children/Bonzo goes to Bitburg then goes out for a cup of tea/As I watched it on TV somehow it really bothered me" and "Fifty thousand dollar dress shaking hands with your highness/See through you like cellophane you watch the world complain, but you do it anyway".

23 - "Christmas in Washington" by Steve Earle. It's a great song about his growing apprehension at the end of the Clinton years: "It's Christmastime in Washington/The Democrats rehearsed/Gettin' into gear for four more years/Things not gettin' worse/The Republicans drink whiskey neat/And thanked their lucky stars/They said, 'He cannot seek another term/They'll be no more FDRs'/I sat home in Tennessee/Staring at the screen/With an uneasy feeling in my chest/And I'm wonderin' what it means". If only America had listened to him...

24 - "Your Flag Decal Won't Get You Into Heaven Anymore" by John Prine. We should all have a copy of this CD in our cars and blast it to earth-shattering volumes anytime we see someone who thinks they "support the troops" by buying a 79 cent sticker in a convenience store. ""But your flag decal won't get you Into Heaven any more./We're already overcrowded From your dirty little war./Now Jesus don't like killin' No matter what the reason's for,/And your flag decal won't get you Into Heaven any more."

25 - "War" by Edwin Starr. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing. Say it again... The song is so cool that it even survived Jackie Chan singing it.

26 - "Born in the USA" by Bruce Springsteen. The political content isn't overt--- It tells the story of a hardworking Vietnam vet who fought for his nation who's lost his job. Of course, the Reagan campaign didn't notice the lyrics where he lost his job, or the fact that the vet in question didn't seem particularly happy about fighting in Vietnam, and adopted it as their campaign song briefly. A similar misunderstanding of the meaning of a song earned Merle Haggard praise from Richard Nixon, George Wallace, and David Duke for "Okie From Muskogee".

27 - "Sun City" by (Little) Steven Van Zandt. Perhaps it's because I was only thirteen at the time, but I had never heard of Apartheid before this song. But I was acutely aware of it afterward, so the song did exactly what it was designed to do--- It called attention to the oppression of a people and shined a spotlight on it in a way nothing else could have. Incidentally, for a great literary take on it, read "The Power of One" by Bryce Courtenay. They made a decent movie of it, but the book was far better.

To Be Continued... And if you have any suggestions, hit me at .


PeskyFly said...

"Can't Make it Here Anymore" by James McMurtry.

Don't forget Steve Earle.

I'd go with anything off Springsteen's Nebraska before anything by Bruce H & the R.

I'm out of sorts or I could put together a HUGE list of classic country songs. There was a time back in the day when there were a lot of liberal notions in that arena.

Freedonian said...

See, this list probably should have been a collaboration. For as much as I like Springsteen, I've never listened to "Nebraska".

Steve Earle was probably going to make the remaining portion of the list, but I'm not all that familiar with his music. And I'm not familiar at all with McMurtry.

There probably should be a "master list" of some sort that multiple people contribute to... These are the ones on the top of my head yesterday.

David Holt said...

Loath country? I think our friendship may end. :-) Classic Country rules. I'll give you that almost everything written in the 90's (as you pointed out Garth has some notable exceptions) sucked ass! There are some hard-core liberal country songs out there, though.

David Holt said...

My God!!! I just found an essay I wrote on "We Shall Be Free" in high school.

David Holt said...

*is currently listening to a song with the line "daddy was a back-woods, Southern Democract... Oughta get a rich man to vote like that..." and "Cotton was short and the weeds were tall, but Mr. Roosevelt agonna save us all..."*

Freedonian said...

Classic Country rules.

There's some old school country that I genuinely love. Even Bono himself would admit that he's nowhere near as utterly cool as Johnny Cash. Willie Nelson is great. Waylon Jennings is still kicking some ass (Which reminds me--- His new song should make the list).

New country sucks ass. It's pop with bad clothes and mullets. But your point is taken. I should have said "I loathe new country". I don't even like Garth when it comes time to actually listen to him.

Sarah said...

What a boy list! You should at least mention Ani DiFranco, "Trickle Down" and maybe that new song by the Dixie Chicks about the backlash they recieved after she made that comment about Bush at a concert.

You should definately have more punk, some Screeching Weasels and some Ramones.

Then again, making a list of the best liberal songs is a bit like shooting fish in a barrel. Those poor conservatives hardly have anything to choose from.

mike said...

Finding liberal songs in music is like finding clouds in an overcast sky.

Besides, conservatives don't make music, they make money from the stoned, drunken, stupid folks who make music! ;-)

Freedonian said...


You would think so. But genuinely politically liberal songs are nowhere near as common as you think.

Take U2 for example. Who's more liberal than Bono? I can think of two songs where he said he admired MLK (Which I would hope liberals and conservatives alike could agree with), one where he decried the events of "Sunday Bloody Sunday", and that's it. There's no real political component.

I'm not stretching the definition of "political" quite as far as the National Review piece did. Springsteen and Mellencamp sing about working class values, but I wouldn't call most of their work political.

redhatterb said...

"Dear Mr. President" by Pink. In it she invites the president to go for a walk with her as if they were equals, and she proceeds to tell him what she thinks about Iraq, etc.

Anonymous said...

i wish you had more than one song by a woman in there...

Shahrouz said...

Um how bout this song from John Lennon... wait all of them?

Anonymous said...

"Allentown" Billy Joel...

Adam Bevill said...

Ok I think you're missing a lot. Obviously John Lennon has ton. You're missing a lot of folk. How about the classic Woody Guthrie with "This Land is Your Land" or "Union Maid" or "All You Fascists"...also done by Billy Bragg and Wilco. What about Bob Dylan's "Blowin' In The Wind" or "Masters Of War" just to name a couple. Phil Ochs' "What Are You Fightin' For" or "Pride and Glory". Michael Franti and Spearhead are a hip hop/reggae/rock group with a lot of liberal songs like "Bomb the World" or "Yell Fire" or "We Don't Stop". Those are just a few I definitely recommend checking out if you haven't already.

Adam Bevill said...

Michael Franti and Spearhead have a ton actually. You definitely need to check them out.