This topic was suggested to me by Con Franzestkos, an active political figure here in Melbourne. When my wife first got wind I was planning it though, she was sceptical. She imagined a rather strident, one dimensional episode, I think. Funnily enough it’s turned out to be the most varied programme, musically at least. There’s punk, funk, bossanova, pop, chamber pieces, ballads, indie and sampling.
I’ve avoided the usual suspects - Give Peace A Chance, This Land Is Your Land, What’s Goin’ On, Bob Marley, The Sex Pistols. Nothing wrong with any of these as such, but they’re not alternatives. You might argue that The Clash and Neil Young are hardly unknown, but I choose where to draw the line, thank you. Tempted to include Taxman by little known group The Beatles, as the locus classicus for a right wing protest song, but in the end there were plenty of other great options that squeezed it out.
Marxism and music are not traditional bedfellows. But the Gang of Four, parodically named in tribute to a ruling junta in China, delivered a radical punk-funk masterpiece in Entertainment!, while Stereolab, who started as McCarthy with songs like Use A Bank? I’d Rather Die, treat us to a Marxist interpretation of economics in Ping Pong which doubles as a retro-futuristic pop song:-
It's alright recovery always comes 'round again
There's nothing to worry about if things can only get better
There's only millions that lose their jobs and homes and sometimes accents
There's only millions that die in their bloody wars, it's alright
It's only their lives and the lives of their next of kin that they are losing
California Uber Alles imagines a hippy-fascist state, run by a ‘suede denim secret police’. But hang around long enough and reality mirrors art. Benignly, The Dead Kennedies scoff at a world where ‘your kids will meditate in school’, but that’s exactly what some kids are taught these days. But they also smile “Close your eyes, can’t happen here”. Which is exactly what most of us said all through 2016. And how does ‘America First’ almost translate into German? “USA Uber Alles”, that’s what.
Fiona Apple’s ‘Tiny Hands’ is one minute of feminist fun, while Mac McCaughan summed up the world at the end of 2016 as well as anyone:-
"Happy New Year, everything ends; Happy New Year, the South won't rise again"
"No, Happy New Year, gotta work to make that arc bend; yeah, Happy New Year, away from these old white men"
"Yeah, Happy New Year, at least Prince can't die again; Happy New Year, it can't be this one again"
Gil Scott Heron / The Revolution Will Not Be Televised
The Specials / Ghost Town
Manic Street Preachers / A Design For Life
The Clash / Straight to Hell
MIA / Paper Planes
Stereolab / Ping Pong
Dead Kennedies / California Uber Alles
Shipbuilding / Robert Wyatt
Billy Bragg / Between the Wars
Steel Pulse / Handsworth Revolution
Gang of Four / At Home He’s A Tourist
McCarthy / Frans Hals
Mac McCaughan / Happy 2016 (Prince Can't Die Again)
Fiona Apple / Tiny Hands
Campaigner / Neil Young