I won't pretend these are the "World's Greatest Political Songs," because they're not. They are some of my favorites, that's all, representing a fairly narrow range of musical genres, taken off the "Just Politics" playlist on my iPod. In no particular order:
will. i. am. of the Black Eyed Peas, "Yes, We Can"
Supergroup song mixed to a speech by Barack Obama. It's had over 7 million views on YouTube, and it's what inspired this post. Love him, hate him, vote for him or not, this was one hell of a speech, and one brilliant song and video:
Peter Gabriel, "Biko"
I lied about the "not greatest" part because I truly think this might be one of, if not the, greatest political songs. I saw this tour, which was a benefit for Amnesty International, in Oakland, California, and this performance was unbelievable. What actually sicks most in my mind, though, is that he was introducing a song and said something like, "This is a song about love -- the love between a woman and a man, or a man and a man..." and there was loud booing from the audience. He made them turn up the house lights and read the crowd, and said that anyone who had booed should leave immediately. I cried.
Bruce Springsteen, "The Ghost of Tom Joad"
This live version was performed with Tom Morello.
The Nightwatchman, "Alone Without You"
Speaking of Tom Morello... this is a song he wrote after seeing a pre-release screening of "Sicko." The fucked up health "care" system in this country is on my mind right now, seeing a fully employed friend who has no health coverage at her job and can't get it privately due to serious pre-existing conditions is literally on the brink of living in the streets because she can't get health care... way to go, America. So while there are at least a dozen Nightwatchman songs I could have chosen, I chose this one today:
The Dead Kennedys, "Holiday in Cambodia"
These guys always had something sharp and raw to say. I used to tell them they were too testosterone-y back in the day, but I miss them now.
Eight more under the jump....
Leonard Cohen, "Democracy"
This is one of the best political songs, and one of Cohen's best songs, period.
It's coming to America first,
the cradle of the best and of the worst.
It's here they got the range
and the machinery for change
and it's here they got the spiritual thirst.
It's here the family's broken
and it's here the lonely say
that the heart has got to open
in a fundamental way:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.
P!nk, "Dear Mr. President"
Backed on the album version by the Indigo Girls, this live version is backed by her tour singers, but it's just as aching and hard-hitting.
Marvin Gaye, "What's Goin' On?"
Performance from the 1973 "Save the Children" film. This iconic anti-war song was also covered in the 80s by Cyndi Lauper.
The Dixie Chicks, "Not Ready to Make Nice"
With a great intro by Joan Baez, live at the 2007 Grammys. I love the song... LOVE the song... hate their official vid, so I went with this. (And you should try to listen to their Katrina-benefit single "I Hope," too, -- this is a fan-made vid.)
"Enola Gay," Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
A song about the bombing of Hiroshima, from the very earliest days of synth-pop. This is a live performance, that sounds, well, almost exactly like the recording. I used it because the official video, made back in the dim mists of time, is so bad it made my eyes bleed.
Enola Gay, is father proud of little boy today?
Ah ah, this kiss you give, it's never ever gonna fade away
"London Calling," The Clash
There was never anything like the Clash -- another band with so many great political songs it's hard to know which to choose. I picked this one primarily because the sound quality on this live performance vid (overdubbed by the vidder) is infinitely better than YouTube usually has. There's also a live version with terrible sound quality but featuring the Clash with Foo Fighters' and ex-Nirvana David Grohl, Elvis Costello, Steven Van Zandt, Tony Kanal (No Doubt), Pete Thomas on drums (from Costello's band The Attractions), and Bruce Springsteen -- even with the crappy sound quality, it's worth a look. But start with this one first:
Tom Robinson, "Glad to be Gay"
Post-punk, pre-AIDS; from the 1979 "Secret Policeman's Ball" benefit for Amnesty International. He's got a music show now on BBC radio, and once toured as bass player for Peter Gabriel. This is not the original version, but I like this one better... although I truly want to get in my little time machine and cut his hair:
Billy Bragg, "Waiting for the Great Leap Forward"
Oh Billy. I've been following him since 1982 and I'm completely irrational in my love for him. He lights a fire in me. I saw him once in San Francisco, and he told the audience a recent poll done by Rolling Stone magazine (this was years and years ago, maybe the late 80s) that indicated the majority of the magazine's readers would not like it their brother or sister was gay. He said, "Little boys, little girls: We can't be equal until everyone is equal." On my way to the car he walked in front of me, and I thanked him, and mentioned Harvey Milk to him, and he stood there, with his van waiting and friends rolling their eyes, and talked to me passionately and knowledgeably about gay rights and Harvey Milk for half an hour.
This is his performance on Henry Rollins' show, with lyrics updated for the Iraq War days, like, "And no, I don't believe we can defeat the axis of evil by putting smart bombs in the hands of stupid people." If you'd rather listen to the original, which is actually better, an audio version is here.