Where Are The Political Songs?

The kids of the 1980s were reviled as the “me” generation, with their “greed is good” mantra and their self-absorption.

But at the same time, we loved some great political music.

We grew up in the shadow of the Cold War, so we lived with fallout shelters and bomb drills, with the Russians (that’s the U.S.S.R., FYI) as the great enemy, with Communism as the creeping blight on the world. We also lived in the era of Reaganomics, and with the knowledge that we were the first generation in years who were not going to do better than our parents had:  the first generation for whom the American Dream (or should I say, the American Assumption of ever-increasing prosperity) was called into doubt.

Greedy?  No.  Pissed off?  Yes.

The pop music of the 80s had lots of songs about war – the threat of nuclear war, the thought that mass armament would somehow keep us all peaceful.  It also had lots of songs about politics and what political leaders around the world were doing:  building military arsenals, committing or ignoring human rights violations, crushing the rights of their citizens.

Help me list the politically minded songs of the 80s — these are just off the top of my head:

“Land of Confusion” by Genesis (the video with its Ron and Nancy Reagan puppets was pretty awesome!)

Pretty much anything by the Clash, but let’s pick “London Calling” as exemplary

“Sunday Bloody Sunday,” “Mothers of the Disappeared,” and about half of U2’s songs

“Russians,” “They Dance Alone,” “Children’s Crusade” by Sting

“Two Tribes” by Frankie Goes To Hollywood

“What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love and Understanding?” by Elvis Costello

“The Wall” by Pink Floyd (which took on society as a whole – not just war, but everything we took for granted because, “all in all, you’re just another brick in the wall.”)

“99 Luftballons” by Neneh

“Sun City,” “We Are The World,” and “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” by super-groups of recording artists uniting for a cause:  famine, apartheid.

“Red Rain,” by Peter Gabriel (although it is not as explicitly political as some of his songs like “Biko” or “Wallflower,” this song has achieved anthem status for human rights causes)

My daughter, who is 14, has never known a time when her country was not embroiled in a war overseas.  September 11, 2001, was her first day of preschool; she was 3.

War is the new normal.

And yet, her generation does not protest.  They don’t worry, they don’t fight it.

Their pop music is about sex and love, like pop music always is, and if there’s an undercurrent to it, it’s one of violence.

There’s no one on the radio singing about the (malfunctioning) government or war or politics.  There’s no one winning Grammys for challenging the status quo.

Can you think of any?

There is one song, “Some Nights” by fun., which seems to allude the Iraq/Afghanistan war with these lyrics:  “Ten years of this and I’m not sure if anybody understands… Who the f**k wants to die alone, all dried up in the desert sun.”  But the video uses the imagery of another war, the American Civil War, instead, so it’s not clear what they are trying to say, if anything, about current politics.  Maybe they didn’t want to go there.

Green Day is the only band I can think of making politically charged music right now, and they are decidedly not of this generation.  In fact, the members of Green Day are old enough to be their parents.

My daughter (who loves Green Day, by the way) says that no one her age talks about the war.  That it’s never brought up in school, that they never hear about it, that they don’t know anything about it.

The 60s had Woodstock, and mass protests against the VietNam War.  In the 80s, we were still singing along with songs about war and injustice.

Now, it seems, the kids aren’t even talking about it.  If someone wrote a song, would they even listen?

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3 Responses to Where Are The Political Songs?

  1. Cedric says:

    Great post. It isn’t just the kids or their music. Look around. Do you see a nation at war?

  2. “Beds Are Burning” by Midnight Oil — another 80s song. Thanks, anonymous tipster. Let’s keep ’em coming.

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