Monday, January 16, 2012

Progressive Music Classics: The Best Protest Songs Of The Margaret Thatcher Era



Welcome to another edition of Progressive Music Classics.

The era of Margaret Thatcher was a grim time to be alive in Britain, except in one respect: there was loads of fantastic music around. And a number of top musicians were inspired by Thatcher's rule to create some of the best protest music of any era.

A good example, featured in the video above, was The Beat's "Whine and Grine/Stand Down Margaret," featured on the Birmingham neo-ska band's classic 1980 album, I Just Can't Stop It. It was that rare song that made you want to get up and dance and gave you food for thought as well.

Thatcher, of course, has been back in the news lately, on account of the acclaimed new bio film, The Iron Lady, starring Meryl Streep. The film has sharply divided opinion in the U.K., where Thatcher is not remembered fondly.

I've always detested Thatcher myself (almost as much as I hate her contemporary, Ronald Reagan). Among their many other crimes against humanity, both leaders gutted organized labor in their respective nations. As a result, both countries have seen income inequality sharply rise over the past three decades.

A big irony of both Thatcher and Reagan is that they both set back the cause of the capitalist system they both admired.

The fact is, First World capitalism really can't survive without a strong, prosperous middle class. Given that Thatcher and Reagan seriously damaged the middle class in their nations, they unwittingly inflicted serious long-term damage to capitalism itself.

After all, capitalism only works if there is a strong, healthy middle class around to buy the products that the system creates. It's a lesson that the likes of Henry Ford once learned a long time ago (but has been long since forgotten by today's industrialists).

In America since 1980s, the reality of a shrinking middle class has been masked by consumers going into ever-deeper debt. It's a cycle that is unsustainable.

I would maintain that whatever "prosperity" Britain and the U.S. have seen since 1980 has been largely a credit-card-fueled mirage, boosted by occasional other smoke-and-mirrors phenomenon, like the recent housing bubble. It's only a matter of time before the whole Ponzi scheme system comes crashing down on our heads.

But back in the 1980s, this side effect of Thatcherism wasn't yet apparent. Back then, people were just appalled at her all-out assault on working people. Decades later, it has become apparent that Thatcherism was even worse than its 1980s critics believed.

There are many other classic anti-Thatcher songs out there. I also recommend Elvis Costello's 1989 song, "Tramp the Dirt Down," (perhaps the most savage song Costello has ever cut). For sheer rage, though, nothing tops the anti-Falklands War protest song, "How Does It Feel to Be the Mother of a Thousand Dead?" by anarchist band, Crass.

Also, be sure to check out Morrissey's no-holds-barred assault on the Iron Lady, "Margaret on the Guillotine" (see below). Sadly, the eight horrific years that Geoge W. Bush inflicted upon America never inspired any of the dullards who clog up our pop charts to create anything as memorable as these U.K. anti-Thatcher songs.


Anonymous said...

Firstly Marc, thanks for that cool (and still relevant if you substitute the names) cut.

Secondly, this kind of Scorched Earth Capitalism is working just fine for those who are raking in all the chips. They don't have to care about anything collapsing down around the ears of the rest of us; they have PLENTY to keep them fat and care-free for their entire life-times.

Plus, as you doubtless know, just as they no longer need Americans to make their supply-side stuff, they no longer need us to buy it. They have India now, with a large and growing middle class hungry for the stuff we can no longer afford.

It's a win-win for them, and a lose-lose for us.

Marc McDonald said...

Hi Cunning Runt, thanks for your comment.
Yes, I do agree that the U.S. ruling class will make out fine whatever economic system emerges.
But it won't be the sort of "capitalism" that created the Great American Middle Class and propelled the U.S. to become a great power from the 1940s to the 1970s.

>>They don't have to care about
>>anything collapsing down around
>>the ears of the rest of us

They may well not care. But they ought to care---for their own sake. If the increasingly impoverished masses get desperate and take to the streets, the Ruling Class will definitely sit up and take notice. And if we take back our government by force, I'm sure the Ruling Class will be sweating it out.
After all, the U.S. government is now the enforcer of corporate capitalism worldwide. I don't see another country ever taking up that role.
You mentioned India. I'm sure the Ruling Class will do well there, marketing their products. But without the "Enforcer" power of the U.S., it's definitely not going to be the same. Incidentally, India itself has long been wary of U.S. style cowboy unregulated capitalism. For example, the gov't there recently shot down a proposal to open the country to "big box" Wal-Mart type retailers.
Although India is hardly a socialist paradise, I did have to admit I greatly admired their gov't for standing up for the mom-and-pop shops and for telling Wal-Mart to f*ck off.

niemo99 said...

Perhaps one of the best ones was something done by Spitting Image as a parody of the 80's hit, "Our House". It cut right to the point WRT the gouging that the UK housing market took thanks to Thatcher's reliance on The Chicago School Boys for economic advice.

What happened in the UK should have been the belwether, but as usual, the propaganda ("Laffer curves!", "Deregulation!") and the promise of better times (this was on the heels of the 'malaise' of the 1970's) had too many hoping-against-hope that things could be made better within the confines of a broken system.

We should have known better, and some did...but their voices were drowned out. And now we have the penultimate inevitable crash of that broken system. The final fall, I am afraid, is just around the corner.

Buzzcook said...

There were anti-Bush songs. The Beastie Boys and John Mellencamp, for two. They just never got any air play.

clif said...


Devils & Dust - Bruce Springsteen

Don't Make Me a Target – Spoon

The Drums of War – Jackson Browne

Everybody's Gone to War – Nerina Pallot

The Empire Strikes First - Bad Religion

Empty Walls - Serj Tankian

The Rising (album) - Bruce Springsteen (2002) is largely about 9/11

"F*ck a War – Geto Boys

Final Transmission - Street Dogs

George W. Told The Nation" – Tom Paxton

God is not with You ! - Ira dei Belgium

Hard-On for War - Mudhoney

Harrowdown Hill - Thom Yorke

Hands Held High – Linkin Park

Hero of War" - Rise Against

Home to Houston - Steve Earle

The Holidays Are Here (And We're Still at War)" – Brett Dennen

How Much Do You Suck?" - The Jeevas

I Can't Take It No More" - John Fogerty

I Saw Him Laying There" – Dawn Called Malice

Jerusalem - Steve Earle )

Jesus Walks" – Kanye West

Letter From Iraq" - Bouncing Souls

Let Them Eat War" – Bad Religion

Light Up Ya Lighter" – Michael Franti

Let's Impeach the President" – Neil Young

Midnight Oil" – Dawn Called Malice

No War" – Esham

Not In My Name - Saul Williams

On With the Song" - Mary Chapin Carpenter

Out Of Time" - Blur

* "Open Invitation (I Hate You bin Laden)" Jackyl (2001)
* "Osama Yo' Mama" - Ray Stevens (2002)

Overburdened - Disturbed

Planet of the Rice – Dawn Called Malice

Please Freeze Me – Dawn Called Malice

Prophets of War – Dream Theater

Rich Man's War - Steve Earle

Sacrificed Sons – Dream Theater

Saraba – The Gazette

Shock and Awe – Neil Young

Skylines and Turnstiles — My Chemical Romance

Square Dance - Eminem

Stand Up – Flobots

A Taste of Money – Dawn Called Malice

The Evil Has Landed" - Testament

Victory Stinks - Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine

Violet Hill" - Coldplay

Wake Me Up When September Ends-Green Day

Wargasm" - L7

When the President Talks to God – Bright Eyes

Where is the Love
- The Black Eyed Peas (Featuring Justin Timberlake)

White Flag Warrior - Flobots ft. Tim McIlrath

Wipe that Smile Off Your Face" - Our Lady Peace
Yellowcake - Ministry

Your Silence - Suicide Machines

Just because the corporate owned MSM and radio chains didn't play them doesn't mean they don't exist.

Marc McDonald said...

>>Just because the corporate owned
>>MSM and radio chains didn't play
>>them doesn't mean they don't

I think that's a key difference between the U.S. and Britain. In Britain, it's at least possible that radical music will get some airplay. Even the Dead Kennedys had some airplay, and chart success, in Britain back in the 1980s.

Here in the "free" U.S., any truly radical protest music will never get on the public airwaves--and will never reach a large audience.

Actually, this is a form of censorship that's even more sinister than blatant, heavy-handed censorship that occurs in places like China or Iran. There, at least, the people know to take anything they hear from the media with a grain of salt. Here, Americans laughably believe we have "freedom of speech."

Jack Jodell said...

Great songs, Marc! I never had much tim e for that bitch Thatcher or her male counterpart here in the US, nor for the spirit of self-centered yuppieism which characterized most of that dark decade. We are still experiencing the horrible aftereffects of that time of economic devastation. YUCK!!!

Marc McDonald said...

Hi Jack, thanks for stopping by. I never will understand why Reagan gets all this credit for a supposedly "booming" economy in the 1980s. How many people are even aware that, under Carter, the U.S. economy created 10 million jobs in ONE term (vs. 18 million in Reagan's two terms). And the jobs created under Carter were, by and large, better-paying jobs than the sort of McDonald's crap non-union "jobs" that started becoming more common in the 1980s.
And yet, bizarrely, Carter continuously gets slammed by the MSM as some sort of "failure" as president.
If something is repeated enough times ("Reagan won the Cold War!") then eventually more and more people start to believe it. I'd imagine that the rehabilation of GWB will soon get underway. We will be told that he "won" the War on Terror. If the Powers That Be could rehabiliate an asshole like Reagan, they can do it again for Bush.