It’s been quite the year so far, hasn’t it? Feels a bit weird to be saying that in the middle of March but it has been a bit headstrong so far. A debilitating virus swirling globally, panic on the streets and social media alongside political misgivings, economic decline and climate decimation. We’re the doomed generation, and to compensate for that, here are ten songs that capture this bleak year so far. As expected, there were more than ten songs to hit up for this list, but I’ve made a nifty little list below for those that didn’t make the final cut.
- Tramp the Dirt Down – Elvis Costello and The Attractions (1989)
- Rock the Casbah – The Clash (1982)
- Cocaine Socialism – Pulp (1998)
- The Headmaster Ritual – The Smiths (1985)
- Thatcher Fucked the Kids – Frank Turner (2006)
- Imagine – John Lennon (1971)
Here we are then, ten political songs to summarise our year so far, and no matter how early we are into 2020, I get the feeling these songs will have a permanent relevance as we cautiously trundle on into the unknown.
10. WORLD LEADER PRETEND – R.E.M.
R.E.M. may be best remembered for their overplayed, tragic song Everybody Hurts or their disguised pessimism in Shiny Happy Peaople, but they could sure as hell knock out a decent political song. World Leader Pretend offers up a concoction of those ever-famous guitar riffs, piano keys and incredible lyrics all under the guise of a slightly political edge. Although Stipe himself would never admit it (he went on the record saying he doesn’t like writing political songs), it’s through and through a quasi-political song.
More a personal reflection of giving yourself freedom, World Leader Pretend still offers up a relevance that it held over thirty years ago. “I raised the wall and I will be the one to knock it down” sticks out as a recurring lyric, and perhaps the most defining line of the song if we take it on from the perspective of current world issues. We’ve been hearing about walls in the media over the past few years, but we’re no closer to breaking them down just yet.
9. THE UNIVERSAL – BLUR
Although Blur were no bastion of hope for those in times of need, their songs have taken on impressionable meaning as time flies by. The Universal, initially a criticism of The National Lottery, has just the right mixture of criticism and catchiness to provide us with a compendium of alluding lyrics.
The video itself plays off of A Clockwork Orange and the elusive tropes of the ever-terrifying dystopian horrors that could await us. “It really, really, really could happen” sounds more and more ominous on each listen of this track. A great song on the whole as well, with the political vision coming through as the song ages, it makes it seem like Blur didn’t exactly mean for this to be a political track. Drummer Dave Rowntree’s position as a Norfolk Labour councillor does bring a bit of light to at least one of the band members political leanings though. Certainly makes up for Alex James and his cheese-based Conservatism.
8. PANIC – THE SMITHS
Perfect, a song about what we should (probably) currently be doing. Definitely not the most obvious song of The Smiths’ extensive repertoire to choose from, but certainly one that feels better suited than their honourable mention choice. I was tempted to put Barbarism Begins at Home on rather than Panic, but this one seemed much more suitable for reasons that begin with titular relevance and end with overall meaning.
That oddly intrinsic optimism to the guitar and drums collides rather well with the overtones of Morrisey’s upbeat performance of lyrics that present a terrified world. You may be panicking on the streets of your city, but please don’t hang the DJ just yet.
7. COMMON PEOPLE – PULP
For those of the working class variety, Common People‘s energetic mockery of the upper class “mummy’s boy” culture will hit with pangs of anger. Pulp crafted a song that defined the Britpop scene, but also one that poked fun at the upper class. Lyrics that are deep fried in contemptuous backhanders and an ever-memorable chorus keep Common People a relevant classic for generations new and old.
Cocker’s lyrical prowess hits us with lines like “You’ll never live like common people.” and “I said, “pretend you’ve got no money” / She just laughed and said / “Oh you’re so funny”. With the criticism of the wealthy and their lack of understanding, it’s hard not to enjoy this upbeat criticism of the greedy few that will never understand what it is to live like common people.
6. THE BEATLES – REVOLUTION
An absolute classic, and further proof that The Beatles had their finger on the pulse of the world around them, Revolution isn’t calling for complete anarchy and destruction, but a level headed approach to dealing with the struggle we face. With Lennon’s delivery of the hippie-esque lyrics “But when you talk about destruction / Don’t you know that you can count me out”.
The Fab Four are no strangers to songs of political disorder, but Revolution certainly garners a much stronger realisation now than it did in years prior. Maybe it’s time for change, and I don’t mean to incite one, but Lennon seemed pretty set on a revolution.
5. IF YOU TOLERATE THIS – MANIC STREET PREACHERS
Perhaps the biggest divide for just about everywhere at the moment is one of age. An age gap in political leanings is prevalent, just take a look at recent election results in the U.K. or Democratic Primaries in the United States to get a real feel for the divide between the young and old. As the Manic Street Preachers point out, “If you tolerate this, then your children will be next.”
Maybe that’s something to keep in mind, no? That if we put up with the world around us and don’t fight for change, then the generations after ours will be next. Next to deal with the fight against all sorts of corruption, pollution and pessimism. Who knows? It’s only a song, isn’t it. Isn’t it?
4. (NOTHING BUT) FLOWERS – TALKING HEADS
What’s so truly strange about (Nothing But) Flowers is that it comes from Talking Heads’ worst album. A politically motivated song about how pollution and growing environmental problems are pushing us closer to the brink of humanities inevitable end, (Nothing But) Flowers brings together the exceptional lyrics of David Byrne with a politically pressing matter.
The strange witticisms Byrne sprinkles into his lyrics are found under wraps throughout. “If this is paradise, I wish I had a lawnmower” may not make much sense, but give the song a few listens through, and it’ll still not make a connection with reality. The real meat comes from the verses, where Byrne reminisces of the past and how factories replace mountains and rivers, all to the upbeat rhythms of criticising Americanised traditions.
3. FIVE YEARS – DAVID BOWIE
Ever since the early days of his career, David Bowie had always been somewhat of a trendsetter. Innovation seemed to be what he was best at, and The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust is evidence enough of such a free-flowing mind. Five Years comes to us from the very beginning of the album, setting the tone of a generation in need of fixing the problems we still face nearly fifty years later.
Bowie sings of how we have no more than “five years“. I think he was being optimistic with that prediction.
2. (WHAT’S SO FUNNY ABOUT) PEACE, LOVE AND UNDERSTANDING – ELVIS COSTELLO AND THE ATTRACTIONS
A cover of Nick Lowe’s song of the same name, Elvis Costello and The Attractions appropriate his work to take a jab at the late 70s and early 80s war hungry idealism. A song that is sadly as relevant now as it was all those years ago, Costello asks one simple, titular question. “What’s so funny about peace, love and understanding?”
Expressing an understanding of the other side of the argument, but at the same time a vehement rejection of their antagonistic approach to world order, Costello presents a tremendous vocal range to ask that ever pressing question. We’ve yet to receive an answer.
1. RUNNING THE WORLD – JARVIS COCKER
Our top pick for the song for this doomed generation is the one that inspired the list. Running the World puts it as simply as it can. “Cunts are still running the world.”
They most certainly are. Cocker’s smooth voice brings us through methodical beat discussing the death of the working-class, the oppression of capitalism and the hypocrisy of those in charge. “That the cream cannot help but always rise up to the top / Well I say, “Shit floats”. Cocker likes to dedicate live performances of this song to the current Prime Minister of the U.K., and I can safely say it’s a very fitting comparison. There’s also a Kaiser Quartet version available, which has a beautiful, orchestrated ring to it.
There you have it, some songs to get us through what is gearing up to be a tragically difficult year. In a world ran by the ethics of “Fuck the morals, does it make any money?”, maybe sticking together isn’t that bad of an idea.