With the election of Donald Trump, there are serious questions to ask. Since this the second time in 16 years someone has won the Electoral College yet lost the popular vote, is it time to change the way we elect the leader of the free world? Is too much money spent on elections? Will America be a less tolerant place now that alt-right groups have been emboldened? And probably the one that is foremost on many minds: Are you fucking kidding me?
Well, there are plenty of Constitutional scholars that can argue the merits of the Electoral College. There will always be racism and hatred, it is now driven into the light and, some say, it is easier to identify and fight. All of those are important topics that deserve serious consideration. On election night, my old publisher noted that the quality of punk rock will get better since it always does in times of oppression, fascism and social upheaval.
With that in mind, I give you a list of great punk, funk, rap and rock that helped get me through the Reagan era and a few that helped make the George W. Bush years more tolerable. Definitely a fertile ground for three chord fury and the underground teeming with talented poets with filthy faces, snarls and a sense of righteous indignation.
Clampdown, the Clash
From the opening salvo of “What are we gonna do now?” through screeching guitars, Joe Strummer lays it on the line for everyone to resist the evils of capitalism, corporatism, fascism and every other “ism.” He snarls “Let fury have the hour, anger can be power” as if he is teaching the world how to fight back against pending totalitarianism.
Exhuming McCarthy, R.E.M.
The title alone brings up images of Paul Ryan and Newt Gingrich digging up the corpse of Tail-gunner Joe and resuming the House Un-American Activities. Fomenting fear in your fellow American is never a way to ensure a successful nation. I’ve been hearing the GOP celebrate their narrow victory and all I can think of is Army Chief Counsel Joseph N. Welch looking at McCarthy in disbelief, asking “have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you no sense of decency?” On top of that, Michael Stipe is unafraid of telling the Reagan and Bush people time is up and liberty will be restored.
American Idiot, Green Day
When Billie Joe sings “everybody do the propaganda” I always envision a dance, kind of like the pony. Arms flailing up and down, rhythm be damned. What we have here is the culmination of a band, an attitude and the fact that our nation has been led down a rabbit hole of disinformation. “One nation controlled by the media” indeed. The guitar chimes in, the drums thunder onward and the song is everything a punk tune is supposed to be: short, angry and smarter than people thought. When all is said and done, the bay area trio let the world know they want no part of “redneck agenda.”
World Destruction, Time Zone
Time Zone was Afrika Bambaataa’s band. He’d switch up members with each new project. For World Destruction, he found former Sex Pistols/ Public Image Limited frontman John Lydon. The two put together a scathing indictment of society. Bambaataa said, “I was talking to Bill Laswell saying I need somebody who’s really crazy, man, and he thought of John Lydon. I knew he was perfect because I’d seen this movie that he’d made (Copkiller), I knew about all the Sex Pistols and Public Image stuff, so we got together and we did a smashing crazy version, and a version where he cussed the Queen something terrible, which was never released.” According to Lydon “We went in, put a drum beat down on the machine and did the whole thing in about four-and-a-half hours. It was very, very quick.” It was also a thumping, propulsive squeal at the powers that be. “This is the world destruction, your life ain’t nothin’, the human race is becoming a disgrace!” was a chant my college buddies and I sang on summer nights, driving through La Mesa, windows down.
Bonzo Goes To Bitburg, the Ramones
The image of Ronald Reagan laying a wreath at the grave of a Nazi soldier sent shivers down the spine of many people. Joey Ramone, being Jewish and appalled that a sitting president would visit a Nazi grave site, took the Ramones a place they rarely went — into the political theater. Joey was liberal, Johnny conservative, but the Ramones existed to make music fun, rebellious and free of clutter. Politics usually got pushed to the background, behind the Carbonia and glue. Here, it was all laid bare; our president had extended an olive branch to the German people and the Ramones were smacking it out of his hands.
Bodies, the Sex Pistols
Roe Vs Wade is going to come under fire from the right like it has not in a long time. With only eight members on the Supreme Court, the GOP is going to appoint someone who is most-likely going to be slightly to the right of now dead Justice Scalia. While the Sex Pistols’ song is a condemnation against abortion, it is loud, vile and full of aggression. Probably not something the Religious Right will want to cozy up to. Pity, because Johnny Rotten can scare the hell out of people. Power chords rip through the bull and ring in your ears long after the song has finished.
Political Song for Michael Jackson to Sing, the minutemen
Their songs were short, smart and had elements of jazz, folk, Creedence Clearwater Revival and pretty much anything else you can imagine thrown in on top of the punk influences. The minutemen were as much a product of their hometown of San Pedro as the sandy beaches and fishing boats that docked there. “Political Song for Michael Jackson to Sing” is the minutemen at their finest. Starting and stopping at odd moments, D. Boon’s guitar and Mike Watt’s bass battle with George Hurley’s rolling drums, Boon shouting “if we heard mortar shells, we’d cuss more in our songs and cut down the guitar solos.” Just like the song says, “organizing the boy scouts for murder is wrong.” It’s tough to argue with logic like that.
To Have and Have Not, Billy Bragg
A man, a guitar and his sense of social justice standing alone against the world. The world did not stand a chance. Billy Bragg spent his early years as a one man band, fighting the Thatcherite regime with all his might. Here he uses a simple, repetitive, hook and his heavily-accented singing voice to call the roll on society’s ills and how the deck is stacked against everyone born on the wrong side of the bank account. “Just because you’re better than me, doesn’t mean I’m lazy/Just because I dress like this, doesn’t mean I’m a communist” he sings, sarcasm dripping from his tongue.
Sleep Now in the Fire, Rage Against the Machine
Tom Morello’s guitar is a weapon of feedback and whammy bar, raising blisters felt up and down Wall Street. Greed, Christopher Colombus, the bombing of Hiroshima and the conquest of Native Americans all get called on the carpet and ripped through the ringer. After Zack de la Rocha is finished spitting venom, the only thing left to do is wait for the smoke to clear and search for survivors.
Sunday Bloody Sunday, U2
From the martial drums, to the chime of the Edge’s guitar this is the sound of a band that held the world in the palm of its’ hand and used that moment to say something of value: war sucks and the Irish have died enough. Bono was a rare force in the 80’s (Hell, he’s still one now), a singer smart enough to engage in conversation, a man filled with righteous indignation and a fierce conviction that music could change the world. “I can’t believe the news today. I can’t close my eyes and make it go away” is how it starts, “how long, how long must we sing this song?” is how it ends. In between, U2 was a band on a mission of peace and justice. They hit their stride musically on 1987’s “Joshua Tree,” but 1983’s “War” was where most of the world got its’ first taste of Irish dischord, and it sounded angry and lovely.
Don’t Believe the Hype, Public Enemy
With the second single from their second album, Public Enemy struck gold. Chuck D. said the song was inspired by the works of Noam Chomsky and deals with the social and political upheaval of the times. Hatred, racism, anger all get a grilling as the hip hop band encourages people to think critically, form your own opinions and never sell yourself short. It also signaled a sea change in the direction of rap and hip hop that had been happening around the fringes. After “Don’t Believe the Hype” everyone noticed hip hop would not be a fad and would not be ignored.
The New World, X
Los Angeles was a breeding ground for punk bands. The Germs, The Dickies, The Nerves, Circle Jerks and dozens more. The one that stood out from the pack was X. With white-blonde Billy Zoom grinning as he played country-inflected guitar licks while John Doe and Exene swapped vocals over D.J. Bonebrake’s pumping drums, X was a force of nature. “The New World” had the band getting political, summing up the 2016 elections decades early when they sang, “It was better before, before they voted for what’s his name.” In their hands, the new world was a place to find a tree to lie down under and wait for the giant meteor to hit the Earth and put us all out of our misery.
(What’s So Funny ‘bout) Peace, Love and Understanding, Elvis Costello and the Attractions
Written by Nick Lowe and brought to the masses by Elvis Costello, “(What’s So Funny ‘bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” is a paean to a cruel world that can be better, but usually chooses not to be. The drums gallup along, Elvis sings, wondering “where is that harmony, sweet harmony. Cause each time I feel like losing sight, there’s one thing I wanna know… What’s so funny, ‘bout peace, love and understanding?” It’s not so much a question as it is a plea. Lyrically, it is different from most of Costello’s other early work, thanks to Lowe who could be sarcastic as often as he could be a hopeless romantic. Costello’s body of work back then tended to veer toward “angry young man” territory. He’s still angry here, but there’s a place to focus that anger.
Let’s Have A War, Fear
Fear was a band that took no prisoners. Lee Ving could snarl as well as anybody, but he made his mark taunting crowds and mocking those in the pit. When Ving and Philo Cramer wrote “Let’s Have a War,” the L.A. hardcore scene had its’ anthem. To Fear, punk rock was an efficient way to deliver antagonism and discomfort to the masses. The angry, yelling vocal “There’s too many of us, there’s too many of us” drives home the point that wars are waged to thin out the population and pad the bank accounts of the wealthy. “Blame it on the middle class,” “We can start in New Jersey” Ving screams. All that is left behind once Fear has stopped playing is scorched earth and bleeding ear drums.
Gun Sale at the Church, The Beat Farmers
When Ronald Reagan won re-election in 1984, Buddy Blue told me, “I’m short, I’m Jewish and I’m angry.” While all three of those things were true, he was also a gifted song-writer, a great guitarist and a man with the best bull shit detector on the planet. With “Gun Sale at the Church,” Blue pointed out the hypocrisy of so-called Christian people wedded to the Second Amendment and the hate-politics of one of their two main men, “Jesus and old John Birch.” All these years later and the song is even more relevant today. “We’ll ask the lord to forgive us for all our sins, and we’ll look at the latest in gold-plated firing pins,” genius. Pure, unfiltered awesome. The San Diego music scene lost a beautiful voice that could sound sweet as honey while he told a significant chunk of the population the were full of shit.
Kill the Poor, Dead Kennedys
Well, the title pretty much sums up our future. Jello Biafra and East Bay Ray pull out all the stops as the guitars race to the finish and Jello paints a picture of Neutron Bombs getting rid of those pesky welfare babies, but leave the property untouched. Realtors love the idea and venture capitalists can get behind it too. I’m fairly certain the boys from the bay did not intend for the song to be a suggestion of how to revive the inner cities.
If that’s not enough to get you through, as the Dead Kennedys say in “Bedtime for Democracy,” there plenty more. The following is an incomplete list:
Your Racist Friend, They Might Be Giants; Rise Above, Black Flag; Eat the Rich, Motorhead; Ronnie Talk to Russia, Prince; Panic, the Smiths; Eton Rifles, the Jam; Zombie, the Cranberries; I Am A Patriot, Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul; Keep on Rockin in the Free World, Neil Young; Stand Down Margaret, English Beat.