Thursday, October 10, 2002

On the Right tracks

We're deeply indebted to New York London Paris Munich for bringing the Conservative Pop Songs chart to our attention. Compiled by Bruce Bartlett, it's a source-mining delight of tracks that, if you close your eyes narrowly, can be seen as endorsing right-wing policies. "I'm ignoring the artist" explains Bartlett in defence of having Elton John - a gayist - in the run down, which at a stroke makes a mockery of his own task. Because how can a single line be used to support a cause the writer is unlikely to believe in? For what it's worth, we'd like to take some issues with him...

Paul Anka - You'er Having My Baby. This comes in at one, but that's simply because the tracks are listed alphabetically, rather than by popularity or rabid, barking right-wing-ness. But the alphabet is a cruel mistress, and so the first track happens to be the sort of wan, over-sweetened nonesense that gives not only Conservativism a bad name, but doesn't reflect that well on music, either. It makes the chart on the grounds that there's a line "Didn’t have to keep it /Wouldn’t put ya through it / You could have swept it from your life / But you wouldn’t do it" This is interpreted as being pro-life, and Bartlett then extrapolates that such a song going to number one shortly after Roe versus Wade "also tells us something important about what most Americans really think about abortion". No, it doesn't. The popularity of the track would presumably be related to the same reason it was a regular choice on Simon Bate's Our Tune and a staple of Radio 2 request songs for years - the 'you're having my baby/what a beautiful way of saying how much you love me' refrain - rather than any implied rejection of abortion. Indeed, although the foetus in question is allowed to go to full term, clearly the Ankas have considered termination, and have rejected it out of choice, rather than conviction that abortion is wrong. In that sense, it's actually a pro-choice song. Admittedly, though, the constant description of the baby as "my" rather than "ours" does have slightly unpleasant overtones of a male-centric universe. Bartlett then goes on to praise 'Bodies' as being another anti-abortion song. The well-known pillars of society the Sex Pistols, of course.

The Beatles - Revolution. "The reason is that it is fundamentally anti-revolution." No, it's not. It's anti-violent revolution, and anti-plastic revolutionaries.

The Byrds - Turn! Turn! Turn! This is an odd conservative classic, having been written by old time lefty Pete Seeger and performed by a group that later glorified drugs in “Eight Miles High.” Nevertheless, it makes my list because the lyrics are drawn straight from the Book of Ecclesiastes. I figure that any song based on the Bible deserved inclusion. Sure it wasn't just to wind Pete Seeger up? Obviously, you can see why the right would be delighted to have the Bible quoted in the Top 40, but surely having the hippies quoting your own creed back at you is a statement of radicalism and not conservatism?

Neil Diamond - Coming To America. Yes, its a celebration of the US of States, but it rhymes 'land of the free' with 'democracy', which adds creedence to the belief that the right don't care who they hurt. We'd also raise a curious eyebrow and ask to what extent the American right welcome immigrants today - Bartlett attempts to sidestep the question by claiming the song refers to "turn of the century immigrants", but Diamond's lyrical reference to "arriving in planes" surely makes this unlikely.

Bobby Fuller Four - I Fought The Law. Apparently "on my list because of its strong law and order message. The law won, do you see? I wrote a list, and the padding won, more like.

George Harrison - My Sweet Lord. "The inclusion of this song may be controversial because of its non-Christian lyrics. This crisis is resolved because it's religious and that "makes the song per se conservative, even if the religion is Hinduism or Buddhism. Not, you'll note, if the song is Islamic, for some reason. So, the fact that Harrison was actively helping groups living communaly at the time, and royalties from the song went towards such experiments, is apparently unimportant.

Johnny Horton - Battle of New Orleans. Oddly, Bartlett can't find space in his run down to either include or mention another song about a battle, the Battle Hymn of Lt Calley. Now this, surely, should be included in any run down of Conservative anthems, especially one that stretches the inclusion criteria as far as this one. If you give the nod to James Brown's Man's Man's World for the song's praise for inventors and selling things, why not the lyric which functions as an apologia for one of the US's biggest war criminals and swipes as the draft-dodgers and anti-war protestors at the same time? "While we're fighting in the jungles / They were marching in the street, / While we're dying in the rice fields / They were helping our defeat./ While we're facing VC bullets / They were sounding a retreat, / As we go marching on..." It couldn't be that you're embarrassed, could it?

Whitney Houston - The Star Spangled Banner. You can't argue with the patriotic sentiments of this - well, you can argue with them, but not that they're there. But it's a pity that this makes the list, after that nasty little spat in 2001, when the track was re-released as a desperate bid to try and rebuild Whitney's career (or 'a tribute to those who lost their lives in the Sep'ven attacks') and the Orchestra who played on it suddenly realised they'd not been getting any royalties on it for the best part of a decade. Hardly says much for the free market economy that musicians get ripped off even while they're playing the National Anthem, does it?

Elton John - Philadelphia Freedom. Swallowing his disgust at a homosexual being in his list, Bartlett attempts to persuade us just how wholesome his case is. "Whitburn [Author of Top 40 Hits] says that this song was written as some kind of tribute for tennis star Billie Jean King and her team, the Philadelphia Freedoms. This is not correct. I clearly recall an interview with Elton John just before this song was released, in which he said it was written to celebrate the American Bicentennial in 1976. The lyrics leave no doubt that this was in fact the case. For example, John sings, “From the day I was born I’ve waved the flag.” And there is nothing whatsoever in the song that even hints at any relationship to Ms. King or tennis.
Right, let's just arrange some evidence here. The song was a hit in Spring '75, so was something of a pre-emptory celebration if that's true; and while there is no mention of tennis in the lyric, nor is there any mention of the Bicentennial, either. We have Bartlett's memory of a interview in which he said it was written for the Bicentennial, which if true could be a shrewd man offering an interpretation pleasing to the audience in order to keep sales bubbling along. However, the single does have a dedication to BJK on it. Bartlett's trouble is that he seems to be confusing 'about' and 'for'; the song is about America, but it was clearly written for King, as Superseventies explains: "A short time later, Billie was in Denver, embroiled in a crucial playoff game. Suddenly, Elton entered her locker room, bearing a hand-held tape recorder. With a nervous grin, he punched up a track he had just completed, and awaited her reaction. For many long minutes, the tune played on. And then she smiled. Billie Jean King loved the song.
So, a song by one of the most famous gay men for one of the most famous lesbians in the world. An excellent choice.
If Bartlett had really wanted to force Elton onto his audience, surely the remake of Candle In The Wind would have been far more appropriate? The cringe towards the upper classes, the forelock tugged at the feet of the Monarchy, the mythical Merrie Olde Englande evoked in the name of the dead Sloane - surely that's got it all?

Kingston Trio - MTA. Not a song I'm familiar with, but the precis provided Bartlett makes it sound rather like a post-war era version of Give Us Back Our Cheap Fares by Bananrama. Now, while the casting of Massechusetts Transit Authority fares as "unfair taxes" might sound superficially right-wing, we've got houseplants that can see the only alternative to the State railways charging high fares is to either fund them from higher direct or indirect taxation. So, it's not really a very good free market anthem, since it seems to be calling for redistribution of resources from the rich to the poor who use the buses.

The Kinks - Sunny Afternoon. "British taxes must have been really high in 1966. That year, The Beatles recorded “Taxman” and fellow Brits The Kinks also recorded this anti-tax anthem. As they sing, “The tax man’s taken all my dough…He’s taken everything I’ve got."" Oh, Bruce, how selectively you quote from this 'anti-tax anthem.' Doesn't the song actually go "The tax man's taken all my dough/ left me in my stately home/ He's taken everything I've got/ I can't even sail my yacht."? Do you see what he's done? He's taking the piss out of pop stars whining about how they're having to pay taxes - like the Beatles do in Taxman - while sitting on huge great piles of money. It's satire, Bruce. He's being funny. Not anti-taxes.
Oh, by the way... you haven't gone and called your baby girl Lola, have you?

Madonna - Papa Don't Preach. Bartlett again falls into the Anka trap, and assumes that because a song is about someone carrying pregnancy to full-term, it's anti-abortion. Of course, it's no such thing - abortion clearly has been on the agenda, considered, weighed, and ultimately decided against. It's a pro-choice song, then; only someone who believed that every baby born is an outright political statement against abortion could miss that. At the same time as slapping Madonna's tale of teenage sex on the back as a true conservative classic, Bartlett also praises Diana Ross' Love Child for describing the same situation in terms of condemnation. So, let's see... Madonna having an out of wedlock baby is good, but Diana Ross having one is bad. What could the difference be? Hmm... "The song is all about avoiding premarital sex and the terrible consequences of out-of-wedlock births. The danger, all too real in the Black community, then and now, is that the child is the one who ultimately suffers. Ah, that's it. Black people having babies outside of marriage is a terrible problem; when white people do it it's a crushing defeat for the abortion industry.

Kenny Roger and the First Edition - Ruby, Don't Take Your Love To Town. You wonder if Mr. B actually listened to any of these tracks before including them, or if he even owns a record player. If you read the song literally and positviely - as, typically, Bartlett does - it suggests that it's perfectly acceptable to get a gun and gun down your wife if she's going off into town without you. If you pay attention to the lyrics, however, it's clear that the song is anti-war. Sure, Rogers went and did his "patriotic chore", but look how its left him - incapacitated, about to fall into a grave, left without support and unable to even satisfy his wife's sexual desires. Try playing this to the troops massing for the attack on Iraq, and see how inspired and patriotic they feel.

Dusty Springfield - Wishin and Hopin'. On behalf of bothsidesnow, may I congratulate you on the inclusion of one of our all time bisexual heroes on the list?

Tammy Wynette - Stand by Your Man. This is the same Tammy Wynette who did D.I.V.O.R.C.E, so we can only presume she didn't take her own advice.

Bartlett concludes by suggesting that he can only think of one left wing song that ever made the US Top 40, which is palpable nonesense. You have to admire his idea, but, frankly - besides a couple of hymns and resurrections of ancient patriotic songs - his choices are ludicrous.

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