Friday, May 26, 2006


Was it really four years ago that Paul Bartlett produced a list of top Conservative Songs which, on closer inspection, turned out to be anything but?

Now, the National Review has compiled its own list of songs which it thinks upholds what it likes to think of as its values, helpfully republished by the New York Times. They've come up - god 'elp us - with fifty songs:

1. "Won't Get Fooled Again," by The Who.
The conservative movement is full of disillusioned revolutionaries; this could be their theme song, an oath that swears off naive idealism once and for all. "There's nothing in the streets / Looks any different to me / And the slogans are replaced, by—the—bye. . . . Meet the new boss / Same as the old boss." The instantly recognizable synthesizer intro, Pete Townshend's ringing guitar, Keith Moon's pounding drums, and Roger Daltrey's wailing vocals make this one of the most explosive rock anthems ever recorded — the best number by a big band, and a classic for conservatives.

An interesting choice - part of the argument for this being the most conservative record ever hangs on the refusal to allow it to be used on the credits of Fahrenheit 9/11, of course. But it also demonstrates the problem with trying to identify the conservative in popular culture - in much the same way that the right will mine through hours and hours of news coverage to find something they believe demonstrates how biased a news organisation is, the conservative approach to claiming songs is to find a few words in a verse which supports their viewpoint. Yes, this is a pretty searing condemnation of the emptiness of the revolution in the head, but lambasting a bunch of revolutionaries for turning out to be sell-outs isn't the same thing as supporting the status quo. Indeed, if you liked the "old boss" so much, why would you be disappointed that the new boss is the same?

2. "Taxman," by The Beatles.
A George Harrison masterpiece with a famous guitar riff (which was actually played by Paul McCartney): "If you drive a car, I'll tax the street / If you try to sit, I'll tax your seat / If you get too cold, I'll tax the heat / If you take a walk, I'll tax your feet." The song closes with a humorous jab at death taxes: "Now my advice for those who die / Declare the pennies on your eyes."

Well, yes, this is a pretty good example of conservatism. "The taxman's taken all my dough" wail The Beatles. You'll note, though, that none of the Beatles have yet died in penury - although Heather may yet have something to say about that.

3. "Sympathy for the Devil," by The Rolling Stones.
Don't be misled by the title; this song is "The Screwtape Letters" of rock. The devil is a tempter who leans hard on moral relativism — he will try to make you think that "every cop is a criminal / And all the sinners saints." What's more, he is the sinister inspiration for the cruelties of Bolshevism: "I stuck around St. Petersburg / When I saw it was a time for a change / Killed the czar and his ministers / Anastasia screamed in vain."

Uh, yeah. He also killed the Kennedys, though - which clearly in Satan claiming responsibility for killing the idealism of the 1960s. You can't have it both ways - either you're delighted with the rejection of 60s idealism you see in Won't Get Fooled Again, or you agree that it was a work of evil for the idealism to be crushed.

Also, Jagger has admitted that his song inspired a whole slew of heavy metal acts to flirt with satanism and imagery (in effect, this is the grandfather of Hard Rock Hallelujah).

4. "Sweet Home Alabama," by Lynyrd Skynyrd.
A tribute to the region of America that liberals love to loathe, taking a shot at Neil Young's Canadian arrogance along the way: "A Southern man don't need him around anyhow."

You're welcome to this one.

5. "Wouldn't It Be Nice," by The Beach Boys.
Pro—abstinence and pro—marriage: "Maybe if we think and wish and hope and pray it might come true / Baby then there wouldn't be a single thing we couldn't do / We could be married / And then we'd be happy."

Or, on the other hand, a song that's about the frustration of having to live within strict, stultifying moral framework of small town America. This isn't a song sang flicking through a wedding gown catalogue; it's a song sung with an erection straining through trousers.

6. "Gloria," by U2.
Just because a rock song is about faith doesn't mean that it's conservative. But what about a rock song that's about faith and whose chorus is in Latin? That's beautifully reactionary: "Gloria / In te domine / Gloria / Exultate."

With the benefit of hindsight, you could argue that, yes, Bush supporter Bono is a giant conservative. But singing about God doesn't mean you're right wing - Jesus, if he was anything, was liberal - and singing in Latin doesn't mean you're on the right. Half Man Half Biscuit have got a song called Floreat Inertia.

7. "Revolution," by The Beatles.
"You say you want a revolution / Well you know / We all want to change the world . . . Don't you know you can count me out?" What's more, Communism isn't even cool: "If you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao / You ain't going to make it with anyone anyhow." (Someone tell the Che Guevara crowd.)

Do people in America really have trouble with the difference between socialism and the ultra-conservatism of Warsaw Pact Communism? I'd always assumed they were joking when they say things like "of course we can't have a medical system where people get treated because they're ill rather than because they're rich, as that's identical to erecting Stalinist death camps outside Colorado Springs" - can it be there are people who really believe that?

Anyway, the song is critical about methods of revolution, not of the revolution in itself - it's a call for that there revolution in the head. Now, that was a bad revolution in song number one, wasn't it?

8. "Bodies," by The Sex Pistols.
Violent and vulgar, but also a searing anti—abortion anthem by the quintessential punk band: "It's not an animal / It's an abortion."

Well... no, it's a "searing anti-abortion anthem", but you can you how a simplistic scan of the lyrics might lead you to conclude that. Mike Mosher has written an excellent essay on this one, actually.

9. "Don't Tread on Me," by Metallica.
A head—banging tribute to the doctrine of peace through strength, written in response to the first Gulf War: "So be it / Threaten no more / To secure peace is to prepare for war."

Yes. Metallica really are stupid, aren't they?

10. "20th Century Man," by The Kinks.
"You keep all your smart modern writers / Give me William Shakespeare / You keep all your smart modern painters / I'll take Rembrandt, Titian, da Vinci, and Gainsborough. . . . I was born in a welfare state / Ruled by bureaucracy / Controlled by civil servants / And people dressed in grey / Got no privacy got no liberty / 'Cause the 20th century people / Took it all away from me."

But hang about a moment... "Dont wanna get myself shot down /By some trigger happy policeman" - is the National Review now coming out against the routine arming of the police? And weren't those civil servants and people dressed in grey the selfsame people the mulitcoloured revolutionaries of the 1960s were seeking to replace with colour and love and all that? It's all very confusing.

For the record, the rest of the chart runs like this"
11. "The Trees," by Rush.
12. "Neighborhood Bully," by Bob Dylan
13. "My City Was Gone," by The Pretenders.
14. "Right Here, Right Now," by Jesus Jones.
15. "I Fought the Law," by The Crickets.
16. "Get Over It," by The Eagles.
17. "Stay Together for the Kids," by Blink 182.
18. "Cult of Personality," by Living Colour.
19. "Kicks," by Paul Revere and the Raiders.
20. "Rock the Casbah," by The Clash.
21. "Heroes," by David Bowie.
22. "Red Barchetta," by Rush.
23. "Brick," by Ben Folds Five.
24. "Der Kommissar," by After the Fire.
25. "The Battle of Evermore," by Led Zeppelin.
26. "Capitalism," by Oingo Boingo.
27. "Obvious Song," by Joe Jackson.
28. "Janie's Got a Gun," by Aerosmith.
29. "Rime of the Ancient Mariner," by Iron Maiden.
30. "You Can't Be Too Strong," by Graham Parker.
31. "Small Town," by John Mellencamp.
32. "Keep Your Hands to Yourself," by The Georgia Satellites.
33. "You Can't Always Get What You Want," by The Rolling Stones.
34. "Godzilla," by Blue Oyster Cult.
35. "Who'll Stop the Rain," by Creedence Clearwater Revival.
36. "Government Cheese," by The Rainmakers.
37. "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," by The Band.
38. "I Can't Drive 55," by Sammy Hagar.
39. "Property Line," by The Marshall Tucker Band.
40. "Wake Up Little Susie," by The Everly Brothers.
41. "The Icicle Melts," by The Cranberries.
42. "Everybody's a Victim," by The Proclaimers.
43. "Wonderful," by Everclear.
44. "Two Sisters," by The Kinks.
45. "Taxman, Mr. Thief," by Cheap Trick.
46. "Wind of Change," by The Scorpions.
47. "One," by Creed.
48. "Why Don't You Get a Job," by The Offspring.
49. "Abortion," by Kid Rock.
50. "Stand By Your Man," by Tammy Wynette.

Some of these are just plain bemusing - The Pretenders? They're in there because the song's about the destruction of Ohio by developers - now, to you and me, that might sound like lily-livered, green conservationist talk. But, no, it turns out it's "conservative's dissatisfaction with rapid change". I never knew Chrissie Hynde was a conservative; presumably Swampy was as well?

The Offspring? Blink 182? Kid Rock? Are the right that hard up for talent they start having to throw beligerent kiddy nonesense before they can come up with fifty songs?

No wonder David Cameron's reduced to picking Benny Hill's Ernie for his Desert Island Discs appearance.

Thanks to Karl T; there's another take on the list over at The Rude Pundit.