Content warning: this post contains songs with descriptions of violence and assault – in some cases graphic and unflinching – and indeed discussion of those songs.
This week, I turn to songs about violence. We seem to be living in turbulent times that all too often erupt in violence, but what is interesting here is that most of these songs are not new, but are telling familiar stories in the present day too.
/Playlists /Spotify / /YouTube
/Related /438/Pure Uncut Anger /Tuesday Ten/Index
/Assistance /Suggestions/302 /Used Prior/52 /Unique Songs/260 /People Suggesting/111
/Details /Tracks this week/10 /Tracks on Spotify Playlist/10 /Duration/36:01
This was a massively popular suggestion thread, too, with one of the few times where over three hundred suggestions were made. As you can probably imagine, getting this down to ten was very difficult, and I may revisit this subject at some point in the future with another ten songs.
A quick explanation for new readers (hi there!): my Tuesday Ten series has been running since March 2007, and each month features at least ten new songs you should hear – and in between those monthly posts, I feature songs on a variety of subjects, with some of the songs featured coming from suggestion threads on Facebook.
Feel free to get involved with these – the more the merrier, and the breadth of suggestions that I get continues to astound me. Otherwise, as usual, if you’ve got something you want me to hear, something I should be writing about, or even a gig I should be attending, e-mail me or drop me a line on Facebook (details below).
/New Model Army
/The Ghost of Cain
I sometimes wonder if there is a New Model Army song for almost every subject I look at in this series (and they’ve certainly been suggested a lot over the years). Indeed, this song was my route into the band, thanks to the exceptional Sepultura cover from Chaos A.D. back in 1992, but here I’m going back to the original. This is a song that deals with the idea of vigilantism, dealing with the drug dealers, the gangs, the violence that the police either won’t or can’t do: in another way, asking the question of how you improve society when funding is cut to the bone – something common to the UK in both the mid-eighties under Thatcher when this was written, and to the mid-2020s now when the Tories are doing the same again.
/The Men They Couldn’t Hang
/The Ghosts of Cable Street
/How Green Is the Valley
In this era of Governments shifting ever-further to the right in the UK and other countries, it is easy to forget that Britons have faced down this kind of appalling, fascist bullshit before outside of war. Back on 04-Oct 1936, Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists marched down Cable Street in the East End – with the protection of the Metropolitan Police – to show their “supremacy” and cow the local Jewish population. Happily, the East End (and people from beyond) turned out in their tens of thousands to face them down, and amid what became known as the Battle of Cable Street, Mosley was instructed to stand down and march elsewhere, and broadly, the BUF were never quite the same after that. Of course, Britain went to war with the Nazis just two years later.
/Can’t Wait For Violence
Amid an era where a lot of metal leaned into accessibility (and a whole lot of surprising bands got huge success), Nothingface were one of the bands on the fringes. Partly because they were ferociously heavy, so not exactly radio-friendly, but also because of the vibe they gave off. Vocalist Matt Holt sounded like he was spoiling for a fight with every breath – while also getting out every single bit of rage at every slight he’d ever received – and the band around him created a dense, brutal sound that rumbled out of the speakers like a giant bulldozer. Somehow, though, Bleeder – which had a surprisingly melodic chorus amid the cacophony – ended up a minor radio hit.
It all culminated on this album, though, with Holt’s masterwork – Can’t Wait For Violence. The track lurches and grinds like being slammed repeatedly into a wall (with programming turning the low-end into a succession of vicious depth charges), while Holt finally uncages all his violent intent and fury across the song.
Sadly, the band were to experience all kinds of setbacks (houses burning down, deaths in families, family breakdown, to name a few), and while they reformed once, sadly it didn’t last, and Matt Holt died of a degenerative disease in 2017.
/Zeal & Ardor
/I Can’t Breathe
/Wake of a Nation EP
In an event that triggered widespread fury and protests across the US, (white) police officer Derek Chauvin was shown in footage filmed by a bystander kneeling on George Floyd’s neck (and the bodycam transcripts later showed that Floyd repeated “I Can’t Breathe” multiple times), which killed him and saw Chauvin eventually found guilty on two counts of murder and one count of manslaughter, and jailed for over 22 years.
Sadly, this was only the latest of many instances of black men being brutalised by police and others in the US, never mind elsewhere, and there are many songs that have covered the subject over the years – perhaps most notably Strange Fruit by Billie Holliday, which dealt with the lynching of black men as long ago as 1939. It should also be noted that a law making lynching a federal crime was signed in…2022.
/Fuck tha Police
/Straight Outta Compton
Another group to rail against police violence were gangsta rap pioneers N.W.A., who from the off were five furious young men from South-Central Los Angeles, and with their life experience, were men that had an awful lot to say about their experiences with authority. This was most notoriously displayed in Fuck Tha Police, a song that saw them subject of police protests, bans from venues and indeed bans on the song and album in various places. The song itself is an ingenious structure, as the members of the group take the stand in a “trial” of the LAPD, as they each provide evidence of police brutality and racist behaviour (from stories I’ve read since, some of which likely came from bitter, personal experience).
It should be noted, too, that this was released three years before Rodney King’s beating by the LAPD made headline news around the world.
/He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss)
The Crystals are one of those sixties girl groups that will remain immortal thanks to their singles – particularly Da Doo Ron Ron and Then He Kissed Me, which remain pop perfection. Their most notorious song, though – and one which unsurprisingly had limited airplay at the time, and isn’t especially played much since either – is this one, a song that is a surprisingly graphic depiction of domestic violence for the time (1962). Written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King after they discovered that their babysitter (singer “Little Eva” Boyd) was being beaten by her partner, and she reputedly said it was because “he loved her”.
The song itself is a brittle thing, strangely enough, one sung with almost trepidation of what was to come – and has since been disowned by the members of the group that sung it, and Carole King has questioned why she wrote it since, too.
/Manic Street Preachers
/Archives of Pain
/The Holy Bible
Even on an album of such intensity, Archives of Pain stands out as a track of white-hot fury. Five minutes of Richey Edwards’ raging disgust at the glorification and constant attention to mass killers (the song opens with a sample of the mother of one of Peter Sutcliffe’s victims), instead seemingly advocating instant capital punishment and little more (“Give them respect they deserve“, “All I preach is extinction“) amid a taut, growling musical backing. Edwards, of course, was known to not exactly be in a sound mental place while writing this album, and this song has something of a contradictory, but sometimes understandable pitch.
Ian MacKaye’s early, groundbreaking hardcore punk band are probably most famous these days for providing the key song – and origin of the description – for the Straight Edge movement (no alcohol or other drugs, no promiscuous sexual activity), but their short discography also contains anger at a number of other related subjects, not all of which have aged particularly well.
One that has is Bottled Violence, fifty-three seconds or so of MacKaye’s utter disgust and rage at those who get tanked up and fight, their alcoholic haze being their courage to commit unnecessary acts of violence.
One of those songs that seems to contain enough energy within a few minutes to power entire cities, The Sweet originally released this song fifty years ago this year, in 1973 – the frantic rhythm and chaotic lyrics inspired by the band being bottled offstage by a boozed-up crowd in Kilmarnock, Scotland.
Needless to say, this evergreen glam rock favourite has been covered a lot over the years, and recently 3TEETH got their claws into it for one of two covers they provided for the wild film Guns Akimbo (where Daniel Radcliffe gets guns for hands in an ultra-violent online streamed game to the death), and the faster, more primal cover by 3TEETH suits the lunacy of the film perfectly.
/Me And A Gun
There are few songs that have stopped me in my tracks the first time I heard them, but this is one of them. An entirely a capella track that details her rape by a man who asked her for a lift home, it is unflinching and shocking (as it should be). This is Tori dealing with her horrific experience by putting it on record, a reminder of the sexual violence too many women (and some men) have to deal with (and indeed only yesterday it was revealed that a Met Police officer has been a serial rapist for two decades, despite repeated allegations to the Met to deal with it previously).
Tori Amos chose to help others in the form of Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), becoming their first spokesperson as the organisation offers support in various ways to victims of such assaults.