Tuesday Ten: 186: Television, the Drug of the Nation

Firstly, with apologies for the lack of content (comparatively) recently. Things have been rather chaotic in my life (far too many things from all sides) that have meant that a fair amount of writing for this site that I’ve had planned has either had to be delayed or shelved. As things – hopefully! – seem to be settling again now, let’s crank up the volume a bit.


Frankly, I can’t believe I’ve never done this subject before. I’m turning to the subject of television this week, one where many, many artists have touched on the subject, few of them with much positive to say, interestingly. So, here are ten as usual, but with so many other possible songs for the list, there are bonus tracks on both the Spotify and Youtube playlists (although Tool’s Vicarious only is on the YouTube playlist due to the band not allowing their material on Spotify).

Gil Scott-Heron
The Revolution Will Not Be Televised
Pieces of a Man

Remarkably prescient for its time, even forty-three years on, Heron’s message rings true now. That is, the fight to change things will not be on TV, or in the mass media – as has been all-too-common in our country, the US, and elsewhere, the media will distort the message to suit their own ends, or their own political preferences. Instead grassroots protest are the way, of course. Talk, discussion, the passing of the message and getting it out there. It also contains a strong anti-corporate message perhaps unusual for its day, too.

The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy
Television, the Drug of the Nation
Hypocrisy Is the Greatest Luxury

Twenty years on from Gil Scott-Heron’s initial diatribe, Michael Franti released his finest moment, “Using the medium…to critique the medium“. A six-minute-plus, furious rant at the takeover of television and mass-media, it’s indoctrination of entire generations, subverting of reality, commentary on bias, newsspeak, and general dumbing down is perhaps the gold standard in television critique, at least in music.

Bruce Springsteen
57 Channels (And Nothin’ On)
Human Touch

Ok, so not from exactly a critically popular Springsteen album – aside from the title track, admittedly – but Springsteen was perhaps right when he said that there was nothing worth watching. At the time of release – 1992 – over here in the UK we were only just starting our journey into TV channels beyond the four we’d had for a while (I remember us getting satellite TV in 1989), but it quickly became apparent how many of the shows were repeats, rather than new programming. What is interesting is that Sky now invest in at least some new content, while others seem to parade endless repeats of the same old shows…


For their second album, Mansun went some way “out there”, with a sprawling, chaotic (and amazingly dense) album that referenced just about anything they were interested in, from The Prisoner to Taoism, Nineteen Eighty-Four to Brian Jones…and television. One of the longest tracks on the album at over eight minutes, it meanders through a tale of being sucked into watching TV endlessly, with snippets of Sky News samples appearing here and there, prog-esque guitar solos and a generally woozy sound that never quite sounds right. According to the lyrics, “documentaries are the best“. Uh-huh…

The Static Screens [In Syndication]
The Medication Generation

Taking a similar line, actually, Sean Payne’s take on the sensory overload of channel-hopping (presumably while awake all night) has that distinct feel of someone who knows exactly what they are talking about – and that they have experienced it more than once. Musically, this is Cyanotic to a T – machine-heavy industrial (rock) – with added blasts of TV and voice samples, white noise and static storms, something that the video makes all the more implicit. While on the subject of Cyanotic, expect new material very soon indeed…

Public Enemy
She Watch Channel Zero?!
It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back

A rightly lauded album – generally agreed nowadays to be the pinnacle of hip-hop – this was sixty minutes of social commentary that took in everything it could from Black politics to drug issues to military enrolment…and television. Four minutes of Slayer-assisted mayhem (the Angel of Death guitar sample was a fucking genius idea), with Chuck D and Flavor Flav reminding everyone exactly why sitting on your arse wasting away in front of the TV was a waste of time.

Idiot Box

Ah, remember when Incubus were the interesting funk-metal band, rather than drippy, hippyish balladeers? It was an awfully long time ago now – S.C.I.E.N.C.E. was a remarkable sixteen (!) years ago, and back then, they had a number of intriguing, odd songs (none of which they now play, it seems). OK, so there were still the hippyish tendencies, but I’m willing to overlook them for how much fun they were at the time. One of the more unsung songs on the album, perhaps, was this track, yet another to wade into the discourse over how TV has corrupted our lives. It should perhaps be noted, mind, that every band on this list has used television in one way or another to promote their music. Biting the hand that feeds, and all that…

Marilyn Manson
Rock Is Dead
Mechanical Animals

At least, I guess, Brian Warner took a slightly different angle to just about every one else when it came to a song about television. Disguising much of his ire behind the smokescreen of a huge, commercially friendly rock anthem (that did everything he set out to do with it, I suspect), when you examine the lyrics a little closer, it becomes clear that it is a snarling look at television evangelists (“You sell all the living / For more safer dead“, or, more overtly, “God is in the TV…“). This is something the UK have never had so much, only watching the US evangelists with part horror and part amusement. Yeah, sure, we can get God on cable nowadays if we want, but it is pretty easy to ignore for the most part.

Black Flag
TV Party

While Black Flag were raging against the police, venue licensing, distrust by outsiders…not to mention trying to scrape a living – all while helping to form a West Coast Hardcore scene, and touring like bastards for some years – there were moments when they let their guard down and were a little less serious. TV Party, and especially it’s awesomely cheap video, is the best example of this, where they poke fun at the whole idea of living your life by TV, getting your friends round, getting pasted and wasting time in front of the TV, in absence of doing something more rewarding. Seeing Rollins perform this – with the assistance of a mental crowd assisting on vocals – was an awesome buzz.

Ned’s Atomic Dustbin
Kill Your Television
God Fodder

Ned’s eternally groovy first single ends the list this week, offering perhaps a final solution to the conundrum of television with a pretty direct instruction. The perhaps cryptic lyrics suggest a domestic argument (a common theme for the band), with the titular appliance and it’s influence being core to the discourse. But even if you don’t care about the subject, the surging two-bass rhythm and anthemic chorus are good enough to get you up and wanting to break something…

Now? I’m off to do something less boring instead.

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