There are two Tuesday Tens today for a good reason. Partly because Tuesday Ten: 349 – this month’s tracks of the month – was unavoidably pushed back last week due to other things going on, but also because this post was so specific to today. That’s because today are the mid-term elections in the US, where perhaps the future direction of the US may well be determined, or at least affected in one way or another.
/Tuesday Ten/350/American Politics v2
/Protest Music in the age of Trump
That, of course, is because of the direction the current Trump administration is heading. Despite his legal issues, approval ratings, controversy after controversy, being laughed at by the UN General Assembly and countless other things – not least suppression and targeting of minorities, isolationism and protectionism, ignorance, policy after policy that penalises the poor in favour of the rich…it frankly beggars belief to this Brit that it is even considered by anyone that this administration has been a success.
That said, I’m an outsider looking in. I’m a heterosexual, married white male. I’m well aware I have privileges that others don’t, but that doesn’t stop me speaking up and supporting others less fortunate. So this week picks up, almost exactly ten years on from my first Tuesday Ten on the subject of American Politics – and then was a time of hope, as Obama was historically elected. The backwards motion since then is frankly quite shocking.
Anyway – this is ten songs on the subject of politics in the age of Trump, where the protest song has gained new life.
A few notes: Look out, as usual, in early December for Countdown: 2018, where I’ll wrap up the best music of the year. 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. 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).
/(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang
/Electric Lady Sessions
It is, I’m sure, that it is no accident whatsoever that this cover (and the accompanying live sessions album) was announced and released just days prior to the mid-term elections today. LCD Soundsystem have often been about the questioning of aspects of life behind the hedonistic sound of their best music, but on occasions, James Murphy has picked his political and societal targets very carefully indeed, and this is the latest one of those. Also unexpectedly, he passes the vocals onto his bandmate Nancy Whang, who offers an impassioned vocal – and amending some of the words to provide at least some relevance to the US rather than Northern England – to this early-eighties left-wing classic, a song so strident in its politics in the first place that it was banned from the BBC.
/How To Shake Hands
/Book of Bad Decisions
“Oh, I’m ready to give the people what they want / And what they want is straight talk and no jive!”
It might be disguised as a song about Neil Fallon imagining what he would do if he were elected President, but really, it’s pretty obvious even by the time you get to the closing kiss-off lines above that the whole thing is a dig at Trump and the deep non-understanding that he had about the role of President. The more you listen, the more you dig into the subtext of every line, you realise just how brilliant and smart this song is – in other words, pretty much everything Trump isn’t. And, too, just how much cooler and better a President would Neil Fallon be? Oh, and the title? Well…
/Make America Great Again
/Be More Kind
I did consider whether I should include any songs written by non-Americans at all, but seeing as so often, decisions made by US Presidents are so important to the rest of the world – and especially right now, with Trump’s “America first” doctrine – I decided that it was important to include views from elsewhere. And where better on that front than to start with Frank Turner, who in the past has made flippant comments about politics that suggested he was either deliberately staying out of the fray or was rather more libertarian than we thought. His new album this year, though, has rather cleared previously muddy waters, with an overtly political tone and a clear sense of frustration at both the politics of America and elsewhere – but the best song on the album by far is the rocking blast of Make America Great Again, where he offers his own humble suggestions for how to do so – and none of the suggestions are particularly difficult or complex, frankly.
A song that slipped out unnoticed by this ‘site earlier in the year, and was thus an unexpected highlight of their stellar live show in London in August. On that and this evidence, Die Krupps seems to be going through an Indian Summer of sorts, as they blast out with more energy in song and on stage than they’ve had in years. That said, their left-wing, anti-fascist views have been clear to all listeners since their inception in the early eighties, and so this is the latest in a long line of brilliant, punishing political statements. This one is just that blunter, as it chooses not to name Trump but makes it really fucking clear which American Idiot they are talking about.
There has long been the view among many Ministry fans that Al Jourgensen’s best work comes when there is a Republican President in the White House, and since Trump has come into office, it is noticeable just how fired up he and his band seem to be again. The title of the new album wasn’t exactly subtle – and makes abundantly clear what he thinks of the new regime – and the rampaging, furious lead single hammered the point home. Advocating resistance against the far-right – far more than Trump has done, who has all but condoned the actions of the far-right in the US – this is a literal punch in the face to anyone who wants far-right dominance.
/This Is America
One of the most extraordinary videos I’ve seen in years – and coupled to a striking, razor-sharp song – few songs have perhaps managed to get across the inequality and discourse in the US in quite such a clever way. There are entire articles that explain the detail that you may have missed (here’s just one of them), but in short this broadly deals with the white image and cliches of the African-American community, but also addresses the darker side, the latter of which seems to be getting ever darker in this Trump-led era of disinformation and at points outright racism.
/We the People…
/We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service
As a final statement from this legendary hip-hop group, it was a hell of a statement. Literally a week or so after Trump was unexpectedly elected in November 2016, this was a forceful statement of reminding how little difference there actually is between those that are struggling on the margins, and just how striking it is to listen to the song now realising exactly what they foretold and already saw coming. The downbeat chorus is the real gut-punch of the moment, as they detail all the groups that might be hated and effectively exiled as not welcome – and you know what? This Trump administration has attacked every single one of them in one way or another, and more besides.
/Talk To Me
Run The Jewels have become an important voice in hip-hop in recent years, both from their status as a forward-looking, genre-busting group, but also because of their strident, open embrace of politics outside of their music. Killer Mike, in particular, has spent a fair amount of time agitating for better treatment of African-Americans by the police – and conversely, to increase African-American involvement in elections both local and national – and has even taken one step further and considering standing for office in his native Georgia. But more than anything, he is probably best known for the time he spent supporting Bernie Sanders and his bid for the White House, and in this song among other scattershot moments, he clearly states his distrust and dislike of Trump.
/The Underside of Power
/The Underside of Power
A blistering gospel-punk track that perhaps invokes a Northern Soul feel, too, amid the frantic, unstoppable energy of the song, this year-old song is clearly one of bitter experience, but also perhaps a future sound. The band are unusual enough in being a mixed-race band from the American South, but also because the delivery and sound here – despite the bleak lyrics that detail the singer’s own experiences in America, and particularly the America of now – have an extraordinary feeling of hope, as if the power of the delivery and music alone can help to overcome any barrier. Obviously the latter isn’t the case, but it is another tool in the armoury of protest.
This striking album – which perhaps didn’t quite reach the mass audience that it should have done – was another that felt like a state of the nation address, but one where for the most part, sex and love prevailed (and relationships and genders were more fluid and non-binary than elsewhere, that’s for sure). But not all of the songs avoided politics – indeed the inferred point through most of it was a protest against conservative norms, that everyone had the right to deal with their own circumstances and feelings without the judgement of others. The album pretty much culminates, though, with Americans – where Monáe questions the America that they see, offering ways that others will be supported, assisted and fought for, rather than being marginalised and demonised as is happening at the moment.
I know a great number of Americans, almost all of whom are good people, that are fighting for change, for a better future and wholeheartedly reject what Trump and the Republicans stand for. Don’t lump everyone in as the same. There is hope, even if at times it doesn’t feel like it – and I stand beside all my friends there in trying to make things better.