The madness of 2020 has not been kind to autocratic or authoritarian leaders, who have been left wanting when it comes to dealing with a crisis that came pretty much out of nowhere, and that they can’t spin themselves out of. That said, all of them are still in power as I write this.
/Tuesday Ten/421/Follow The Leader
/128/Royalty and Privilege
/181/Fight the Power
/237/(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang
/350/American Politics v2: Protest Music in the age of Trump
Elsewhere, this weekend there has been another disputed election in Belarus (and this time it looks like Lukashenko might have gone too far), the de facto leaders in Bolivia are delaying elections to anger across the country, and China are ratcheting up the pressure in Hong Kong.
Reading these stories – particularly about Belarus – has inspired me to dig back into my long list of “potential” /Tuesday Ten posts for this week, and thus it is about Leaders. This one goes back years. I initially considered the subject back in 2015, have considered it a couple of times since, but never really found the right balance of songs. Sometimes, thus, a fresh perspective and time are required, and this time around, I had fresh inspiration. Thanks to those that offered the original handful of suggestions – a handful of those were used here, the rest are from my own thinking.
Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be following this up with posts on Winning and Losing.
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).
/Follow The Leader
/Follow The Leader
Before I get into politics this week – as there is quite a bit of it – let’s look at undisputed leaders in their field, Eric B. & Rakim. Certainly the best MC/DJ duo of the “golden age” of Rap in the late-eighties, and there are few that can hold a candle to them since, either. Under the smooth grooves Eric B. created, Rakim unleashed an unstoppable tide of words that were thoughtful, intelligent and quite unlike anyone else at the time. Apparently a lover of jazz, his rhymes were deep and despite their glorious flow, there was always the feeling that everything had been planned to the letter. As a result, his raps explaining why he was the best, like on this track, were uncontested. At the time, he simply was.
/Follow The Leaders
/What’s THIS For…!
One of Killing Joke’s most propulsive, powerful rhythmic bases made itself heard on this mighty song (the drumming!), and it is a song where Jaz Coleman’s cynicism around politics is made absolutely crystal clear. Taking you through the timeline of understanding politics from when you’re young – through youthful optimism, to flowing with the political tide, to middle-aged anger – this song is careful never to offer answers, that’s not the point. Coleman has said many times introducing this song that he sees politicians as little more than salespeople, that sell us ideas with no tangible benefits if they ever actually implement them. These words ring true nearly forty years after being written, too. Will nothing ever fucking change?
/The Holy Bible
Also aiming their ire squarely at political leaders were the Manics, on the vicious, fast-paced slash and burn of Revol. There remains some debate – even among the surviving members of the band – around exactly what Richey Edwards was trying to say with this song, but at face value, it’s a sharp takedown of a litany of mostly twentieth-century leaders with a cutting comment for each, a reminder that whatever they are trying to change in their image, it’s likely there’s a wash of hypocrisy not far behind. One can also ponder what Richey Edwards might have made of the crop of authoritarian leaders that have come to prominence since the 90s, too. I suspect he may well have been equally scathing.
/Leaders and Followers
/Stranger Than Fiction
Considering that this song is from back in the nineties, it is uncanny how this song could be transposed directly onto Trump. A smiling narcissist, talking and whipping up his own electoral base while basically ignoring everyone else and ensuring that the benefits go to him and those close to him. There are many studies already as to how these kinds of people are elected – and there will doubtless be many more to come – and despite knowing how they do it, stopping it is so hard. It is perhaps notable that this song has a weariness to the tone, as if they knew full well even then that nothing was going to change, and so it proved.
/Speak Truth to Power
The burning white-heat of political fury at the heart of Test Dept. was undimmed when they returned in the past decade, and on their first album of new material in aeons, their industrial power was just as impressive, too. The opening track to the album made their views clear if you needed a reminder. Accompanied by a hulking, martial rhythm, their state of the world address here is one reminding of the failures by our leaders in Government, and what needs to change to improve society. Sadly we’re still waiting for improvements to come, and with our Government in the UK barely accountable – or just simply not giving a fuck what anyone thinks of their corrupt, arrogant ways – it may well be a long wait.
/Your Uniform (Does Not Impress Me!)
/60 Second Wipe Out
ATR, at their nineties peak, were a group that scared the living daylights out of those in charge. Political, young and absolutely fucking furious with the complacency of their peers, much of their (extremely loud) output at the time sounded like missives for cultural war. One such song was this brutal barrage, that has enough beats and electronics going on for four or five tracks at once, as the trio of vocalists (Alec Empire, Hanin Elias and MC Carl Crack) trade verses and lines, as they stand up to the uniformed frontage of power and raise their middle fingers. Anti-capitalist rage has never sounded so great, or dangerous, since.
/Levelling The Land
The Levellers were one of my early musical loves – I’ve seen them live a few times, owned a good number of their records – but I kinda drifted away from their later work, and I’ve never been quite sure why. Perhaps my own politics have changed, and I no longer identify with what they stand for? I honestly don’t know, but listening to Levelling The Land again recently, I had a pleasant rush of nostalgia as I realised I still knew all the words, and still loved all the songs and their meanings. This track is one of the more fierce, direct tracks here, imagining two leaders playing “games” at the expense of others to gain political advantage. Critically, though, the leaders are never mentioned – as this could frankly be pretty much anywhere.
/New Millenium Cyanide Christ
My initial thought was to feature one of the many songs about Koresh and the Waco siege, but I have mentioned that before along the way through this series, so, something completely different. Instead, we’re joining Swedish experimental metallers Meshuggah, whose hyper-dense, hyper-technical sound has never exactly been mainstream-friendly but has remained thrilling and enormously influential over the years. Here they imagine the mind of a futuristic, dystopian cult leader, who finds ways to become once with technology and their God, so that they can lead their disciples to somewhere better. Sadly, that “somewhere better” all-too-often has been death.
/White Magic for Lovers
One of the more shameful stories of the Cold War – and in the years since – has been the US involvement in regime change in Latin America, where there has been so much meddling that an entire Wiki page details each in turn. This covers no less than twelve countries, and in a number of those, the US has engineered regime change more than once. One such country affected by such influence was Chile, whose democratically elected leader Salvador Allende was ousted in a CIA-backed coup in 1973. Augusto Pinochet took over and oversaw a repressive regime for seventeen years – supported by both the US and the UK (Thatcher was a “great friend” of Pinochet, even after he was ousted, indicted and arrested in the UK). Naomi Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine goes into great detail about the horrors wrought on Chile at the time from a social, political and financial perspective.
This song, though, is a tender and elegent song, that was Drugstore’s biggest hit and best-known too, a tribute to hope extinguished by the hands of people who had no business being involved.
/Best Before 1984
Finally this week, Crass have important questions to ask. What happens when you do topple that hated leader? Will you use violence? Will you tolerate other views to your own? This unexpectedly lengthy, angry – and spare, musically – track asks all of these questions and a great many more, and they’re right. History is littered with the tales of revolutionaries who took power, and in time, became pretty much like the old fucking boss. It’s almost like power corrupts.
I am, mind, no anarchist. Here in the UK, I’d very much like change from our current Government, though, that’s for sure, and I’d also like to be asking many of the same questions as Crass when I hear someone talking about revolution.