Continuing my occasional Lockdown-related series of posts, this week I move onto disobedience. Sadly, amid this pandemic – that just seems to bring bad news by the day, even as vaccinations are now rolling on – there are a whole host of people who seem to want to deny everything, find other reasons (however batshit) and not help.
And that includes disobeying orders and advice, even something as simple as wearing a mask, one less-than-onerous task that has long been proven to help reduce transmission and keep others safer. But it’s not just about COVID. Disobedience, in civil terms and in other ways, has long been a method of protest, at the small and petty level, up to national and international levels. So, this week is about that disobedience, and while there aren’t any songs that specifically are about COVID issues, there are a few that absolutely can be interpreted as such in 2021.
This post was a quick turnaround – I only asked about this one last week. There were 104 suggestions, with 25 of those having been used before (which is understandable – there have been a couple of previous posts in this series that perhaps edge into this subject. 53 people got involved this time around, suggesting 89 unique 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. 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’re Not Gonna Take It
Oh, the irony – a song of rebellion (and defiance) – that has ended up being co-opted by Presidential candidates, anti-maskers (to Dee Snider’s fury), striking teachers, countless sports teams, and rock fans. A song where Dee Snider simply says enough is enough, and he’s not going to do it any more, but in almost every case above, it’s now become a song of the underdog.
Which probably suits Snider fine, as he has long revelled in being the underdog – as Tipper Gore and the PMRC hearings found out when they invited what they thought was a drunk, brainless rock star to speak, and found they had an articulate, intelligent foe, willing to disobey and explain why they were wrong.
/Black Steel In The Hour of Chaos
/It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back
Chuck D and Public Enemy were never afraid of talking straight, of raising issues that Black Americans faced, and perhaps explaining them in ways that were unpalatable to some. One such case was the extraordinary Black Steel In The Hour of Chaos, an – unusually for the group at the time – stark track based on a piano loop from an old Isaac Hayes track, that saw Chuck D take the position of a conscientious objector was apparently jailed for his refusal, and then instigated a prison riot and escape. But more than anything, this is a song that questions patriotism – why should he fight for a country that has done little for him? One that has been found wanting in race relations for as long as the country has been independent, frankly, and as a result, he sees no problem in taking a stand, and saying no.
Senser was, and is, a British rap-rock band who were explicitly rejecting the mainstream. They were a band that were anti-racist, anti-sexist, pro-people, who dealt with socio-political issues in their songs and were unafraid to stand up for what was right – even if that meant that the mainstream music press sneered at them. The best songs from their debut album were often about saying no – the mighty charge of debut single Eject was about finding your own way in life and making a success of it, and it was followed by the Slayer-worshipping riffage of No Comply, which took a standard against organised racism and their indoctrination of children and youths in particular (something that I saw from a distance at school, as a few kids got drawn into that orbit). That we’re still having to fight against fascist ideology in 2021 should be a shame on humanity, but instead, it has become part of mainstream political discourse again.
/The Tiananmen Men
As the Iron Curtain began to fall, and change swept across Eastern Europe, in 1989, it wasn’t the only place where protest was attempted. The Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing, China, too, were at an attempt at change, where students began a protest that swelled into what is understood to be around one million people, and was eventually ended with what became a massacre. Perhaps the most iconic image from the time, though, came on 05-Jun 1989, where one man stood in front of a column of tanks, a silent protest that was eventually pulled away by others. This song by American metal band Nevermore pays tribute to the mystery man, one who has never been identified, but became one of the most iconic images of the century.
/Summer Holidays vs. Punk Routine
/The Shape Of Punk To Come
The mystique and legend around this album has perhaps dissipated a bit since Refused reformed and began recording again, but the sheer visceral force of the music contained within it remains untouchable – genuinely one of the greatest hardcore albums ever released, and one that did try and do something new, too – even if the best moments are those that stick to hardcore ideals and styles, but with better production, better songs, and better dynamics. The cascading riffs and breathless pace of Summer Holidays vs. Punk Routine is one of those – as Dennis Lyxzén kicks back at the idea of wasting your life, wishing for better, instead dismissing and expressing a vehement disobedience to the concept of the slacker routine, distilling it down to one phrase: “rather be forgotten than remembered for giving in“.
/I Will Refuse
Over a decade before, Ian MacKaye, once of hardcore originators Minor Threat and about to take his first steps with Fugazi, had met Al Jourgensen of Ministry, and the pair teamed up with most of the rest of Ministry for the short-lived project Pailhead. The first single from those sessions became their calling card, and was also the continuation of MacKaye’s singular determination to not be a destructive punk, nor to be a wage slave in a nine-to-five job. Instead, MacKaye makes it clear amid the industrial-punk clang of this track that he, too, will refuse to fit in a box, and will plow his own furrow – one that, decades on, remains unusual. He stuck to his guns, kept his music affordable, and has remained accessible, an ethical icon in a music business that is often anything but.
/Break the Rules
Pop music has always been about rebellion, all the way back to early rock’n’roll, which was very much teenagers in the era of post-war positivity and hope finding their own voice, one that was so, so different to their parents. So Charli XCX singing a banger of a pop song that is about the rebellion and disobedience of the teenage years seems entirely right, complete with a video of Charli XCX and her friends skipping school, trying on outrageous outfits and then sweeping up all the attention at the school dance seems about right. I’m gonna have the damned hook from this song in my head for days, mind.
/Don’t You Fucking Tell Me What To Do
Another pop artist has taken a very different route over the past decade or two, and has ended up a much-admired star as a result. Amid her various epic pop songs of heartbreak, though, are a few fiery songs that leave you in no doubt that Robyn long since tired of other people telling her what she shouldn’t and shouldn’t do. One such song is this groovy electro track, where she rattles off everything that she is told not to do, or things that apparently get her down – and you can’t help but feel that much of this is from what she heard on TV, or in the press, or from other people in the music industry. She isn’t going to take every piece of advice, she isn’t going to blindly obey. Instead, Robyn tells everyone to fuck off and leave her to her own choices.
/No Rest for the Wicked
Interestingly one of two songs with links (either through the band name, or song in each case) to the English Civil War to be suggested this week, but I plumped for this one, partly as it has so much resonance in these first weeks of 2021 (and it was one of no less than four different NMA songs suggested). This is a song that reminds of the enemy within – remember that this was written in 1984 – that of the Tory Government of the time, and a pliant press, who were happy to demonise the poor and foreigners for political gain. Sound familiar? Too fucking right it does in early 2021, as Brexit has happened, and the issues are piling up, and – surprise! – the Brexiteers are blaming anyone but themselves, as it must be everyone else that caused this. NMA remind us, though, to disobey the clarion calls of the press and Government to turn on the poor and disadvantaged, and instead stand up to them, refusing to comply.
/Land of the Free?
Twenty years on from the release of this song, I think this probably is even more on the money now than it was back then. Perhaps unsurprisingly with the title, if nothing else, just months after release that summer, it was swiftly banned from airplay in the US following the September 11 attacks (seemingly as part of the Clear Channel Memorandum that swiftly became the diktat used, even if it was apparently “advisory”). In some respects, those song restrictions only reinforced the point of many – why should what people have their own listening and culture dictated to them, when those in authority made every use of their benefits and advantages to do what they wanted? Pennywise, like a great many bands at the time, were furious with what they were seeing – the disputed election the year before that got George W. Bush the Presidency, war on many fronts (something that was only going to get worse), and a general feeling that the few were benefiting greatly at the expense of the majority.
It’s not hard to sympathise with Pennywise and the great many people who felt – and feel the same. If Government and society is not listening, why shouldn’t you say “no” and fight back, and indeed fight on for something better? 2021 feels like a similar time.