In response to a recent Bruce Bartlett column identifying the top forty “conservative” pop songs of all time, blogger Radley “The Agitator” Balko comes up with his own list in a column for TechCentralStation.
My first reaction to Bartlett’s column was: “Ugh! This list reads like Dave Barry’s ‘Book of Bad Songs’.” How can the list be so overwhelmingly dominated by soulless, ham-fisted schlock? Even the handful of great songs seem out of place — James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World” is an all-time R&B masterpiece, but was the Godfather really proffering a conservative worldview, or is Bartlett reading way too much into it? Could it be that statists are just better rockers than us pro-market types? There have to be more hip tunes that carry a conservative message.
Radley Balko’s list is better and fresher, with songs by the Kinks, Vernon Reid and Bob Marley. He also acknowledges the Canadian rock trio Rush, which built an entire concept album around Ayn Rand’s “Anthem”. Good choices, Radley — but there are a handful of classics that both Bartlett and Balko have overlooked.
The finest “conservative” rock song of all time is “Trouble Every Day” by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. Now, Zappa wasn’t exactly a Goldwater / Reagan conservative, but remember — pro-democracy, pro-capitalism demonstrators in Czechoslovakia made Zappa’s “Plastic People” their anthem.
“Trouble Every Day” originally appeared on the Mothers’ double LP “Freak Out!” in 1965. Written in reaction to television coverage of the Watts riots in Los Angeles, this tune manages to savage the news media, ridicule the “root cause” mantra of left-liberals, and even take a timely swipe at LBJ’s Great Society. Over a bed of wailing harmonica and Frank’s own razor-sharp blues guitar, he ridicules local press coverage of the riot:
You know I watched that rotten box
until my head began to hurt
From checkin’ out the way
the newsmen say they get the dirt
Before the guys on channel so-and-so,
and further they are certain
That any show they’ll interrupt
to bring ya news if it comes up
If the place blows up,
they’ll be the first to tell
Because the boys they got downtown
are workin’ hard and doin’ swell
And if anybody gets the news
before it hits the street
They say that no one blabs it faster!
Their coverage can’t be beat!
Next, he captures the hypocrisy of the rioters (and their apologists) with startling conviction:
Well, I saw the market burning
and the local people turning
On the merchants and the shops
that used to sell their brooms and mops
And every other household item,
watched a mob just turn and bite ’em
And they say it serves ’em right,
because a few of them were white
And it’s the same across the nation,
black and white discrimination
Yelling “you can’t understand me”
and all that other jive they hand me
On the papers and TV,
and all that mass stupidity
That seems to grow more every day …
Finally, Zappa has a few choice words for would-be revolutionaries, three years before John Lennon excoriated those “minds that hate”:
You know we’ve got to sit around at home
and watch this thing begin
But I bet there won’t be many
who live to see it really end
Because a fire in the street
ain’t like a fire in the heart
And in the eyes of all these people,
don’t you know that this could start
On any street, in any town,
in any state, if any clown
Decides that now’s the time to fight
for some ideal he thinks is right
And if a million more agree,
there ain’t no Great Society
As it applies to you and me,
the country isn’t free
This is a conservative jam if ever there was one. Do I have more? Of course I do. How about Leonard Cohen’s “The Future,” a nightmare vision of totalitarianism and the destruction of western culture? How about Ben Harper’s “Oppression,” a stirring reminder that we all hold the power to overthrow tyranny? How about CCR’s “Keep on Chooglin'”? Okay, maybe not that last one.