I blogged on Club Kingsnake about some of the songs on the "Just Politics" playlist on my iPod -- I included only a few, and found video clips for each of them, too.
Here's the complete list. My musical taste doesn't include some genres that have a lot more political music than this, and I frequently snagged just a single song from an artist who has a huge political catalog. So I won't say these are the best, or even all my favorite, political songs. It's also a bit heavily weighted towards The Nightwatchman because he's new for me after SXSW this year. But yo, he's worth some heavy weight.
Biko - Peter Gabriel
I wrote about this a lot of Club Kingsnake so I won't go into the whole thing here again, other than to say this may be the greatest political song of all time, and seeing it live is a religious experience.
In The Ghetto - Joe Simon
Love, love, love love this version -- although the Elvis Presley one is, of course, much better known. It just always sound a little too over-polished to my ear -- although not remotely as much as the version by the song's writer, Mac Davis, which hurts me to listen to. But there are several versions of this: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Dolly Parton (no, I'm not kidding), Natalie Merchant, the Cranberries... I'm sure there are several others I'm not thinking of. Great, great song.
Flesh Shapes The Day - The Nightwatchman
This is a profoundly poetic song about race and war. It gave me chills when I heard it live in Austin.
The Road I Must Travel - The Nightwatchman
I suppose this one might come off the playlist after I OD on Morello... maybe in ten years or so. This song evokes some of the feeling of old folk/populist songs with a dark, post-911 sensibility and a touch of WTF. Brilliant.
What's Up? - 4 Non Blondes
One of the least overtly political songs on here, but it always makes me want to change the world when I hear it. Plus you gotta love the words:
And I try, oh my God do I try
I try all the time
In this institution
And I pray, oh my God do I pray
I pray every single day
For a revolution
P!nk has never recorded this, but she performs it live... like here.
Democracy - Leonard Cohen
I love Leonard Cohen, and this is one of my favorite songs of his. It's idealistic, realistic, full of hope, aching with sadness... and despite the fact that he can't sing anymore, extremely beautiful.
It's coming from the sorrow in the street,
the holy places where the races meet;
from the homicidal bitchin'
that goes down in every kitchen
to determine who will serve and who will eat.
From the wells of disappointment
where the women kneel to pray
for the grace of God in the desert here
and the desert far away:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.
(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding - Elvis Costello & The Attractions
I did, indeed, grow up in San Francisco in the 60s, but I was just a little girl and not a flower child. And you'd never know it from the crazy huge love I have for this song.
I Hope - Dixie Chicks
I heard this when they played it on a televised Hurricane Katrina benefit. It was the first time I ever heard the Dixie Chicks and it was instant love.
Sunday morning, I heard the preacher say
Thou shall not kill
I don't wanna, hear nothin' else, about killin'
And that it's God's will
Cuz our children are watching us
They put their trust in us
They're gonna be like us
So let's learn from our history
And do it differently
How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live - Bruce Springsteen
Another Katrina benefit number that blew the top of my head off. View it here.
Streets of Sorrow / Birmingham Six - The Pogues
The Pogues have no shortage of songs that could have been on this list, but although it's about war, this one always reminded me of the early years of the AIDS epidemic:
Oh farewell you streets of sorrow
And farewell you streets of pain
I'll not return to feel more sorrow
Nor to see more young men slain
Through the last six years Ive lived through terror
And in the darkened streets the pain
Oh how I long to find some solace
In my mind I curse the strain
Which Side Are You On - Billy Bragg
I first heard this song in 1984 during the British miners' strike, when Bragg and other progressive British musicians toured the country raising money for their cause. Old-fashioned politics with a punk edge. I loved it then. I love it, and him, now.
Holiday In Cambodia - Dead Kennedys
I remember when the Dead Kennedys were just one of many local punk bands. I can't count the number of times I saw them play, and the band I managed opened for them a couple of times. And even given the embarrassment of riches that was the punk scene in San Francisco in the early 80s, the DKs are still one of the best things to ever come out of it.
Not Ready To Make Nice - Dixie Chicks
If "I Hope" hadn't already done it, this would have. Their non-apology for pointing out that Bush was wrong, wrong, wrong about the war in Iraq. You go, Chicks.
I Love A Man In A Uniform - Gang Of Four
More of my 80s self coming out. We used to dance to this one and changed the lyrics to, "I love a man in a Maidenform." Ah, the days when I thought this was dance music. But hey, it has a beat!
House Gone Up In Flames - The Nightwatchman
Another one I suspect will stand the test of time with me. The incredible poetry -- I don't know what other word to use -- of Morello's lyrics, combined with the spare, hard delivery, just get me every time. If I quoted you every word, it would be hard to say why this is such a political song, but listening to it, and even more, seeing him perform it live, leaves you with absolutely no doubt.
Marvin Gaye - What's Goin' On?
Completely iconic anti-war song that I actually like more than, say, Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind," which always hit me as just a little too sweet. I also love Cyndi Lauper's 80s cover, here.
He Thinks He'll Keep Her - Mary Chapin Carpenter
I'm sort of in an anti-war political mode these days (wonder why), but I'm a feminist nonetheless, and I love this song.
Stupid Girls - Pink
Feminism you can dance to. Play it for every little girl you know.
Anthem - Leonard Cohen
Apparently I'm a complete sucker for that place where politics and poetry intersect.
I can't run no more
with that lawless crowd
while the killers in high places
say their prayers out loud.
But they've summoned, they've summoned up
and they're going to hear from me.
Dear Mr. President (Featuring Indigo Girls) - P!nk
This one needs absolutely no explanation. Video here (without the Indigo Girls, but great anyway.)
Jesus Walks - Kanye West
Another Katrina benefit song. I freely admit I don't listen to rap or hip hop. I am old; what can I say? But he performed this at the same benefit where I heard "I Hope," with some custom lyrics for the floods, and I was just staggered by it.
The Captain - Leonard Cohen
An oldie, from when Cohen could still sing. "There is no decent place to stand in a massacre."
Suffragette City - David Bowie
I really don't care what he meant by this song. It'll always be a feminist anthem for me. "Don't lean on me, man, cuz you can't afford the ticket."
Whine and Grine / Stand Down Margaret - The Beat
I imagine a lot of people reading this don't remember Margaret Thatcher, but I do. And seeing the Beat do this live in London when she was in her heyday? Nothing like it.
I see no joy
I see only sorrow
I see no chance of your bright new tomorrow
So stand down Margaret, stand down please
I said stand down Margaret
This Is Radio Clash - The Clash
I continue to be susceptible to the idea music can change the world. I know it can't, but still....
Pride (In The Name Of Love) - U2
Martin Luther King, Jr: Rest in Peace.
Early morning, April 4
Shot rings out in the Memphis sky
Free at last, they took your life
They could not take your pride
Straight to Hell - The Clash
Talk about bitter.
Absolutely Not (Hex Hector/Mac Quayle Chanel Mix) - Deborah Cox
More feminism with a beat!
Should I wear my hair in a ponytail?
Should I dress myself up in chanel?
Do I measure me by what you think?
Absolutely not, absolutely not
If I go to work in a mini-skirt
Am I givin' you the right to flirt?
I won't compromise my point of view
Absolutely not, absolutely not
Silent Legacy - Melissa Etheridge
Breaks my heart every time. About growing up gay. Her "Nowhere to Go" does, too.
You are digging for the answers
Until your fingers bleed
To satisfy the hunger
To satiate the need
They feed you on the guilt
To keep you humble keep you low
Some man and myth they made up
A thousand years ago
And as you pray in your darkness
For wings to set you free
You are bound to your silent legacy
Mothers tell your children
Be quick you must be strong
Life is full of wonder
Love is never wrong
Remember how they taught you
How much of it was fear
Refuse to hand it down
The legacy stops here
Help Save the Youth of America - Billy Bragg
The cities of Europe have burned before
And they may yet burn again
But if they do I hope you understand
That Washington will burn with them
Omaha will burn with them
Los Alamos will burn with them
What's the Matter Here? - 10,000 Maniacs
I'm not a huge fan of this band, but this song, about child abuse, is incredible.
One Man Revolution - The Nightwatchman
Tired of him yet? I think this is the last one.
There Is Power In a Union - Billy Bragg
Do you know I have never, ever crossed a picket line? It's just how I was raised.
Money Can't Buy It - Annie Lennox
I'm not absolutely sure this is political, but it feels that way to me.
London Calling - The Clash
More of my 80s youth.
Free Nelson Mandela - The Specials & The Special A.K.A.
When I was young, Nelson Mandela was still in a South African jail.
Waiting for the Great Leap Forwards - Billy Bragg
This one always makes me happy, even if the lyrics are a bit rough. "You can be active with the activists or sleep in with the sleepers while you're waiting for the great leap forward." Also, "If no one out there understands, start your own revolution and cut out the middle man." You gotta love it.
Glad to Be Gay - Tom Robinson Band
This one's from the 70s, actually -- I have the single version on my iPod, but the live version from 1979's "Secret Policeman's Ball" to benefit Amnesty International is better and it's here.
Enola Gay -- Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
Again, you can take the 80s out of the girl etc. A song about the bombing of Hiroshima from the dawn of the synthesizer age.
Man In Black - Johnny Cash
I love this song by Cash, which is about the Viet Nam war. And he took huge heat in the day for recording it, too. But if someone could find me an mp3 of Marc Almond's version, done on an 80s AIDS benefit album called "Man in Black," all of covers of Cash's songs, I'd love you forever. I own it on vinyl but I don't even have a record player anymore.