Two weeks ago we unveiled our 100 Top Political Songs playlist on Spotify and in our article we included blurbs on what we really love about songs #1-20. A week later, we spouted off on songs #21-60. Now we’re finally getting there and finishing off our comments.
The Spotify Playlist
Hope you like it & discover some new music here.
Comments - 61 Through 100
61. Bob Marley - Buffalo Soldier (1983)
Bob Marley was understandably fascinated by how fucked up it was for stolen Africans to have to fight the Indian wars in the 1860s here. "Fighting on arrival, fighting for survival." Although it’s debunked, I still love the idea that the "Woe, yoe, yo!" bridge possibly being cribbed from The Banana Splits’ "The Tra-La-La Song". If only.
62. Bruce Springsteen - Sinaloa Cowboys (1995)
It’s kind of bananas that the 3 Springsteen songs I have here and above are all from his The Ghost Of Tom Joad album which is pretty down and acoustic; it’s the live versions that unlock these songs. For me with this incredibly observational song about Mexicans born into the drug trade, it’s the cover version from Cracker that gives this song the musical environment it deserves.
63. Talking Heads - Puzzlin’ Evidence (1986)
The David Byrne movie, True Stories, is an underrated piece of art that deserves to be watched. And I feel the same about the album of songs from it. "Puzzlin Evidence" as performed in the movie is kinda inspired by the wacky Church Of The Sub-Genius. If you asked me (which you implicitly did by reading this far), I think this song is a parody of conspiracy theories, which is a great homage to the Church Of The Subgenius.
64. Tom Waits - Day After Tomorrow (2004)
Tom Waits songs usually aren’t really political. And this letter home from a soldier in Iraq about to end his tour and come home, isn’t political about a political situation. "I’m not fighting for justice, I’m not fighting for freedom, I’m fighting for my life." If you’re not moved by this song, God help you.
65. Parliament - Chocolate City (1975)
There isn’t a crazy amount of political observation here. More of a celebration of chocolate cities ("I love you, C.C.") with majority black populations where George Clinton can feel a little more comfortable. And the name-checking of his fantasy Presidential Cabinet with Ali, J.B., Richard Pryor is quasi-political fun.
66. Ani DiFranco - My Name Is Lisa Kalvelage (1998)
It’s really a Pete Seeger song based on a newspaper report he read in the 60s, but Ani’s recorded version has a really cool sound and fantastic singing performance. The idea of the Nuremberg trials of defining inaction as an actual war crime fascinated my dad and then me. But the end of the song is amazing where this woman stopped a shipment of napalm in the 60s, partly to atone for her WWII feelings.
67. Midnight Oil - Blue Sky Mine (1990)
A great song with a distinctive sound and a great video about Australian workers contracting asbestos-related diseases from working in mines of blue asbestos. It hurts even more that this abuse of workers didn’t make workers rich but just "They’ll be food on the table tonight."
68. Fela Kuti - Zombie (1977)
Robert Christgau described Kuti’s sound as "real fusion music; if James Brown’s stuff is Afro-American, his is American-African." The Nigerian government burned Kuti’s house down after this record. That’s a protest song. The "zombie" in the song is how Nigerian soldiers were trained to be, thoughtlessly carrying out any act. When you hear about Talking Heads’ "Remain In Light" having African origins, it’s this kind of polyrhythmic music they’re talking about.
69. James Taylor - Shed A Little Light (1991)
This is as close to a religious spiritual that a very white voice like James Taylor’s will ever get. I mean that as a compliment; he’s not trying to gospel it up. He’s taking the spirit and goals of Martin Luther King and successfully converting gospel to pop. Maybe it’s not that political but was covered by Aimee Mann nicely in an episode of The West Wing.
70. The Flaming Lips - The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song (2006)
A wonderful sounding piece about the abuse of power. It frames thing in an interesting way: If you could be an unfeeling puppet-master, would you do it? Of course not - yet that’s how people in powerful positions act. Meanwhile, if you take your lyrics hat off, it’s a great song for the drums and the various starts and stops of the chorus.
71. Macy Gray - It Ain’t The Money (2003)
Like The Flaming Lips "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah Song" just above, this song is not just pointing out greed, but also letting us know (like World Party’s "Ship Of Fools") that chasing money is a dead-end game. I’m still a little pissed that her career hasn’t worked out like I thought it would in 2004.
72. The Clash - The Guns Of Brixton (1979)
Lots of times, The Clash took reggae songs and reimagined them as rock. This one from the bass player Paul Simonton was something they composed as reggae. This song seems to be capturing the hopelessness and tension of Brixton (pre riots) but also as a warning that the gangster life never ends well. A great double-feature with "I Fought The Law."
73. Eurythmics - Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves (1985)
It’s definitely a women’s anthem, although it’s a little generic when compared to all of the political songs on this list. That said, it’s unity of very white Annie Lennox with black legend Aretha Franklin in the same boat and a deceptively funky production from Dave Stewart, it’s solid.
74. Drive-By Truckers - Babies In Cages (2020)
I probably have reverse recency bias with this song; it should be higher. What can you say about the heinous Trump Era practice of separating immigrant families with no ability to track anybody, other than confusion and anger. This is not an intellectual exercise; the music embodies all of the anger and exhaustion that most of us were feeling at the time (and still feeling).
75. Peter Gabriel - Games Without Frontiers (1980)
A play on a European competition show "Jeux Sans Frontieres", it’s all pretty much an extended playful metaphor. And on a certain level, some parts of warfare are "silly games." But there are some real lyric gems here about Mussolini following Hitler and "they all of have hills to fly them (flags) on" except for Taiwan. Meanwhile, the music is ahead of its time.
76. Barry McGuire - Eve Of Destruction (1965)
I’ve put down the early 60s protest songs in other parts of this article as being musically primitive. But this one has more production value and excitement than those. And being worried about being oblitered in a nuclear war is a powerful topic, and more directly tackled here than in Sting’s "Russians".
77. Randy Newman - Mr. President (Have Pity On The Working Man) (1974)
This song on its own merits isn’t as clever, ambitious nor specific as other Randy political songs. But sitting in the middle of his opus Good Old Boys album, its simple populist sentiment seems to be more suspect in the context of bullshit Huey Long (and Lonesome Rhodes "A Face In The Crowd") faux-populism.
78. Manic Street Preachers - A Design For Life (1996)
In Part 1 of this long ranking justification, I singled out The Style Council as the best socialist music you can find. This one song is an indie-rock alternative about the trap of living in an unfair and hopeless economy. Put that all aside though and listen to it. A great chorus with some anger but still sounding ethereal.
79. The Style Council - Come To Milton Keynes (1985)
Speaking of The Style Council, they’re back on our list here. This song sounds jazzy and almost like Muzak in the style of a corporate established town like Milton Keynes would run on an ad, yet the Style Council is singing about the loss of hope, violence and drugs in such ironic pleasant tones. Again, get the album Our Favourite Shop. Best political record. Ever.
80. The Kinks - Get Back In Line (1970)
On the same record with "Lola" and "Powerman" and "Apeman" this one hurts. It’s a wonderfully written song about economic hard times and how if the protagonist gets to work that day or not being in control of the union man (picture the guy telling Marlon Brando who works at the docks in On The Waterfront). I get the sense that Ray Davies is disillusioned by labor.
81. Los Lobos - Revolution (1966)
A pretty simple concept, it’s a lament of how there used to be talk of revolution and now it’s gone. "Too tired, too tired, sister to hold my fist so high now that it’s gone." Great use of cowbell driving this song, such a great groove. Los Lobos have so many two-guitar rockers that it’s easy to overlook how adventurous they were in the 1990s.
82. Chuck Prophet - Nixonland (2020)
Like Nellie McKay, Chuck Prophet is another artist that is so underappreciated that it actually makes me mad. This song is such a wonderful dive into Nixon. It gets into his personal weirdness, his paranoia, his anti-Semitism and the weird specter the "Western White House" had over his late-life hometown of San Clemente. Once more, that’s only the half of it - this song just sounds great.
83. The Police - Re-Humanise Yourself (1981)
Several philosophers have put forth the idea that society is dehumanizing itself. The verses here support that theory; I’ve heard someone say that it reminds them of the gang in A Clockwork Orange. But choruses urge us to do better and assert our humanity and compassion. The music has all of the chaos that these lyrics deserve; the instrumental breaks sound like an ambulance driving by a drum kit that’s falling down the stairs.
84. Death Cab For Cutie - Million Dollar Loan (2016)
Another more recent Trump-inspired song. Donald Trump’s claim as a self-made man with his "small loan of a million dollars" (which is untrue) shouldn’t sit well with most empathetic human beings. The song has the requisite energy and feeling you want.
85. Paul Simon - American Tune (1973)
Have you ever played this song on the guitar? The bouncing around of changes from C-F-C-G-D in creative ways is amazing; it’s completely novel but it sounds completely natural. As for the politics, it apparently was born from Simon’s feelings watching Nixon get reelected. It sounds like it’s sung by somebody who’s exhausted by hypocrisy and the falseness of The American Dream.
86. The Beat - Stand Down Margaret (1983)
Before they were The English Beat, The Beat here sound like a normal bouncy reggae or ska song. But the lyrics absolutely blame Thatcher politics for the hopelessness in towns all across English. It’s not quite as brutal as Elvis Costello "Tramp The Dirt Down" but it’s good. Found this old review on Wikipedia: "Polite insurrection set to uptempo reggae and African hi-life guitar."
87. Beyonce, Kendrick Lamar - Freedom (2016)
It’s funny to be placing this in context just 6 years later. Beyonce’s Lemonade was such a varied album of personal liberation all coming at the same time of the murders of Eric Garner and Michael Brown. Beyonce seemed to have more edge with Kendrick Lamar and he had more pop presence with her. If you don’t remember this one, click it.
88. Dramarama - What Are We Gonna Do? (1991)
I think I’d only heard of Earth Day a year before via the B-52’s. In a funny way, this song really sounds like it’s the bridge from 80s alternative to 90s alternative. In terms of global warming, the song is still a fair question: What are we gonna do?
89. Tom Russell - Who’s Gonna Build Your Wall? (2007)
When it comes to the ultimately impractical and failed idea of the U.S. building a border wall along the Mexican border, the irony of Hispanic immigrants commonly being a staple of the whole construction industry was obvious enough for even hacky standup comics to come up with the joke. But this song gets everything right. Give it a whirl.
90. The Jam - Down In The Tube Station At Midnight (1978)
Right wing punks in a subway station amidst urban decay in London make for a great song, especially with The Jam’s mod punk sound. Paul Weller as a young man has this energy and you can see how he grew into the architect of The Style Council’s "Our Favourite Shop".
91. James Brown - Funky President (People It’s Bad) (1974)
Don’t let its presence on a political list fool you, this is primarily a funky song. But James Brown did start peppering in songs with more social awareness. James Brown didn’t have to sing "Stock market going up, jobs going down" or "Save our money like the mob, put up the fight and own the job" but he did.
92. The Clash - London Calling (1979)
OK, I blew it. The whole London Calling record should be on the Mt. Rushmore of best alltime political albums in the first installment of this article. The observations are wide ranging (crumbling UK standard of living, global warming, Three Mile Island accident) and it’s all tied together with the perfect cynical amount of rage ending "Cause London is drowning, I live by the river."
93. Don Henley - A Month Of Sundays (1984)
Don Henley can sound like a blowhard (him lecturing the audience about John Ruskin for 10 minutes between songs comes to mind), but really made a lot of sneaky good polltical songs ("Sunset Grill", "The Last Resort", "The Sad Cafe"). But "A Month Of Sundays" is pretty music and very sharp on the death of the American family farm.
94. Chicano Batman - Freedom Is Free (2017)
We have a few songs on the list that get into how our rights as Americans are harder to access for the economic underclass. But none sound this good. It’s also interesting because it seems to imply that how much freedom you might or might not feel are a matter of choice.
95. Van Dyke Parks - Yankee, Go Home (1989)
Part of a theme album (Tokyo Rose) about Japan-U.S. relations over the previous 150 years. Van Dyke Parks might be better known as a lyricist but the music and arrangements on this record are in your face joy, like an over the top Broadway musical - where "Yankee Go Home" would be a show-stopper, which is fun even where it should be tense.
96. Steel Pulse - Ku Klux Klan (1978)
My brother got me into reggae at an early age at the time: Marley, Tosh, Third World of course, but also stuff with more edge like Burning Spear and Steel Pulse. We need more songs taking the Klan to task. And how about "Blackman, do unto the Klan as they would do to you" or "Those cowards only kill who they fear, that’s why they hide behind the hoods and cloaks they wear."
97. Tears For Fears - Sowing The Seeds Of Love (1989)
Musically this is like a photocopy of The Beatles late stuff, which is never a bad thing. They wrote this after Margaret Thatcher’s third electoral victory which is certainly an easy target. But I take exception with the line "Kick out the style, bring back the jam" about Paul Weller, who had been writing songs about social conditions and real-world socialism long before Tears For Fears finally dipped their toes in the poltiical waters.
98. Gary Clark Jr. - This Land (2019)
This song was famously inspired by an incident where Clark’s Texas neighbor repeatedly asked who lived on Clark’s property, since he couldn’t wrap his head around the idea that a black man like Clark would own the house. This is another one I should have higher on this list, I’m holding its recency against it.
99. Billy Bragg - Waiting For The Great Leap Forward (1988)
I always had a hard time loving his music, his collaboration with Wilco was my easist period with him. But this is a great one. In his own words about the song, "ï¿½" my way of owning up to the ambiguities of being a political pop star while stating clearly that I still believed in Sam Cooke’s promise that a change was gonna come"
100. The Beatles - Revolution (1968)
You can’t question John Lennon’s commitment to social justice and awareness. But leave it to him and The Beatles to pump the brakes on the-sky-is-falling nature of the world in 1968 and remind us that we’re doing our best and things will more or less work out. Plus they’re taking the piss out of people who get too intense or humorless about the world.
The Whole List
1 The Clash - Know Your Rights 2 Ben Folds - Mister Peepers 3 Gil Scott-Heron - The Revolution Will Not Be Televised 4 Randy Newman - The World Isn’t Fair 5 Muse - United States of Eurasia 6 Marvin Gaye - What’s Going On 7 Bruce Springsteen - The Ghost Of Tom Joad 8 Bruce Hornsby - The Way it Is 9 Arcade Fire - Intervention 10 The Style Council - Homebreakers 11 Elvis Costello - Peace In Our Time 12 Lily Allen - Fuck You 12 Randy Newman - Political Science 14 Creedence Clearwater Revival - Fortunate Son 15 Les McCann & Eddie Harris - Compared To What 16 Sam Cooke - A Change Is Gonna Come 17 David Byrne - Miss America 18 Stevie Wonder - Village Ghetto Land 19 Janelle Monae - Turntables 20 Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young - Ohio 21 Joe Strummer - Johnny Appleseed 22 The Band - King Harvest (Has Surely Come) 23 Pink - Dear Mr. President 24 U2 - Sunday Bloody Sunday 25 The Specials - Nelson Mandela 26 Peter Tosh - Equal Rights 27 Elvis Costello - Tramp The Dirt Down 28 Warren Zevon - Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner 29 The Decemberists - 16 Military Wives 30 Bob Dylan - The Hurricane 31 Was (Not Was) - 11 MPH 32 Green Day - American Idiot 33 Marvin Gaye - Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler) 34 Neil Young - Mideast Vacation 35 Rufus Wainwright - Going To A Town 36 M.I.A. - Paper Planes 37 Talking Heads - The Democratic Circus 38 Bruce Springsteen - Youngstown 39 Nellie McKay - Inner Peace 40 Living Colour - Cult Of Personality 41 Bob Marley - Get Up, Stand Up 42 Randy Newman - Louisiana 1927 43 Paul McCartney - Give Ireland Back To The Irish 44 Stevie Wonder - You Haven’t Done Nothin’ 45 Peter Gabriel - Family Snapshot 46 The Clash - Straight To hell 47 Marvin Gaye - Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology) 48 Graham Nash - Chicago 49 Gil Scott-Heron - Whitey On The Moon 50 Cream - Politician 51 Warren Zevon - Veracruz 52 Bruce Springsteen - American Skin (41 Shots) 53 The Rolling Stones - Street Fighting Man 54 Bright Eyes - Road To Joy 55 Nina Simone - Mississippi Goddam 56 Randy Newman - A Few Words In Defense Of Our Country 57 World Party - Ship Of Fools 58 Buffalo Springsteen - For What It’s Worth 59 Bob Marley - I Shot The Sheriff 60 Sly & The Family Stone - Everyday People 61 Bob Marley - Buffalo Soldier 62 Bruce Springsteen - Sinaloa Cowboys 63 Talking Heads - Puzzlin’ Evidence 64 Tom Waits - Day After Tomorrow 65 Parliament - Chocolate City 66 Ani DiFranco - My Name Is Lisa Kalvelage 67 Midnight Oil - Blue Sky Mine 68 Fela Kuti - Zombie 69 James Taylor - Shed A Little Light 70 The Flaming Lips - The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song 71 Macy Gray - It Ain’t The Money 72 The Clash - The Guns Of Brixton 73 Eurhthmics - Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves 74 Drive-By Truckers - Babies In Cagies 75 Peter Gabriel - Games Without Frontiers 76 Barry McGuire - Eve Of Destruction 77 Randy Newman - Mr. President (Have Pity On The Working Man) 78 Manic Street Preachers - A Design For Life 79 The Style Council - Come To Milton Keynes 80 The Kinks - Get Back In Line 81 Los Lobos - Revolution 82 Chuck Prophet - Nixonland 83 The Police - Re-Humanise Yourself 84 Death Cab For Cutie - Million Dollar Loan 85 Paul Simon - American Tune 86 The English Beat - Stand Down Margaret 87 Beyonce, Kendrick Lamar - Freedom 88 Dramarama - What Are We Gonna Do? 89 Tom Russell - Who’s Gonnaa Build Your Wall? 90 The Jam - Down In The Tube Station At Midnight 91 James Brown - Funky President (People It’s Bad) 92 The Clash - London Calling 93 Don Henley - A Month Of Sundays 94 Chicano Batman - Freedom Is Free 95 Van Dyke Parks - Yankee, Go Home 96 Steel Pulse - Ku Klux Klan 97 Tears For Fears - Sowing The Seeds Of Love 98 Gary Clark Jr. - This Land 99 Billy Bragg - Waiting For The Great Leap Forward 100 The Beatles - Revolution
[Deep exhale] We made it, we all made it. Do you have any suggestions?