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Political Songs for after election day: Part 1

May 7, 2010
PETER Guy over at Liverpool’s brilliant Get Into This blog asked to me to put together a Top 10 political songs for the momentous British General election day. But as anyone who has ever tried put together Top 10s, it’s virtually impossible, so here’s 10 of my favourites but please post yours below the fold.
A Change is Gonna Come – Sam Cooke: A beautiful hymn for change in Segregation era USA by a man who possessed the voice of his generation. Inspired after his arrest for trying to book into a whites only motel in Louisiana, Cooke set about his masterpiece in1963, the year of Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech.
The final verse ‘There have been times that I thought I couldn’t last for long/but now I think I’m able to carry on/It’s been a long time coming, but I know a change is gonna come’ is one of the great refrains of the civil rights-era and the combination of Cooke’s wonderful voice and atmospheric production could make stone cry. Otis and Aretha versions are also worth a listen.
Alternative Ulster – Stiff Little Fingers: It may have been a cut price version of The Clash and lambasted by many in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, but Alternative Ulster has strangely stood the test of time.
Belting final verse too: ‘Take a look where you’re livin’/ You got the Army on the street/ And the RUC dog of repression/ Is barking at your feet/ Is this the kind of place you wanna live?
Is this were you wanna be?/ Is this the only life we’re gonna have?/ What we need is/ An Alternative Ulster’ Like all great political songs, it’s a call for change.
Eton Rifles – The Jam: Weller’s somewhat naïve call for class war by taking on the officer classes of the British establishment wrongly endorsed by Cameron a couple of years ago. Weller’s always been an uppity outsider: ‘All that rugby puts hairs on your chest,’ ‘What chance have you got against a tie and a crest?’ kinda lay bare his intent. His best political lyric is however on ‘Down in the Tube Station’ ‘They smelt of pubs and Wormwood Scrubs/ And too many right wing meetings’ That’s the 1970s right there and tragically parts of Essex and the North today.
It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back – Public Enemy:  And album, I know, but it is a complete political history class in urban black America at the end of the 20th Century. Focussing on drugs, violence, government neglect, segregation, black consciousness and militant Islam, it’s hard to separate any one song. Perhaps ‘Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos’ or ‘Night of the Living Baseheads’ illustrate the primal anger and power that made Chuck D the greatest songwriter of his generation. And always remember: freedom is a road seldom followed by the multitude.
Waiting for the Great Leap Forward – Billy Bragg: It was a toss-up between Housemartins-era Paul Heaton and the big nosed bard of Barking, for who wrote the best lefty lyrics in the 80s. But, Bill it had to be, especially given he’s still harassing the BNP whenever he can. 
A lyric that is brilliant from start to finish, but the opening verse has a beauty we don’t often ascribe to Billy: ‘It may have been Camelot for Jack and Jacqueline/ But on the Che Guevara highway filling up with gasoline/ Fidel Castro’s brother spies a rich lady who’s crying/ Over luxury’s disappointment/ So he walks over and he’s trying/ To sympathise with her but he thinks that he should warn her/ That the third world is just around the corner’.
Best thing is, he’s still rocking this and updating it at every available opportunity. Check out this performance on Craig Ferguson’s Stateside Talk Show.
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