Protest Songs Day Seven: Bruce Springsteen, Manic Street Preachers, Beyonce, Lady Gaga, Elvis Costello & The Specials

A protest song about poor quality satellite television? Well I do work around the TV industry, what did you expect? True, the song started life as the simple story of a man defending shooting out his TV set on the basis of ’57 channels and nothin’ on’. But it became about so much more than that.

The track originally clocked in at just over two minutes and was something of a tongue in cheek throwaway on the disappointing Human Touch album. However the LA riots exploded a month after the album’s release and Little Steven (yes, him again) got his hands on the tapes and created this monster – a bass-driven sound collage as we flick from the riots to Star Trek to Dan Quayle to Murphy Brown to Chuck D to the chant of ‘No Justice, No Peace’. Bruce is in there somewhere, but is ultimately overwhelmed by the madness of 90s America. Thank goodness things have got so much saner nowadays and we can look back on those crazy days with a wry smile.

So I bought a .44 magnum it was solid steel cast
And in the blessed name of Elvis well I just let it blast
‘Til my TV lay in pieces there at my feet
And they busted me for disturbin’ the almighty peace
Judge said “What you got in your defense son ?”
“Fifty-seven channels and nothin’ on”

I can find no video for this one, as I guess tracking down all the footage to match the audio would be near impossible, so just close your eyes and imagine you are sat in your underwear in front of your TV in the Hollywood Hills, with Miller Lite and remote control in hand, watching in disbelief as LA burns.

Over to Roy:

You probably saw this next one coming as well…

Pub Quiz question: Which band had a number 1 hit single in 2000, the title of which is a quote from a 19th Century British Prime Minister and contained quotations from both Noam Chomsky and Albert Camus ?

 

Ian:

Something Contemporary
My taste in music is catholic but normally avoids the obviously commercial. To that end, the modern R&B divas and strident hip-hop artists would not normally form part of my preferred listening. However, last year it was impossible not to appreciate the musical and protest sensibilities of Queen Bey. A creative and emotional tour-de-force, “Lemonade” – both the album and extended video forms – was a musical highlight for me in 2016. Reflecting the spirit of the Black Lives Matter movement, the album was an anguished reminder that the oppression, brutality and racism we thought had been overcome during the civil rights movement was still substantially intact. “Formation” and it’s wonderful re-interpretation of the Antebellum south won numerous songs of the year, but I found the lyrics and music of the track “Freedom” resonated with me best. The following extended clip is from Beyonce’s performance of the song at last year’s BET Awards show.

Anne:

Scooped again! I had Springsteen’s “41 Shots” tribute to Amadou Diallo (gunned down by Bronx cops while reaching for his wallet). But it’s great to rehear “57 Channels.” Quaint isn’t it? For me the natural follow-up to Bruce and Bey is Gaga. Demography is Destiny for LGBT acceptance in the U.S. In 1987, 75% of Americans felt that same sex relations are “always wrong.” In 2010 that number had dropped to 40% among all people and 25% among those under 30. The Republican’s knives are out — rebuffed by the Supreme Court, they’re taking their fight to the reliably gerrymandered state legislatures. But the NCAA boycott of North Carolina busted the loathsome bathroom bill (those Tarheels love their b-ball!) and a similar effort is awakening the rarely-seen-in-the-wild moderate Republican Texans. Nice to be able to celebrate a protest moving in the right direction! I chose Gaga’s Grammy performance rather than the official video, but if you haven’t seen it, viewed over 210MM times on YouTube!, it’s a doozy…

 

Andy:

Today I’ve gone for a song we all know, which not only received critical acclaim but also commercial success by reaching number one in the summer of 1981. Back then, unemployment was spiralling out of control, and inner-city riots from London to Liverpool and many towns between were taking place amid the despondent atmosphere that enveloped the nation in the aftermath of Thatcher sweeping to power.

Inspired by the financial problems of the band’s home town of Coventry, where the once-proud motor industry was under increased pressure from cheaper imports, this was a very different departure from the ska-punk scene which had their previous trademark sound. Downbeat, doom-laden and politically-fired, the track hangs on Jerry Dammers’ eerie keyboards alongside the chanting vocal of Terry Hall. Unfortunately, the recording of the single had proved so traumatic that certain members of the band refused to be in the studio at the same time, and were soon to go their separate ways. However, the legacy they left lives on to this day…

Gerard:

Going straight back to ‘anger is an energy’ …. I shall submit at least one more example 😉 :
This artist has two more famous protest songs with ‘Shipbuilding’ and ‘Pills And Soap’ but personally, as good as they both are, I prefer this one, taken from his 1989 ‘Spike’ album.
Following Thatcher’s death in 2013 and in his defense of continuing to sing the vitriolic attack of her and her ilk, Mr McManus was quoted as saying,
“The Thatcherite revolution is looked at historically as a great cleansing moment but it was not. A lot of things that belonged to us all communally were sold out from under us……..
“They weren’t sold to private interests in England that enriched the country, they were sold to people in other countries. And it’s still the same bunch of slimes sitting there running it all.”
If you haven’t heard it, check out the ‘softer’ album version too.
This live version can’t hide the anger.

 

 

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14 thoughts on “Protest Songs Day Seven: Bruce Springsteen, Manic Street Preachers, Beyonce, Lady Gaga, Elvis Costello & The Specials

  1. Roy, is that the Millennium Stadium the Manics are playing in? I did have the Manics in my ‘squad’, but held back in the expectation you would inevitably opt for your countrymen.

    1. I believe it is – like all good Republican Welshpeople, I refuse to call it the ‘Principality Stadium’. It was toss up between this or IYTTTYCWBN, which also amazingly went to #1

  2. Something Contemporary
    My taste in music is catholic but normally avoids the obviously commercial. To that end, the modern R&B divas and strident hip-hop artists would not normally form part of my preferred listening. However, last year it was impossible not to appreciate the musical and protest sensibilities of Queen Bey. A creative and emotional tour-de-force, “Lemonade” – both the album and extended video forms – was a musical highlight for me in 2016. Reflecting the spirit of the Black Lives Matter movement, the album was an anguished reminder that the oppression, brutality and racism we thought had been overcome during the civil rights movement was still substantially intact. “Formation” and it’s wonderful re-interpretation of the Antebellum south won numerous songs of the year, but I found the lyrics and music of the track “Freedom” resonated with me best. The following extended clip is from Beyonce’s performance of the song at last year’s BET Awards show.

  3. Today I’ve gone for a song we all know, which not only received critical acclaim but also commercial success by reaching number one in the summer of 1981. Back then, unemployment was spiralling out of control, and inner-city riots from London to Liverpool and many towns between were taking place amid the despondent atmosphere that enveloped the nation in the aftermath of Thatcher sweeping to power.

    Inspired by the financial problems of the band’s home town of Coventry, where the once-proud motor industry was under increased pressure from cheaper imports, this was a very different departure from the ska-punk scene which had their previous trademark sound. Downbeat, doom-laden and politically-fired, the track hangs on Jerry Dammers’ eerie keyboards alongside the chanting vocal of Terry Hall. Unfortunately, the recording of the single had proved so traumatic that certain members of the band refused to be in the studio at the same time, and were soon to go their separate ways. However, the legacy they left lives on to this day…

    1. One of the greatest pieces of music ever committed to vinyl: a perfect union of song, performance, production and above all zeitgeist. It does of course snooker my planned ‘Free Nelson Mandela’, as it would be churlish to claim the Special AKA were a different group.

  4. Scooped again! I had Springsteen’s “41 Shots” tribute to Amadou Diallo (gunned down by Bronx cops while reaching for his wallet). But it’s great to rehear “57 Channels.” Quaint isn’t it? For me the natural follow-up to Bruce and Bey is Gaga. Demography is Destiny for LGBT acceptance in the U.S. In 1987, 75% of Americans felt that same sex relations are “always wrong.” In 2010 that number had dropped to 40% among all people and 25% among those under 30. The Republican’s knives are out — rebuffed by the Supreme Court, they’re taking their fight to the reliably gerrymandered state legislatures. But the NCAA boycott of North Carolina busted the loathsome bathroom bill (those Tarheels love their b-ball!) and a similar effort is awakening the rarely-seen-in-the-wild moderate Republican Texans. Nice to be able to celebrate a protest moving in the right direction! I chose Gaga’s Grammy performance rather than the official video, but if you haven’t seen it, viewed over 210MM times on YouTube!, it’s a doozy…

    1. I definitely approve of the concept of Gaga even if some of the time the song is the least interesting aspect of a performance. This one you though you could imagine Sister Sledge having a number one with in the 70s.

    2. Beyonce and Gaga quite stunning performances.
      Another Gaga link directly back to Bruce, is ‘The Edge Of Glory’ from the album and Clarence’s glorious sax contribution to it

  5. Going straight back to ‘anger is an energy’ …. I shall submit at least one more example 😉 :
    This artist has two more famous protest songs with ‘Shipbuilding’ and ‘Pills And Soap’ but personally, as good as they both are, I prefer this one, taken from his 1989 ‘Spike’ album.
    Following Thatcher’s death in 2013 and in his defense of continuing to sing the vitriolic attack of her and her ilk, Mr McManus was quoted as saying,
    “The Thatcherite revolution is looked at historically as a great cleansing moment but it was not. A lot of things that belonged to us all communally were sold out from under us……..
    “They weren’t sold to private interests in England that enriched the country, they were sold to people in other countries. And it’s still the same bunch of slimes sitting there running it all.”
    If you haven’t heard it, check out the ‘softer’ album version too.
    This live version can’t hide the anger.

    1. I knew you had that card up your sleeve, by coincidence I got an Elvis Costello- related anecdote read out by Steve Lamacq on his show. he was asking for stories about artists refusing to play their biggest hits and this seemed appropriate:

      Back in 80s I saw Elvis Costello at a small theatre. The bloke behind me kept yelling ‘Olivers Army’ after every song to Elvis’s – and the crowd’s -increasing exasperation. Eventually Elvis snapped, asked for the house lights to come on and asked the guy how much his ticket had cost.

      He then got his wallet out, gave the heckler the money and had the security guards escort him from the building.

      Having checked with the audience the guy had left, Elvis then played… Oliver’s Army.

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