Protest Songs Day Eight: Aretha Franklin, Gossip, Midnight Oil, The Herd & The Wonder Stuff

Protest Songs insert

As we have established, not all protest songs are about global realpolitik, some operate at a very basic human level and the message of Aretha Franklin’s ‘Think’ is a simple desire for personal freedom, a song about not letting other people tell you what to be, a theme echoed in Roy’s choice below.

I ain’t no psychiatrist, I ain’t no doctor with degrees
It don’t take too much high IQ’s
To see what you’re doing to me
You better think (think)
Think about what you’re trying to do to me

The ‘Freedom, Freedom’ refrain was of course sampled in George Michael’s ‘Freedom ’90’ This clip is from the Blues Brothers, which is well overdue for a re-watch if I can negotiate the baffling world of Subscription VOD rights issues to track it down.

Over to Roy:

Gossip emerged in 2006 as fierce advocates of LGBT issues. Taking their inspiration from Punk and the Riot Girrl movement and in the form of ebullient front person, Beth Ditto, they dance-punked their way into the mainstream. This, their breakthrough single, encapsulated everything they were about, providing a voice and inspiration for all those being marginalised because of their sexual identity, body size or simply being made to feel ‘abnormal’ by mainstream society.

Your back’s against the wall
There’s no one home to call
You’re forgetting who you are
You can’t stop crying
It’s part not giving in
And part trusting your friends
You do it all again, you don’t stop trying

Andy:

So far, all my choices have been from artists either side of the Atlantic. However, today I’m going to venture much further afield for the source of protest. This song was written in support of giving back native Australian lands back to the Pintupi, who were amongst the last people to come in from the desert. The band performed the song at the closing ceremony of the 2000 Olympics, dressed in black clothes, with “Sorry” printed conspicuously all over them. Take that, Prime Minister John Howard!

It is one of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll, and I happen to think it’s just a damned fine song…

Ian:

A Mix of Old & New
Australian political music has long drawn on a folkloric tradition, particularly those with a strong Celtic influence. However, with rare exception, Australian bush music has been largely ignored by main stream radio stations. This all changed in 1983 with the release of “A Walk in the Light Green” by Redgum. As the son of a Vietnam veteran, the song has a personal relevance for me and the lyrics succinctly capture many of the tales told to me by my father about his experiences during the war in 1969.

Writer John Schuman name-checks locations like Vung Tau & Nui Dat where my father was based, he neatly captures the disaffection felt by the troops on their return (“And the Anzac legends didn’t mention mud and blood and tears”) and evokes the health issues found by many soldiers resulting from exposure to defoliants like Agent Orange and post-traumatic stress disorder:

“And can you tell me, doctor, why I still can’t get to sleep?
Any why the Channel Seven chopper chills me to my feet?
And what’s this rash that comes and goes, can you tell me what it means?
God help me – I was only 19″

All royalties from the song were donated to the Vietnam Veterans Association, who eventually won their challenge to establish a Royal Commission into the use and effects of chemical agents on Australian soldiers in Vietnam. The original version can be found on the internet fairly easily and it includes extensive archival footage of the war (search for ” Redgum – I Was Only 19 (1983)”). However, the version I include is the one released about ten years ago when Australian hip hop artists The Herd covered it live on radio for triplej’s “Like A Version”. Their treatment, both respectful and contemporary, brought the song to a new audience more than twenty years after the song’s initial release

Gerard:

More venomous protest .. this time from Stourbridge, West Midlands.
I’ve selected this purely because it’s again from an unexpected source, since this group is more renowned for their ‘Grebo Pop’ and their dizzy collaboration with Vic Reeves.
I have mined The Wonder Stuff’s wonderful 1993 album ‘Construction For The Modern Idiot’ with ‘On The Ropes’ for an earlier category of songs – but couldn’t resist using this particular condemnation here.
Singer/songwriter Miles Hunt’s sleeve notes simply state:
‘ The Man Boy Love Association: organised ring of adult males involved in child sex abuse, currently operating in San Francisco, CA, USA. I Wish Them All Dead.’

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8 thoughts on “Protest Songs Day Eight: Aretha Franklin, Gossip, Midnight Oil, The Herd & The Wonder Stuff

  1. A Mix of Old & New
    Australian political music has long drawn on a folkloric tradition, particularly those with a strong Celtic influence. However, with rare exception, Australian bush music has been largely ignored by main stream radio stations. This all changed in 1983 with the release of “A Walk in the Light Green” by Redgum. As the son of a Vietnam veteran, the song has a personal relevance for me and the lyrics succinctly capture many of the tales told to me by my father about his experiences during the war in 1969.

    Writer John Schuman name-checks locations like Vung Tau & Nui Dat where my father was based, he neatly captures the disaffection felt by the troops on their return (“And the Anzac legends didn’t mention mud and blood and tears”) and evokes the health issues found by many soldiers resulting from exposure to defoliants like Agent Orange and post-traumatic stress disorder:

    “And can you tell me, doctor, why I still can’t get to sleep?
    Any why the Channel Seven chopper chills me to my feet?
    And what’s this rash that comes and goes, can you tell me what it means?
    God help me – I was only 19″

    All royalties from the song were donated to the Vietnam Veterans Association, who eventually won their challenge to establish a Royal Commission into the use and effects of chemical agents on Australian soldiers in Vietnam. The original version can be found on the internet fairly easily and it includes extensive archival footage of the war (search for ” Redgum – I Was Only 19 (1983)”). However, the version I include is the one released about ten years ago when Australian hip hop artists The Herd covered it live on radio for triplej’s “Like A Version”. Their treatment, both respectful and contemporary, brought the song to a new audience more than twenty years after the song’s initial release

  2. So far, all my choices have been from artists either side of the Atlantic. However, today I’m going to venture much further afield for the source of protest. This song was written in support of giving back native Australian lands back to the Pintupi, who were amongst the last people to come in from the desert. The band performed the song at the closing ceremony of the 2000 Olympics, dressed in black clothes, with “Sorry” printed conspicuously all over them. Take that, Prime Minister John Howard!

    It is one of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll, and I happen to think it’s just a damned fine song…

    1. it is indeed and I’d forgot what a cool dude Peter Garret was, even in 80s clobber. The way he delivers the first verse reminds me a lot of the unique vocal stylings of Samuel T Herring of Future Islands for some reason….

    2. “10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1”
      In late 1982, Midnight Oil released what I think is close to the perfect protest album.

      At the time, the album “10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1,” was a major shift in style (if not theme) for the band. Punk friends were horrified that Nick Launay’s heavy-handed production had replaced the raw pub-style presentation of earlier Oils albums. On repeated listening, these adverse opinions were gradually converted to accolades as we recognised the quality of the band’s composition.

      I still have vivid memories of listening to the album almost constantly over the summer of 1982/83, often debating which was the best track late into the night at a friend’s share-house in a Randwick (Sydney). The trouble in making such a selection lies in the musical & lyrical merit of the entire album.

      Thematically, the record protests subjects including Western colonialism (“Short Memory”), the influence of mass media (“Read About It”), US militarism (“US Forces”) & British nuclear tests on Australian soil (“Maralinga”). In each case, the unifying element is Midnight Oil’s erudite elaboration blended with driving, primal beats.

      Solomon-like, if I must make a choice of one song, it is the track mocking the ennui of suburban life. The “Power and the Passion” is still relevant today despite its occasional dated references and it reflects the forceful, intelligent way in which the band brought substantial and challenging political ideas to the masses.

      In an interesting coda to one of my other selections (see Skyhooks, day 9), this album’s title is also a protest about the extent to which “Countdown”, which always finished with a list the week’s top 10 songs, had come to dominate popular music choices for radio.

  3. I nearly used Aretha earlier but for a different song: “R. E. S. P. E. C. T.” . There is a very interesting article on NPR’s web site about how Franklin’s version usurped the original performance by Otis Redding. As the author notes, ” ‘Respect’ … turned Aretha Franklin into a feminist champion [and was] actually a clever gender-bending of a song [which originally] reinforced the traditional family structure of the time”. Go to the URL below for more detail including links to the two different versions: http://www.npr.org/2017/02/14/515183747/respect-wasnt-a-feminist-anthem-until-aretha-franklin-made-it-one

  4. More venomous protest .. this time from Stourbridge, West Midlands.
    I’ve selected this purely because it’s again from an unexpected source, since this group is more renowned for their ‘Grebo Pop’ and their dizzy collaboration with Vic Reeves.
    I have mined The Wonder Stuff’s wonderful 1993 album ‘Construction For The Modern Idiot’ with ‘On The Ropes’ for an earlier category of songs – but couldn’t resist using this particular condemnation here.
    Singer/songwriter Miles Hunt’s sleeve notes simply state:
    ‘ The Man Boy Love Association: organised ring of adult males involved in child sex abuse, currently operating in San Francisco, CA, USA. I Wish Them All Dead.’

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