Personal Is Political Playlist
Continuing with the theme from yesterday, this week’s Spotify playlist (which you can access from here ) is based around the themes of politics, police violence, the Depression, depression and poverty.
We start with a little spoken section, by Laurel And Hardy, in which they are Victims Of The Depression.
Following this is Bing Crosby with the Depression-era classic Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?. Co-written of course by the great Yip Harburg, one of the greatest songwriters of the ‘Golden Age of American Song’. A little-known fact about Harburg is that ‘Yip’ was actually short for ‘yipsel’, which in turn was short for Young Person’s Socialist League – Harburg was an incredibly political songwriter. But he’s probably best known now, other than this song, for Over The Rainbow, April In Paris and It’s Only A Paper Moon.
Following this is Linton Kwesi Johnson with Reggae Fi Peach. Johnson was a very politically-active dub poet in the early 1980s, and this is his tribute to Blair Peach, a teacher who was battered to death by the police when taking part in an Anti-Nazi League protest.
XTC‘s Earn Enough For Us is a song that means a lot to me – it essentially describes my life for the first two years after I married (as well as the year before) – “I’ve been praying I can keep you/and can earn enough for us”. Not political as such, but a perfect description of the life of low earners.
Glad To Be Gay by The Tom Robinson Band is a song I loved when I was a very young child – my parents got quite embarassed picking five-year-old me up from school and having me sing it loudly on the way out. Robinson was an overly didactic lyricist of the Billy Bragg type, but this one is genuinely heartfelt, and still moving even now I’m old enough to know what it’s about…
The Policeman’s Jig is a great little song from Jake Thackray. Someone should really write a book on Thackray, and the particularly Yorkshire way he combines an earthy sense of humour and an utter loathing of all forms of authority with a very devout Catholic faith. This is definitely Thackray in anti-authority mode, and anti-censorship.
Political Science by Randy Newman is a song I used to think was an overly-broad satire, but which appears to have been used by the Bush regime as a policy briefing document…
Shipbuilding by Elvis Costello is one of the very best songs ever written, looking at one of the more pointless wars of our time (the Falklands) from the point of view of the unemployed dock workers who were given work again by the conflict – “Is it worth it? A new winter coat and shoes for the wife/And a bicycle for the boy’s birthday/It’s just a rumour that’s been spread around town, soon we’ll be shipbuilding”. A more damning indictment of the Thatcher years – and a sadder song – you’ll never hear.
Your Cash Ain’t Nothin’ But Trash by The Clovers and Get A Job by The Silhouettes are two great doo-wop classics. Doo-wop these days is thought of as mindless silliness, but it was a really vibrant, inventive artform for a few years in the late 50s.
WPA Blues is credited to Meade Lux Lewis, but it’s far more guitar-based than Lewis’ normal stuff (Lewis was one of the all-time great boogie-woogie piano players) , so much so that I’m not even sure it’s him. Either way, it’s a great little track. (For those who don’t know the WPA was the Roosevelt-era public works programme which was brought in to try to end the Depression).
Money Honey by Little Richard is just great.
Up The Junction by Squeeze is very much of a piece with Earn Enough For Us, a glorious story song which was a huge hit over here but never did anything in the US.
‘Til I Die by The Beach Boys is the greatest track ever about the other kind of depression, and probably the best song Brian Wilson ever wrote without a collaborator.
And just in case that was too depressing for you, we finish with a nice cheery track – Music To Commit Suicide By by Roy Wood.
Let me know what you think, and if I should carry on doing these…