With Election Day knocking on British doors, here is a list of five of the most important politically charged songs.
It is not unusual to hear politicians quoting specific songs or singers so here we look at the most powerful political songs from the past.
5. U2 – Sunday Bloody Sunday
Probably the last popular politically charged song. Issued in 1983, recorded for the album “War”, it is about the “Bloody Sunday” during which 14 Irish protesters lost their lives during a demonstration in 1972.
“And the battle’s just begun/There’s many lost but tell me who has won”, the song went, before crying out its message of peace, quite a rhetorical one: “How long…How long must we sing this song…How long…”
4. The Clash – Charlie Don’t Surf
Protest, or politically charged messages, and The Clash certainly go hand in hand. The first of their songs that would generally spring to mind would be “London Calling” and only few careful listeners would point out “Charlie Don’t Surf.”
Later on quoted in the Apocalypse Now movie, the title of this song original referred to the then-aging Cold War, the duality between USA and Russia, and their threats of a nuclear war.
Charlie is the stereotypical American and the fact he does not want to surf may mean the Western superpower will to never settle down and abandon its imperialistic policies.
The third verse of the song strengthens this interpretation:
“The reign of superpowers must be over/So many armies can’t free the Earth/ Soon the rock will roll over/Africa is choking on their Coca-Cola.”
One more hint: the song was included in the 1980 album called Sandinista! a word Margaret Thatcher’s imposed censorship on. The term referred to member of the Nicaraguan political party led by Augusto Cesar Sandino, whose army opposed the US invasion in the 1930s.
In the 1980s many political movements were inspired by the song’s rejection of the growing Western economic hegemony in the region.
3. Bruce Springsteen – Born in the USA
Quite unusual to see “The Boss” among politically charged authors, at least before Barak Obama’s election.
This song, however, did criticise the US political establishment of the 80s, between a misunderstanding and the other.
Lyrics like “Got in a little hometown jam so they put a rifle in my hand/Sent me off to a foreign land to kill the yellow man,” were undoubtedly written remembering the Vietnam War, which did not spare those who got back home either: “I’m ten years burning down the road/Nowhere to run, I ain’t got nowhere to go.”
However, the then US President Ronald Reagan, used its title during his rallies and mistakenly interpreting the song as a patriotic hymn.
No wonder Springsteen himself objected the president’s words carefully keeping the distances.
2. Bob Marley – Buffalo Soldiers
It is hard to leave Marley out of this kind of charts. The Jamaican reggae-man certainly said a word of two about politics, human and civil rights.
Songs like “Get Up Stand Up” or “Redemption Song,” certainly ring a bell or two. But probably Marley’s political and civil committment is best represented by the equally famous “Buffalo Soldiers.”
The song originally recalled the Union African-American soldiers who fought in the Civil War but also highlighted how they were treated like second class citizens many years later, in the 60s and the 70s.
“Stolen from Africa/Brought to America/fighting on arrival/fighting for survival.”
1.Bob Dylan – The Times they are a-changin’
Probably the most recognisable politically-charged singer, Dylan embraced a whole generation’s dreams and hopes in the 1960s and this song is its manifesto.
“This was definitely a song with a purpose,” he would later say. “The civil rights movement and the folk music movement were pretty close for a while and allied together at that time.”
That same year saw the arrival of the Civil Rights Act, putting an end to racial segregation in the US, as the New Statesman reported.
There are, however, some shadows on this song as it was sometimes considered a work of cynicism.
As reported by The Rolling Stones, when Tony Glover, a friend of Dylan, found a draft of the song in a typewriter, he said ‘What’s that shit, man?’
And Dylan responded: “Well, you know, it seems to be what the people like to hear.”
At any rate, this did not prevent him from framing a whole generation history in a 3 minutes folk-song.