Monday, 8 April 2013

Margaret Thatcher and Music


There are literally hundreds of songs written about Margaret Thatcher. The iron lady passed away today, and Britain’s can't decide whether they're happy, sad or just don't give a shit. Socialists have never been far and few between in the music industry and as the biggest cluster of UK socialism came about in punk rock, a conservative leader emerged. It's the late 70s and the 'thinking man's yobs' are inspiring a generation of left-wing ideology. The Clash are still one of Britain’s great believers in democracy, the band of the people and the only band that matters. Though The Clash only inspired this period of British oppression, they never themselves personally attacked Thatcher in their music. It was mostly the Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, Clash inspired Billy Bragg.

Bragg's socialist folk-punk became his trademark instantly, using Thatcher as his pedestal. It's true that Bragg would be nowhere without Thatcher, his biggest influence and the most important woman in his life. Bragg said in 1986: "There is power in a factory, power in the land, power in the hands of a worker. But it all amounts to nothing if together we don't stand, there is power in a union." Said right after the miner strikes, high unemployment and the highest amount of union members. Shouts of socialism came back to Britain as Bragg covered and adapted this from America's 1862 "Battle Cry of Freedom" and Joe Hill's "There Is Power In A Union". His track "Thatcherites" outlined his thoughts on Thatcherism during the iron lady's reign. But it's Bragg's "Between the Wars" that stands out in his anti-Thatcher discography, with proceeds donated to the striking miner’s fund.

The Beat's "Stand down Margaret" was a simple message. It wasn't just about having her resign from her post as British prime minister. They wanted her to get off the high horse, stop talking down to people and stand down from politics: "I see no chance of your bright new tomorrow, so stand down Margaret". This left-wing musical following started to hit the charts, and as punk rock grew, as did the sub-genres and every band that came with it, all under the united alias of left-wing support. Even music’s biggest cock Morrissey wrote a hate song towards Thatcher. From his debut solo album Viva Hate, with creative guitar work by Vini Reilly came "Margaret on the Guillotine". With an album title that reads Hate, it's no surprise that Morrissey focusses on the eventual death of Thatcher, going as far to question: "When will you die?" Times were tough, people’s lives were ruined and The Smiths had just broken up. However I don't condone Morrissey wishing the death one’s life, even if this person was turning the country upside down. One day I hope to find many songs wishing Morrissey to shut up.

There was none more socially equipped than a reggae outfit from Birmingham fresh off the doll, UB40. 1980's "Madame Medusa" was a chaotic and angrily directed track to the iron lady: "From the tombs of ignorance, of hate and greed and lies. Through the smoke of sacrifice, watch her figure rise." Wherever you turned, artists were writing songs about Thatcher. Dead Kennedy's, The Specials, Crass and even Elton John directed songs towards her and the tory party. Chumbawamba trailed in the background as protest songs became popular once again. Elvis Costello sang: "I'll stand on your grave and tramp the dirt down," in 1989, a passionate and attacking song that was felt by those affected by the tory regime in the 80s. These artists were angry and upset at how her government were changing Britain; the music tells this story from the working man and not the newspaper.

Her relationship with popular music is one amusing and bemusing at the same time. No other prime minister or political leader has received such backlash and opposition through the use of song. Today artists still sing about Thatcher, even Frank Turner has a song called "Thatcher Fucked the Kids". These were not your average protest songs. Where the usual protest songs tackle social unjust and civil unrest, Costello, Bragg and co protested from the heart and with courage. The anger directed to not a group of people, but one individual is almost unheard of, Thatcher was this person. 

Today marks the day Costello shines his boots and Morrissey finds his answer, not much else. Thatcher died, but the songs about her will live on. Careers have been lost and made thanks to the cathargic prime minister. The hatred is everywhere, today isn't a day of sorrow, and it’s a day of retribution for the miners, the dockers, those that fell from unemployment and the musicians that are left-wing. The financial growth and economic policies that are still rendered positive today doesn't and didn't matter to the song-writers. Her conservative policies tore down decades of socialism that Labour had in place.
~Eddie

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