If you think that politics is always about journalism, policy, system and theory, this article is to prove you wrong. Lok Leung takes us through his top six songs about politics, from Lennon’s Christmas-themed tunes about peace, to more recent offerings from the likes of John Mayer.
U2 – Sunday Bloody Sunday (1983)
‘I can’t believe the news today…’
Based on the events of 30th January, 1972 in which 26 unarmed civil rights and bystanders from the Northern Ireland were shot by the soldiers of the British Army in Bogside. The Bloody Sunday Inquiry was re-established in 1998, because of the widely received criticism regarding the first investigation, to reinvestigate the event. In 2010, on the publication of the investigation report, British prime minister, David Cameron, made a formal apology on behalf of the United Kingdom.
John Lennon – Happy Christmas (War Is Over) (1971)
‘War is over over if you want it…’
John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono were steadfast peace activists. The song was written during the Vietnam War period as part of Lennon’s anti-war campaign. Billboards were erected in 12 major cities in the US with the slogan ‘War Is Over! If You Want It – Happy Christmas from John and Yoko”. The song remains one of the most well-known Christmas tunes.
John Mayer – Waiting On The World To Change (2006)
‘We just feel like we don’t have the means, to rise above and beat it…’
John Mayer revealed his dissatisfaction with world leaders in this effort, and showed that his generation often feel so powerless that even if they go on changing anything better, their effort will eventually go unnoticed and in vain.
Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On (1971)
‘Picket lines and picket signs, don’t punish me with brutality…what’s going on?’
Renaldo Benson, the songwriter, was shocked by police brutality and violence in Berkeley during an anti-war protest held in 1969, later known as ‘Bloody Thursday’. Subsequently, it led to his questioning of governmental policy at the time, effectively asking the question of the title.
The Sex Pistols – God Save the Queen (1977)
‘God save the queen, She ain’t no human being. There is no future in England’s dreaming…’
The title of the song was taken from the national anthem of the United Kingdom, but that was not the most controversial part of the song. The lyrics first compares the monarchy to a fascist regime, then say that the Queen is not a human being and there is no future in England’s dreaming. In line with the anti-establishment mentality of the punk movement, the song is an expression of general resentment for the monarchy.
Rage Against the Machine – Killing in the Name (1992)
‘You justify those that died by wearing the badge, they’re the chosen whites…’
Rage Against the Machine often express their political views in their songs, and in particular criticising social ills. The BBC News website refers to it as railing against “the military–industrial complex, justifying killing for the benefit of, as the song puts it, the chosen whites.” Rage Against the Machine even burnt the American flag on stage during their performance in Woodstock 1999. ‘Killing in the Name’ became the UK Christmas number one as part of the anti-X-Factor-finalist-winning campaign.