About Us

Contact Us


2001 Archives

Hacktreks 2

First Chapters
World Travel
September Issue
October Issue
November Issue
December Issue
Feb 02 Issue
April 02 Issue
May 02 Issue
June02 Issue
July02 Issue
August 02 Issue
September 02
October 02

On Songwriting

There was no revolution, it was not televised

Owain Treece

A recent article in a national Sunday newspaper in the UK lamented the state of political songwriting. The world of rock and pop had, the author contended, had singularly failed to produce any worthwhile response to the ‘war on terror’ declared in the wake of September 11, 2001.
He has a point.
However, it is a point that has always been salient, despite the protestations of a generation reared with the heady and completely false belief that in a time they call the sixties music changed the world.

Did the world change at all? John Lennon was, as ever, sharply on the spot when he lamented at the end of that much misrepresented decade, that in spite of everything at the end of the 1960's the fact that those in power had longer hair didn’t alter the fact that they were still the same people.
There was no revolution, it was not televised and very few sang about it.

Those ‘Judas’ shouting, cable chopping, traditionalists now so roundly pilloried for not moving as swiftly as Dylan, were, in fact right; he did sell out – in political terms at least.
Bob is great, a great musician, and a superb lyricist, but it surely produces a more honest assessment of the 1960s to note that the real critical and popular adulation was only heaped upon him when he stopped singing about the problems of other people and started to sing about Bob Dylan, in obscure, self-obsessed, reference-heavy drug poetry.

Was there really such a change in the world in the 1960s? Was it really a social revolution or a commercial and demographic one? The latter is probably closer to the truth.
There was in fact very little politics in the pop of the 1960s – a great deal of rebellion yes, but largely personal rebellion.

As they stagger into their 40th year, the Rolling Stones are fondly remembered as the uber-rebels of that generation. The echo of "Hey you get off my cloud", can be heard in the no-brainer, 'I’m great you’re shit' anthems of nu-metal cash cows like Fred Durst’s Limp Bizkit. It is the rebellion of the prancing, sneering, cruel-clever boys you can find in any classroom – political it is not. If you wish to find yourself a conservative traditionalist then call on Mick Jagger.

There are political song writers of course, but they are as sidelined as their true predecessors of the early 1960s folk boom. Billy Bragg, will no doubt in time bring his considerable talents to bear on the Bush/Blair axis. Remember though, that Billy’s best sellers were a song about sex, a cover of a Beatles’ song and Kirsty McColl’s reading of his own New England: chorus – ‘I’m not trying to change the world, I’m not looking for a new England I’m just looking for another girl’. It's no accident that a recent Bragg collection was titled, 'Preaching to the Converted'

Rage Against the Machine had nakedly political moments. Bands like the Manic Street Preachers and Radiohead are credited with political impulses that a reading of their lyrics, quite frankly does not bear out. They are children of Cobain; whose lyrics, like Dylan’s, are so obscure that almost anything can be read into them, Kurts personal rebellion was corporatised and shifted in heavy units to the very people he was running from, life’s funny like that.

Public Enemy and Bruce Springsteen may be honourable exceptions: popular artists who have produced explicitly political work. But the mighty PE have now retreated from the mainstream to rant away on the internet, and it was not they, but the late, laughable, and not entirely lamented cartoon gangsta nigga, Easy E, who was invited to the White House. While his former colleagues in NWA; Ice Cube (who did produce a great political album, in Death Certificate) and Dr Dre are respectively, in Hollywood and standing svengali-like behind Eminem.

Bruce Springsteen wrote a song about how badly America treated its citizens and then had to spend 20 years apologising because Ronald Regan used it to tell people how great his America was.
The last song to really change the world was probably the Marseillaise, in that it really rocks when you’re bayoneting Austrians – Aux Armes Citoyens!

© Owain Treece November 2002

< Back to Index
< Reply to this Article

© Hackwriters 2002