Judgement day is upon us. The nation has taken to the polls today to vote in the 2015 General Election, the first since a hung parliament in 2010 lead to five years of ruling under a Coalition government. With the British public so divided, the election has been a tense one.
But wait! This is no reason to feel gloomy or disheveled. Political and social unrest has inspired musicians to weave political messages into their work throughout history. The birth of the ‘protest song’ has produced some of the most influential music known to man, and here at The Edge we thought: what better an opportunity than to celebrate our favourite political and protest music from the last century.
Rage Against The Machine – Killing In The Name
Possibly the most recognisable protest song in recent memory due to its rise to UK Christmas number one in 2009. Whilst successful when first released, the song hit the headlines when it was selected in protest against The X Factor’s domination of Christmas number ones. Initially released in 1992, the song hits out against racism and police brutality, with the lyrics, “Fuck you I won’t do what you tell me”: about as outspoken and anti-establishment as they come. Throughout the song’s periods of popularity the band continued displaying their hostility toward the system by refusing to censor the song on live television and radio.
Words by Will Mario Scott
Will Varley – We Don’t Believe You
Will Varley is a folk singer, whose rise to prominence began in earnest last year when he opened for and then signed to the same record label as Frank Turner. He has an incredible way with words and an eye for the bleak, with previous dark-humoured offerings commenting on the workings of our country. His sublime and most recent release however, from the Live At The Lighthouse EP released 4th May, is ignorable in its target. The thumbnail of the video is quite literally David Cameron’s face.
‘We Don’t Believe You’ is as impactful and black-and-white as Varley’s voice which, filled with emotion, almost crackles with anger. Seemingly effortlessly, he intricately breaks apart our media, our political climate, and our place on the world stage. “They’ll lie all day in Westminster, and they’ll lie all day in court, and they’ll lie about it later on the evening news reports.” His words flow over the dull sense of despair that these candidates and this election has instilled in so many of us in addition to how, especially as young people, we seemingly lack both a voice and a future. The song is relentless, scathing, perceptive and, quiet honestly, frightening.
“I don’t know what I am scared of, but I know that I am scared,” indeed.
Words by Millie Cassidy
Bob Dylan – The Times They Are A-Changing
Bob Dylan has spent half of his illustrious career creating political music. When he picked up the electric guitar and fans heckled him for turning his back on his folk origins he famously retorted, “These are all protest songs”. The Times Are A-Changing was written in 1963 and reflected the positive actions of the American Civil Rights movement of the time. Despite later claiming to have no interest in politics, Dylan performed before Martin Luther King Jr’s ‘I have a dream’ speech. The song is a political tour de force that has become embedded into Western consciousness and Barrack Obama has said of the singer, “There is not a bigger giant in the history of American music”.
Words by James Chadwick
Cap In Hand – The Proclaimers
Everyone knows at least one song by The Proclaimers, but with a whopping eleven albums they’re far from one-hit-wonders. You might be even more surprised to learn how politically involved their music is. Scotland has an extensive history of getting the short end of the stick when it comes to British politics and, for example, one of their most popular songs ‘Letter from America’ pays tribute to the 18th Century’s Highland Clearances, where rich landowners down in Westminster forcibly evicted whole communities in order to make money off the land.
Brothers Charlie and Craig Reid are proud Scottish nationalists and one of their songs, from their 1988 album Sunshine on Leith, re-entered the Top 10 Singles Chart last September ahead of the referendum on the country’s independence. ‘Cap In Hand’ is a comical, foot-stomping affair that under a light-hearted rhythm comments on how little say Scottish people have always had on the running of their own country, and how they used to ‘fight, for a piece of what’s already ours’.
Words by Millie Cassidy
Early – Run the Jewels
With the current issue of Police brutality in America there has been a widespread public outcry for change within American law enforcement, and there aren’t many artists with a stronger voice on the subject than Killer Mike and El-P. The rap duo known as Run the Jewels are no strangers to social commentary, which can be seen on their track ‘Early.’ Killer Mike drops a powerful verse where he begs the cop, ‘please don’t lock me up in front of my kids/And in front of my wife/Man, I ain’t got a gun or a knife/You do this and you ruin my life.’ Their newest video for ‘Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck)’ continues on the theme of mistrust between the Police and the black community, where it is clear that the seemingly endless violence leads to no resolution. Run the Jewels are a vital voice for contemporary Hip Hop, not only through their lyrics but also on a socio-political level, as seen in Killer Mike’s interview with CNN following the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson.
Words by Angelo Bridger
Gil Scott-Heron – The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.
More of a poem than a song, ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’, remains one of the most influential tracks in Hip Hop history, even after Scott-Heron’s death in 2011. Gil Scott-Heron wrote this song when he was only 21 years old, and the song’s title was originally a popular slogan among the 1960s Black Power movements in the US. The lyrics build a strong, intelligent and humorous polemic against American consumerism, alluding to several advertising slogans and icons of entertainment. Although it was never one of Scott-Herons ‘hits’, it still stands prominent as an anthem for African-American activism.
Words by Sian Blewitt
The Sex Pistols – God Save the Queen
Punk and protest have always gone had in hand, and as such no list of protest songs would be complete without the inclusion of the most iconic band of the movement. ‘God Save The Queen’ is three and a half minutes of trademark Sex Pistols vitriol which caused great controversy on its release. Johnny Rotten sneers and snarls his way through the track, offering descriptions of the Royal Family, “a fascist regime”, and the Queen herself “she ain’t no human being”. Heavy-handed it may be, but ‘God Save The Queen’ is a rousing call to arms to the British working class.
Words by Evan Smithson