“What’s Your Favorite Song?”: Political Songs

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Artists are passion people. To feel passionately about things seems to be a prerequisite to the creation of most art forms, maybe music especially.

bruce-springsteen-pogal-400.jpgA songwriter’s passion for ultimate ideas is what drives him/her to write songs about love, life, God, and other ultimate ideas – even ideas about justice, war, and the way the world should work. Thus there is a strong tradition of political, social, and protest songs that make up the songbook of our Western civilization, from Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan to Keane and Coldplay.

So on the eve of our latest election, I thought I’d ask you all for your favorite political, social, or protest songs – the good, the bad, and the ugly. It could be songs you love, or songs you hate. It could be social commentary like “Big Yellow Taxi” by Joni Mitchell, or it could be more direct like “The Great American Novel” by Larry Norman or… well… just about anything by Derek Webb.

I’d love to hear why you thought the songs you picked worked or even ones you thought were lame. For instance, I LOVE Sting’s Sacred Love record – until he gets to his political song. Then it’s “Skip” and I’m on to the next track. His poetic brilliance degrades into a whiny incendiary diatribe and I just want him to get back to his singing songs that make me feel like making out with my wife.

But in general I like political songs, or songs that carry ultimate social ideas, and have always thought that this is one of the roles of music – to bring cultural change, to be prophetic.

So what are some songs you think hit the mark? Are there any that you feel totally missed the mark? Does Springsteen or Dave Matthews stumping for Democrats color the rest of their music in a negative or positive way? Why do the liberals get all the cool musicians and conservatives have to make do with Billy Ray Cyrus. Should musicians stump for candidates at all? And finally, what I want to know is where is former governor of MN Jesse “The Body” Ventura when we need him most?

I’m hoping that naming our favorite political songs can hopefully lead to a discussion of all this and more. I’d love to hear from you! Even if you hate political songs, let me know about that.


jason-gray-camp.jpg Jason “Jesse ‘The Body’ Ventura for President!” Gray

Here are four that I’ve always loved (though you don’t have to name four if you don’t want to):

The Great American Novel – Larry Norman
Somehow Norman manages to offend everyone and writes a song that is one of the most culturally relevant of it’s time in the 70’s – addressing hypocrisy, racism, the vietnam war, privacy, and even the space program – without ever coming off as “religious” in the worst sense of the word. It’s still eerily relevant some 30 years later. Here’s a lyric:

When I was ten you murdered law
with courtroom politics
and you learned to make a lie sound just like truth
but I know you better now
and I don’t fall for all your tricks
and you’ve lost the one advantage of my youth

you kill a black man at midnight
just for talking to your daughter
then you make his wife your mistress
and you leave her without water
and the sheet you wear upon your face
is the sheet your children sleep on
at every meal you say a prayer
you don’t believe but still you keep on

and your money says in God we trust
but it’s against the law to pray in school
you say we beat the Russians to the moon
and I say you starved your children to do it

you are far across the ocean
in a war that’s not your own
and while you’re winning theirs
you’re gonna lose the one at home
do you really think the only way
to bring about the peace
is to sacrifice your children
and kill all your enemies

the politicians all make speeches
while the news men all take note
and they exaggerate the issues
as they shove them down our throats
is it really up to them
whether this country sinks or floats
well I wonder who would lead us
if none of us would vote

well my phone is tapped and my lips are chapped
from whispering through the fence
you know every move I make
or is that just coincidence…

…you say all men are equal all men are brothers
then why are the rich more equal than others
don’t ask me for the answer I’ve only got one
that a man leaves his darkness when he follows the Son

Watch Larry perform this song here

A King And A Kingdom – Derek Webb
Potent convicting lyrics from one of the most prophetic voices of our time. What I love about Derek is his protests aren’t angry rants, but there is always the sense that no matter how pointed his observations are, they are born out of a deep love for the people he’s singing to.

my first allegiance is not to a flag, a country, or a man
my first allegiance is not to democracy or blood
it’s to a king & a kingdom…

And the best part of the song:
…but nothing unifies like a common enemy
and we’ve got one, sure as hell
but he may be living in your house
he may be raising up your kids
he may be sleeping with your wife
oh no, he may not look like you think

Listen to “A King & A Kingdom” here

If A Song Could Be President – Over The Rhine
I just thought this song was good clean fun and an ode to the kind of artist’s that Karen and Linford love. The song weakens the more critical it gets of a specific leader, but all in all I think it’s kind of charming. sample lyric:

If a song could be president
We’d hum on Election Day
The gospel choir would start to sway
And we’d all have a part to play

The first lady would free her hips
Pull a microphone to her lips
Break our hearts with Rhythm and Blues
Steve Earle would anchor the news…

..We’d make Neil Young a Senator
Even though he came from Canada
Emmylou would be Ambassador
World leaders would listen to her

They would show us where our country went wrong
Strum their guitars on the White House lawn
John Prine would run the FBI
All the criminals would laugh and cry
If a song could be president

Listen to it here

And of course, “Born In The USA” by Springsteen – the most subversive chest thumping patriotic anthem to ever grace the airwaves. Most people don’t get it, and it’s amazing how the song manages to work on so many levels – and with one simple riff that repeats all the way through! How did he do that?

Okay, who’s next?


eviecoatesthumbnail.jpg

Evie “Me, me, pick me (hand in air waving frantically) for president!” Coates

AAAAHHHHH!!! Me, me, pick me!! (hand in air, waving frantically.) Ahem. Evie’s hands-down, very-most-favored political song: “Christ for President” by Billy Bragg and Wilco from the “Mermaid Avenue” record. I should clarify, for those who are not familiar with this album, that all of the songs’ lyrics were written by American legend, humanitarian and philanthrope, Woody Guthrie. Billy Bragg and Jeff Tweedy, of Wilco fame, got their hands on them (from Woody’s daughter, I believe) and put them to music. It’s pure genius, the lot of it.

If you’ve never heard this song, it’s a twangy, noisy romp lead by Jeff Tweedy’s scratchy vocal touting our Lord and Savior’s political platform. I LOVE it. There’s a plinky, rough-edged little piano bridge that pleases my ears and brings to mind an old saloon player. I wish there were a music video of this tune. With no further muss or fuss, I give you…..

“Christ for President”

Let’s have Christ our President
Let us have him for our king
Cast your vote for the Carpenter
That they call the Nazarene

The only way
We could ever beat
These crooked politician men
Is to cast the moneychangers
Out of the temple
Put the Carpenter in

Oh it’s Jesus Christ our President
God above our king
With a job and pension for young and old
We will make hallelujah ring

Every year we waste enough
To feed the ones who starve
We build our civilization up
And we shoot it down with wars

But with the Carpenter
On the seat
Way up in the capitol town
The USA
Be on the way
Prosperity bound


eric-peters-thumb.gif

Eric “politics schmolitics” Peters

I don’t come from a politically active family – even though my dad watches CSPAN all night long – so I’ve never really grown to embrace politics on the whole. I’ve never embraced a whole politician either. Nor has one stolen candy from my baby. But either way, I don’t much care for political songs. They bore me.

To be completely forthright, however, I must admit that I actually wrote my first politically-tinged song sometime after the 5th anniversary of 9/11. It will theoretically be on my new album which I’m now slowly working on. In it, I’m not really shaking a finger at any one particular person, but it’s about as feisty as I get. Which isn’t much. I hope it’s not a rude song. Or boring, for that matter.

I doubt I’ve answered your question.


pete-peterson-thumb.gif Pete “give me liberty or give me a mediocre Western movie” Peterson

I’m usually turned off when music tries to go political but I think I can squeeze out a few favorites.

1- Sunday, Bloody Sunday – U2 – I love this song, such awesome drums. The thing that really elevates it to greatness for me is the live version in the Rattle and Hum movie. Bono’s speech in that song (at about 3:40 in the link) is just spectacular.

2- What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye – Does this one really need explanation? All I can say is that I love his music (I’m a sucker for some Motown) and this is one of those songs that never gets skipped when it comes up in the playlist.

(And for kicks) 3- Jerusalem – Matisyahu – Who knew Jews could do reggae? Heck, I don’t even like reggae but I’m just bonkers about this song, it’s so bizarre. Consider it the musical analog to Michael Chabon’s Yiddish Policeman’s Union.

Runners up – We Ain’t Gonna Take It (Twisted Sister) is sorta political…kinda, a whole slew of stuff by the Boss that I passed over since we’ve talked about all that recently, and Zombie by The Cranberries because I once blew some speakers in my car listening to that song too loud.


matt-conner-thumb.gif Matt “I Rock The Vote” Connor

Love the topic and the idea. And my choices are fairly easy:
-A King and a Kingdom, D. Webb
-Big Yellow Taxi, J. Mitchell
-Empire, Queensryche (takes me back to my hair metal days)


curt-mcley-thumb.gif Curt “the politics of dancing, the politics of ooo feeling good” McLey

Next to love songs, protest songs are probably the largest category in popular music. At it’s heart, the act of songwriting is fundamentally a form of protest. In the solitary act of committing pen to paper, the songwriter passionately affirms that his scralls deserve a louder voice. He hopes to raise awareness, if even within himself.

Many protest songs are utterly predictable. As Hollywood movies lean left, so protest songs lean left. Before we hear note one or word one, we know this to be true. “Grunt, left good, right bad.” “Grunt, peace good, war bad.” “Duh-ayyy, government good, individual bad.” “Grunt, grunt, wealth bad, unless it is distributed equally among everyone.” “Duh-ayyy.”

So when I consider great protest songs, my number one criteria is that they have a brain. So many protest songs dutifully take and regurgitate the Luden’s Cherry Cough Drops as divvied out by left wing propagandists. It’s a deceptive pill to swallow: looks good, sounds good, seems good, tastes good, feels good, but doesn’t make you well.

The best protest songs smartly communicate nuance and subtlety. Further, these songs communicate something bigger and more transcendent than expedient political solutions. The best protest songs advocate solutions within, not without. With those benchmarks in mind, here’s three of my favorite protest songs:

1. “Revolution” by the Beatles – You say you’ve got a real solution, well you know we’d all love to see the plan. (I like the sarcasm.)

You ask me for a contribution well you know we’re all doing what we can. But if you want money for people with minds that hate, all I can tell you is brother you have to wait.

These lyrics readily acknowledge that despite the truth that most of us want the same ends—when it comes to politics—there is more than one way to get there. The transcendent part comes in the hook, when John (Can there be any doubt that John wrote this one?) writes, You know it’s going to be all right.

On a trivial note, the Beatles achieved that dirty guitar sound–which some rock and roll historians call the earliest precursor to heavy metal–by plugging the electric guitars directly into the recording console.

2. “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye – It’s not a coincidence that the title track from the most spiritual of albums from Marvin Gaye came at a time of great personal crisis. Gaye had fallen into a debilitating depression after his singing partner—Motown artist Tammi Terrell—died of a brain tumor. For a long time, Gaye refused to record or perform.

“What’s Going On” advocates dialogue over dogma:

Picket lines and picket signs,
Don’t punish me with brutality
Talk to me, so you can see
Oh, what’s going on
What’s going on

Using the words, “mother,” “father,” and “brother,” to me implicitely communicate that change begins at home; in the family and in individual hearts. The rest of the album has an overtly spiritual flavor as well including the Marvin Gaye penned, “God Is Love.”

3. “Blowin’ in the Wind” – Bob Dylan – In 4th grade music class, the cooler than cool Mrs. Steifel came up with the innovative idea of letting the class pick its own music from the world of pop music rather than those horrible kid anthems. It’s one of my earliest memories of being conscious of lyrics. Mrs. Steifel insisted that we sing the songs well, so we practiced them over and over and over again, eventually committing the lyrics to memory.

Dylan ask a series of rhetorical questions, with the reply to each one of them, The answer is blowin’ in the wind. In light of Dylan’s later conversion the Yes,’n’ how many seas must a white dove sail, before she sleeps in the sand? is especially poignant and poetic, as is the title, “The Answer is Blowin’ in the Wind.” I like to think of that wind as The Spirit Wind. The song is by most accounts, an anti-war song. But by leaving the lyrics satisfyingly ambiguous, Dylan left the final interpretation up to the listener. Thanks, Bob. (Can I call you, Bob?)

Honorable mention goes to “Okie from Muskogee” by Merle Haggard and “When the President Talks to God” by Bright Eyes. I am not a particular fan of either tune, but I like the level of passion in both. And I want to hear them back to back on the radio someday.


andrew-peterson-thumb.gif Andrew “Folk The Vote” Peterson

“The Times, They Are a-Changin'” by Bob Dylan.

On the tour last week I spent about four hours in the car listening to old Bob Dylan songs, and was once again floored. When this one came up it felt as prophetic and timely as it must have back in the 60’s when he wrote it:

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin’.
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’.

Oh, and I just thought of another, by my favorite rock and roll band from the nineties, Tesla.  That’s right, I said Tesla.  They were a hair band, but they really stood out among their effeminate peers by not wearing makeup or tight leather pants.  And, they actually sang songs about things.  The very name of the band, for example, isn’t a city in Oklahoma (really, I had to explain that more than once in high school), but the oft-overlooked inventor of A/C power and the radio (it wasn’t Marconi, contrary to the textbooks), Nikola Tesla.  The inventor’s sad and fascinating story is hinted at several times in their songs and album titles.  I say all that to say, I just remembered this song.  It ain’t terribly deep, but it’s a welcome lyrical departure from, say, “Unskinny Bop”, by Poison, or “Up All Night”, by Slaughter.

(I’m not suggesting that you go and download the song, by the way, even though its guitar part makes me want to raise my pinky and index finger.  I’m not sure I’d be able to stand it anymore.  But here it is.)

Modern Day Cowboy

Stormy night under jet black skies, Billy pulls into town
the thunder rolled and the lightning bolts come crashin’ to the ground
Cold as ice, hard as stone, as he walks into the room
With another man who was feeling the same way, all hell’s breakin’ loose

Bang bang, shoot ’em up, bang bang, blow you away

It’s a showdown in the no man’s land, for the cowboy of the modern day
Come sundown, don’t be hangin’ round, ’cause the cowboy’ll blow you away

Al Capone and the Bad Boy Jones, on the wrong side of the law
Johnny D and his company, always first to the draw,
Gangster lean, feelin’ so mean, try to take more than their share
‘Cause all they saw was ruling it all, the scent of blood was in the air

So here we are and we’ve come this far, but it’s only getting worse
Foreign lands with their terrorist demands, only cause the good to hurt
The U.S.A., the U.S.S.R., with their six-guns at their side
I see the message, written on the wall, too much anger deep inside

Bang bang, shoot ’em up, bang bang, blow you away

There’s also my other favorite nineties rock and roll band, Extreme, whose songs were usually brilliant political and social satire disguised as delightfully melodic, riff-heavy rock.  I have a great story about a few conversations I had with Extreme’s frontman Gary Cherone about his Christian faith.

And finally, I’ll mention the late great Rich Mullins, whose first record featured this diamond in the rough.  I’ve sung it to myself more than once over the last few months:

Save Me

Save me, save me
Save me from my contempt for the things that make me strong
Save me from any value I could put a price tag on
Save me from Soviet propagandists
Lord save me from Washington
Please save me
Lord save me

Save me save me
Save me from the slick pop sounds
Laid down in virgin vinyl grooves
Save me from any woman who would be turned
On to the aftershave I use
Save me from trendy religion that makes
Cheap cliches out of timeless truths
Lord save me,
Please save me
Save me


ronblockb.jpg Ron “I prefer blue grass over blue states” Block

One of my favorite “state of the union” songs is Joni Mitchell’s “Sex Kills.” It’s not exactly a hopeful song, more a song about the present state of the fallen world we live in – a world of dashed hopes. I always find it interesting that people with Joni’s mindset start out as idealists and eventually become cynics. George Carlin once said, “A cynic is just a disappointed idealist.” After forty years of banging on the doors of “The Establishment” idealists are tortured by the fallen nature of man, something they don’t want to believe in. They start with faith, and that faith is shipwrecked because it isn’t in a holy God but in fallen man.

I listen mostly to Joni’s more idealistic music, the earlier stuff, though I love her whole catalog. The end of all nature will the ideal envisioned by God, who sees the end from the beginning. That ideal-ism is the true realism.

The production on this song is perfect. Eerie, captivating, repetitive, moody, brooding – and sadly resigned.

Sex Kills

I pulled up behind a Cadillac;
We were waiting for the light;
And I took a look at his license plate-
It said, “Just Ice.”
Is justice just ice?
Governed by greed and lust?
Just the strong doing what they can
And the weak suffering what they must?
And the gas leaks
And the oil spills
And sex sells everything
And sex kills …
Sex kills …

Doctors’ pills give you brand new ills
And the bills bury you like an avalanche
And lawyers haven’t been this popular
Since Robespierre slaughtered half of France!
And Indian chiefs with their old beliefs know
The balance is undone-crazy ions-
You can feel it out in traffic;
Everyone hates everyone!
And the gas leaks
And the oil spills
And sex sells everything
And sex kills …
Sex kills …

All these jackoffs at the office
The rapist in the pool
Oh and the tragedies in the nurseries-
Little kids packin’ guns to school
The ulcerated ozone
These tumors of the skin-
This hostile sun beating down on
This massive mess we’re in!
And the gas leaks
And the oil spills
And sex sells everything
And sex kills …
Sex kills …
Sex kills …
Sex kills …
Sex kills …


jonathan-rogers-thumb.gifJonathan “Wendell Berry for Prez” Rogers

Jason—
What a question! My favorite political song? I can only think of least-favorite political songs. For me, at least, art that is easily recognizable as “political” art already has a strike or two against it, whether I agree with its politics or not.
Wendell Berry’s novels are very political. But the politics sneak up on you. You finish and say, “Hey, wait a minute, I just read a very political book!”

I’m trying to think of a song that does the same thing. If I could, that would be my favorite political song. Since I can’t, here are two nominees:

1. “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” As political songs go, that’s a great one. From what I understand, it was quite effective in accomplishing its political aims. It started out life as the crudely political “John Brown’s Body Lies a-Moldering in the Grave,” before Julia Ward Howe changed the words. Her use of prophetic language (“He is trampling out the vineyard where the grapes of wrath are stored”) brings the transcendent to bear on the political. I gained a new appreciation of its power when I went to a men’s prayer lunch on Sept 12, 2001—the day after the terrorist attacks—and a couple of hundred men sang it—with almost too much gusto.

2. Ben Shive’s “4th of July.” Does that count as a political song? Really, it’s a self-consciously a-political song. The last stanza:

This nation, indivisible
Will perish from the Earth
As surely as the leaves must change and fall
And the band will end the anthem
To dust she will return
So the sun must set on all things, great and small
But the first star of the evening
Will outlive them all

Honorable Mention: “Sweet Home Alabama.” The politics may be distasteful (Is “Watergate does not bother me” supposed to make me feel better about the segregationist Alabama of that era?)—but I suspect I’m not the only one around here with a soft spot for that song. A few years ago I was in Scotland at a village music festival. One of the bands struck up those first few licks of “Sweet Home Alabama,” and the crowd went nuts.

p.s. Jason, I disagree with you about Over the Rhine’s “If a Song Could be President.” It’s clever enough, but I think it’s easily the least compelling song on that otherwise brilliant CD. It’s a perfect example of why I don’t like political songs. Two genius song-writers go flat when they turn their attention to political questions.

———————————————————————–

randall-goodgame-thumb.gifRandall “I Voted For Pedro ” Goodgame

Marvin Gaye – What’s goin on? It is not profound, but it is killer. And that makes me think of the Marvin Gaye national anthem… here it is…

Father, father,
everybody thinks we’re wrong
Oh, but who are they to judge us
Simply because our hair is long


51 Comments

  1. elijah

    My favorite political song captures all the tension I feel in myself over my nation – Randall Goodgame’s “Dear America.”

    Honorable mention goes to a pairing of songs on A Liturgy, A Legacy, & A Ragamuffin Band. RIch Mullins and company follow up a cover of Mark Heard’s “How To Grow Up Big and Strong” with “Land of My Sojourn.” Fantastic.

  2. Michaek Anthony Curan

    there’s this song by Switchfoot that goes “sex is currency…” i just forgot the title though…
    .
    how about Black Eyed Peas’ Where Is The Love and The Apl Song? those are extremely political. 🙂
    .
    the tagalog lyrics of the Apl Song actually came from a filipino Folk song by the Filipino folk rock band ASIN, which was like the Bob Dylan of the Philippines. They were the voice of the masses during the Marcos’ regime…

  3. paulh

    I agree with alot of what has been mentioned. Never thought I would read about telsa and even see the 2 words, “Twisted Sister” together anywhere on this website..

    SO.. in vein (not vain) I do like Pillar’s “Indivisble”. A great, flag-waving-while running-testosterone-filled-In-God-We-Trust-American-rock-song from a Christian point of view.

    “Indivisible”

    For all the people in the world that don’t understand
    Exactly what it is we have here in this motherland
    See the Father’s hand started up a master plan
    There’s been many through the test of time take a stand
    But had they ran who knows where we would be now
    I thank God it’s something I don’t have to think about
    Instead my thoughts are on the ones who laid it on the line

    KIA gave their lives to let freedom shine
    But in the meantime I think of those of your kind
    And wonder how it is you get things so messed up inside your mind
    Just think a second how long it’s been going on before you
    They’re the one’s who even helped you have the right to argue

    Stop complaining move along
    Open your eyes and see what’s going on
    We need to get back to the ways of the days of old
    One nation under God indivisible

    [Chorus]
    All the people let me hear you give a holler
    In God we trust, In God we trust
    We stamp it on our penny, nickel, dime, quarter, dollar
    In God we trust, In God we trust
    The people of the nation let me hear you give a holler
    In God we trust, In God we trust
    We stamp it on our penny, nickel, dime, quarter, dollar
    In God we trust, In God we trust

    The other day I saw the news somebody else complaining
    They want the motto taken off of the Benjamin Franklin
    They got a problem with my God and that I believe in it
    But the don’t got a problem with the money when they spend it
    They’re so offended by 4 words that need no explanation
    In GOD we trust the motto of this greatest nation
    Not just a motto but something that we truly believe
    If you don’t like it you can pack a bag and you can leave

    One nation under God indivisible
    You can’t take back that, that was never yours

    Stop complaining move along
    Open your eyes and see what’s going on
    We need to get back to the ways of the days of old
    One nation under God indivisible

    [Chorus]
    All the people let me hear you give a holler
    In God we trust, In God we trust
    We stamp it on our penny, nickel, dime, quarter, dollar
    In God we trust, In God we trust
    The people of the nation let me hear you give a holler
    In God we trust, In God we trust
    We stamp it on our penny, nickel, dime, quarter, dollar
    In God we trust, In God we trust

  4. Loren Eaton

    Does anyone know of anything that’s loud and growly that extols personal responsibility and the free market? That’s what I’d like to be listening to now …

  5. Kaitlyn

    The Problem-Downhere

    In my personal opinion they should have played that one at the presidential debate a month ago…

  6. Adam Bennett

    Gotta be Derrek Webb’s “A Savior on Captial Hill”!! That song rolls through my head every time I see or hear a political ad lately, which in this election, is almost every 3.35 secs. Even with all their flashy promises, they still can’t save a soul.

  7. Julie

    “Why do the liberals get all the cool musicians and conservatives have to make do with Billy Ray Cyrus.”

    Haha! That is so true. I went to see Sarah Palin when she came to my college and I had to suffer through listening to her opening act, Hank Williams Junior (I hope I’m noy offending anyone; ). I later found out that James Taylor had opened for Obama on several occasions. That is completely unfair.

  8. Micah

    Although they’ve all been said already my top three are:

    1. The Problem -Downhere
    2. If a Song Could be President -Over the Rhine
    3. A King and a Kingdom -Derek Webb

  9. Brent

    I’m having a hard time limitting myself to just one or two, so here’s a list off the top of my head. They lean toward the angry/protest song end of the spectrum:

    CCR, “Fortunate Sons”
    Lost Dogs, “Red, White and Blue”
    Barry McGuire, “Eve of Destruction”
    Vigilantes of Love, “America”

    And a special mention of Mark Heard’s “How Many Tears” because I love the first stanza:

    Gunmetal grey for golden rules
    White hot steel for the comfort of fools
    Molten wills in iron hands
    Forge new sons for the Motherland

  10. keith

    sow….it’s gotta be you.

    My political picks are already mentioned:

    …I agree with EP…politics schmolitics…

    but how ’bout that new AP record eh?!?!?!?!
    Now THAT is good music.

    The Far Country is more to my liking. Though it isn’t political…it describes an oulook on politics.

    “This is a far country, a far country
    Not my home

    I can see in the strip malls and the phone calls
    The flaming swords of Eden
    In the fast cash and the news flash
    And the horn blast of war
    In the sin-fraught cities of the dying and the dead
    Like steel-wrought graveyards where the wicked never rest
    To the high and lonely mountain in the groaning wilderness
    We ache for what is lost
    As we wait for the holy God
    Of Father Abraham

    I was made to go there
    Out of this far country
    To my home, to my home”

  11. Drew

    #1 “Savior on Capital Hill” – Derek Webb
    #2 “While the Nations Rage” – Rich Mullins (“The church of God, she will not bend her knee, to the gods of this world, though they promise her peace…”)

  12. Corrie

    You guys took all the good ones, so I have to add a BAD political song. Don’t get me wrong–John Mayer is cute and all, and Lord knows I hum this song for three days after hearing it, but really…

    It’s not that we don’t care,
    We just know that the fight ain’t fair
    So we keep on waiting
    Waiting on the world to change

    And we’re still waiting
    Waiting on the world to change
    We keep on waiting waiting on the world to change
    One day our generation
    Is gonna rule the population
    So we keep on waiting
    Waiting on the world to change

    We keep on waiting
    Waiting on the world to change

    Any other ideas, John? Umm, because this one could take awhile.

  13. Jacob Tilton

    Bob Dylan
    With God On Our Side

    “Oh the First World War, boys
    It closed out its fate
    The reason for fighting
    I never got straight
    But I learned to accept it
    Accept it with pride
    For you don’t count the dead
    When God’s on your side.”

    And that reminded me of “Brothers in Arms” by Dire Straits.
    I’m not sure if that is exactly a political song or not but the first like of the guitar solo sure does bring a tear to my eyes.

  14. Aaron Roughton

    Interesting topic, and one I’ve been thinking about since last Wednesday night when I saw David Wilcox in concert. It was the third time I’d seen him, and the first two times were magical. Literally. I really believe God shows up in the front row at David Wilcox concerts and sings along so everyone can hear. They are amazing events.

    However…this time was different. God took a back seat to politics. David had an agenda, and it prevailed. And it wasn’t that his views were in opposition to mine. In fact, I agreed with most of what he was saying. It just killed the magic. David is magnificent at communicating from the stage, and this was by far the least effective I had ever seen him. I wanted to hear from God, not from David. And as much as folks on both sides think God has a favorite candidate, I’m not so sure. I think He has a different agenda.

    I do not like political songs. But AP, I sure do like me some Extreme. I’d love to hear the story of your talk with Mr. Cherone.

  15. Nathan Bubna

    I’d like to give a shout out to “The Police” for “Russians”, because i do think our “enemies” love their children too. Just keeping that alone in mind helps me remember they are human like me.

  16. Greg Fisher

    I don’t know if any rabbit roomers other than me listen to Kevin Welch. But this is a great one from Kane, Welch, Kaplan:

    Everybody’s Working for the Man Again….

    by
    Kevin Welch

    Chorus:
    Everybody’s working for the man again
    Everybody’s working for the man
    Everybody’s working for the man again
    Everybody’s working for the man
    We had a hardware store on Main Street
    A drug store and a grocery too
    Then the megamarket opened on the edge of town
    And there was nothing anybody could do

    Chorus
    Everybody’s working for the man again
    Everybody’s working for the man
    Mom and Pop had to close up shop
    Everybody’s working for the man

    We had a radio station that played our music
    The way we all liked it round here
    Then a big corporation with a whole lot of money
    Told our jockeys what they wanted to hear

    Chorus:
    Everybody’s working for the man again
    Everybody’s working for the man
    They got everybody dancing to the same Top Ten
    Everybody’s working for the man

    The fox is in the henhouse, cows are in the corn
    Rooster’s too scared to crow
    Fat cats are up in the farmhouse now
    Doin’ the do-si-do

    The broadcasters bought off the FCC
    Big oil’s got the EPA
    Halliburton Halliburton Halliburton Halliburton
    What else do you have to say

    Chorus

    Little fish are eaten by the big fish
    Swallowed up head and tail
    Then the big fish are eaten by the bigger fish
    Till we’re all in the belly of the whale

    Chorus

  17. Chad

    I heard Pierce Pettis play Lions of the Coloseum in concert once and set out to find the album immediately afterwards. Much to my dismay the abulm, Chase the Buffalo, was an out of print Windham Hill release. A few years later, with the help of the internet, I was able to find the album online and, after receiving it in the mail, the first song I played was Lions of the Colosseum. The studio version was as good as I remembered hearing the live version, but a verse about Rosa Parks had been added later and was not included on it. If anyone has any live footage of Pierce playing this song with all of the completed verses, they should post it online for all to hear! These are the lyrics as best as I can tell and the last line has become my banter this election year:

    Lions Of The Colosseum

    Upon this rock let us build our church
    Said the lions of the colosseum
    And as the Christians wander in
    We can Lock the doors and feed ’em

    Drink the blood of the saints
    Rape the poor for pocket change
    Then on our knees we will give thanks
    To the lions of the colosseum

    Saw Dorothy Day on the barricades
    She was hanging with comrade Jesus
    The lions did not see a thing
    They were rendering unto Caesar

    Roman Soldiers did their best
    To silence those who would protest
    They had a warrant out for Dorothy’s arrest
    From the lions of the colosseum

    In the change of ancient history the church is a museum
    Cobwebs hang like a rosary inside a mausoleum
    Whose surfaces are clean and white
    While inside rotting corpses rot
    So they like to keep the lid on tight
    Those lions of the colosseum

    Let us build a tower up to the sky
    And let it reach to heaven
    We shall be as gods, we shall not die
    And our reign shall be forever

    So the lions built from age to age
    Till they made a Babel of their day
    Tore the Body in a thousand ways
    Like in the colosseum

    On satellite TV every day you see ’em
    Lying in the lap of luxury
    It’s the lions of the colosseum
    With politicians and millionaires
    You won’t see Mother Theresa there
    Just the holy rollers at the entry gate
    Lions of the colosseum

    There’s rebel graffiti on the walls inside the colosseum
    Down below in catacombs where the quiet ones are bleeding
    Waiting in the underground
    While brothers pass the cup around
    And they pay no heed to the roaring sound
    Of the lions of the colosseum

    Don’t you pay no heed to the roaring sound
    Of the lions of the colosseum

  18. Jason Gray

    @jasongray

    Some great songs here – I loved that Kevin Welch lyric. Dang.

    But I want to hear from AP too about his talk with Gary Cherone. C’mon AP, don’t be shy… we all want to hear it!

  19. RM Peters

    I agree with a lot of the songs already imputted, and certainly on the comment that Democrats get all the cool artists! Just wanted to add AP’s “Come Lord Jesus” I think of it as a bit of a social protest song. Certainly the message rings clear. I like that it ends with hope….

    Tonight in the line of the merchandise store
    While they were packing up my bags
    I saw the pictures of the prophets of the picket signs
    Screaming, “God hates fags”

    And it feels like the church isn’t anything more
    Then the second coming of the Pharisees
    Scrubbing each other ’til their tombs are white
    They chisel epitaphs of piety

    Oh, there’s a burning down inside of me
    ‘Cause the battle seems so lost
    And it’s raging on so silently
    We forget it’s being fought

    So, Amen
    Come, Lord Jesus
    Amen
    Oh, Amen
    Come Lord Jesus
    Amen

    It’s taken me years in the race just to get this far
    Still there is no end in sight,
    There’s no end in sight
    ‘Cause I’ve carried my cross into dens of the wicked
    And you know I blended in just fine

    Well, I’m weak and I’m weary of breaking His heart
    With they cycle of my sin, of my sin
    Still He turns His face to me and I kiss it
    Just to betray Him once again

    Well, I’ve got oceans down inside of me
    I can feel the billows roll
    With the mercy that comes thundering
    O’er the waters of my soul

    So, Amen
    Come, Lord Jesus
    Amen
    Oh, Amen
    Come, Lord Jesus
    Amen

    Tonight in the light of the gathering rain
    I could hear creation groan
    And a sigh rose up from the streets of the city
    To the foot of Heaven’s throne

    Oh, and the people hear the sound of a sweet refrain
    An absolution in the fray, in the fray
    It tells of the death of the one for the lives of the many
    More than any picket sign could say

    So, Amen
    Come, Lord Jesus
    Amen
    Oh, Amen
    Come, Lord Jesus

  20. Anrew W

    I had a professor in college who used to say all the time that “no party has God in their pocket.” And another friend said to me once in reference to what party you are going for, “… it all depends on what sin you think needs to be legislated.” I think the point is clear that God is interested in something much larger than America and the American dream. All that to say I am totally for AP’s “Come, Lord Jesus”.

  21. Steve Narrow

    “The Rebel Jesus” by Jackson Browne as sung by Bebo Norman. Heard this last year at the BTLOG show and finally, really heard the plea for Compassion International. We now sponsor sweet Suwani way over in Thailand as a result.

  22. Jonathan Rogers

    @jonathanrogers

    Good call, Nathan, on the Police song about the Russians. Does anybody know the song/poem/spoken word piece, “Whitey on the Moon” by (I think) Gil Scott-Heron? Here are the first few lines:

    A rat done bit my sister Nell.
    (with Whitey on the moon)
    Her face and arms began to swell.
    (and Whitey’s on the moon)
    I can’t pay no doctor bill.
    (but Whitey’s on the moon)
    Ten years from now I’ll be payin’ still.
    (while Whitey’s on the moon)

  23. Lauren

    Ok. Thought about this all day at work, and i tried really hard to get 3 but only 2 really stuck out to me.

    1. Sunday Bloody Sunday-U2.
    Talk about speaking out about the issues in your homeland.
    2. This too shall be made right-Derek Webb
    This is such a social justice issue. There is a time for everything, it will be made right.

  24. Leigh McLeroy

    1. A King and a Kingdom – Derek Webb
    2. This Land is Your Land – Woody Guthrie
    3. Peace Train – Cat Stevens
    4. Badlands – Bruce Springsteen

  25. linda

    Oh, and I just thought of another, by my favorite rock and roll band from the nineties, Tesla. That’s right, I said Tesla.

    Tesla has that Great song Signs….sign sign everywheere a sign -breaking up the scencry breakin my min

  26. Pete Peterson

    @pete

    To be fair, Tesla only covered that song on their Five Man Acoustical Jam album. The original is by the Five Man Electrical Band from the 70’s.

    And yes, Tesla is the greatest of the hair bands. I still own their first two albums.

  27. Julie

    “there’s this song by Switchfoot that goes “sex is currency…” i just forgot the title though…”

    Its called Easier that Love, and while were on the subject of Switchfoot, these aren’t necessarily political but American Dream and Economy of Mercy are pretty great.

  28. paulh

    Julie – Yes!! SF!! Wow, I am ashamed I forgot about them. How about “politicians”.. there is a great one… and “The Setting Sun”
    both are appropriate.

  29. Tony Heringer

    Jason,

    I gave this some thought as I ferried my ballerina crew (Abby and two of her ballet buddies both named Jenna) from practice last night. These three from my college days bubbled up:

    Canary In A Coal Mine – The Police
    Rain On The Scarecrow – John Cougar “What’s in a name?” Mellencamp
    Goodnight Saigon – Billy Joel

    I could stop bouncing around with the first one but the other two snuck in there betwixt my mind going “Canary in a coal mine” (over and over and over, etc.). Fortunately, I turned on Monday Night Football in time for Hank Williams to croon “Are You Ready For Some Football!” and that pushed that right out 🙂

  30. Jason Gray

    @jasongray

    I was hoping someone would mention Mellencamp. He doesn’t get the press that Springsteen does for some reason, but he’s penned some amazing songs and his social commentary songs never felt political but always personal. His songs were always a report from ground level of the political impact site – small towns, farms, etc. “Scarecrow” was a great American record and still holds up all these years later. I’d put it up against “Born In The USA” any day.

  31. Julie

    Paul,
    Oh yes! How could I forget Switchfoot’s politicians?

    A pledge allegiance to a country without borders, without politicians
    Watching for my sky to get torn apart
    We are broken, we are bitter
    We’re the problem, we’re the politicians
    Watching for our sky to get torn apart
    C’mon and break me

    I am broken, I am bitter
    I’m the problem, I’m the politician
    Watching for my sky to get torn apart
    C’mon and break me

  32. Chuck

    I’ve never posted anything here, but I’ve got to say that I am a huge of fanof Five Iron Frenzy and Brave Saint Saturn. Stuff like “Giants”, “Crazy Horse”, “American Kryptonite” and ‘Vultures’ by FIF, or “Underbridges” and “Heart Still Beats” by BSS. Then of course there’s U2, with “Sunday Bloody Sunday”.

    All the world must have a price
    Save yourself from sacrifice
    Everything will end alright
    American Kryponite

  33. Tony Heringer

    Jason,

    Agreed on Cougar-Mellencamp (sorry, I can’t let him off the hook on that name). I’ve always enjoyed him in the same vein as The Boss and Tom Petty.

    Ah, Tom Petty…you covered him at one of your shows I saw this summer — “I Won’t Back Down” as I recall. That is another one we can throw into the ring — the Jason Gray version of course! 🙂

  34. Roger Wagner

    Too many to choose from, but three favorites that come quickly to mind:

    “License to Kill” (Dylan) — Tell us, Zimmy, what do you really think?

    “They Dance Alone” (Sting) — The song resonates with the depths of sorrow and loss. And (as an added bonus) this one always reminds me of the hypocrisy of the artistic Left — they can weep for Pinochet’s dead, but they have no tears for the slaughtered pre-born of Britain or America. When I listen to this song, I can see mothers (come to their senses at last, Luke 15:17) dancing alone for their broken babies.

    “After the Last Tear Falls” (Peterson) — An “eschatological protest song” full of truth and hope.

  35. whipple

    Two items of note come to mind:

    We Can’t Make It Here – by James McMurtry

    I listen to this song and see every mothballed-up small town I’ve ever been in, passing by kids in grocery stores who boil the best years of their lives in the idle-hands-are-the-devil’s-workshop stew of rural boredom and the dangerous inventions it begets. It’s not a hopeful song, but it’s how a lot of people feel. And when I watch him play it on Austin City Limits, that mud-churning guitar riff (kind of like Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain) just glues me to the tube. These are only about half of the lyrics.

    Sitting there by the left turn line
    Flag on the wheelchair flapping in the breeze
    One leg missing, both hands free
    No one’s paying much mind to him
    The V.A. budget’s stretched so thin
    And there’s more comin’ home from the Mideast war
    We can’t make it here anymore

    That big ol’ building was the textile mill
    It fed our kids and it paid our bills
    But they turned us out and they closed the doors
    We can’t make it here anymore

    See all those pallets piled up on the loading dock
    They’re just gonna set there till they rot
    ‘Cause there’s nothing to ship, nothing to pack
    Just busted concrete and rusted tracks
    Empty storefronts around the square
    There’s a needle in the gutter and glass everywhere
    You don’t come down here ‘less you’re looking to score
    We can’t make it here anymore

    The bar’s still open but man it’s slow
    The tip jar’s light and the register’s low
    The bartender don’t have much to say
    The regular crowd gets thinner each day

    Almost Gone – Caedmon’s Call

    To end on a positive note, the bridge of this song feels a bit like leaping into thin air on a hang-glider (I’ve always wanted to strap myself to a kite and jump off a mountain – seriously).

    Now I am discovering
    Many small minorities
    Join together pieces
    To become majorities
    And all of us united
    We can change the world
    And all of us divided
    We can change the world.

  36. Josh

    Jack Johnson’s “Sleep Through the Static”… just go listen to it instead of reading anything i’d say about it…

  37. Chad

    Does anyone remember Bruce Cockburn’s controversial Call it Democracy? I won’t post all of the lyrics here, but it’s worth checking out unless you are offended by the expletives. Here’s a couple of lines to wet your appetite:

    “. . . see the paid-off local bottom feeders
    passing themselves off as leaders
    kiss the ladies shake hands with the fellows
    open for business like a cheap bordello”

    And the last line (punch line if you will) of the song:

    “. . . one day you’re going to rise from your habitual feast
    to find yourself staring down the throat of the beast
    they call the revolution”

  38. Chris Yokel

    “Politicians” by Switchfoot and “Savior on Capitol Hill” by Derek Webb. So cheerful and hopeful of me.

    btw Chad, I think that last line from Cockburn is what people might be feeling after a few years of Obama.

  39. Tony Heringer

    yo

    Ah, Green Day (not familiar with Good Charlotte or Bad Religion). Billy Joe mused in Rolling Stone that he might be a conservative because he had so many conservative friends.

    “Wake Me Up When September Ends” is a brilliant song. I don’t like the band, but understand why they resonate with our culture.

    Evie mentioned Billy Bragg, if you haven’t heard him, you may want to check him out.

  40. Stacy Grubb

    The fact that Green Day is behind that wonderful tune will forever confound me. Perhaps it’s because as a very young teenager, I was introduced to them through a CD titled “Dookie.”

    Is it lame to say that one of my favorites is Steve Miller Band’s “Fly Like An Eagle?” Lame or not, I’m a shameless SMB fan. “A Change Is Gonna Come” is also a favorite of mine. Julie Lee does a stirring rendition, though I can’t find it online, anywhere. When I hear Sam Cooke do it, there’s almost a hope in his voice that change really is gonna come. Something about Julie’s arrangement sounds a little more cynical and dark. And while on the subject of Julie, she’s got a new record just released (I think the official release party is next weekend) called “Will There Really Be A Morning?” that I think could easily fit into the political theme because of the frame of mind of most folks these days. It’s a mini-CD and most of the lyrics were taken from a couple of Julie’s favorite poets and they’re focused on finding the light of day in a bleak situation. She’s got some tunes on her My Space player right now http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewprofile&friendid=31656708&MyToken=05afefe3-42b8-48ed-8f01-d8d72b779176.

    Anyway…I’m not totally politically inclined, but those are a few songs I thought of.

    Stacy

  41. Tony Heringer

    Stacy..Yes, to Steve Miller. .Jason covers “Fly Like An Eagle” in concert too, so I’m sure he’d agree. Thanks for the link, I also linked over to your site and both were way cool!

  42. Stacy Grubb

    Yay, thanks for that info, Tony. I was afraid people would be snickering at my taste in music. I never know what I should be ashamed of.

    And thanks for checking out both sites. Julie’s a truly gifted, genuine, impassioned, and blessed person. She’s one of those artists about whom I can say, “Her music changed me.” And it changes me every time I listen to her, even if only for the span of the record.

    Stacy

  43. Tyson Guthrie

    “SIxteen Military Wives” by The Decemberists (the war/cutural, artistic priorities)

    Sixteen military wives
    Thirty-two softly focused brightly colored eyes
    Staring at the natural tan
    of thirty-two gently clenching wrinkled little hands
    Seventeen company men
    Out of which only twelve will make it back again
    Sergeant sends a letter to five
    Military wives, whose tears drip down through ten little eyes

    Cheer them on to their rivals
    Cause America can, and America can’t say no
    And America does, if America says it’s so
    It’s so!

    And the anchorperson on TV goes…
    La de da de da

    Fifteen celebrity minds
    Leading their fifteen sordid wretched checkered lives
    Will they find the solution in time
    Using their fifteen pristine moderate liberal minds?

    Eighteen academy chairs
    Out of which only seven really even care
    Doling out the garland to five
    Celebrity minds, they’re humbly taken by surprise

    Cheer them on to their rivals
    Cause America can, and America can’t say no
    And America does, if America says it’s so
    It’s so!

    And the anchorperson on TV goes…
    La de da de da de-dadedade-da
    La de da de da de-dadedade-da

    Fourteen cannibal kings
    Wondering blithely what the dinner bell will bring
    Fifteen celebrity minds
    Served on a leafy bed OF sixteen military wives

    Cheer them on to their rivals
    Cause America can, and America can’t say no
    And America does, if America says it’s so
    It’s so!

    And the anchorperson on TV goes…
    La de da de da de-dadedade-da
    La de da de da de-dadedade-da
    La de da de da de-dadedade-da-dedadeda-de de dadede-daaaaa

    “Spare Oh’s” by Andrew Bird (environment)
    “November Ghost” by Bill Mallonee/Victory Garden
    I, too, like “Jesus Christ for President” though I can assure you Woody Guthrie’s idea of what that would look like would be quite different than that of our conservative brethren.
    -Tyson Guthrie (no relation)

  44. Bill Burns

    Bob has a lot of great ‘political songs,’ but it’s hard to beat

    Political World

    “We live in a political world
    Where mercy walks the plank,
    Life is in mirrors, death disappears
    Up the steps into the nearest bank.”

    – Bob Dylan (from 1989’s “Oh Mercy”)

  45. Adam

    Yeah, we liberals do have all of the good musicians. We have U2 and Springsteen and conservatives are stuck with “Drill Here, Drill Now”. *cringe*

    I agree with everyone so far. You guys all have great taste. I’ve been a huge Five Iron Frenzy fan all of my life, and they can get pretty political. “Giants” is probably my favorite, though.

    OH! And Randy Newman’s new song, “A Few Words (In Defense Of Our Country)” is one of the most patriotic songs in decades. Check it out!

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