So Rockin’ the Right: The Top 50 Conservative Rock Songs lit up the internets for a few days. So much so that even Pete Townshend felt compelled to chime in (and understandably so). Now the author of the original list is back for more. Kinda like Freddy or Jason.
Kinda sad, really—at least the first list had a powerful lot of truly great songs, even if few of them were truly conservative, no matter how you twisted their meaning. Most of these songs may or may not be conservative—Miller once again obstinately pretends to believe that only conservatives care about marriage and democracy, all evidence to the contrary—but the first thing that strikes you is just how many of them suck. If, that is, they even register at all.
Not all of them blow, of course. To pick one notable example, Chuck Berry’s brilliant "Back in the U.S.A." The problem with its inclusion on this list is that unlike some of the one-dimensional jingoistic tunes listed, this song’s a fully-developed piece of art. Berry seems to clearly love his country, yes, but he’s also being at least partially ironic—he’s talking about how fantastic this great nation of ours is…a nation which really wasn’t all that fantastic if you were a black man in the 1950s. At that point in time Berry was hailed as an artistic giant internationally, creator of some of the finest art American had ever produced, and quite rightly so. And yet he lived in the land of skyscrapers and hamburgers…and separate water fountains, and buses where he couldn’t sit up front. That’s the USA Berry’s so glad to be living in. It’s a country which had made him rich and famous but it was also a country where, as he sings in the song, he’s "looking hard for a drive-in." See, as a black man at the time, he couldn’t go to just any drive-in—drive-ins were plentiful at the time—but only the ones that’d be willing to serve someone with his skin color. And so once again the true meaning of the song goes right over Miller’s head (and that’s being charitable in assuming he’s simply ignorant rather than willfully misleading).
Oh, and as for the cautionary tale that is Prince’s "Little Red Corvette"—the mode of transport the Purple One is singing about, obviously, is his partner’s hoo-hoo, and he's most certainly not cautioning her against promiscuity. He's just worried that he won’t be able to keep up with her voracious sexual appetite and copious experience—but, given that it’s a Saturday night and she’s got a ton of condoms readily available, he’s more than willing to give it a stab.
Two songs later on that same album comes the song "Let’s Pretend We’re Married," which has the chorus:
Let’s pretend we’re married and go all night
There ain’t nothin’ wrong if it feel all right
I won’t stop until the mornin’ light
Let’s pretend we’re married and go all night…tonight
And that’s actually tame compared to the verses, which are tame compared to the ad-libs in the song. [I had no idea one of the things he suggests was physically possible.] So once again, the only way to shoehorn a legitimately great song onto this list is by completely divorcing its lyrics from context in order to kid yourself that it maybe kinda sorta fits the criteria. Although even there it still doesn’t work because great as it is—and it most certainly is—"Little Red Corvette" is not and never has been a staple of classic rock radio.
There’s one other alternative, I reckon, and it’s really rather an intriguing one. Perhaps Miller actually knows the song is about lurid casual sex. In which case I guess conservatives are a lot more fun than they like to pretend. I s’pose I shouldn’t be all that surprised, given how many of the most prominent conservatives have dumped their wives for younger models (cf. Ronald Reagan, Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, George Allen and Newt Gingrich.).
May 30, 2006
50 more conservative rock songs.
By John J. Miller
My article on the 50 greatest conservative rock songs has struck a chord, so to speak. The New York Times called it "surprisingly persuasive." The Boston Herald also noticed it. In Britain, the Independent said that "Dylan will never sound the same again." Some guy named Pete Townshend posted a comment about #1 song "Won’t Get Fooled Again," and a Scottish newspaper tracked down the Proclaimers, who appear at #42, for a remark. The blogosphere has been active as well: I’ve enjoyed reading responses here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
The most amusing reply appeared in several forms on left-wing blogs: Hands off my rock music, right-wing scum! This notion was expressed most succinctly by Dave Marsh, described in the Times as "the longtime rock critic and avowed lefty." He thought the list was "a desperate effort by the right to co-opt popular culture." In other words: The 62 million Americans who voted for President Bush’s reelection don’t actually participate in the creation and consumption of pop culture, but we steal it and twist it in dastardly ways.
Much of the commentary has focused on two basic questions, both of which I tried to address briefly in the introduction to the original article. I’ll say a few more words here:
What’s conservative? There are of course many varieties of conservatism, a term which I define broadly in the fusionist custom of NR. The original article said: "The lyrics must convey a conservative idea or sentiment, such as skepticism of government or support for traditional values." A few lefties have pointed out that they’re skeptical of government, too, especially with Republicans in power. Fair enough. I would modify this to say "skepticism of big government"—i.e., the welfare state, the nanny state, the left-wing state, etc. Also, claiming that a song is conservative certainly does not mean to suggest that the artist who wrote it or performed it is a conservative. For the most part, I interpreted the lyrics the way a New Critic would interpret a poem—i.e., by examining a text without reference to biography or historical context. I bent this rule in a few places, but only when it seemed appropriate. Rest assured, I don’t think the Sex Pistols are a conservative band—but their great rock song "Bodies" resonates with conservatives in a very particular way.
What’s a rock song? For the purposes of this list, I’ve viewed a rock song as a tune that’s already played on a "classic rock" radio station or one that might conceivably be played there. This eliminates a lot of "pop songs" that might be called conservative, such as "Love Child" by The Supremes or "Papa Don’t Preach" by Madonna . It also excludes country music, where it is of course much easier to find lyrics that express a conservative sentiment. For what it’s worth, I’d love to see someone assemble of list of the 50 best left-wing country songs.
The smartest commentary focused on the meanings of the songs themselves, and quarreling over what’s on and off the list. The most frequent type of reply, judging from the e-mails I’ve seen, proposed additional songs for the list. Suggestions such as these made the whole enterprise possible in the first place: Last fall, when I solicited nominations for great conservative rock songs, I received hundreds of thought-provoking ideas. The fact that so many people interpreted "Won’t Get Fooled Again" as fundamentally counterrevolutionary, for instance, convinced me that it ought to sit atop the list. At any rate, let me say once again to those who wrote in, back then and more recently: Thank you.
Finally, what’s a rock concert without an encore? Here are 50 more songs—a few that just barely missed making the cut for the original list, plus several others that I’ve learned about only this week. Consider them #51-100 on the list of great conservative rock songs. They appear in alphabetical order:
"Aces High," by Iron Maiden.
A tribute to the martial valor of the fighter pilots who saved Britain in 1940. On a tour in the 1980s, Iron Maiden opened concerts with a snippet from Churchill’s "Never Surrender" speech and then launched into this rocker. (My own tribute to the everlasting greatness of Iron Maiden may be read here.)
"After Forever," by Black Sabbath.
"Could it be you’re afraid of what your friends might say / If they knew you believe in God above? / They should realize before they criticize / That God is the only way to love."
"Alive," by P.O.D.
An expression of Christian faith by a super-hip band.
"Angry Young Man," by Billy Joel.
"And there’s always a place for the angry young man / With his fist in the air and his head in the sand / And he’s never been able to learn from mistakes / So he can’t understand why his heart always breaks / And his honor is pure and his courage as well / And he’s fair and he’s true and he’s boring as hell / And he’ll go to the grave as an angry old man."
"Anthem," by Rush.
Inspired by Ayn Rand. "Begging hands and bleeding hearts will / Only cry out for more."
"Back in the U.S.A.," by Chuck Berry.
A patriotic rock song: "Did I miss the skyscrapers, did I miss the long freeway? / From the coast of California to the shores of Delaware Bay / You can bet your life I did, till I got back to the U.S.A."
"Blood from a Stone," by The Hooters.
"I’m working hard to pay the rent / And support my government / Built the highways and the railroad tracks / Now we’re not giving up ‘til they give it all back."
"Catch Me Now I’m Falling," by The Kinks.
"I remember when you were down / You would always come running to me / I never denied you and I would guide you / Through all of your difficulties / Now I’m calling all citizens from all over the world / This is Captain America calling / I bailed you out when you were down on your knees / So will you catch me now I’m falling."
"Date Rape," by Sublime.
Many liberals probably think this song blames the victim; conservatives will see it offering a bit of common sense: "The moral of the date rape story / It does not pay to be drunk and horny."
"Dedicated Follower of Fashion," by The Kinks.
A portrait of a hipster—and maybe a metaphor for liberalism: "His world is built round discoteques and parties / This pleasure-seeking individual always looks his best / cause he’s a dedicated follower of fashion."
"Dirty Laundry," by Don Henley.
An anti-media tune that could have been a theme song for Dan Rather during the 2004 presidential campaign: "We can do the innuendo, we can dance and sing / When it’s said and done, we haven’t told you a thing / We all know that crap is king, give us dirty laundry."
"Divine Wind," by Blue Oyster Cult.
Although the lyrics don’t make this clear, this song apparently was written in response to the Iranian hostage crisis. Possibly worth reviving for Iran’s current president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: "If he really thinks we’re the devil / Then let’s send him to hell."
"Father and Son," by Cat Stevens.
"Find a girl, settle down / If you want you can marry / Look at me, I am old, but I’m happy."
"Freewill," by Rush.
"I will choose free will."
"Give It Revolution," by Suicidal Tendencies.
"The greatest weapon of the fascist / Is the tolerance of the pacifist / We’ve got to stand up and fight it."
"Get Back in Line," by The Kinks.
Anti-Big Labor: "That union man’s got such a hold over me / He’s the man who decides if I live or I die, if I starve, or I eat / Then he walks up to me and the sun begins to shine / Then he walks right past and I know that I’ve got to get back in the line."
"Gotta Serve Somebody," by Bob Dylan.
"It may be the devil or it may be the Lord / But you’re gonna have to serve someone.
"Handbags & Gladrags," by Rod Stewart.
"Once you think you’re in you’re out / cause you don’t mean a single thing without / The handbags and the gladrags / That your granddad had to sweat so you could buy."
"Heresy," by Rush.
An bitter epitaph for Communism, at the end of the Cold War: "All around that dull grey world / From Moscow to Berlin / People storm the barricades / Walls go tumbling in / The counter-revolution / People smiling through their tears / Who can give them back their lives / And all those wasted years?"
"Holiday in Cambodia," by The Dead Kennedys.
The greatest anti-Pol Pot song in the history of rock: "Well you’ll work harder / With a gun in your back / For a bowl of rice a day / Slave for soldiers / Till you starve / Then your head is skewered on a stake."
"I’d Love to Change the World," by Ten Years After.
An anti-hippy classic. Many conservatives respond favorably to an ironic line in its first verse: "Tax the rich, feed the poor / Till there are no rich no more."
"In America," by The Charlie Daniels Band.
"Well the eagle’s been flying slow and the flag’s been flying low / And a lot of people are saying that America’s fixing to fall / But speaking just for me and some people from Tennessee / We got a thing or two to tell you all / This lady may have stumbled but she ain’t never fell / And if the Russians don’t believe that they can all go straight to hell / We’re gonna put her feet back on the path of righteousness / And then God bless America again."
"Jesus Is Just Alright," by The Doobie Brothers.
A counter-counterculture classic.
"Let’s Roll," by Neil Young.
The music is kind of lame, but it’s a well-intentioned post-9/11 battle cry.
"Life of a Salesman," by Yellowcard.
A deep cut from a cool band with a big future: "Father I will always be / That same boy that stood by the sea / And watched you tower over me / Now I’m older I wanna be the same as you."
"Little Red Corvette," by Prince.
A cautionary tale: "Honey you got to slow down / Little red corvette / ‘Cause if you don’t you gonna run your little red corvette right in the ground."
"The Living Years," by Mike and the Mechanics.
"Every generation / Blames the one before / And all of their frustrations / Come beating on your door."
"Miss Gradenko," by The Police.
Forbidden love in the Kremlin: "Don’t tell the director I said so / But are you safe Miss Gradenko? / We were at a policy meeting / They were planning new ways of cheating / I didn’t want to rock your boat / But you sent this dangerous note / You’ve been letting your feelings show / Are you safe Miss Gradenko?"
"Mother Russia," by Iron Maiden.
A song from the close of the Cold War—a bit too optimistic, it now appears, but a tune with its heart in the right place: "Mother Russia / Dance of the tsars / Hold up your heads / Be proud of what you are / Now it has come / Freedom at last / Turning the tides of history / And your past."
"M.T.A.," by The Kingston Trio.
Against "a burdensome tax on the population in the form of a subway fare increase."
"My Back Pages," by Bob Dylan ; (and covered by The Byrds).
The futility of protest: "In soldier’s stance, I aimed my hand / At the mongrel dogs who teach / Fearing not that I’d become my enemy / In the instant that I preach."
"Old Time Rock & Roll," by Bob Seger.
"Say I’m old-fashioned, say I’m over the hill / Today music ain’t got the same soul."
"Old World," by The Modern Lovers.
"I see the ‘50’s apartment house / It’s bleak in the 1970s sun / But I still love the ‘50’s / And I still love the old world."
"Only a Lad," by Oingo Boingo.
A dispatch from the excuse factory: "Only a lad / You really can’t blame him / Only a lad / Society made him / Only a lad / He’s our responsibility / Only a lad / He really couldn’t help it / Only a lad / He didn’t want to do it / Only a lad / He’s underprivileged and abused."
"The Other Side of Summer," by Elvis Costello.
"Was it a millionaire who said ‘imagine no possessions’? / A poor little schoolboy who said ‘we don’t need no lessons’?"
"The Playboy Mansion," by U2.
Not a place worth visiting: "Then will there be no time for sorrow / Then will there be no time for shame / Then will there be now time for shame / Then will there be now time for pain."
"Red Army Blues," by The Waterboys.
"Dressed in stripes and tatters / In a gulag left to die / All because comrade Stalin was scared that /We’d become too westernized."
"Red Skies," by The Fixx.
Not a sailor’s delight. The words are vague, but it doesn’t take an English Ph.D. to tease out a Cold War metaphor.
"Rock a Bye Bye," by Extreme.
A sad, pro-life ballad: "If you could only hear / The silent screams / When you wake them up / From their dreams."
"Shattered," by The Rolling Stones.
A harrowing portrait of New York City, left in "tatters," before the Giuliani renaissance: "Go ahead, bite the Big Apple, don’t mind the maggots!"
"Silent Scream," by Slayer.
Could this be the world’s only pro-life death-metal song? "Bury the unwanted child / Beaten and torn / Sacrifice the unborn / Shattered, adolescent / Bearer of no name / Restrained, insane games / Suffer the children condemned."
"Silent Running," by Mike and the Mechanics.
Pro-gun, pro-faith, and pro-freedom: "There’s a gun and ammunition / Just inside the doorway / Use it only in emergency / Better you should pray to God / The father and the spirit / Will guide you and protect from up here."
"Simple Man," by Lynyrd Skynyrd.
"Mama told me when I was young ... / Take your time, don’t live too fast / Troubles will come and they will pass / Go find a woman and you’ll find love / And don’t forget son / There is someone up above."
"Something for Nothing," by Rush.
Another libertarian rocker: "You don’t get something for nothing / You don’t get freedom for free."
"Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now)," by Cracker.
"What the world needs now / Is another folk singer / Like I need a hole in my head."
"This Night Has Opened My Eyes," by The Smiths.
The lyrics may hold several meanings, but many pro-lifers read them as a haunting ballad in the aftermath of abortion or infanticide: "A shoeless child on a swing / Reminds you of your own again."
"Turn! Turn! Turn!" by The Byrds.
Originally written by Pete Seeger and sometimes interpreted as anti-war, the words are taken from Ecclesiastes and announce that to everything there is a season, including "A time to cast away stones / A time to gather stones together" and "A time of war, a time of peace / A time of love, a time of hate / A time you may embrace / A time to refrain from embracing."
"VOA," by Sammy Hagar.
"You in the Middle East, you be on your toes / We’re bound to strike, everybody knows / Just tell your friends, the USSR / We’re gonna, we’re gonna crash that party, ‘cause they’ve gone too far, yeah!"
"Yakety Yak," by The Coasters.
"Just tell your hoodlum friends outside / You ain’t got time to take a ride / Yakety yak, don’t talk back."
"You Never Can Tell," by Chuck Berry.
Pro-marriage: "‘C’est la vie,’ say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell."
And, one more, coming in at #101:
"Faithfully," by Journey.
This ballad, by my generation’s favorite guilty-pleasure band, isn’t exclusively conservative—it could appeal to anybody who misses someone. But a soldier in Iraq emailed to say it should be on the NR list: "A song about staying true to your spouse regardless of where you are and what you are doing is definitely supportive of traditional marriage and commitment." I can’t resist. So here it is.
— John J. Miller is national political reporter for National Review and the author, most recently, of A Gift of Freedom: How the John M. Olin Foundation Changed America.
© National Review Online 2006-2007.