Ten Songs for Difficult Times

I’ve been spinning the dial on my iPod looking for songs to see us through these uncertain times recently, and here are ten I came up with:

For me, no other song soundtracks the mealy-mouthed justifications for benefit cuts better than “We Are All Bourgeois Now” by McCarthy. “We all got lazy and couldn’t be bothered to make our way through the world…” – well, yes, that’s clearly the problem… In fact, it’s probably a good time to revisit McCarthy more generally, with their focus on the duplicity and mediocrity of MPs, the hypocrisy of state-mandated violence, and the intrusion of religion into education. That’s All Very Well But? is the go-to collection, but The Enraged Will Inherit the Earth is also an excellent album to begin with.

An ironic structural analysis is provided by Gang of Four in “Capital (It fails us now)”. For all the cloaking provided by surreal comic utterances (pertaining to the credit card perpetually being left “in my other suit”), the core message of this song remains that we are born in debt and can never free ourselves from it – either morally or financially. And if you find yourself penniless, this offers more tangible and immediate comfort: “To hell with poverty – we’ll get drunk on cheap wine!” (Incidentally this has to be one of the all-time great live TV performances)

One musical generation back from Gang of Four to The Clash. Should you find yourself without an income, what better way to make money than to withdraw it from those institutions of which you are now part-owner? “Bankrobber” it is, then – ‘he never hurt nobody – he just loved to live that way, and he loved to steal your money’. Sadly this isn’t the bizarre Top of the Pops version which was boycotted by the band and ‘acted out’ by a dance company.

“Money” itself was dealt with succinctly by the Beatles (and covered by the Stones) and Pink Floyd, but for my fourth selection I’m going to go with M.I.A.’s 10 Dollar from Arular, an album which is unfairly maligned in my opinion. I could have gone for 20 Dollar from Kala of course – it’s probably a better song, but, you know, there’s a recession on.

Next up, Radiohead. “Electioneering” pops into my head every time I see the gruesome twosome gnashing their terrible teeth. They go forwards, you go backwards, and somewhere you will meet – a true song for the coalition.

How about the news that the health gap between rich and poor stands at its historically widest point? Well, for four lads from Salford (ish), the hope of getting better is far distant, and the corporeal sickness has fused with that of the mind. The Smiths, with “Still Ill”, will make a hospital queue move all the quicker. Though you won’t get past reception without a bunch of Gladioli.

If you wish to turn your ire towards the corporations who, having contributed to this structural crisis, have largely managed to avoid paying for it, consider those wronged White Stripes, who complain that “The Big Three Killed My Baby”. It’s about car manufacturers, but you can pretend it’s about banks if you like, and its beautifully bitter.

So, unemployment, listlessness, a sinister threat of violence and a cultural void? This town is ‘coming like a “Ghost Town”. The Specials summed up the brutal callousness of the last Tory government towards the regions, and its all happening again. Just try to remember the good old days before the Ghost Town.

Don’t let the increasing competition for jobs crush your individuality though. Hark! It’s Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young urging you to keep the fire burning with “Almost Cut My Hair”, recorded at Wembley in 1974. Nil carborundum and all that.

And if it all gets too much and you want to run away, how about this? The Waterboys pull out a belting live version of Fisherman’s Blues on The Tube, one of those songs that manages to fuse a sense of freedom and expanse with a terribly mournful tune.

Suggestions for additions to the recession jukebox are most welcome.

Published in: on July 23, 2010 at 12:19 am  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. The Whistle Test performance of To Hell with Poverty is indeed incredible. Never has a white Mancunian graduate with a floppy fringe looked so *right* while humping his guitar. Their absolute peak, I think.

    If we’re thinking of Tory cuts songs, you could do worse than The Pet Shop Boys’ ‘Shopping’ (1987): “I heard it in the House of Commons / Everything’s for sale” – well, it’s more about privatisation, but it’s still a great anti-Tory anthem.

    • Ah yes, that’s a good one. I was thinking of “Shipbuilding” too, but it loses its analogy for Afghanistan somewhat because the manufacture of war materiel isn’t as labour intensive as it used to be.

  2. You’ve got great insights about stand up comedian from salford, keep up the good work!

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