A POLITICAL PROTEST SONG

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The 1980s was a decade when pop and politics were mixed like no other, certainly here in the UK.

The threat of a nuclear holocaust, the miners’ strike, the struggle for democracy in South Africa, homophobia, the efforts to bring an end to the Iron Curtain, famine in Africa, the worries around the growth of a fascist state in the UK, the ever-increasing gaps in living standards between those who had and those who hadn’t, the Falklands War, the UK riots and the ‘greed is best’ ethos were common subject matters in pop music during the Thatcher-era which began and ended just either side of the 80s.

There’s loads of great and memorable songs from that era, none more so than Nelson Mandela which helped take a decades-old campaign to places it hadn’t been before or Ghost Town which perfectly captured the grim despair that many parts of the UK felt as the full effects of laissez-faire capitalism took a firm grip.

In 1989, Kirsty MacColl slipped out a tremendously jaunty sounding single whose lyrics encapsulate much of what the previous decade had been all about:-

I thought of you when they closed down the school
And the hospital too
Did they think that you were better?
They were wrong
You had so many friends
They all left you in the end
‘Cause they couldn’t take the patter

And I’ll see you baby when the clans rise again
Women and men united by a struggle
Going down
You’ve got to walk into the water
With your sister and your daughter
In this free world

If I wore your shades could I share your point of view?
Could I make you feel better?
Paint a picture, write a letter?
Well I know what you’re saying
But I see the things you do
And it’s much too dangerous
To get closer to you

But I will see you baby when the clans rise again
Women and men united by the struggle
Going down
With a pocketful of plastic
Like a dollar on elastic
In this free world
I wouldn’t tell you if I didn’t care

I’ll see you baby when the clans rise again
Women and men united by the struggle
And the ghettos are full of Mercedes Benz
And you’d never hurt a friend
Who wouldn’t tell you

It’s cold and it’s going to get colder
You may not get much older
You’re much too scared of living
And to die is a reliable exit
So you push it and you test it
With Thunderbird and Rivin

I’ll see you baby when the clans rise again
Women and men united by the struggle
In this free world baby
Got to take it got to grab it
Got to get it up and shag it
In this free world

Going down
You’ve got to get into the water
Like a lamb goes to the slaughter
In this free world baby
Going down
With a pocketful of plastic
Like a dollar on elastic
In this free world
I wouldn’t tell you if I didn’t care

Sadly, the single didn’t crack the charts and so has become one of the many forgotten political protest songs of the era:-

mp3 : Kirsty MacColl – Free World

The 12″ of this had an exceptional cover version:-

mp3 : Kirsty MacColl – You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet Baby

Johnny Marr himself contributed guitar to this particular recording and in doing so, combined with Kirsty’s tremendous vocal delivery, has made this a rare instance of when the fresh take was better than the original.

The final track was this:-

mp3 : Kirsty MacColl – Closer to God?

I really wish the record bosses had made this a double-A side of Free World and You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet Baby for I’m certain there would have been more airplay and sales.  And who knows, there might even have been a wonderful post-Smiths appearance for Johnny on Top of the Pops.

Enjoy!!

PS : I’d like to invite T(n)VV readers to contribute their own favourite or memorable political protest songs along with a few lines of explanation with the idea of starting up a new series.  If you fancy joining in, please send it over to thevinylvillain@hotmail.co.uk

Cheers.

5 thoughts on “A POLITICAL PROTEST SONG

  1. Things haven’t changed much have they? What makes it worse now is we no longer have the divine Kirsty to sing about it. Just the sound of her voice makes me want to blub like a baby!

    As for the Smiths cover, even JM deems it better than the original!

  2. favourite protest song I want to kill somebody by SMASH. “Margaret Thatcher, Jeffery Archer, John Major, Virgina Bottomley (especially) Gill Shepherd has an appalling unemployment record.”

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