Listening to the radio throwing out songs from the early 80s, 1984 to be exact, it becomes apparent that much of what was in the charts back then had some sort of political motive about it. For instance, in a small snap shot, where three songs from the Top 40 played back to back, there were themes of Thatcher’s stranglehold on Britain, nuclear annihilation, and the influx of cheap, yet powerful narcotics, respectively.
After switching on the radio the first song to be played is UB40’s “If it Happens Again I’m Leaving,” which, according to the radio show host, is a tirade against the damaging effects of Margaret Thatcher’s government, and is considered to be a protest song displaying the group’s discontent at the Conservative party victory at the general election of 1983.
The next song out is Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Two Tribes,” a song that mocked the ideology of nation-state foreign policy that relies heavily on the destructive capabilities of nuclear weapons. Released at a time when the threat of a nuclear war was most real, with leaflets being shoved through households’ letterboxes detailing the actions one should take in the event of such apocalypse (hide beneath a mattress, largely), the band appeared to have tapped into things most visceral.
And the song following Frankie’s is Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel’s “White Lines.” Listening to the song as a kid required said kid to ask of an adult – “What are White Lines then?” Most adults seemed reluctant to answer the question, and so one thus had to rely on older kids for an answer. Having got said answer, said kid then speculates at what such stuff looks and tastes like (perhaps said adults might have been better providing an answer in the first place).
The resulting feeling, then, is a lament that conditions seem no longer to exist where such awareness-raising is able to take place on a mass scale. For sure, there are bands/artists that produce protest music, but they appear to have more of a cult-like status. Bands with massively popular reach, where messages can spread across all manner of borders, would appear to be rather bland in terms of political leanings. And in an age where issues relating to the three themes above seem very much to be relevant and most pressing, perhaps it is a good idea to listen to music from days gone by, for one never knows in what ways one’s sensibilities might be aroused.