Being in a band like Anti-Flag that uses its songs to comment on socio-political happenings, we get asked a lot about the influences that led us down this path. So my list for TeamRock is just that… here are my top 10 politically-leaning songs, in no particular order…
SAM COOKE – A Change Is Gonna Come (1964)
This song exemplifies the mantra of subversion through melody. Sam Cooke’s body of work is more political than it’s often given credit. A song like (Don’t Fight It) Feel It’s theme of self expression is beyond a political statement. While A Change Is Gonna Come had impeccable timing (a lot of political music is there for the immediate) this song has clearly lasted longer than Sam – and I think he wanted it that way.
PHIL OCHS - I Ain’t Marching Anymore (1965)
In the 60’s, the idea of an American soldier dropping arms and calling out war as an atrocity was unheard of. There were not groups like ‘Iraq Veterans Against the War’ that we have now. You were alone, on an island, if you were a conscience objector to war. Phil wrote this song for those standing up to imperialism then, and those continuing to today.
EDWIN STARR – War (1970)
We often use this song as walk-on music for our shows. ‘War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing’. Sometimes we don’t need metaphor.
BOB DYLAN – The Times They Are A-Changin’ (1964)
If you have a battle in your mind; pick up a pen, a guitar, a paint brush, anything you can get your hands on and use art as a vehicle to challenge that battle. This is everything that a protest should be in song form.
RANDY NEWMAN – Rednecks (1974)
This song is written from the perspective of a redneck, challenging what singer/songwriter language is appropriate. If you only know Randy Newman from the Toy Story soundtracks, this will blow your mind.
DEAD KENNEDYS – California Über Alles (1980)
The perfect political punk rock song. Dead Kennedys as players and musicians were untouchable. Jazz-trained drumming and bass playing that was not heard in punk music. Jello [Biafra, vocals] did not believe in grey. Each song was about an education process. And that’s why they were my favourite band.
RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE – Testify (1999)
We were in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Our first show ever with Rage. It was 1999 and it was the Battle of Los Angeles Tour. Rage and Anti-Flag were and are both supporters of political prisoner on death row, Mumia Abu Jamal. He is on death row for allegedly murdering a Philadelphia police officer. The Philly police department protested the show because of Rage’s support for Mumia and surrounded the arena with cop cars, all lights on. They were on television telling parents not to allow their kids to attend the show and Rage opened by saying, “They say we support a cop killer. We don’t support any killers… especially killer cops!” And then went into Testify. It was a moment of power I will never forget.
N.W.A – Fuck Ta Police (1988)
My brother was always at odds with the law. They caught him once when he was young; my understanding of it was they arrested him improperly or without cause and he got off. I remember being 9 or 10 years old and a local cop told me, “We are gonna get your brother”. I hated the police. I still do. I heard this song that same year and I threw away my MC Hammer tapes and exclusively listened to this.
THE CLASH – Koka Kola (1979)
‘Koka Kola advertising and kocaine, strolling down the Broadway in the rain. Neon light sign says it, I read it in the paper, they’re crazy!’ Enough said.
THE BEATLES – Revolution (1968)
Violence begets violence. While I’m a firm believer in standing up for what you believe to be right or just, I will never subscribe to violence as an answer to the world’s problems. This track came out and the left thought it was a stab in the back as it stood in the face of some of the direct action tactics of that time. History has proven that actions of peace last longer than actions of war. This is a document of history that shows Lennon was on the correct side of that dividing line.