A couple of months ago, I wrote a post with this title after I had discovered an old C90 cassette I had made during my student days, featuring pop songs with political messages. The plan was that I would post all of the songs from the tape, and see whether, thirty years later, they held any current relevance.
That was in July, and here we are, three months later, and not a single additional post has appeared in the series.
Until today, and even this post isn’t going to include anything from said outdated mode of musical storage. (It will return again, but you’ll just have to remain on the edge of your seats a little longer, I’m afraid.)
The subject crossed my radar again a couple of times recently, watching coverage of the US Election trail, and I was reminded that American politicians – make that American Republican politicians – have a proud history in using songs without the artistes’ permission, and, more often than not, using the song quite wrongly.
King of the unendorsed usage has to be Bruce Springsteen, and specifically Born in the USA. Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole and Pat Buchanan all used it at election rallies, and all received “cease and desist” notifications from Bruce.
To the untrained eye and ear, Born in the USA does sound like the sort of song a right wing politician should use to brighten up their campaign: it has a gloriously patriotic title, which is also the whole of the chorus; the iconic album cover depicts what appears to be a jean-wearing blue-collar worker, baseball cap stuffed in back pocket, standing in front of the good ol’ stars and stripes.
But when I say “to the untrained eye and ear” I actually mean anyone who has only ever seen that picture, had only ever heard what appears to be a triumphant fanfare at the start of the record which develops into the musical motif running throughout the song, and had never listened to any of the lyrics other than the title/the chorus. A pro-American record it most definitely is not:
It’s not just Springsteen who has a whole line of Republicans mistakenly using his tunes. John Mellencamp has had run-ins with as many of them as he has had own name changes. Just like glamour model and *ahem* best selling author Katie Price now insists on not being called Jordan anymore, and footballer Andy Cole asked everyone to start calling him Andrew, both because they had ‘matured’, so Mellencamp has been variously known as John Cougar, John ‘Cougar’ Mellencamp, and now just plain John Mellencamp.
On this side of the pond, he’s simply known as ‘the bloke who sang that song which introduced us to a foodstuff we have not embraced with quite the same vigour as our trans-Atlantic friends’ (by which I mean our friends from across the Atlantic, not our friends from across the Atlantic who are also trans – and that’s one open can I’m not going anywhere near): the ‘chilli dog’.
Sorry, I seem to have digressed: that’s not one of the songs appropriated by politicians, I’ve just included it because it’s ruddy great.
No, Mellencamp has locked horns with Reagan for using Pink Houses in 1984, John McCain for using the same song as well as Our Country in 2008, and with George W Bush in 2000 over the use of R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.
I’m not familiar with Pink Houses or Our Country, but I am very familiar with R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A. as I bought it on 7″ single when I was a kid. And I’m here to tell you, it’s a little cracker:
Quite what lead the Bush campaign to land on that song is a bit of a mystery to me; I can see how it works in terms of The American Dream, for it’s a song about the early days of rock’n’roll, of Tamla Motown and Stax, a song which describes people from all walks of life – but usually ones from poor backgrounds – setting off to make music, doing what they want to do, in the self-proclaimed Land of the Free.
But it includes a list of successful black artists (“…there was…Frankie Lymon…Jackie Wilson, Shangri-La’s, Young Rascals…Martha Reeve….James Brown”) and let’s be honest, ensuring young black Americans achieve success in whatever field they choose (unless it’s in an actual field) has been shown (again) to be not exactly high on the list of Republican priorities over the past few months.
The song seems to have been picked solely for including the phrase “U.S.A.”, which can be shouted loudly along to it. Although I don’t think we can exclude the possibility that it’s usage also helped Dubya with his spelling lessons.
“Today’s letter, Georgie, is R. Ruh. R. And what does R stand for?”
“That’s good, Georgie,but it’s not quite what I was looking for. Rock. Ruh stands for Rock. Now what does O stands for….?”
“Very good, Georgie, well done. Have a pretzel, you clever thing. Careful, don’t eat it all at once!”
Another American rocker not shy of issuing “cease and desist” notices was Tom Petty, who clashed with George W Bush when he used this song:
And this, which was appropriated by Republican/Tea Party/Lunatic candidate Michele Bachmann in 2011, and there’s no real mystery why she would select this absolute pearler:
Ahhh, 2011. It’s weird getting nostalgic for a time such a short while ago, but wasn’t it wonderful when all we had to worry about was the Tea Party nut-jobs on the fringes of the Republican party, as opposed to the actual nut-job occupying the White House now?
Actually, to digress for a moment, that song takes me back to the early 1990s, when I was, far too briefly for my liking, working in the Virgin Megastore in Cardiff. Lowlight of my time there: serving one of my college lecturers, who didn’t recognise me at all, and when I explained who I was and how he knew me, just looked at me as if to say: “Yes, I thought this might be where you’d end up working”.
Highlights of my time there: selling the entire Echo & The Bunnymen back catalogue to Nicky Wire of the Manic Street Preachers and, one evening, after the doors were closed and we were cashing up and tidying up, somebody put American Girl on the in-store sound system, and you could palpably feel the mood lift: everyone was singing along and dancing and twirling and hand-clapping as they completed their chores, like some choreographed moment from a high school musical. Happy times.
Also in 2008, John McCain used Foo Fighters’ My Hero:
Anyway. I could go on about all these improper uses of songs all day as there’s a whole list of them, but it’s a list that includes Nickelback and if you think I’m posting a song by them you are very mistaken, my friend.
So here’s why the subject cropped up on my radar the other week: because I read that Trump had been using this song at his rallies:
Now that, you have to concede, is a bold choice for Trump to use, for so many reasons.
Firstly: it’s called Fortunate Son, which can only serve to remind us that Trump didn’t make all of the money he has amassed (apart from the stuff that the Russians have given him, I mean), as that was all inherited from his father, Fred, who, lest we forget was a German immigrant – but a white one, so not one DJT would have an issue with now, natch – who made his own fortune (American Dream: tick!) in the thoroughly reputable world of real estate. In 1997, when his worth exceeded a billion dollars, he transferred the majority of his buildings to his surviving children, who sold them in 2004 for over 16 times their previously declared worth, effectively dodging hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes. Fortunate, indeed.
Speaking of tax, the song even mentions the taxman (“…But when the taxman comes to the door, Lord, the house looks like a rummage sale…”) which given the recent revelation that in 2017 Trump paid just $750.00 in Federal Income Taxes, seems remarkably apt.
The song, itself is, broadly, about how the sons of wealthy, powerful politicians and businessmen managed to avoid the draft to the Vietnam War because of daddy’s status. Trump, famously, didn’t have to go fight because of his “bone spurs” which are bony lumps that grow on the bones of the spine or around the joints, or, in Trump’s case, his feet. In 2019, his former lawyer Michael Cohen testified that Trump had invented the condition so that he didn’t have to do his national duty.
You have to conclude that whoever picked Fortunate Son to soundtrack his rallies knew exactly what they were doing, for it perfectly highlights all of the reasons you shouldn’t vote for Trump.
And this was a theory which Armando Iannucci floated on Frankie Boyle’s New World Order this week: that there is a Democrat working within the Trump campaign who has been given the responsibility of choosing appropriate records to play at the rallies. And given this remit, boy have they run with it, selecting not just Fortunate Son but also the music used in this clip, which I promise you has not been added after the rally, this actually happened:
Some excellent “working-the-crowd” gestures there from the Wotsit-coloured Wonder. Be afraid, Bono. He’s a pair of leather trousers, one foot-on-a-monitor, and a pair of redundant sunglasses behind you.
In case you’re not familiar with the record that soundtracks that clip, it’s YMCA by Village People, a song which, pretty much, promotes the idea of gay sex in Christian hostels. Here’s a picture of Village People from their hey-day:
Exactly the sort of fine, upstanding young men one would expect to find amongst Trump’s core voters.
Village People, you will not be even slightly surprised to learn, have asked Trump to stop playing the song at his rallies. I’m hoping instead they have permitted him to use their follow up hit:
There’s a joke about that submarine being full of seamen somewhere in there, but I’ll leave you to make it at your own leisure.
Delivery Man 1 [poking his head through the door]: Yes, this looks like it.
Delivery Man 1 backs into view, clipboard under arm, guiding a large object covered in a sheet, which is being pushed by Delivery Man 2 with considerably more effort than Delivery Man 1 is expending.
FX: The door slams shut.
Delivery Man 2: Whereabouts does it need to go? What does the order say?
Delivery Man 1 consults the clipboard.
Delivery Man 1: It says “Leave in the middle of the floor, covered, as if it’s been here for ages.”
Delivery Man 2 [with a shrug]: Bit weird, but if that’s what it says.
Job done, they exit, leaving the light on.
FX: the door opens and closes. Pause. Repeat.
An incredibly handsome, if fat and bald, man enters the room. He surveys the object before removing the sheet.
Incredibly handsome, if fat and bald, man: And we’re back in the room!
Hello, and welcome to The Chain. Where’ve you been? I’ve been waiting for you.
Prompted by a question about whether one of this week’s suggestions qualified under the rules, and nothing whatsoever to do with the amount of time since one of these posts appeared, nosireebob, I thought it might be best if I go over them again here, with a brief explanation of what we do here.
So, The Chain is a feature on BBC 6Music’s Radcliffe and Maconie show (and prior to that, their show on BBC Radio 2), where a record is played and they invite suggestions as to what record could be played next, which must link in some way to the one just played.
The difference here is that whilst they choose just one record to play, we try to post all of the suggestions which you submit.
The only rules are:
No suggested record can feature twice (unless it has only featured as part of The Official Chain). If you’re not sure – ask!
The only exception to this rule is “Back on the Chain Gang” by The Pretenders, which has been adopted as our theme tune
When making your suggestion, you must provide an explanation of the link between the two songs
You must already own a copy of it, and be willing to provide it (in case I don’t already own it or am unable to source it)
Suggestions must be more than just naming a different song by the same artist.
You can make as many suggestions as you like, but please, go easy on me, won’t you?
That’s about it. I award points every now and again, for Worst Record of the Week, Cheesiest Record of the Week, Comment Showboat of the Week, and of course, for anyone who happens to guess either the song or act (or both) that is the next record in the Official Chain, which becomes the source record for the following week. Nobody’s keeping score (well, I’m not anyway), the points are just a bit of fun.
Okay, that’s the admin done. Last time out, the source record was “The Universal” by Blur; personally, I found this a really tricky one to link to, especially as I have to wait and see what’s left after you guys have nominated all the good ones. Ho hum, such is life.
So, here we go then, and as usual, we’ll bracket them into several fairly broad categories and, as usual, we’ll probably wander off on a couple of tangents along the way.
Of course, CC was not alone in suggesting a link to something of Universal appeal; Dirk from sexyloser proffered thusly:
“…because not enough good German music is being featured on these pages, I’d like to link to Die Sterne – ‘Universal Tellerwäscher’ from 1994 …. which in fact is a mighty record indeed!”
I was going to make a rather unkind joke about the phrase “good German music” being an oxymoron, but then I listened to Dirk’s suggestion and have to agree, it is mighty fine (even if I have not one clue as to what it’s about, although Google Translate, which is never wrong, obviously, tells me that a Tellerwäscher is a dishwasher ):
From the Universal links, it’s one small step to the universe, and space in general, and to our second new member of The Chain Gang of the week, abramson60, the 60th from the very noble Abramson family, as Adam Buxton would say:
Anyway, abramson60 has certainly got the hang of how to make sure you get lots of tunes played here: list of a load of songs he’d considered before finally plumping for a completely different one. I, of course, cannot resist:
“Universe would automatically take me down the space road, so you could have….”
“…not forgetting that he went on to become the nation’s favourite spaced out artist.”
But, “…sticking with universe, The Rocky Horror Picture Show had long lasting and profound influence on the somewhat naive 16 year old me who first saw the film at the tail end of the 70’s. So my pick is ‘I’m Going Home’, not quite sure where to but somewhere in the outer reaches of space.” I’m not sure I quite follow the link there, but as it’s your first visit, I’ll let it slide this time:
Next up, Martin from New Amusements, who takes the “list a load of songs then pick a completely different one as their choice” approach adopted by abramson60 and combines it with Rigid Digit’s focus on the song’s lyrics:
“The Universal includes a line about ‘satellites in every home’ so we could go with that, enabling…”
If I could just butt in for a moment, I can’t hear that record without thinking of this record (and vice versa) since I can’t help but think that while it’s not a straight-out sample, the synth melody line, owes more than a little debto the old instrumental Martin suggests:
Martin’s actual choice will follow in a moment, but props where props are due, the category it falls into was first suggested by The Robster from Is This The Life? (well, actually, it was first mentioned by Rigid Digit last week time)
“My link comes in the form of British Gas adverts. The Universal was, as you point out, used in an ad campaign for British Gas. So was ‘More Than A Feeling’ by Boston, which despite ticking all the middle-of-the-road 70s AOR boxes, is a damn fine tune and one I always find myself playing air guitar to. True!”
It may well be, but unfortunately that’s featured in The Chain before, so, as per the rules above, I can’t allow it this week. Sorry!
Tell you what, have another go:
“Another gem from the British Gas archive is the wonderful ‘Rescue Me’ by Fontella Bass which cannot fail to give everyone a lift on a Monday morning.”
Back to Martin again: “…let’s go down the route of the Blur track’s British Gas-based ubiquity, all the excuse we need to have ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ by The Rolling Stones, since that tells us ‘it’s a gas, gas, gas.'”
After those words from our sponsors, back to The Great Gog:
“‘The Great Escape album’ from which The Universal is taken also includes a song called ‘Top Man’. When I was younger (and a little less Great) I used to venture into Manchester and frequent a store of that name, and occasionally even buy something. Having done this, my then-significant other would drag me to where she wanted to buy stuff – Chelsea Girl. Obviously the title of a song by Simple Minds…”
“…so,” Rol continues, “I’ll point us towards the character of Seymour in the movie ‘The Little Shop of Horrors’ and suggest the song ‘Feed Me, Seymour’ as sung by the killer plant Audrey II (aka Levi Stubbs from The Four Tops).”
You can all count yourself lucky that I decided not to post the version with Gazza on it. Actually, that might have been quite appropriate, since writing and indeed reading The Chain often has the air of a hostage situation about it, so maybe we should expect him to rock up with a bucket of fried chicken and a fishing rod.
I’ve got Snuff covering that too somewhere, but let’s not overdo it, eh? That would take us over the 2 minutes of Snuff records mark, which would never do.
Any more, abramson60?
“Having said all of that I would much prefer to offer up Dr Phibes and the House of Wax Equations (any brownie points for extra long band names?) [Nope – Ed] and Hazy Lazy Hologram, link being obvious and in hazy, and everyone loves drug induced music, don’t they?”
And what of the individual members of Blur, there must be some links there, right?
Guess what, here’s abramson60. Again.
“Blur’s singer is Damon Albarn who is the son of Keith Albarn, who once managed Soft Machine, whose drummer Robert Wyatt went onto have a solo career, recording ‘Shipbuilding’ which as we all know was written by Elvis Costello, who took part in the Red Wedge tours along side Billy Bragg. So my suggestion has to be ‘Valentine’s Day Is Over’.”
I have two things to say about this. Firstly, I had no idea of the Albarn connection to Soft Machine, and secondly, abramson60 did suggest this back on February 15th, which makes his choice of Billy track a little more understandable.
Speaking of George, he’s been rather quiet so far this week, so here’s the first of his suggestions:
“Damon Albarn was/is also in a band called Gorillaz, and gorillas are in a branch of primates, as are monkeys, leading to ‘Monkey On My Back’ by The Triffids (from the Field of Glass EP). I think the song is not actually about monkeys.”
(My apologies, by the way: I realised I’ve misnamed the mp3 as Toots and The Maytals, rather than just The Maytals, but I really can’t be arsed with changing it.)
The Great Gog’s back again:
“I did have one more up my sleeve, but left it in case anyone else came up with it – they haven’t , so here goes. Blur’s lead singer is D. Albarn. Shuffling one of those letters to the left a bit allows me to type Dr. Alban, the early 90’s hitmaker who made such a lasting impression on me that I can only recall one of his tunes…”
“When he is not doing that [being in Blur] he schmoozes up to his famous neighbours David Cameron and Jeremy Clarkson. He also pretends to make cheese which gives us a lovely link to ‘Gorgonzola’ by Leslie Sarony.”
I may aswell chuck one in to the Alex-mix. When he isn’t making cheese, or being in Blur, he’s also popped up in some questionable novelty acts, most famously with Fat Les, but also in Wig Wam, a truly awful project that I’m not going to offend your ears by playing. His partner-in-crime there, though, was one Alison Clarkson aka Betty Boo:
But since all the rest of the band are getting at least two songs, we may as well have one of his singles. Friends of mine will attest that every time we’ve heard thisplayed out, I always point out that the intro sounds a lot like “Into the Valley” by Skids (Since nobody has ever agreed with me on this point, I’d post it so you could compare, but as it’s already featured on The Chain once before, I can’t. Who made these stupid rules up anyway??):
Which just leaves drummer Dave Rowntree, and a suggestion by The Beard:
“He shares his surname with the confectioners Rowntree. They are based in York and created the KitKat. York City’s Bootham Crescent ground was for a period renamed KitKat Crescent. ‘Crystal Crescent’ is a track by Primal Scream amd nothing to do with chocolate or the city of York.”
Which just leaves us to reveal what the next record in the Official Chain is, and many of you will have noticed the absence of one particular song from the start of this post, when we looked at songs with the word “Universal” in the title. Many people wanted to suggest this, but Swiss Adam from baggingarea was the first out of the traps so the kudos and points are his this week:
“The Small Faces have their own ‘Universal’ which is a lovely song.”
So, all that laves me to do is to ask for your suggestions, please, for songs which link to “The Universal” by Small Faces, along with a brief description of the link, via the Comments Section down below, in time for the next edition.
Let’s say that will be next week, and see what happens, eh?