May 26, 2006

"The 50 greatest conservative rock songs."

John J. Miller at the National Review has a list. I was surprised to see "Gloria" at number six, and I was starting to think over the lyrics and come up with a theory. Like to tell ya about my baby/You know she comes around/She about five feet four/A-from her head to the ground... Nothing was clicking. Is it the interest in correct spelling? G-L-O-R-I-A. Then I saw it was "Gloria" by U2, a completely different composition. te domine/Gloria...exultate/Oh Lord, if I had anything/Anything at all/I'd give it to you... Quite different. In Van Morrison's song, Gloria was giving it all to him.

Anyway, what does Miller count as conservative:
The lyrics must convey a conservative idea or sentiment, such as skepticism of government or support for traditional values.
Skepticism of government? Surely, that's grasping at a lot of stuff that wasn't meant as conservative. But what the hell? Conservatives can enjoy it. Most mentions of the government in rock songs are skeptical of it. Can you even think of any pro-government rock songs? I mean where it's not sarcasm or the voice of a character you're not supposed to believe.

Well, go read the list. I think in a lot of cases the song leaves room to argue whether the message is actually conservative. Rock song lyrics can be blunt and plain -- when they are about sex, like Van Morrison's "Gloria" -- but they're usually fuzzy and ambiguous when they get to political and social topics -- especially if they're any good. That makes the more of a Rorschach test.

Miller's quite keen on the notion that The Kinks are conservative. (I should say konservative.) I think what he likes to read as conservative is really an artist's aversion to politics -- you know, that thing artists do: standing at a distance, observing, alternating between bemusement and critiquing human character.


Unknown said...

Some of these are genuinely conservative, but please -- this list largely plays on the old McCarthyite trick of lumping communists and liberals together. Lots of these songs are anticommunist liberal songs (you might call them Havellian): Won't Get Fooled Again; Right Here, Right Now; Cult of Personality (and has anyone heard of irony over at NRO? LC treats Stalin and Gandhi in the same line!); Heroes; Der Kommisar (which the conservatives can have, as far as I'm concerned); maybe even Revolution (though I've always thought of it as pretty conservative, because it doesn't propose any liberal alternative). Who'll Stop the Rain is pretty clearly an attack on Johnsonian liberalism from the left.

But hey, Rock and Roll is big enough for all of us to enjoy!

Joe said...

I think Ray Davies's lyrics show quite a traditional, if not conservative streak - think Village Green Preservation Society, Victoria, God's Children...

Dave said...

Pro government songs?

Well, I was about to say Neil Young must have one (tree-hugger that he is) but then it occurs to me: didn't he do a song about the Kent State shootings>

"4 dead in Ohio"?

I don't remember the song.

And then there's always U2s Sunday Bloody Sunday which is about as pro-government as one can get.

(Sarcasm sledgehammer alert: the preceding statement is sarcastic.)

michael farris said...

"has anyone heard of irony over at NRO"?

Apparently not. What the ... is wrong with this ....person that he has to project his political beliefs (often enough erroneously) onto music before he can enjoy it?

Simon said...

Some random thoughts:

"Anyway, what does Miller count as conservative[?] 'The lyrics must convey a conservative idea or sentiment, such as skepticism of government or support for traditional values.' Skepticism of government? Surely, that's grasping at a lot of stuff that wasn't meant as conservative. But what the hell?"

Arguably, Neil Young has just put out an entire album full of material that is "skeptic[al] of government," but I doubt it's going to make it onto many conservatives' playlists. Of course, that might just be because it's trite nonsense set to yawnsome music and topped off with Young's usual nasal whine, but I'm sure Neil will say it's because we don't agree with his politics.

FWIW, one of my heroes is Roger Waters (who is a huge Neil Young fan), and I am fully conscious of the fact that Roger and I are worlds apart politically.

If U2 is not per se conservative, then they have found a way to integrate religious faith into their work in a way that is very conservative-friendly.

JCJim said...

How they missed The Charlie Daniels Band I can't understand.
His "In America" was the Reganite revival song.

"Long Haired Country Boy" is the libretarian theme song: " I ain't askin for nothin if I can't get it on my don't like the way I'm livin you just leave this long haired country boy alone"

And how could they have missed "It Ain't a Rag it's a Flag"

And if they counting country music ("Stand By Your Man") then they probably could have found lots of conservative songs without stretching.

Dave said...

I saw the Charlie Daniels band play this past weekend in NYC.

Is he pro-government or just patriotic?

I think the latter.

(I think you can be patriotic and not pro-government.)

Simon said...

Perhaps they should do a list of conservative-friendly movies? Could I nominate Elizabethtown, whose overriding theme seems to turn on the liberation of the protagonist from the sophistication and pretension of the urbanite world. Metaphorically and literally, he leaves Alec Baldwin far behind; weren't we just talking about "homely"?

Joan said...

Michael F: lighten up, dude. The column, like all such lists, is meant to be fun. No one said anything about applying a political litmus test before being able to enjoy some music.

Sam: I would say that conservatives are against both communisms and liberalism, so what is the problem with saying that anti-communist songs are conservative? Are you saying that anti-communist sentiments are liberal? I'm don't think I can agree that statement, but I suppose it would depend on the song.

I do agree with you that rock is a big enough tent to hold everyone.

JCJim said...

I think CD is just a patriot and pro-americans not always pro-government(Still in Siagon)or pro conservative(Uneasy Rider),.

Ann Althouse said...

JCJIm: He justifies throwing in a country song by referring to a rock band's cover of it. Kinda cheating, I think.

Anyway, a more accurate title for the list would be something like: "Songs for a Conservative's iPod" or "Songs That Excite Me About My Own Conservatism."

I'm sure you could make a list of rock songs that fascists/communists/anarchist get a big kick out of too. It doesn't mean that's the way the artist meant them.

(Hey, aren't conservatives supposed to care about original intent?)

Joe said...

And where do you fit the Clash? Pure anarchy?

SippicanCottage said...
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Joseph said...
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Joan said...

Somebody got up on the grumpy side of the bed this morning...

Joseph said...

The linchpin of these sorts of discussions is that Rock music, and Rock musicians, are important, and their opinions carry weight. And if you're a conservative, as this fellow describes himself, than the very idea that this stuff is important is at odds with your worldview. It's piffling, atonal drivel.

Yikes! Are you dismissing art and music wholesale? Or that conservatives don't appreciate the arts? It seems the point of the arts is to analyze/critique/dramatize/glorify what's around them, whether its politics, emotion, beauty, absurdity, etc. That doesn't mean that U2 or Garth Brooks should be deciding our immigration policy, but I don't think its fair to say that artistic interpretations can't or shouldn't shed new light on a person's preconceived notions of what is good policy or what bad/good consequences might come from a seemingly good/bad policy. I don't see how that would be different for a conservative or a liberal.

somefeller said...

This list seems to be just another example of the NRO crowd saying: "I like X, therefore X is conservative", with the corollary, "because all good things are conservative, and when they become bad, they aren't conservative any more".

I remember reading once that Pete Townshend whacked Abbie Hoffman upside the head with his guitar when Hoffman jumped onstage while the Who was playing at a festival and Hoffman started to (without the consent of the Who) deliver political rant. This anecdote is one of the many things that make me love the Who. I'd love to see Townshend do the same to John Miller, for the crime of publishing this piffle.

INMA30 said...

re:"For god sakes, the way rock musicians take themselves seriously is idiotic."

How is it different than the way accountants take themselves seriously, or politicians, or for cripes sake the "clergy"?

mdmnm said...

Mention of this article was over on the Volokh Conspiracy the other day, with lots of rather heated comments- most going to whether the artists in question really meant to give a convservative message. I'll admit, the idea of "conservative rock" strikes me, much like "Christian rock", as missing the point. "Rock" to the extent it might be defined, being popular music largely based on the themes of youthful rebellion and love or sex. Nonetheless, one of the great things about music is that the meaning of songs can change for the listeners based upon their own readings or the context in which the songs are played.
Picking on/talking about lists is fun. The number one pick, "Won't Get Fooled Again" by the Who strikes me as a song which can appeal equally to anyone disillusioned with either the government in power or those leading the opposition/revolution. As a fun thing to debate (which is clearly the purpose, the author solicits outraged email) the list is fun.
I think they badly misread "My City Was Gone" #13, as being a complaint leveled toward central planning. The song strikes me as a lament of urban sprawl and unrestricted growth. They also missed on "Battle of Evermore" #25, you could read almost anything into that tripe and a red face doesn't mean communist in the context. The Scorpions (#46) don't belong on any list and "Stand by Your Man" #50, is cheating, I agree. More egregiously, they left off the easy pick of Cake's "Rock & Roll Lifestyle"-
"Well your CD collection looks shiny and costly.
How much did you pay for your bad Moto Guzzi?
And how much did you spend on your black leather jacket?
Is it you or your parents in this income tax bracket?
Now tickets to concerts and drinking at clubs
Sometimes for music that you haven't even heard of.
And how much did you pay for your rock'n'roll t shirt
That proves you were there
That you heard of them first?
How do you afford your rock'n'roll lifestyle?
How do you afford your rock'n'roll lifestyle?
How do you afford your rock'n'roll lifestyle?
Ah, tell me."

Mostly a complaint against corporate rock, which, being big business, must be conservative, but more amusingly a picture of spoiled rich kids, who may grow up to be conservative, but hardly embody the values.

SippicanCottage said...
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Lonesome Payne said...

Sippican, Joe's comment is fair. Unless you're saying arbitrarily that only popular art - or specifically popular music - is almost guaranteed to be devoid of the sort of meaning we humans seem to look for in art.

Maybe you're waving a cautionary flag, just saying "remember, most of this stuff is actually drivel from not-very-profound people." That might be worth remembering, and applies to any form of art, actually. But you seem to be going further than that.

I think we've had this conversation before.

Palladian said...

"Can you even think of any pro-government rock songs? I mean where it's not sarcasm or the voice of a character you're not supposed to believe."

What about "Don't Worry About The Government" from the Talking Heads? Well, the song doesn't actually mention the government except in the title, and I suspect that David Byrne was singing from the point of view of a rather unreliable character, but I couldn't resist suggesting it because I love the title!

INMA30 said...

I think most people take themselves seriously. Too seriously? That is another issue. Although I hardly think that rock musicians are the sole, or even most egregious culprits.

Lonesome Payne said...

For what it's worth, Woody Guthrie had an entire series of songs celebrating the dam-building projects of the 1930's.

And he was ardently pro-American in even the run-up to WW2, and as much as he sang about the evils of capitalism, he saw a clear need to defend us agsint Hitler. he has an amazing song called "in Washington," a brutal attack on Lindbergh and the America Firsters.

Beth said...

Joan, while it may be true that conservatives are "against" communists and liberals, it's not accurate to say the two are the same thing. Yes, anti-communism is a liberal sentiment, too. The Cold War wasn't fought exclusively by conservatives. Nor were the hot wars in Vietnam and Korea.

Joseph said...

Sippican: I don't think you're dismissing all that is good and fun in the arts. The intent of my question was to try to show how broadly your statement could be interpreted and seek clarification. Specifically, why should people reject insights on social/political issues from artists? And why should people who identify as conservatives in particular reject those insights? Is it the particular rock/folk/punk genres in the list that you object to or trying to get insight from artists more generally?

Hey said...


Don't think that conservatives forget that. It is interesting, however, to see just how amnesiac the Liberals are about that. The New Left captured them and have purged almost all of the old anti-Communist Liberals. At best, you'll get a grudging acknowledgement of the problems of communism. More likely you'll see communists celebrated as heroes by an anti-rightist movement that denies that there was ever any threat or cause for concern. "McCarthyism" etc.

While many of the tactics used in the 50s 60s (and the suborning of them to support Jim Crow) were distasteful and inappropriate, there really were Reds under the beds. Kazan is a dirty word in Hollywood, while Stalinists are feted. Fidel is everybody's friend, especially Steven Spielberg. Shame about those gays in prison, but no big deal for El Commandante.

We conservatives love the Scoop Jackson wing, and you'll routinely hear elegies for Daniel Patrick Moynihan's conduct as UN ambassador and his foreign policy, as well as support for Lieberman. But they don't count as "liberals" any more, only the Port Huronites do.

KCFleming said...

I'll agree wth Robert Conquest here: Few artists have had experience in politics. While they may have generous impulses and concern for humanity, "it is extremely rare for the facts to be so clear, and the human involvement so direct and simple, as to approach the immediacy and undeniability of experience."

Or as Paul Valery wrote, "Enthusiasm is not an artist's state of mind." Music driven by politics, ideology, activism, or intellectualism is usually not art at all, but drivel. Sippican's right. Music might be fun, or sublime or beautiful, but it is rarely insightful enough to serve any real politcal purpose except the hackneyed jingle, slogan, or party anthem.

Joe said...

Just a note on artists and politics, John Hall from the band Orleans is trying for the Democrat nomination to run against my Congresswoman Sue Kelly in the 19th Dist. of NY.

michael said...

Funny, but when you first mentioned Gloria I was thinking of the Laura Brannigan version from the 80's:

Gloria, you're always on the run now
Running after someone, you gotta get him somehow
I think you've got to slow down before you start to blow it
I think you're headed for a breakdown, so be careful not to show

You really don't remember, was it something that he said?
all the voices in your head calling, Gloria?
Gloria, don't you think you're fallin'?
If everybody wants you, why isn't anybody callin'?
don't you have to answer
Leave them hangin' on the line, oh-oh-oh, calling Gloria
Gloria (Gloria), I think they got your number (Gloria)
I think they got the alias (Gloria) that you've been living
under (Gloria)
But you really don't remember, was it something that they said?
all the voices in your head calling, Gloria?

A-ha-ha, a-ha-ha, Gloria, how's it gonna go down?
Will you meet him on the main line, or will you catch him on the
Will you marry for the money, take a lover in the afternoon?
Feel your innocence slipping away, don't believe it's comin'
back soon

And you really don't remember, was it something that he said?
all the voices in your head calling, Gloria?
Gloria, don't you think you're fallin'?
If everybody wants you, why isn't anybody callin'?
don't you have to answer
Leave them hangin' on the line, oh-oh-oh, calling Gloria
Gloria (Gloria), I think they got your number (Gloria)
I think they got the alias (Gloria) that you've been living
under (Gloria)
But you really don't remember, was it something that they said?
Are the voices in your head calling, Gloria?

(Gloria, Gloria, Gloria, Gloria, Gloria)
(Gloria, Gloria, Gloria, Gloria, Gloria) ...

It's not particularly conservative either.

FWIW, the U2 "Gloria" was one of my favorites at the time ... I just loved how Bono could scream a song with so much force and vitality. Still do!

J said...

"And where do you fit the Clash? Pure anarchy?"

If "Rock the Casbah" belong on this list, "Safe European Home" does too.

Troy said...

He left out a slew of blues songs about justice and redemption and consequences -- not saying conservatives have monopolies on those -- just that those are considered by many to be universals or traditional values and concepts.

The ultimate libertarian song might be "Heard it on the X" by ZZ Top about the days when Mexican radio stations could push signal nationwide -- before FAA, international regulations, etc. ruined it.

Also in Miller's defense -- if artists don't hit some universals, and it seems a truism that most artists are liberal to liberal-leaning, then conservatives are left to lean on those truths that can be gleaned. I don't have to agree with Picasso to appreciate Guernica or Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger to hear the truth of soome of their work (ditto Neil Young).

SippicanCottage said...
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reader_iam said...


Sippican: Aren't you being just a little coy here? (Or outright chain-yanking?) I mean, don't you ... weren't you ... haven't you ... aren't you ... .

Which would provide some context?

Well, far be it from me, man.

SippicanCottage said...
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XWL said...

Well, finding hidden conservatism in rock songs isn't that hard.

But what about finding the dirtiest, hippiest, pinkoest, and commiest rock songs of the last 40 years.

That's not so easy.

Yet I make an attempt at it, anyway.

(Number One was obvious, the rest weren't so easy)

Wickedpinto said...

There is no such thing as "conservative" music.

Because music is art.

In my opinion, the BEST song that depicts the conservative accomplishments of Reagan (did I spell that right, I'm ashamed for not knowing) is Jesus Jones' "Right Here, Right Now" and it isn't about conservatives, it's about the situation.

ART! cannot be conservative,otherwise it is propaganda.

there is NO great conservative music, there is only great music, that coservatives like and agree with. Which helps to define the fact that those musicians are actually artists.

In my opinion. BTW, EVERYONE should listen to the poignancy of "Right Here Right Now."

SippicanCottage said...
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chuck b. said...

I am shocked (shocked!) to learn Rush Limbaugh's show uses My City Was Gone's bassline.

And Miller's take on that song is waay off-base. It's a song about sprawl and development--things I've never heard a conservative complain about, ever.

Is Joni Mitchell's Big Yellow Taxi a conservative song too? That would be a better pick for Miller because that song explicitly sets forth the conservative sentiment he claims for Conservatives: Don't it always seem to go, That you don't know what you’ve got til it's gone.

John in Nashville said...

What about "Mama Told Me Not to Come"? The lyrics decry libertine behavior, and the double entendre in the title can serve as a motto for most of the present day Rethuglican Party, whose members obsess over who sticks what into whom and/or what to do about the pregnancy that sometimes results.

BTW, does anyone else think that the lead singer in that song sounds for all the world like Walter Brennan?

Jon Swift said...

I've created a list of 50 more great conservative songs.

Joan said...

Via The Corner, Pete Townshend blogs about "Won't Get Fooled Again" placing #1 on the list.

I liked what Pete had to say. A lot.

Walt said...

Did everyone forget the ultra-conservative Dixie Chicks!

biff said...

I just followed Joan's link to Pete Townsend's comments about the inclusion of "Won't Get Fooled Again" on the list. A pretty impressive take on the subject...worth reading.

Conservative_D said...

Missed one of the best conservative rock songs, Goo Goo Dolls - Flat Top.

Some lines:
Sleeping on the White House lawn ain't never changed a thing
Just look at all the washed out Hippie dreams

Conscience keeps us quiet while the crooked love to speak

A visionary coward says that anger can be power
As long as there's a victim on TV

David McDougall said...

i think the Clash would be terribly offended to find themselves on this list - even with such good musical company

Will said...

contrary to what Dave said earlier I think that U2's Sunday Bloddy Sunday can be counted as aconservitive song, Conservitism at its heart is about moral values and freedom, this holds very true in American, and U2's Song is about a struggle against an unjust Government said...

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