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Why The Conservative Songs Were Bad Choices

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I know it is silly to label songs or artists as “liberal” or “conservative” but since John Miller of the National Review Online started this debate I’ll take the bait.

A variety of other people have also responded to the list from Pete Blackwell here at Blogcritics to Pete Townshend of the Who  – who had the #1 song but was not crazy about the selection – to the Proclaimers, who were amused by having one of their songs picked.

At first I thought this was a joke. Maybe it’s a desperate attempt for one or more conservatives to appear hip and cool. Seriously, how can anyone in their right mind consider ANY songs by the Sex Pistols, Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger or The Clash as conservative?

But when I saw the story about the list in the New York Times I knew this piece by Miller, National Review Online’s national political reporter, was serious. John Miller responded to the reaction by adding a few thoughts and then listing 50 more conservative songs. Blackwell responded to that list too.

Miller laughingly complained about rock critic Dave Marsh calling the list “a desperate effort by the right to co-opt popular culture.” Miller responds: “In other words: The 62 million Americans who voted for President Bush’s re-election don’t actually participate in the creation and consumption of pop culture, but we steal it and twist it in dastardly ways.”

To which I say, “What? I don’t remember there being anything on the ballot about the Who, the Sex Pistols or music at all? What does George Bush have to do with rock music?”

The whole polarizing piece by Miller reminds me of the time President Reagan referenced Bruce Springsteen during one of his speeches. He seemed to have no idea about the true meaning of the songs on Born In the USA, which was not exactly an endorsement of the conservatives' position on Vietnam.

My thoughts on some of the selections:

1. “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” by The Who
The only way this song is conservative is that conservatives repeatedly voted for Bush (senior and junior) and then were dismayed by his decisions. Yes, they got fooled again. Incidentally Pete Townsend says that this song is neither a conservative song nor a liberal song. And he should know since he helped write it.

2. “Taxman,” by The Beatles
Miller uses this song as an attempt to get on a soapbox and suggest only conservatives oppose taxes. That’s simply not true. That’s like suggesting only conservatives oppose crime and support law enforcement.

3. “Sympathy for the Devil,” by The Rolling Stones
Well, I agree with this one. How else can you explain Dick Cheney and Karl Rove still being part of the White House administration?

4. “Sweet Home Alabama,” by Lynyrd Skynyrd
Sure, if the conservatives want to claim this song, a favorite tune of those who are sad the south lost the Civil War, then they can go right ahead and have it.

5. “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” by The Beach Boys
Miller says this song is about marriage and being pro-abstinence. This song reminds me of John Lennon’s “Imagine” in that both are what-if scenarios. But I don’t suppose the National Review wants to be associated with any song with the word peace in it.

6. “Gloria,” by U2
Saying U2 intentionally wrote a conservative song is about as silly as suggesting the same about the Sex Pistols (“Bodies,” #8), Metallica (“Don’t Tread on Me,” #9) or Bob Dylan (“Neighborhood Bully,” #12.) The Dylan song is chosen, Miller said, because it is pro-Israel. Again, why is that a solely conservative stance? Are there no liberals who support Israel?

7. “Revolution,” by The Beatles
Miller writes:

"You say you want a revolution / Well you know / We all want to change the world . . . Don’t you know you can count me out?” What’s more, Communism isn’t even cool: “If you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao / You ain’t going to make it with anyone anyhow. (Someone tell the Che Guevara crowd.)

The Beatles would be saying, “Count me out” on the Iraq war. (Someone should tell the pro Iraq war crowd.)

About Scott Butki

Scott Butki was a newspaper reporter for more than 10 years before making a career change into education... then into special education. He has been doing special education work for about five years He lives in Austin. He reads at least 50 books a year and has about 15 author interviews each year and, yes, unlike tv hosts he actually reads each one. He is an in-house media critic, a recovering Tetris addict and a proud uncle. He has written articles on practically all topics from zoos to apples and almost everything in between.
  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    “An expression of Christian faith by a super-hip band.”

    P.O.D. was never hip, let alone super-hip.

  • http://clatch.blogspot.com/ A.L. Harper

    I’m sorry who uses the word “hip”? Only the deeply un-hip.

  • http://www.tresbleu/blogspot.com Sister Ray

    I’m not the biggest Sammy Hagar fan, but I like that pick.

    I also agree with his view of “Back In The USA.” I would expect a conservative and/or capitalist to praise things like skyscrapers and freeways more than a liberal would.

    Help – I’m turning into Ayn Rand!

  • http://www.futonreport.net/ Matthew T. Sussman

    So, why is this “conservative rock” list so important?

    Will we see a list of random conservative songs in the future?

    Besides, the list is bogus. The most conservative songs are?

    Anything by Bush. Thank you, try the veal.

  • JR

    I Can’t Drive 55: “A rocker’s objection to the nanny state.”

    Yes, it is. Why don’t “liberals” object to the Nanny State?

    I don’t even need to show how stupid this choice is. Or do I?

    ‘Fraid so.

    This would imply that the conservatives are in favor of speeding and driving recklessly.

    This would imply that people who are pro-choice are in favor of unsafe sex and abortion. It would imply that those who want to decriminalize drugs are in favor of addiction and overdoses. It would imply that those who oppose censorship are in favor of hate speech and pornography.

    Oh wait, no it wouldn’t.

    You’ve got a good start on your own list, though. How ’bout “One in a Million” by G’n’R?

  • R. D. Hobbs

    “So a song written and performed by anti-war activist Pete Seeger, and often played in anti-war rallies, is actually conservative because that’s how this writer interprets it?”

    Smartest sentence out of this critique and out of any article about this topic really. Here’s the truth artists (or anyone who disagrees or agrees with this list): once your art is out there, it’s open for interpretation. And any song, based on when and who hears it, can mean just about any damn thing. For an example see “Every Breath You Take” by the Police.

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    Yeah, let’s see more important topics like baseball stories before the all-star break.

    Open for interpretation does not mean all interpretations are correct. My favorite moment at a wedding is the inappropriate song when some fool uses “Every Breath You Take” or “One” or “Something” because they like the sentiment of line and don’t know what the whole song is about.

  • Mohjho

    “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” by The Rolling Stones
    Um…Anybody else know this ripped off line from the Hermann Hesse’s book, “Steppenwolf”?

    In the book, cocain is involved.
    Yea, thats conservative.

  • Scott Butki

    Thanks for the comments and feedback. I’ll add more tomorrow.

  • http://www.snarkattack.info/ Snarkattack

    Another one for the conservative list – “Born To Be Alive” by Patrick Hernandez. That good old 70s disco hit. It’s pro-life, yeah? It must be, based on the title.

    Oh, and I guess “F*ck the Police” by Public Enemy is a conservative song because it advocates having sex with law enforcement officers. They’re so bonkable because of their profession, after all.

    I love Miller’s comments on “Winds of Change”, “Janie’s Got A Gun” and “Stay Together for the Kids”. Perhaps his interpretations reflect what he wishes the songs were about?

    Eh, who am I to criticise: he writes for a living – surely he must be doing something right but analysing rock songs is clearly not his forte.

  • http://interreality.org/~reed Reed

    * At least he didn’t use Born in the USA.

    * Turn! Turn! Turn! by the Byrds really is anti-war. It deliberately amends Ecclesiastes to emphasize peace (I swear it’s not too late!) over war.

    Conservative and Republican are **not** the same thing! Another issue at work here is that there are several definitions of “conservative”. And politically, it means slightly different thinks in the USA, UK and other countries.

    To me the two main connotations are “conservative policy goals tend towards libertarianism but not as radical” and “conservative persons have tradditional social values” (and so this aspect is anti-progressive). These are two seperate concepts that may or may not be combined in any individual person.

    Some possibly conservative values can in fact be found in these songs — ignoring their context within the song or the context of the song or artist perhaps — but none of them have anythnig to do with Republican party policy.

  • http://nicholasstixuncensored.blogspot.com/ Nicholas Stix

    2. “Taxman,” by The Beatles
    Miller uses this song as an attempt to get on a soapbox and suggest only conservatives oppose taxes. That’s simply not true. That’s like suggesting only conservatives oppose crime and support law enforcement.

    You know, I hit the links you provided, and found Miller and the whole enterprise silly, but you’ve gone and joined him in the silly department. Tell me about the “liberals” who oppose crime and support law enforcement, ’cause I’d like to meet me some.

  • http://www.rokkandi.com Jim the Neither Liberal or Conservative

    Wow. Scott Butki sure comes across a little angry here doesn’t he? Imagine those horrible neo-cons stealing from the Beatles! Let me tell you, you bad old conservatives, The Beatles would never support your dirty old Iraq war!

    Scott doesn’t sound at all like someone who wants to discuss the other side of an arguement, he just sounds shrill and whiney.

    By the way, Won’t Get Fooled Again works quite well as a conservative song. The line: “The parting on the left is now the parting on the right…” is quite prophetic. Don’t worry Pete, there’s nothing to be ashamed of.

  • http://www.tresbleu/blogspot.com Sister Ray

    Independent vs. statist would be a better dichotomy.

  • Joey

    I Can’t Drive 55: “A rocker’s objection to the nanny state.”

    I disagree. This is obviously directed at authority.

    Objection to the “nanny state” would be something like…. “I can’t wear my seat belt and I’ve disconnected the airbag, momma”.

  • Scott Butki

    Reed, yes, conservatives and republicans are different things. But the National Review has been pretty solid in being both pro-conservative and pro-Republican. So when Miller endorses a song as conservative I think he also means Republican.

    Nicholas, as a voter and a reporter I’ve covered many elections and I have yet to meet any candidate who says he or she is for crime and against law enforcement.
    Republicans and conservatives love to paint liberals and Democrats that way but show me where a bunch of them have made votes that fit that description.

    Snark, I love your f the police comment. That’s the wittiest thing I read today.

    El Bicho and others –
    The comments about interpreting being ok but not neccesarily are spot on.
    I have always thought the author of a piece – be it the Proclaimers or
    Pete Townsend – would know what it means better than, say, a politics reporter.

  • Scott Butki

    Any further thoughts on these songs?

  • Steve

    Frankly, the more political an artist sounds on either side of the spectrum, the less I enjoy their music. If they really think their politics are so hot, they should become politicians themselves and show them how it’s done! Whining about it in song just doesn’t sound good.

    Re. interpretation, if an artist has taken sides publicly during elections, then it’s only fair to assume their songs might lean the same way politically. Otherwise though, it seems to me alot of artists prefer that their songs DON’T have a single interpretation, in the hopes that more people will buy their music.

    Re. these songs, frankly, thinking about them on a political level would completely spoil them for me (at least the ones I like, which number maybe 3 or 4 on this list), so I’m not gonna try!