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
"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.)
13. “My City Was Gone,” by The Pretenders
Virtually every conservative knows the bass line, which supplies the theme music for Limbaugh’s radio show. But the lyrics also display a Jane Jacobs sensibility against central planning and a conservative’s dissatisfaction with rapid change: “I went back to Ohio / But my pretty countryside / Had been paved down the middle / By a government that had no pride."
But wait a minute – that sounds like a cry for controlled growth, which is more often a liberal position than a conservative one. Miller can’t have it both ways.
14. “Right Here, Right Now,” by Jesus Jones
The words are vague, but they’re also about the fall of Communism and the end of the Cold War: “I was alive and I waited for this. . . . Watching the world wake up from history.”
Since when are conservatives the only ones who want peace, who want walls to come down between countries?
18. “Cult of Personality,” by Living Colour
Miller writes: “A hard-rocking critique of state power, whacking Mussolini, Stalin, and even JFK: “I exploit you, still you love me / I tell you one and one makes three / I’m the cult of personality.” You think Reagan, along with other gods of the Republican party, did not also have a cult of personality??
23. “Brick,” by Ben Folds Five
Written from the perspective of a man who takes his young girlfriend to an abortion clinic, this song describes the emotional scars of “reproductive freedom”: “Now she’s feeling more alone / Than she ever has before. . . . As weeks went by / It showed that she was not fine.”
Because this song deals with abortion, somehow that makes it anti-abortion? That’s quite a stretch. The songwriter himself has said the song is not taking a position on the abortion issue.
33. “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” by The Rolling Stones
Miller writes: “You can “[go] down to the demonstration” and vent your frustration, but you must understand that there’s no such thing as a perfect society — there are merely decent and free ones." Well, this choice makes sense: Republicans say they want smaller government but then Bush took the United States to war and into deficit. Sing with me, “You can’t always get what you want…”
38. “I Can’t Drive 55,” by Sammy Hagar
Miller writes: “A rocker’s objection to the nanny state." This is too funny. I don’t even need to show how stupid this choice is. Or do I? This would imply that the conservatives are in favor of speeding and driving recklessly.
43. “Wonderful,” by Everclear
A child’s take on divorce: “I don’t wanna hear you say / That I will understand someday / No, no, no, no / I don’t wanna hear you say / You both have grown in a different way / No, no, no, no / I don’t wanna meet your friends / And I don’t wanna start over again / I just want my life to be the same / Just like it used to be.”
Again, this suggests that liberals are, what, soft on divorce? Liberals are pro-dysfunctional family? Am I also to believe there are no conservative dysfunctional families that are not divorced?
My responses to some of his other 50 songs:
“Alive,” by P.O.D.
Miller writes: “An expression of Christian faith by a super-hip band.” I guess only conservatives are Christians. That's news to non-conservative Christians.
“Back in the U.S.A.,” by Chuck Berry
Miller writes: "A patriotic rock song: “Did I miss the skyscrapers, did I miss the long freeway? / From the coast of California to the shores of Delaware Bay / You can bet your life I did, till I got back to the U.S.A." This is getting tiresome. On every issue Miller seems to have decided that conservatives are morally superior and therefore a song about missing the United States, i.e. patriotism, must be conservative.
“Date Rape,” by Sublime
Many liberals probably think this song blames the victim; conservatives will see it offering a bit of common sense: “The moral of the date rape story / It does not pay to be drunk and horny.”
Really? I don't know anyone who thinks the song blames the victim. I think Miller is playing the rape card and trying again to suggest that liberals are soft on crime.
“Turn! Turn! Turn!” by The Byrds
Originally written by Pete Seeger and sometimes interpreted as anti-war, the words are taken from Ecclesiastes and announce that to everything there is a season, including “A time to cast away stones / A time to gather stones together” and “A time of war, a time of peace / A time of love, a time of hate / A time you may embrace / A time to refrain from embracing.
You have got to be kidding! 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?
I could go on but I won’t because this is crazy. I usually avoid lists but this one was so stupid, so polarizing, that I just had to point out how incredibly dumb and bad some of the choices are.
Lastly here are my three nominations for conservative songs:
1. "Opportunities (Let's Make a Lot of Money)" by Pet Shop Boys
A great summary of capitalism and fun to dance to.
2. "It's Hip to Be Square" by Huey Lewis
Some conservatives should embrace their inner squares instead of fighting it by writing lists like this.
3. "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)" by Toby Keith
Oh, justice will be served and the battle will rage:
This big dog will fight when you rattle his cage.
An' you'll be sorry that you messed with the U.S. of A.
'Cos we'll put a boot in your ass, it's the American way.
An excellent summary about why residents of other countries despise the United States' arrogance.