Within minutes of the death of Margaret Thatcher, Wizard-in-Chief, Kicker of Elves, had sent us a mix of his 12 best Anti-Thatcher songs and it seems he was not alone in flagging up how she was “celebrated” in song. But were any of them any good? I recall being at Glastonbury watching Elvis Costello in the 1980s with 100,000 others singing “When they finally put you in the ground I’ll stand on your grave and tramp the dirt down”. It was a cathartic moment of relief at a time when people on the left, as I was, were locked in a battle that we were losing. However, I also had a sneaking feeling that it was not actually a very good song. The lyrics are clumsy and the whole thing rather tuneless and if you study the words, they are politically incoherent and bitter. This is part of the problem with political songs, you cannot simply enjoy the song on its own terms. For it to move you have to agree with the point of view. As soon as a political song expresses an opinion that you don’t agree with, it is impossible to continue to enjoy it. This is perhaps why political songs work best when they are vague and hard to pin down where, if you will, “The answer is blowing in the wind”.
In any case let’s consider Kicker’s Thatcher mix:
Heaven 17 – We don’t need this fascist groove thing. To be a fair, a great song, but its politics are a bit of a mystery mainly because it’s so hard to tell what they are singing. It’s hard to tell if it’s actually a tongue-in-cheek ditty about a comedy dictator stopping people dance. However, it’s unlikely to bring any walls down, any time soon.
Kirsty MacColl – Free World. Again, a great song and some great political lyrics (“when the clans rise again, women and men, united by the struggle”), but also some awful ones (“got to take it, got to grab it, got to get it up and shag it”). I am sure that someone could explain to me what the lyrics mean, but if you need a guide to make sense of something, it’s going to fail to land any punches.
The Beat – Stand Down Margaret. No problem with the song albeit a bit routine for The Beat at this stage (they all sounded a bit like this). Politically it’s childish, it does not really try to develop any analysis, simply asks for her to resign, which is useful to use at political rallies as “Maggie Maggie Maggie Out Out Out!”, but the lilting ska style didn’t really lend itself to the fist pumping chanting event.
Mogwai – George Square Thatcher Death Party: Great sound, but I defy you to find out what they are saying. I suppose the title tells us where they are coming from, but it’s not going to win any debates. Let’s face it, it could be played at the funeral and if no-one knew the title, it would not offend anyone.
UB40 – Madame Medusa: UB40 presented themselves as an overtly political band initially instead of a very good reggae band, which they turned out to be. Madame Medusa’s lyrics make it clear that the band hate her “Round her vacant features, gilded spirits dance, her evil tree of knowledge, sprouts a special branch”. However, the problem with a song that just expresses how much they hate someone doesn’t stand up to much analysis. It’s an emotional response to real world problems and issues and not a coherent political response. Great Dub Bass (for 8 minutes at the end,) which the band are clearly enjoying playing, and again does confuse the purpose of the song. We have had a pop at the Prime Minister, now let’s have a dance.
Hefner – The Day That Thatcher Dies: The song is great fun and, of course, ties in with Ding Dong The Witch is Dead (which is currently censored and at Number 2 in the charts). However, I’m not sure if this is ultimately a comedy record about being rejected by a girl called Michelle Cox at High School.
I am not blaming the musicians of the 80s for not bringing down Thatcher and, to be fair, they threw as many punches as anyone did in those years and gave a nod to people to encourage left wing sentiment and activity. The weakness of the opposition to Margaret Thatcher is much more complex than that and has more to do with global political and economic factors of course. However, the best song about Thatcher was not on Kicker’s list it is:
MJ Hibbert and the Validators – The Fight For History. It’s a great tune and has a great rocking sound. However, more importantly its analysis is great: pointing out that the Cold War was ended by the people on the street in Berlin not Reagan and Thatcher, and that the so called socialists that took power after Thatcher were no better. It’s also about how when someone dies they try and rewrite history and that songs like this are part of a constant battle for ideas that remind people about things like Section 28, the link between Western foreign policy and present wars and the Poll Tax. Finally, it is defiant “I was there and I will not forget!”.
The other songs on Kicker’s list were: The Jam – Town Called Malice, The Style Council – With Everything To Lose, Morrissey – Margaret On The Guillotine, Robert Wyatt – Shipbuilding, The Specials – Ghost Town
Hear more discussion on this topic on Podcast 8