Worry, be happy.
January 20, 2010 3:39 PM   Subscribe

In search of uplifting/inspiring music suitable for lefties.

I'm looking for positive music that is appropriate for people who generally consider themselves leftists, radicals, progressives, or whatever; it doesn't have to be specifically about a "cause", but it certainly can be. Songs that quietly inspire rather than depress. That make you say to yourself, "Time to fix the world!" rather than "Why bother?". Generally looking more for heartfelt than treacly. Anything ranging from the personal/internal to the global is fine. For frame of reference, some songs that come to mind for me while asking this question are "Shroud" by Ani DiFranco, "Oxygen" by Willy Mason, and "Up To The Mountain" by Patty Griffin.

Please suggest songs rather than full oeuvres-- I'm lazy!

Apologies if the request seems a little hazy, but hopefully you get my drift.
posted by threeants to Media & Arts (29 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

Matisyahu - "One Day".
posted by Jinkeez at 3:46 PM on January 20, 2010

Also, I guess, Soul Rebels - "Let Your Mind Be Free," although they ultimately drive me nuts because they seem to shout out band's name in every. song.
posted by Jinkeez at 3:50 PM on January 20, 2010

Seconding Michael Franti.

(I read the first sentence and thought you were asking for music suitable for left-handed persons. I had this vague idea of a small child, profoundly upset by his handedness, in need of cheering up musically.)

(I am somewhat disappointed that this is not the case.)
posted by iktomi at 3:51 PM on January 20, 2010 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the suggestions so far!

Just to clarify my initial thought, the songs don't necessarily have to be bouncy or musically upbeat as long as they're sort of thematically affirming.
posted by threeants at 3:53 PM on January 20, 2010

How far to the left are you looking for? What kind of music do you like?

At the risk of saying something obvious, lots of people make a sort of specialty of this kind of stuff. I like Joan Baez and Crass.
posted by box at 3:55 PM on January 20, 2010

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists always make me proud to be a lefty, especially his Shake the Sheets album
posted by FakePalindrome at 3:57 PM on January 20, 2010

There was a little song book printed in the 1950s that I believe would fill the bill.
It was called "The People's Songbook" (I believe); yellow papercover; 5x8 inches.

I recalled enough of a lyric to search for one song from it, but found only modernized lyrics.
It was kind of folksongy, so changing lyrics is expected
Here is the link I found.It has mp3 and sheet music.

But the lyrics I recall differ:

Slaves of Wall Street here we sit
Covered with Reaction's shit
While our sweat is filling Morgan's filthy till.
And the fascists as they pass
Jam Taft-Hartley up our ass.
Well, I guess we've had our god-damn fuckin' fill.

Fight fight fight for liberation.
Vote vote vote the people's way.
Rise ye workers of the world.
Let your banners be unfurled.
Storm the forces of reaction to the ground.

Then we'll take a rugged rope
and well hang the bloody pope
and we'll burn the Sistine chapel to the ground.
And we'll take up all our guns
and we'll turn them on the nuns
and the people's voice will be the only sound.

It somehow brings to mind a simpler time, more optimistic time.
posted by hexatron at 4:01 PM on January 20, 2010

K'naan, Wavin' Flag
posted by oinopaponton at 4:04 PM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Hey folks, thanks again for more responses-- I'd like to put in a reminder that I'm asking not for names of artists, but for particular songs that you find to be especially good.

How far to the left are you looking for?

The whole gamut, really, I guess, from vague do-gooders to anarchists.
posted by threeants at 4:08 PM on January 20, 2010

Billy Bragg. (!)

Throw a dart at his catalog.
posted by nickjadlowe at 4:11 PM on January 20, 2010

"Play the Greed" by Dar Williams. "Grand Canyon" and "Alla This" by Ani DiFranco.

"Cupcake" by Nellie McKay is theoretically about gay marriage, which is only barely discernible from the lyrics. But it is very bouncy.

"Final Straw" by R.E.M.
posted by purpleclover at 4:11 PM on January 20, 2010

Pretty much all of Billy Bragg will fit the bill -- Power in a Union comes to mind first, but really, he's literally made his career of this sort of thing, god bless 'im. Must I Paint You a Picture? is a terrific collection.

Pete Seeger, Which Side Are You On? (covered by Billy Bragg and a million others, too.)

The Style Council, Walls Come Tumbling Down and Internationalists.
posted by scody at 4:18 PM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

"What's So Funny 'Bout Peace, Love and Understanding" by Elvis Costello
"War (What Is It Good For?)" by Edwin Starr
"Bonzo Goes to Bitburg" by The Ramones
posted by Clambone at 4:27 PM on January 20, 2010

"Walls Come Tumbling Down", by The Style Council
are you gonna be threatened by
The public enemies No. 10 -
Those who play the power game
They take the profits - you take the blame -
When they tell you there's no rise in pay

Are you gonna try an' make this work
Or spend your days down in the dirt -
You see things CAN change -
YES an' walls can come tumbling down!

posted by bunglin jones at 4:30 PM on January 20, 2010

Here is a good Billy Bragg jumping off point. Waiting for the Great Leap Forward performed on the Henry Rollins Show.

Like Scody said...it's all good and if you like his voice and style, it's a very deep well.
posted by nickjadlowe at 4:30 PM on January 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Please disregard non-bold text in the previous Hexatron post.
The People's Songbook was a 1948 earnest leftist effort, suitable for warming the frosty cockles of Pete Seegar's heart. Ugh.
What I was feebly pointing at was The Bosses' Songbook of 1959 (note--link is pdf images, but worth the pain):
This is a collection of parodies, with a sucky apology at the start (but christ, it was 1950-fuckin-9)!

The tunes are all appropriated. Slaves of Wall Street quoted above, is to the tune of Tramp tramp tramp the boys are Marching.

Of course, there is This Land is Their Land (Warning--do not google--too many hits to count for this inspired? parody title)

but I end with a favorite--from Which Side Are We On?

My father is a member
Of the bourgoise.
But I will fight for freedom
While he's supporting me.
  He's a bourgois slob
  But I don't have a job.

(what's the last time I type  ? Not long enough to forget it, I guess.)
posted by hexatron at 4:32 PM on January 20, 2010

Steve Earle's "The Revolution Starts Now" may be too rockin' for your request, but its earnestness and hope might suit.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:47 PM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Holy crap, you need to listen to the Mekons.

The Mekons are fucking awesome. The Mekons literally changed my life, and continue to do so constantly. The Mekons are a loose collective of people who are all very talented - were a punk band formed in 1976 who later turned to country & western music for inspiration - are independent thinkers as great at writing songs about love as they are writing songs about putting an end to Reagan and Thatcher - and are still writing beautiful, relevant music to this day.
Rise like lions, shake your chains, babe,
Ye are many, and they are few!
Take from the rich and give to the poor!
Take from the rich and give to the poor!
They're consistently surprising me by putting into words revolutionary and deviant thoughts that lurked in my own heart but never had a voice until I heard the way that they manage to say them. They're the simmering discontent underneath everyday life, but they're filled with the joy of knowing that that simmering discontent has always been there, and always finds an outlet among the outcasts and downtrodden.
Only darkness has the power
Only darkness has the power
And darkness is what surrounds me,
So I can open my heart to the world
All of these emotions, all of these experiences that we who strive for revolutionary change embrace can be found here in the music of the Mekons, those brave women and men from Leeds who built with words and music a portrait of the power the common people have to continue to endure: it is folk art and it is dissident outcry. "Sometimes I feel / Like Fletcher Christian" - this song, the idea of a person who, against all expectation, leaves behind his society never to see civilization again, content among the the jungle tribes; images like these are what make the Mekons so great and so satisfying. They're full of this kind of stuff.
Don't be depressed, don't be downhearted!
– There's a mighty crisis coming;
Pearls of thunder, pearls of wisdom –
Reagan / Thatcher dead and gone!
And they're full of incredibly interesting musical influences, as well. They introduced me to Kevin Coyne. The hilarious liner notes to their first singles collection from 1982 were written by none other than Lester Bangs. They could cover Hank Williams and Johnny Cash convincingly. They have a sense of humor, too; they could write songs about the moon landing hoax conspiracy, for example. Always thoughtful, never compromising, the Mekons are an institution.
When I was just seventeen,
Sex no longer held a mystery.
I saw it as a commodity
To be bought and sold like rock and roll
There's not a whole lot of their stuff available on Youtube, but fantastically all of their bootlegs are available for free on Internet Archive, because they themselves believe that they should be and have said so in writing. So my suggestion to you? Go download some of those live shows and listen to them a few times... and then you can just try to keep yourself from getting your hands on everything they've ever recorded. I couldn't.

Some suggestions for great live shows that showcase how great they are, for those interested:

  • Live at the University of Chicago - May 1, 1987
  • Live at the Metro, Chicago - Dec 12, 1989
  • Live on Z├╝rich Radio - May 11, 1991
  • Live at Great American Music Hall, San Francisco - July 28, 2009

  • posted by koeselitz at 4:58 PM on January 20, 2010 [6 favorites]

    Sorry, you want particular songs. There isn't that much of them on youtube, but here are a few I can find various places by the Mekons that fit the bill:

  • "Abernant 1984/1985"
  • "Robin Hood"
  • "Vengeance"
  • "Chivalry"
  • "Sometimes I feel like Fletcher Christian" (good version available here, though you'll need to convert it)

  • posted by koeselitz at 5:22 PM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

    holy cow, now I'm a little in love with koeselitz.

    His (excellent) comment about the Mekons reminds me of one of their spinoff bands, the Waco Brothers, who have a number of these sort of songs as well -- e.g., Plenty Tough and Union Made.
    posted by scody at 5:23 PM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

    Best answer: New Kicks by Le Tigre is exactly this!
    posted by anotherthink at 5:34 PM on January 20, 2010

    People Have The Power by Patti Smith. They played this on kexp.org on MLK day - check out their playlist for the rest of the set to see what else they were playing. I was in the car and I noticed they were playing a bunch of political stuff (it was around midday or early afternoon).
    posted by matildaben at 6:36 PM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

    There been times that I thought I couldn't last for long
    But now I think I'm able to carry on
    It's been a long, a long time coming
    But I know change gonna come, oh yes it will

    posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 6:38 PM on January 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

    I think a lot of John McCutcheon's work is political, but the CD I've heard that would fit your description is Hail to the Chief. It's outdated now but you might actually find that satisfying.
    posted by lakeroon at 6:43 PM on January 20, 2010

    How about NOFX's "The Decline." At 18:00, it's a pretty thorough satire on the sad state of affairs in America. Not exactly thematically affirming, but worth a listen nevertheless.

    I wish I had a shilling
    For every senseless killing
    I'd buy a government
    America's for sale
    And you can get a good deal on it
    And make a healthy profit

    posted by gueneverey at 7:40 PM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

    Operation Ivy
    posted by bardic at 8:20 PM on January 20, 2010

    (Sorry, I've already used up enough lines here, but perusing the Mekons on youtube, I find someone has upped a wonderful, wonderful concert from this past April 3rd. They're in their fifties now, elder statesmen all; anyone who loves punk or folk or anything, methinks, can't help but feel some love in watching these delightful little vids of them playing their arses off; brings a tear to my eye and a crack in the shell on my cold, cold heart: Thee Olde Trip To Jerusalem | Beaten And Broken | Ghosts Of American Astronauts | Blow Your Tuneless Trumpet | Hard To Be Human Again)
    posted by koeselitz at 1:28 AM on January 21, 2010

    n'thing Waiting for the Great Leap Forward by Billy Bragg

    Phil Ochs "That's What I Want to Hear" (and in its own period manner "Draft Dodger Rag")
    posted by haveanicesummer at 7:48 AM on January 21, 2010

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