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Songs of power

Not sure you’ll vote? Commentator Terry Christian suggests songs that could change your mind
Terry Christian, Tuesday, March 10th, 2015

I left home aged 18 to go to polytechnic in London and never moved back to live at home with my parents yet every general election time my mum would always call me and remind me to vote and rightly castigate me if I ever tried to say it’s not worth it.


I grew up in a terraced 3 bed-roomed rented house with an outside toilet with my 5 brothers and sisters until we later moved to a 3 bed-roomed council house.


My dad was labourer, a trade unionist and a shop steward for 25 years and my mum was a school dinner lady, but they had strong principles and remembered how tough life had been for them growing up in the 1930s and the evil of poverty and the constant crushing fear of unemployment.


I was someone educated and housed and subsidised throughout my childhood by the State and it was and is my duty to vote in each election and use that right which ordinary people fought and suffered to win.


No kind oligarch or king ever said: “Here you, have a vote, you have a say in who has power” – that power had to be wrenched from their grasp.


If you don’t vote it’s a disrespectful betrayal of all those sacrifices people made. If you feel like Russell Brand does, that all the political parties are more or less singing from the same hymn sheet – try and consider it the way you would picking teams in a school yard football match – there are only two kids left and its your pick, you know they’re both rubbish so you’d pick the one that was the least crap at football to give you the chance of a better result .


Here are a few songs from my geek-like collection that may inspire you to exercise that bit of power you have with your vote.



1. Tracey Chapman – Talkin’ About a Revolution



Tracey Chapman was very young when she had a hit with this song – the references are there – foodbanks, welfare lines and unfairness – it’s a fine piece of controlled anger.



2. Curtis Mayfield – Move On Up



One of the best known songs of all time and inspired by the struggle for Civil Rights in the USA . Chicago soul singer Curtis Mayfield wrote dozens of songs dealing with the subject matter of making positive changes in the USA and creating a more equal opportunity society – from 1968 Curtis Mayfield.



3. Nas – I Can



This positive message song by US rapper Nas from 2003 is about staying positive and believing. Don’t let those in power demoralise you , as demoralised people don’t vote and don’t struggle for change . Be positive and don’t let the powerful grind you down.



4. John Lennon – Working Class Hero



John Lennon’s Working Class Hero is one of those songs that should be played to you in school. The immortal line ‘They hate you if you’re clever and they despise a fool’ is a line that says it all about how your class background counts against you consciously and unconsciously in Britain.

In some ways you have to live it to understand it – pure genius. Never feel disempowered or afraid. As the famous poet Percy Bysshe Shelley put it in 1819 in his poem inspired by the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester where 15 people were killed and between 5-700 injured when the Dragoons were sent in with swords to break up a meeting calling for the right to vote:

Rise, like lions after slumber

In unvanquishable number!

Shake your chains to earth like dew

Which in sleep had fallen on you:

Ye are many—they are few!



5. Baby Huey – Hard Times



This is the second song in my list written by former Impressions singer and songwriter Curtis Mayfield. This is quite a rare soul number released in 1971 by Chicago singer Baby Huey . It talks about hard times and helplessness caused by poverty and racism . You’ll be happy to have heard it , it’s a classic.



6. Bob Marley & The Wailers – Top Rankin



I could have easily compiled 15 songs by Bob Marley to inspire you to vote and use what little power you have . But this one from his ‘Survival’ album says it all. Top Rankin’ basically means a leader who says he’ll represent you but doesn’t necessarily and may be out for himself and then the phrase Skanking has two meanings – one is a type of reggae dance, the other is someone who is immoral and a liar – are you skanking – are you being dishonest .



7. McFadden & Whitehead – Ain’t No Stoppin Us Now



As far as positive message songs go, this on the Philadelphia soul label is the ultimate written by two of the best performers and song writers on that illustrious label. Gene McFadden was actually shot dead in a case of mistaken identity by two gun men in Philadelphia n May 2004 his song writing partner John Whitehead died of liver and lung cancer aged 57 in 2006. This song sold over 8 million copies worldwide.



8. Sex Pistols – God Save The Queen



Angry, youthful and very brave , everyone who was around at the time knows that this was really the number one record during the Queens Silver Jubilee week in 1977 , but was kept off the top of the chart at number 2 for purely political reasons. The lyrics are an attack on the commodification of our history and traditions and on our sheep like acceptance of a class system and inherited power. Still so edgey it would cause controversy even if released today.



9. The Specials – Ghost Town



This song Ghost Town by Coventry’s The Specials is probably the most relevant and poignant number one record that ever topped the UK charts. Released in 1981 at the height of Mass unemployment especially amongst young people with over 3.5 million uemployed (although realistically 5m as the figures were heavily manipulated) , the destruction of British Industry by Thatcher’s Government. The release of the record coincided with a summer of fierce and destructive rioting bordering on insurrections in Britain’s inner cities one of the major causes of which according to the Scarman report which followed was the massive percentage of Youth Unemployment. I don’t think any other song has ever quite captured the zeitgeist like this one



10. Billy Bragg – Between The Wars



This song always reminds me of the hard times people had before the welfare state and that biggest of all fears in every working class household ‘Unemployment’. It also begs the age old question , if we can have full employment and jobs for all during the war , why can’t we manage the same thing during peace time.



11. I Am Kloot – I Believe



Manchester singer songwriter John Bramwell and his group I Am Kloot give us that message of hope on this song. Don’t be guilty of power worship it says. No matter how powerful all their walls can come tumbling down. After all who could have imagined in 1989 that the Berlin wall would be brought down and that the soviet union would collapse, who would have imagined Nelson Mandela being released from prison and going on to not only end Apartheid in South Africa but become it’s first black president, Yes Believe.



12. Gil Scott Heron – The Revolution Will Not Be Televised



Poet, musician songwriter and probably the God Father of rap music. This song by Gil Scott Heron was released in 1970 at the height of student protests against the Vietnam war and the on-going fight against racism in the USA.


Gil Scott Heron was at one time described as the most politically dangerous musician on the planet. He’s also of interest to many Celtic fans as, although Gil Scott Heron was born in Chicago, his father was Jamaican and was a professional footballer and actually played for two seasons in the mid 1950’s for Glasgow Celtic, in fact he was Celtic’s first ever black player.


As for this song, it tells you all the things that the Revolution when it comes – will not be. What it’s really saying is: “The revolution will not be televised – because the revolution will be in your mind.”



13. The Jam – When You’re Young



The Jam – When You’re Young. This just resonates with me from a time when Bob Marley and Paul Weller were my political idols. It captures that defiance and appetite for life despite the lack of hope when you’re young and the frustrations and permanent ache of adolescence the line ‘The world is your oyster but your future’s a clam’ is Weller at his finest.



14. The Blow Monkeys Featuring Sylvia Tella – Choice



This is probably the most unusual choice here. A great political pop tune from The Blow Monkeys in 1989 , which I couldn’t believe wasn’t a huge hit. On this tune Dr Robert is joined by the brilliant Sylvia Tella – Manchester’s very own Reggae Queen. Was it a brilliant record yes, did it inspire yes – worth rediscovering.



15. Junior C Reaction – Better Must Come



Finally a song which was used as part of Michael Manley’s People National Party to win the Jamaican election in 1971 years before Blair and his New Labour tapped into D.Ream and things can only get better and a far better song. This is something of a reggae classic and rousing too. This version – by the Derby 12-piece reggae band Junior C Reaction version was inspired by the miners strike and came out in 1985.


Which songs inspire you to use your vote? Let us know on social media using the hashtag #NoVoteNoVoice

  • This feature first appeared in today’s Mirror online www.mirror.co.uk 



Live in the Manchester area? Find out why young people must not lose their vote at a special event organised by #NoVoteNoVoice. The debate will be held tomorrow evening from 5pm-7pm at the University of Manchester student union, Academy 3. Guest speakers include veteran anti-austerity campaigner Harry Leslie Smith. Find out more here.

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