Political Songs

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Those who know my stuff know I’ve written many political songs. Its not all I do, but especially in U.S. presidential election years (2008, 2012 and now 2016) the political has been a part of what I’ve done. Now, political tensions are running high (w/ Trump, Clinton, & Bernie Sanders in the states, plus Brexit in the UK & everything else in the world) you’d think it’s a recipe to write political songs. Strangely tho, I’m feeling more distant from writing political songs this year, for several reasons. 1st, I’ve done so many songs previously about this - It feels like ‘what more can I say on these subjects? In these polarized times, it’s doubtful I’ll change anyone’s mind. 2nd, while sometimes I write to ‘get it off my chest’, its becoming more painful to even entertain things like a Trump presidency, etc., and to the extent I found humor in some of these things (and used that to write), I’m not laughing as much lately.
And yet,…I have a feeling I’ll be drawn in somehow. It may, in fact, be if I start hearing songs here that I feel I need to address if I vehemently disagree. Part of me is hoping there’ll be political songs from the opposite end of the spectrum, & part of me is dreading even hearing them and/or feeling I need to ‘rebut’ them. So I’m torn about the whole thing, frankly. What’s the feeling out there these days with you all?

In the fifty five day run-up to our Federal Election, I had teh whiz idea of doing a 3/week set of political songs. I stopped though after the first four. For starters, the early stages of the campaigns rapidly became tedious, for seconds, there were other things I should be writing; and a bunch of other issues arose too. Oh, and...the views didn't justify the effort being applied! I guess that says something about the song standard too. The ones done are actually up on youtube; starting at https://youtu.be/eb3L8lcfOzQ

Good luck writing anything satirical about the UK - it all feels a bit post-satire at the moment. Like a script for 'The Thick of It' that was rejected for going too far. I can you see you having similar problems with the US especially if Trump really does start to look capable of beating Clinton. Maybe the UK's Brexit situation will act as a warning to some in the US about voting for populists spouting 'common sense'.

My political songs are likely to be on wider themes as usual - inequality, environment etc.

Hi Mike, I have things to say about ___ and I wonder if I say things about ___ then people in the group will not like me = not listen to my songs. That's not a question for you. I'm just saying that I clearly do know that FAWM is majority left and I am, uh, well, uh, not a liberal. So if what I say gets repeated I may end up with a board full of zong and talking to myself. Still, the need for somebody to expose the truth is there. More now than ever. What do you think?

I have in the past commented on political songs whose perspective was antithetical to my own. It's difficult to separate the politics from the song writing, but I did it at least a couple of times. I think if you want to write a song about politics, you should. One of the problems we've been having is that people are either shouting at each other or ignoring each other, so a dialog... even through song... is healthy.

As far as writing. Well, I've written social songs for 50/90, and before I ever joined 50/90 I wrote a song called the Talking Bill O'Reilly Blues. It didn't stick, mostly because it was so specifically topical ("The sun goes up, the sun goes down.") that I don't think people would really get it. Also, I'm a teacher and paranoid that performing something like that will get me in trouble one day. That being said, there are a few political songs I would like to write this year.

@jcollins - I would hope that most of us wouldn't let the political content distract us from the quality of the songwriting or strength of melody.

If you write political or left/right themed songs, you run the risk of alienating half your potential audience right off the bat. Write them if you want, but one person's "truth" is another person's "pack of lies". I don't write political songs, but if I felt the need to, I would.

kevin brings up an interesting point about 'alienating your audience'...there's a few different approaches on that, tho- one idea that was brilliantly used by our own Debs + Errol was -rather then try to appeal to everyone, narrowcast your audience/message, etc so it's really appealing to a small demographic (for Debs and Errol it was that sort of fantasy/filk/geek thing (apologies for mis-characterizing it slightly).... then again 'preaching to your own choir', while having rewards, also can be not ideal. I guess for me the best balance is something that makes people think about an issue in a way they might not have thought before- tough these days tho!

I find I rarely enjoy blatantly specific political songs even if I agree with the politics. I prefer political songs that are a bit more vague and universal. There are lots of songs I love from my childhood where the political/protest message is strong yet still non-specific enough to be universal and timeless. IMHO...that is how you write a political song!

interesting point John, i kind of agree and disagree, I guess (hows that for covering all bases!) there's no doubt that more 'universal' and 'vague' songs like, say, 'blowin in the wind' or 'we shall overcome' are and will always remain timeless. When a song doesn't have that great poetry, tho, and/or expresses vague and banal truths we all kind of know anyway, and/or is vague to the point of 'you can read anything into this' including opposite points of view, I start to lose interest.

Woody Guthrie (as always, one of the masters at all of this) wrote both kinds- certainly 'this land is your land' is more universal.. but consider another great song of his- 'Deportees (plane wreck at los gatos)'. He takes a specific plane crash of migrant workers and by giving it details he humanizes it and makes it both specific and universal... a song I tear up at whenever I hear it, in fact...(other 'very specific but effective political songs' would include Dylan's 'hattie carroll' ,'john birch society blues', & 'davey moore', neil young's 'lets impeach the president', and CSNY's 'ohio' for example..

For commercial recordings I have a preference for protest songs that operate on a universal level, but with the internet you have a great opportunity to instantly respond to specific events - both in regard to political protest and news in general. FAWM and 50/90 are usually good in that regard and it's an aspect of Mike's songs that I really enjoy.

thanks, atitlan! In a way, the old 'travelling troubedour-town-cryer' tradition from 300 years ago is alive and well on the internet, improbably enough!

I like the idea of this year being beyond the reach of satire. It's just too easy--fish, barrel, smoking gun.

Maybe I'll put one up titled "Dumb as a Bag of Hammers" and let people guess what I'm talking about.

There, I just cheated on 50/90 already.

Satirical/parody songs can be really great when tackling politics but they must be clever. Al Y. could certainly pull this off. And I really love what Bruce did with Born In The USA...the verses tell a sad tale while the chorus mocks a patriotic sentiment that, to this day, fools those who don't listen very deeply to music! It is hard to write a really good political song I think.

Political songs really aren't supposed to change peoples' minds, are they? Union songs, for example, are about expressing solidarity. They also functioned as ways of communicating information and educating people about important events. So, if a political song alienates someone, it wasn't for them in the first place, seems to me. As far as I am concerned, having had an authoritarian despot poison my community, as part of his party's decades long work to destroy it, watching the rise again of xenophobic, racist, proto-fascist assholes, it's certainly no time for gentle, humorous satire. It's time for some serious fuck you songs.

@mike skliar you listed some great examples but I would say, from your list, the songs that became popular were those that were more universal. Blowin in the Wind and This Land are certainly far more widely known and loved than Hattie Carroll or Deportees. I know this does not mean one is better but my preference, as a writer and listener, is universal when possible. I really love to hear Joan sing Joe Hill but no one younger than me has a clue what she is going on about!

With all that said I definitely enjoy the political stuff you and others come up with during these challenges! Not sure how you even start to make fun of certain candidates who do all the work for you though!! Smile

Apparently, lurking in some of my nonsense I have political messages.

One of my favorites from this past FAWM is probably "The Comfort That You Thank" which is about a parenting practice I disagree with. (Parenting practices tend to be politically divided.)

Last 50/90 I wrote "Traumatic insemination", which is about active consent (and bedbugs). (The voices for and against active consent tend to be politically divided.)

I'll probably do more politics rolled in nonsense frosting songs. Or, since "The Comfort That You Thank" was a Titular title, such things may crop up on their own.

@TomS You must be from Flint. [Checks.] Yep! Feel free to write a ton of rants.

Satire is hard to me - getting the right balance between exaggeration and outrage. It's easier to go Sex Pistols.

@iveg, it's not just Flint, of course we're just famous right now! Even wealthy places where lots of privileged people live, like nearby Ann Arbor, are being poisoned.

Anyway, no rants from me, just some serious fuck you music. Well, perhaps an occasional Philipic. Biggrin

I'm with [@atitian] I have a preference for protest songs that operate on a universal level, Maybe that's because to me, modern Politics is just a Con Job. So a good protest song better fits the bill. And believe me there are a multitude of things to protest.
Russ Dash 1

I have done a few, and they have always been someone else's lyrics to my music, since I am somewhat politically naive. They are rarely humorous or satirical though, which I find hard to do these days.

I've written a few myself, but I am a little tired of it all too. Something may get me going again. You never know with me!

Maybe a "You've Worn My Hope Down to a Little Nub" political Blues song? It really isn't funny times right now, but maybe the resignation can be addressed head-on to good effect?

@atitlan Yes, me too but I'm not planning on spending much time on these kinds of songs (make it pretty) because the message is protest. I'm not the type of guy to show up at a protest rally against anything or anybody. What I could do is point out some problems I can see. However, if I ask myself if these issues are going to effect me I always conclude that they already have, and its already too late. So I'm like, "What's the point?" because college kids think they know better and they are the ones who have the most skin in the game. I can't save them. The only thing I can do is vote. People don't listen if an issue doesn't reflect their own ideology. I really don't have anything to gain by making a political song except another song on the board.

I'm sure that I'll be political, but with a bit of luck, it'll be subtle enough to sneak under the radar.

I find it hysterical that Paul Ryan likes Rage Against the Machine. They're singing about you, Paul, they're singing about *you*!

Well, my first song, and, surprise, surprise, surprise, it's got a political theme- a bit of the 'vague rather then explicit' variety tho.


and a surprise for me to write one http://fiftyninety.fawmers.org/song/16113

i almost tagged this one NOT political, but instead i didn't tag it at all:

song of a hundred tones: http://fiftyninety.fawmers.org/song/16106

John, I concur. All things are political. In a sense many of my songs are political. I'm going through a faith transition now in leaving the LDS church and it affects my writing. But, I think it is more timeless to write a song that is catchy enough to transcend the political message. I am thinking of "Charlie on the MTA", "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" "Papa Don't Preach" and songs along those lines.

"The opposite of love isn't hate: it's indifference..."
And good songs evoke feelings. You don't have to say a candidate's name or parrot a party platform to be political with a song. In fact, it's often better to make it into a satire like "Charlie and the MTA"

"Will he ever return.
No he never returned.
His fate is still unlearned.
He may ride forever 'neath the streets of Boston
He's the man who never returned."

And here I read your initial post as if you were singing it, because your songs are like that to me. "I'm not laughing as much lately...." is poetic. I think your song is already written, you just gotta scan it up a little Smile As for me? I'm a woman who was raised in the south in the late 60s and 70's...so an opinion is not something I'm comfortable voicing, even now....I have written one song I consider "political" but it doesn't take a side. I have a deep fear of ever really publically taking a side. You, however, always have pushed the edge and people like that about you. Smile Anyway, there's me speaking up Smile

@colgoo, I've known that song since childhood (the 60s), lived in Boston for about a year twice, and still had no idea that it was political! I just read the Wikipedia entry on it. Totally amazing!

May your faith transition have no bumps and bring you only peace!

Political songs are TOUGH. I just signed up, and for some reason my first song is gonna be political. "Obscene", based on people's perceptions of breasts, and gayness, and guns. I might end up with a bridge about metal music. As I usually write comedy, I'm trying to bridge the gap between funny in places and serious, or at least satirical, in others; but it's really difficult when you're writing about all the people getting shot.

Well, after not doing any songwriting for about two weeks... I was watching TV tonight and felt compelled to write this...
your mileage may vary, but curious what ya think..

My lyric about Trump and my friend voting for him.


finally got to a political song. let's hope it doesn't alienate anyone. it's not my intention.

the tipping point: *17229

Did anyone hear Stephen Colbert's song for the RNC? I know not everyone swings that way, but it was pretty catchy. That's the kind of political song I would like to write. Someone else needs to do the choreography though.

yup. another one. it is to be expected this year.

we're off to the racist!: *17419

I don't know if this is more social or political, but if you live here, Indian Point seems pretty much both in equal measure.

Me sing this song? Not a chance in hell...but I liked saying it.


"Don't Use Our Song"


Honestly, when will they learn? It's just a question of asking politely through the proper channels.

@bong lol..but he forgot to mention that Trump also used Neil Young song "Rockin In The Free World". I could have told Trump that O' Neil would not be happy about that. I think they do it on purpose.. They can't be that dumb, could they? Well, never mind.. Trump be wise to Ask Twisted Sister to use "We're Not Gonna Take It" as that was the them song for Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger California recall election.

none are blameless, no, not one.

the mock in democracy: *17646

Anti-Bankster Protest song

jcollins, Trump has already used at least three sons without permission: Queen's We Are The Champions, a Rolling Stones song and one more. I hope the judges will be sure to raise the fine for repeat offenders.

@bong Trump does it on purpose.

I am shocked, shocked that in return for bags of money, artists receive reduced control over their music.

@jcollins, that is obvious. It just seems incredibly short-sighted. Most copyright owners would be thrilled to have their music played (for a fee), and if the one you ask first doesn't like Trump / republicans / feminists / politicians / men / people in general / you in particular, you simply ask somebody else. Yes, there are plenty to choose from, also for Trump.

So it's completely unnecessary to provoke. It's also COSTLIER than asking for permission to use the music. Therefore short-sighted.

For the owners, it's astraight forward. In most cases they have paid a one-time fee, so ASCAP's lawyers, or whatever organization they are in, can handle everything, even in international cases.

So I am hoping some of those artists will sue, maybe collectively, instead of issuing a lame statement like "We did not give our permission for Trump to use our music." And I hope they do it fast in order to be first in line to get paid. And as mentioned, I hope the judges will punish repeat offenders.

@bong I agree with you but I don't think "Queen" owns the publishing rights to "We Are The Champions". A lawsuit could possibly be filed by Sony/ATV Music Publishing.

So here's a quick down-and-dirty recording of a somewhat down-and-nasty emotion, your mileage may vary, but it was fun to get it out in song..


so, it is a true protest song, in a familiar style, with a likely target. dedicated to indiana, and michigan, and florida, and... all of those states that have suffered at the hands of "conservatives" for years.

red state blues: *18042