The greatest political songs of all time

Do you agree with the Political Studies Association's list?

To mark its 60th birthday, the Political Studies Association is compiling a list of the greatest ever political songs.

As you can see below, its longlist is a varied beast, ranging from Verdi's opera Aida, to the righteous Afrobeat of Fela Kuti, to Woody Guthrie's folky "This Land is Your Land" -- the latter a favourite of US progressives in the 1950s and 1960s that had a brief resurgence in 2009 when it was performed (including the "communist" verses) at Barack Obama's inauguration ceremony.

But what to make of the choices? You'll notice that the politics of these songs are overwhelmingly right-on -- the Italian anti-Fascist staple "Bella Ciao", the utopian "Imagine" -- or infused with a campaigning spirit -- the Special AKA's "Free Nelson Mandela", Public Enemy's "Fight the Power".

But are these the only kind of political songs? How about a song that actively supports the status quo, for example?

Here's the blogger Tom Ewing on Chris de Burgh's "The Lady in Red", not only one of the most cringeworthy number-one singles of all time, but also, according to Ewing, an encapsulation of market values: "the actual identity of the Lady In Red is quite irrelevant: what matters is her value, not her self".

Or, further still, perhaps the politics of a song are not only carried in its lyrics. J S Bach allegedy wrote a coded attack on his patron Frederick the Great into one of his final works, "The Musical Offering", but how about the tinny, repetitive beats carried over the PA of a high-street chain store? Is their insistence on shopping as a mechanical, compulsive activity a political message, too?

We'll be podcasting the PSA's top 20 on 25 March, but for now tell us what you think. What songs would make your top ten? Which ones have been missed?

Annie Lennox and Aretha Franklin: "Sisters Are Doing It for Themselves"

Anon: "Bella Ciao"

Barry McGuire: "Eve of Destruction"

Billie Holiday: "Strange Fruit"

Billy Bragg: "Which Side Are You On?"

Bob Dylan: "The Times They Are a-Changin'"

Bob Marley: "Redemption Song"

Bruce Springsteen: "Born in the USA"

Carl Bean: "I Was Born This Way"

Cecil A Spring-Rice: "I vow to thee my country"

Charles A Tindley: "We Shall Overcome"

Charly García: "Nos siguen pegando abajo"

Claude-Joseph Rouget de Lisle: "La Marseillaise"

Donovan: "Universal Soldier"

Edwin Starr: "War"

Elvis Costello: "Tramp the Dirt Down"

Enoch Sontonga: "Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika"

Eugène Pottier: "The Internationale"

Fela Kuti: "Zombie"

Gil Scott Heron: "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised"

Horst Wessel: "Die Fahne hoch"

Jim Connell: "The Red Flag"

John Lennon: "Imagine"

Joni Mitchell: "Big Yellow Taxi"

Leonard Cohen: "The Partisan"

Li Youyuan: "The East is Red (东方红)"

Marvin Gaye: "What's Going on?"

Midnight Oil: "Beds Are Burning"

Nena: "99 Luftballons"

Nina Simone: "Mississippi Goddam"

Pete Seeger: "Where have all the flowers gone?"

Peter Gabriel: "Biko"

Plastic Ono Band: "Give Peace a Chance"

Public Enemy: "Fight the Power"

Randy Newman: "Political Science"

Rage Against the Machine: "Killing in the Name"

Robert Wyatt: "Shipbuilding"

Rolling Stones: "Gimme Shelter"

Sex Pistols: "God Save the Queen"

The Beatles: "Revolution"

The Clash: "Know Your Rights"

The Cranberries: "Zombie"

The Jam: "Eton Rifles"

The Police: "Invisible Sun"

The Special AKA: "Free Nelson Mandela"

The Strawbs: "Part of the Union"

Tracy Chapman: "Talkin' 'bout a Revolution"

U2: "Sunday Bloody Sunday"

UB40: "1 in 10"

Verdi: "Chorus of Hebrew Slaves"

Victor Jara: "Te Recuerdo Amanda"

William Blake: "Jerusalem"

Woody Guthrie: "This Land Is Your Land"

Daniel Trilling is the Editor of New Humanist magazine. He was formerly an Assistant Editor at the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Ignored by the media, the Liberal Democrats are experiencing a revival

The crushed Liberals are doing particularly well in areas that voted Conservative in 2015 - and Remain in 2016. 

The Liberal Democrats had another good night last night, making big gains in by-elections. They won Adeyfield West, a seat they have never held in Dacorum, with a massive swing. They were up by close to the 20 points in the Derby seat of Allestree, beating Labour into second place. And they won a seat in the Cotswolds, which borders the vacant seat of Witney.

It’s worth noting that they also went backwards in a safe Labour ward in Blackpool and a safe Conservative seat in Northamptonshire.  But the overall pattern is clear, and it’s not merely confined to last night: the Liberal Democrats are enjoying a mini-revival, particularly in the south-east.

Of course, it doesn’t appear to be making itself felt in the Liberal Democrats’ poll share. “After Corbyn's election,” my colleague George tweeted recently, “Some predicted Lib Dems would rise like Lazarus. But poll ratings still stuck at 8 per cent.” Prior to the local elections, I was pessimistic that the so-called Liberal Democrat fightback could make itself felt at a national contest, when the party would have to fight on multiple fronts.

But the local elections – the first time since 1968 when every part of the mainland United Kingdom has had a vote on outside of a general election – proved that completely wrong. They  picked up 30 seats across England, though they had something of a nightmare in Stockport, and were reduced to just one seat in the Welsh Assembly. Their woes continued in Scotland, however, where they slipped to fifth place. They were even back to the third place had those votes been replicated on a national scale.

Polling has always been somewhat unkind to the Liberal Democrats outside of election campaigns, as the party has a low profile, particularly now it has just eight MPs. What appears to be happening at local by-elections and my expectation may be repeated at a general election is that when voters are presented with the option of a Liberal Democrat at the ballot box they find the idea surprisingly appealing.

Added to that, the Liberal Democrats’ happiest hunting grounds are clearly affluent, Conservative-leaning areas that voted for Remain in the referendum. All of which makes their hopes of a good second place in Witney – and a good night in the 2017 county councils – look rather less farfetched than you might expect. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.