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Top 20 Political Songs: Redemption Song | Bob Marley and the Wailers | 1980

"Emanicipate yourselves from mental slavery"

Lifting material from a speech by pan-Africanist Marcus Garvey, calling for a second emanicipation from "mental slavery", "Redemption Song" is a simple call for awakening that is at once hopeful protest and heartbreaking resignation. The final line of the chorus, "All I ever had, redemption songs", reads like an epitaph for Marley's struggle.

While the anthem of that struggle was "No Woman, No Cry", "Redemption Song" is the antidote. The narrator is powerless: "Old pirates, yes, they rob I/Sold I to the merchant ships/Minutes after they took I/From the bottomless pit". At the same time, he is divinely empowered: "We forward in this generation triumphantly".

The idiomatic uses of "I" for "me" and "We forward" root the song in its Jamaican context, in the same way as the imperative "No Woman, No Cry". From this idiom, Marley had an ability to create honest protest songs such as "Get Up, Stand Up" that surpassed his own Rastafarian beliefs, and to reach beyond a strict identity:

My father was a white and my mother was black. Them call me half-caste or whatever. Me don't dip on nobody's side. Me don't dip on the black man's side nor the white man's side. Me dip on God's side, the one who create me and cause me to come from black and white.

With two verses, a repeated chorus, and a simple chord progression, "Redemption Song" is a folk singalong from the reggae tradition. Written at the time of Marley's diagnosis with cancer, it evidences the increasingly religious nature of his songwriting on the 1980 album Uprising. The spiritual does not, however, overshadow the call to awaken against tyranny, and the message is the possibility of redemption, no matter how slim.

Next: Imagine.

Previous: The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.

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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.