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Maggie’s playlist: the soundtrack to a decade of dissent

The Specials, “Ghost Town” (1981)

In 1980, the Birmingham ska band the Beat pointed to urban decay with "Stand Down Margaret", but it fell to their Coventry-based contemporaries to provide the most enduring song of the decade. "Ghost Town", with its eerie, loping beat, was released against the background of riots in Britain's inner cities and for many people it still sums up the mood of that era. "Bands don't play no more/Too much fighting on the dance floor," as the lyric goes.

The Jam, "Town Called Malice" (1982)

During the 1970s, Paul Weller damaged his street cred by admitting to the NME that he voted Conservative, but by the time of his band's 1982 album, The Gift, he was raging at the state of British society. Weller went on to front, along with Billy Bragg, the Red Wedge alliance of musicians who supported Labour in the 1987 general election.

Robert Wyatt, "Shipbuilding" (1982)

Written by Elvis Costello, this anti-Falklands War single drew parallels between the decline of traditional manufacturing and workers' dependence on the arms industry. Wyatt's plaintive delivery gives the song a bitter-sweet poignancy. A blunter anti-war message came from the anarcho-punk band Crass, with their single "How Does It Feel (to Be the Mother of 1,000 Dead)".

The Enemy Within, "Strike" (1984)

Recorded by a collective of musicians that included the dub producer Adrian Sherwood and the future NS contributor and science writer Marek Kohn, this number was released as a benefit single for the Miners' Solidarity Fund during the strike of 1984-85. Possibly the weirdest protest song ever, it is constructed around a sample of the National Union of Mineworkers leader Arthur Scargill addressing strikers.

Pet Shop Boys, "Opportunities (Let's Make Lots of Money)" (1985)

Although it's right-on of us to have chosen a selection of politically engaged songs, the real sound of the Thatcher era was the slick pop promoted by the likes of Billy Ocean and Wham!, and the assembly-line hits of the producers Stock, Aitken and Waterman. The Pet Shop Boys took the sugary rush of 1980s dance music and subverted it, most effectively in "Opportunities", which parodies the greed-is-good message.

Billy Bragg, "Waiting for the Great Leap Forwards" (1988)

Written after Labour's defeat in the 1987 election. The stridently left-wing singer muses on the pitfalls of "mixing pop and politics".

Elvis Costello, "Tramp the Dirt Down" (1989)

Angrily surveying Thatcher's decade in power, Costello contemplates her demise and delivers the searing couplet: ". . . when they finally put you in the ground/I'll stand on your grave and tramp the dirt down". Imagining Thatcher's death was fertile ground for songwriters, including Morrissey with "Margaret on the Guillotine" (1988), a number reprised, with wry humour, by the indie band Hefner in their song "The Day That Thatcher Dies" (2000): "We will laugh the day that Thatcher dies/Even though we know it's not right . . ."

Kirsty MacColl, "Free World" (1989)

The folk-rock singer (left), best known for her appearance on the Pogues' "Fairytale of New York", begins with a direct address to Thatcher: "I thought of you when they closed down the school/And the hospital too".

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

This article first appeared in the 02 March 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Thatcher: 30 years on, the final verdict