15/05/2019: “High For Hours” by J. Cole

J. Cole is one of the rare artists who can appeal to multiple audiences without watering down his sound. His method of doing this is simply to have multiple sounds!

J. Cole’s repertoire includes R’n’B flavours, club bangers, trap songs, and then connoisseur’s hip hop like this…

This is an intelligent stuff, touching on class and race in America and wider politics in a poetic way. At the same time, he breaks it down and speaks in his own voice, rather than an intellectualised one.

Every word is well placed, and the story he tells is a vital one. The title of the song might suggest that this is a stoner song; but this track is stone cold sober…

The beat is chilled out, with a ethereal jazzy vibe, perfected suited for J. Cole’s truth bomb.

The final message is that global change starts with individuals, which for me is quite a controversial point but I think everybody understands the thought behind it!

The song was released in 2017 as a standalone single.

This isn’t just rambling; listen!

19/01/2019: “Sunny Afternoon” by The Kinks

The Kinks had a rough rise to stardom, due to few factors like bad management and conflict in the group.

The singer, Bob Davies, had taken some time out to look after his new kid.

The song is about a lazy, drunken aristocrat who is feeling a bit hard done by because the government has taxed him and he can’t play on his yacht as much.

The character is deliberately made into a wife beater in case anybody believes taxing the rich is wrong and feels sorry for him.

It’s quite an indolent song, with a perfectly suited lazy feeling that actually is reminiscent of sitting in the garden on a sunny afternoon. That is a masterstroke in itself!

The song feels quite Beatles-esque, due to its simple, bouncy rhythms and infectious melodies. The vocals are the main draw. He had a cold when this was recorded (in one take), which gives it a slightly restrained feeling. It is basically a happy song, I think.

It’s a noticeably less hard rocking song than many of the band’s earlier hits, signally a shift in style.

The song was released in 1966 as single, and went to number 1 on the U.K. Singles chart.

The video is the band performing in the snow, but it brings some sunshine into a cold January!

23/11/2018: “(Don’t Worry) If There’s A Hell Below, We’re All Going To Go” by Curtis Mayfield

Although America saw riots over race relations a couple of years ago, and have elected a President in large part because of his xenophobic ramblings and white supremacist apologist campaign, things weren’t always so rosy.

It wasn’t until 1964 that segregation was made illegal, and when MLK was killed in ’68 there were huge riots.

Curtis, the album this was taken from, was released in 1970, so only a few of years after these events.

He lists a few groups, such as whites, blacks and Jews (not the words he uses…) and emphasises the essentially unity of the human race by our collective damnation. At least that’s what it sounds like!

The song is equal parts funky, orchestral, dramatic and prophetic. It’s a political song, but with obvious overtones of religious warning.

The song’s rhythm is a syncopated riot, with a rolling, slow drum part overlaided with a conga/bongo section. The bass is prominent, and more interesting for the fact that it is played with some distortion for a delicious, warm fuzzy sound. It feels rather psychedelic, especially as Mayfield’s vocals tend to drift over the top rather than being the main focus.

There’s a nice string and horns section too, which adds to the gravity of the whole thing.

it might not have a great deal of urgency, but it remains a powerful statement on race relations.

01/06/2018: “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival

fortunate son

This song is very political, but I’m not choosing it for that. I’m picking it because it is catchy…

The song kicks off with a drum break, some light guitar riffing, and a pulsating bass part. The singing is a classic hard rock growl, which suits the militant tone of the song perfectly.

Further on, the song retains the energy of the start, but the guitar is still restrained, with the bass and drums pushing the song forward, leaving space for John Fogherty’s vocals to come through strongly.

It was released in 1969, and became an anti-Vietnam war anthem. Really, the song is about class rather than the war itself, but it was released at a very important time for the anti-war movement.

Standing alone, it remains a classic rock song and a powerful statement on the status quo.

 

25/04/2018: “War” by Edwin Starr

war&peace edwin starr.jpg

“War, huh, yeah
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing”

Edwin Starr’s version of “War” (originally sung by The Temptations), was released in 1970, in the shadow of the Vietnam war. It was undoubtedly controversial, with the label only releasing the song as a single if The Temptations didn’t have to do it, in order to preserve their image.

It’s a real call to action; with strident brass in a very striking rhythm, a gospel like chorus, and a very lively percussion section during the verses, the song makes it’s message very clear.

The song was number one for three weeks in  America, a sign of the disillusionment many felt with the ongoing war in Vietnam.

24/04/2018: “Zimbabwe” by Bob Marley & The Wailers

bob-marley1

Getting only this far without posting multiple Bob Marley songs has been something of a challenge for me. I am a big fan, as it goes…

You can expect Bob Marley to make a number of appearances on this blog; but I can’t apologise for that. He deserves multiple appearances in my book.

“Zimbabwe” channels the more militant side of Bob Marley, the Bob Marley concerned with global injustice, poverty, and black liberation. The song came out in 1979 on the album “Survival”, which was a decidedly militant album.

The album cover has many different African flags on, to show unity. It was a time of upheaval on the continent, with various countries fighting civil wars in the wake of independence struggles from the West.

survival-marley

The history is Zimbabwe is a tragic one all through, but Bob Marley’s song symbolises the hope many felt when Zimbabweans created their new country from the white supremacist Rhodesia. African liberation was a theme that, as a Rastafarian, Marley would have been deeply supportive of.

“No more internal power struggle
We come together to overcome the little trouble”

 

20/04/2018: “Rock The Casbah” by The Clash

rockthecasbah

I will generally try to keep politics out of this blog. It can be incendiary, alienating people needlessly when all I’m trying to do is promote my favourite music. However, it must be said, music and politics, as with all culture, can interact and overlap in various ways, to varying degrees. At its best, music can inspire people and bring them together.

Perhaps not many genres are more overtly political than punk rock, and The Clash were undoubtedly a politically aware band. “Rock The Casbah” is about an Arab dictator trying to ban rock music, with his people revolting and listening anyway.

“By order of the prophet
We ban that boogie sound”

The none-too-subtle video satirises countries like Saudi Arabia, and was inspired partly by the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979, which resulted in very socially conservative values being imposed in Iran. I do think that any attempt to ban music is just very uncool. The band even perform in front of an oil well to hammer home their point.

The video seems to suggest that the Israel-Palestine conflict could be solved through a shared love of fast food and funky music, which at this point has got to be worth a try…

The song was released in 1982 as the third single from their album, Combat Rock. It was basically written just by their drummer, with the lyrics added by the singer. I can only say that, really, The Clash had a very talented set of musicians.

The bass part is very lively on this one, with a crazily catchy riff played on the guitar and piano. The chorus is very catchy as well, giving the whole thing a real riotous joy.

The funk is just irrepressible!