Thursday, December 4, 2014

Ten Songs for Your Next Protest

1. Black Flag, "Police Story"

Greg Ginn is apparently a terrible person, and if this song is based on true incidents, I fear that the police may have been right to club him. But guys like Ginn are why we separate the art from the artist, and an example of how great artists can confront the horrors of reality.

2. Body Count, "Body Count"

Not as blunt or as infamous as "Cop Killer," but also less excessive. Ice-T's messages about police brutality seem to get more important every day, though I'm not sure he would have kept the song's anti-gun control stance had he foreseen the NRA's role in getting his music banned.

3. The Clash, "Police on My Back"

The Clash's third-most-famous cover of a song about fighting law enforcement got stranded in the middle of Sandinista!, but no one who ever made it to side four ever forgot how it turned the original's garage-rock riff into an urgent siren, diffusing all claims that the band had gone soft. And yes, it was written by Eddy Grant, who was only a few years away from "Electric Avenue."

4. Dead Kennedys, "Police Truck"

Chris Rock recently told Rolling Stone, "Comedy rots. Trading Places is a perfect movie, just unbelievably good. But there are other comedies, not nearly as old as Trading Places, that just have references and things in them that aren't funny five years later. And rap's got a lot of that." He could have added the Dead Kennedys to that comparison. Jello Biafra's Anita Bryant jokes might not be funny anymore, but this one of the Dead Kennedy's unfortunately timeless messages.

5. Fugazi, "Great Cop"

Anyone who's heard the Ice Cream-Eating Motherfucker story knows that the guys in Fugazi are more like cops than outlaws. With that in mind, they must have known that nothing could shut down a punk kid like the couplet "I look for wires when I'm talking to you/You'd make a great cop."

6. Le Tigre, "Bang! Bang!"

A Brooklyn dance-punk tirade against NYPD tactics is practically a given in 2014, but the terrifyingly infectious "Bang! Bang!" arrived in 2001 on the heels of the Amadou Diallo shooting. Guess where Kathleen Hanna stops counting.

7. Living Colour, "41 Shots (American Skin)"

Bruce Springsteen has written better songs about policemen (most of them on Nebraska), but none as direct as this 2000 ballad, also inspired by Diallo, which sparked a boycott of Springsteen's music from New York's biggest police union before the song was even officially released. My favorite version is Living Colour's, only performed live but an emotional peak of their transcendent shows.

8. Mudhoney, "Hate the Police"

Originally by the Dicks, though I like Mudhoney's more fleshed-out, hi-fi version (and if you didn't think anything could be less fleshed-out or hi-fi than Mudhoney, listen). Somewhat like the Rolling Stones updating Robert Johnson's songs, Mudhoney gave "Hate the Police" a more robust reading that was still dishonorably scuzzy.

9. Operation Ivy, "Officer"

Of course the world's biggest Clash fans would have a song about the police on their first 7", but lest you think these guys were living in punk's past, "Officer" offered alternatives to hardcore nihilism and punk anarchy--"Tough guy asshole do what you can/Whatever you destroy we'll create it again."

10. Rage Against the Machine, "Killing in the Name"

The immortal riff. This song is so great that we loved Rage Against the Machine for imitating it 40 more times. Morello's Drop D progressions will outlive all of us, and while no one with a high school education would call Zack de la Rocha poetic, his message here is just as relevant 20 years later.

No comments: