Old Songs for the New Resistance

By Bruce Bauman

A soundtrack of 60s rock political anthems urging an uprising against the establishment, for the new generation of what Lou Reed called “all you protest kids.” I sure hope Inaugural weekend was not the end, but the beginning of a new activist movement against the coming Trumpian Reign of Terror. His cabinet appointees might not be guillotining heads, but if they repeal Obamcare, roll back Medicaid, undo Roe v. Wade, make the EPA the Business Protection Agency, and allow the planet to overheat to a boil, many thousands of lives will be at stake. Everything the Viet Nam anti-war protesters, Civil Rights activists, Feminists, and your basic new leftist fought for — and so many things that are now taken for granted — is going to be (hell, is already) under attack. I purposely omitted Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.” That was the Big O’s song and I’m not playing it again until Trump is gone. New songs need to be written; but, for what it’s worth, these are ten of my existing faves. PLAY ‘EM LOUD as you take to the streets.

 

“Revolution” — The Beatles

The Beatles, who had previously espoused that “All You Need Is Love,” jumped into the fray with this ferocious musical onslaught in 1968. A Lennon-penned song, with blistering guitar by him and Harrison, along with McCartney’s opening wail, almost make the lyrics irrelevant. There are numerous legit and bootleg versions of the song. At the time, there was controversy about the original lyric “when you talk about destruction you can count me out.” But, as you can here in this version, and in the acoustic version on the White Album, Lennon adds the word “in,” in addition to “out.” As perhaps only the Beatles could, in a song about revolution, and with Lennon recalling the psycho screecher of “Twist and Shout,” Harrison and McCartney’s backing vocals “shoo-bee-doo-wap” pay homage to the influences of doo wop. Still, the Beatles were always cerebral, and wanted to open minds and hearts before killing the fool on the hill.

You say you’ll change the constitution
Well, you know
We all want to change your head
You tell me it’s the institution
Well, you know
You better free your mind instead

 

“Street Fighting Man” — Rolling Stones

Before Mick Jagger was a multimillionaire and great-grandfather, he witnessed the Parisian student revolt that nearly toppled the DeGaulle government. With a nod to the great Martha and The Vandellas’ “Dancing in the Streets,” he roared: “summer’s here and time is right for fighting on the street, boy.” Taking the opposite tack from the Beatles, the studio version begins with an acoustic guitar riff, then comes Watts’ pounding drum lead-in to Jagger’s satanic rasp, which cuts like a switch blade reaching for the Queen’s neck. Like the Beatles, the music is the engine of the revolution. (I have to note that the often-unheralded Nicky Hopkins plays driving piano on both “Street Fighting Man” and “Revolution.”) The lyrics, which are mostly slogans slung together, go further than their British counterparts — they advocate outright regicide.

Hey, said my name
Is called Disturbance
I’ll shout and scream
I’ll kill the king, I’ll rail at all his servants

 

“Ringing of Revolution” — Phil Ochs

Ochs, a wonderful wordsmith with a gorgeous voice, was a tragic figure, and is too little known by anyone under the age of 50. His songs are damn serious, though often tinged with a sardonic humor. “I Ain’t a Marchin’ Anymore” and “Outside of a Small Circle of Friends” became cult classics of the antiwar movement, but he never reached a mass audience. The intro to this song, taken from “Phil Ochs Live in Concert” in 1966, gives you a pretty good insight into his humor. but also the darkness that eventually led to his suicide in 1976. As Ochs might say, “I’ve had enough of Trump’s gaudy golden towers. So, Donald, find yourself another country to be part of.”

In a building of gold, with riches untold,
Lived the families on which the country was founded.
And the merchants of style, with their red velvet smiles,
Were there, for they also were hounded.

And the soft middle class crowded in to the last,
For the building was fully surrounded.
And the noise outside was the ringing of revolution.

 

“Volunteers” — Jefferson Airplane 

From the album of the same name — originally called Volunteers of Amerika — it was changed against their wishes by RCA after protests from the original “Volunteers of America” organization. The album is filled with amped-up protest songs concerning the environment and nuclear holocaust. Appearing on Dick Cavett’s late night program, the inimitable Grace Slick became the first person to utter the words “Up against the wall motherfuckers” during a live version of “We Can Be Together.” But it is this single, written by Marty Balin, that declares the “Summer of Love” long gone for these guys. The lyrics are not great poetry, but they sure are fun to scream at the top of your lungs alongside the battering ram voices of Balin and Slick — and you, too, want to take back America. All those unctuous old men in the Trumpian cabal best look out — that new generation who Obama hailed in his last press conference is coming for you.

 One generation got old
One generation got soul
This generation got no destination to hold
Pick up the cry
Hey, now it’s time for you and me 

Got a revolution

 

“Whitey on the Moon” ­— Gil Scott-Heron

Most renowned for self-described poem “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” Gil Scott-Heron’s “Whitey on The Moon” from the 1970 album Small Talk at 125th and Lenox seems especially apt now. Scott-Heron is justifiably credited as an innovator, fusing spoken word from the streets with the rhythms of jazz and blues. Trump’s cabinet of billionaires may not literally be on the moon but they may as well be, as disconnected as they are from the reality of ever having to think about paying a medical bill. With Trump’s promise to repeal Obamacare, well, fuck, let’s all send our medical bills to the White House.

Was all that money I made last year
For whitey on the moon?
How come I ain’t got no money here?
Hm! Whitey’s on the moon
Y’know I just ’bout had my fill
of whitey on the moon
I think I’ll send these doctor bills,
Airmail special
To whitey on the moon

 

“American Ruse” — MC5

If there ever were a mix of 60s counter-culture and punk, it was the MC5. Out of Lincoln Park, Michigan, they were always politically left and hard-edged, but a dick like Nixon (or the draft-dodging Trump), would’ve called them hippies. Their second album, with a title taken from Chuck Berry’s “Back in the USA,” was a blow-the-garage-doors-off-their-jambs blast of sonic noise. “American Ruse” with the late Fred “Sonic” Smith’s (and later Patti Smith’s husband) guitar solo is a mind ripper. The lyrics well, — no explanation necessary.

The way they pull you over it’s suspicious
Yeah, for something that just ain’t your fault
If you complain they’re gonna get vicious
Kick in the teeth and charge you with assault

 

“This is My Country” — The Impressions

There’s a bucketful of songs I could choose written by Curtis Mayfield, first for the Impressions and then as a solo performer. It came down to “People Get Ready” or “Keep on Pushin’.” I chose “This is My Country” from the eponymous 1968 album because, well, this song is just so beautiful and Mayfield and the Impressions never sounded better. And it seems some people – we know who they are — believe anyone who isn’t white is trying to take away “their” country.

Before they give in, they’d rather fuss and fight
Than say it’s my country
I’ve paid three hundred years or more
Of slave driving, sweat, and welts on my back
This is my country

 

“Big Yellow Taxi” — Joni Mitchell

I never think of Mitchell as a folk/protest singer. She’s transcended all boundaries. “But Big Yellow Taxi” from 1970’s Ladies of the Canyon just can’t be omitted. The song is more than its famous chorus “they paved paradise / put up a parking lot / don’t it always seem to go / that you don’t know what you got til it’s gone.” There are millions of Trump voters who are going to be echoing that last sentiment in that not-too-distant future. Mitchell has continued to update the lyrics. But the original stands up pretty damn well — I’m sure she’s still worried about the bees. But even I can’t remember the last time I paid a buck fifty to get into a museum.

They took all the trees
And put them in a tree museum
And they charged all the people
A dollar and a half to see ’em

 

“It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” — Bob Dylan 

Picking one song from the Nobel Laureate ain’t easy. But this has always been one of my all-time top Dylan songs from 1965’s Bringing It All Back Home. This is the snarling, spitting fire Dylan filled with bile, sparing no one and nothing in his path as he eviscerates American hypocrisy. How can I leave out a song with this lyric? “But even the president of the United States / Sometimes must have to stand naked.” Try to get that nauseating image out of your head. It’s hard to pick one stanza from this seven and half minute masterpiece — but this is why I can defend that Nobel Prize — it rings as true today as it did 50 years ago.

For them that must obey authority
That they do not respect in any degree
Who despise their jobs, their destinies
Speak jealously of them that are free
Do what they do just to be nothing more than something they invest in

To push fake morals, insult and stare
While money doesn’t talk, it swears
Obscenity, who really cares
Propaganda, all is phony

 

“Save the Country” — Laura Nyro

I love Laura Nyro and you should too. She is one of the most underrated songwriters of her or any generation. She wrote this song as a response to the assassination of MLK, but it seems as appropriate now as ever. Because, if our country ever needed saving, it’s now. We’re gonna “lay that devil down.” Just read along, listen… dream — then resist.

Come on, people, come on, children
Come on down to the glory river.
Gonna wash you up, and wash you down,
Gonna lay the devil down, gonna lay that devil down.
I got fury in my soul, fury’s gonna take me to the glory goal
In my mind I can’t study war no more.
Save the people, save the children, save the country now

Come on, people come on, children
Come on down to the glory river
Gonna wash you up and wash you down
Gonna lay the devil down, gonna lay that devil down

Come on people! Sons and mothers
Keep the dream of the two young brothers
Gonna take that dream and ride that dove

We could build the dream with love, I know,
We could build the dream with love, I know,
We could build a dream with love, children,
We could build the dream with love, oh people,
We could build the dream with love, I know,
We could build the dream with love.

Come on, people! Come on, children!
There’s a king at the glory river

And the precious king, he loved the people to sing;
Babes in the blinkin’ sun sang
“We Shall Overcome.”

 

Bruce Bauman is the author of the novels And the Word Was and Broken Sleep. His website is brucebauman.net.

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