Protest songs about police and dictators


Journalists of British daily The Guardian have made a list of protest songs. All of them in the English language.

I ‘ll reproduce some of that list on this blog. Not exactly in the same way as they did. Eg, they have options to listen to songs on Spotify, which is not available in all countries.

And I have added links. And grouped the songs according to themes. The theme of this entry is: protest songs against abuse of power by police, by military dictators, and by others.

Me and Giuliani Down By the Schoolyard (A True Story) !!! 2003

Rudolph Giuliani’s tenure as mayor saw New York nightlife all but stamped out; his taskforce would close down venues without a dance licence if people so much as tapped their foot. When the bar Nic Offer was working at fell victim to Giuliani’s clampdown, the !!! frontman was driven to write this nine-minute punk-funk epic, which attempts to start a dancefloor insurrection. AN …

Fuck tha Police NWA 1988

More than three years before the LA riots – provoked by the LAPD’s filmed assault on Rodney King – this track from Niggaz With Attitude’s Straight Outta Compton album expressed the growing anger towards police brutality among black youth in Los Angeles. Presented as a furious, gangsta-funk court case that the one representative of the LAPD has no chance of winning, the prosecution testimonies of Ice Cube, MC Ren and Eazy-E were so violent that the FBI sent a protest letter to their label Ruthless. GM

Cop Killer Body Count 1992

Ice T’s in-character reaction to the 1991 police beating of Rodney King begins with the stated desire to shoot every corrupt cop in the face. That’s one way to get your audience’s attention. The pummelling, consciously over-the-top piece of speed-metal that ensues was a significant piece of steam-letting on behalf of a community teetering on the brink; following the 1992 LA riots, Cop Killer was removed from the first Body Count album and remains devilishly hard to find. GT

California Über Alles Dead Kennedys 1979

This jolting proto-hardcore debut rose out of DKs’ singer Jello Biafra’s fear of shonky new-age guruism spreading into politics, notably when California governor Jerry Brown stood for election on a platform of Buddhist economics and exploring the universe. Biafra imagined a hippie-fascist future under his presidency worse than Orwell’s 1984, complete with organic poison gas chambers and “suede/denim secret police”. All lurching riffs and twitchy stops, it’s a rabid, paranoid punk classic. TH …

Víctor Jara of Chile Dick Gaughan 1985

Anyone doubting the political power of song might ponder the brutal murder of the great Chilean activist Víctor Jara, whose music was considered sufficiently subversive to warrant his killing by General Pinochet’s junta during the bloody, US-backed military coup of 1973. Adrian Mitchell’s moving poem – which recounts the story of Jara’s life and death – was set to music by Arlo Guthrie, but Dick Gaughan’s cold fury best captures its angry despair. CI

I have been able to find Guthrie´s version with Google, not Gaughan´s. A version by Christy Moore is here.

Police and Thieves Junior Murvin 1976

In 1976, Junior Murvin pitched up at Lee Perry’s legendary Black Ark studio to audition for the maverick producer. The song he brought with him became the rude boy anthem of the year in Jamaica and a huge sound system hit in Britain. On Police and Thieves, Murvin’s extraordinary falsetto, modelled on Curtis Mayfield, floats on a shimmering, otherworldly Perry production that remains one of the high water marks of reggae music. Reworked by the Clash on their debut album, and its rhythm used for countless Jamaican DJ outings, the original remains untouchable. SOH

Days of Fire Nitin Sawhney 2008

How to respond to the events of 7/7 and the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes in London? Rather than serve up a slice of polemic, Sawhney set a simple acoustic melody against the narrative of a young MC called Natty, who’d followed de Menezes on the next train into Stockwell station. The refrain “it all went slow motion… now we’re all in slow motion” freezes the action but also captures the confusion that followed “the days of fire”. CLS

American Skin (41 Shots) Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band 2000

Springsteen’s lament for Guinean immigrant Amadou Dialloshot 41 times by New York City police officers for reaching for his wallet in 1999 – led to the unthinkable: Bruce being booed at Madison Square Garden. The track, recorded for a live E Street reunion record, also marked the moment in which Springsteen was brought back from the critical and commercial wilds to become the documenting voice of modern America, something he confirmed with 2002’s majestic The Rising album. WD

1 thought on “Protest songs about police and dictators

  1. Pingback: The Clash’s first album, forty years ago | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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