April 27, 2007

Take Five: Tom Morello's Favorite Revolutionary Songs

[Take Five. Every Friday, at least in theory, Fire on the Mountain picks a category and lists five cool things in it. It's up to you, dear reader, to add your own in the Comments section. Just click on the word "comments" at the bottom of the piece and you're off to the races.]

Well, I do call it Take Five, but I wasn't actually planning the "Take" to signify outright larceny. This list by Tom Morello (of Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave fame, now recording solo as The Nightwatchman) of his five favorite political tunes comes from a worthy general music site called Spinner with the usual combination of news, free downloads and kicky features. One of the latter is called Count Five (which, speaking of larceny, seems to have been inaugurated this month, considerably after Take Five).


1. 'Biko,' Peter Gabriel: I think this might be the greatest song of all time. 'Biko,' which concerns the martyrdom of Steven Biko, who was killed in a South African jail by security forces, is about a specific instance. But it has a timeless quality where hope and anger collide, and how the death of this great man could be the spark to overthrowing that racist regime. That's quite a thing to capture in three and a half minutes of music.

2. 'Imagine,' John Lennon: It's a song couched in such a beautiful melody that people don't realize it's about anarchist revolution. It's a song that, woven into the lyrics, has the hope for a just world of peace and harmony. But implied in the lyrics is that it will take a complete overthrowing of the status quo to get that -- and Lennon spoke of that in some of his writing. That song was often misunderstood.

3. 'This Land Is Your Land,' Woody Guthrie: Another great misunderstood anthem of protest, it's probably the most subversive song ever written. And it is no accident that when you learn the song in third grade they leave out the three class-war verses that make the chorus of that song resonate so true. The song was written as an answer to Irving Berlin's 'God Bless America,' which Guthrie thought was sticky-sweet patriotism and missed the point of what this country should be about.

4. 'White Riot,' The Clash: There are a number of Clash songs I could name, but 'White Riot' was probably the kickoff. There's a stanza I wrote on my refrigerator, and I used to look at it to gut-check myself every day. It was, "Are you taking over, or are you taking orders?/Are you going backwards, or are you going forwards?" The Clash and Joe Strummer -- heart-on-the-sleeve lyrics combined with such ferocity and unapologetic truth that it really felt like anything was possible in music and on the streets.

5. 'Redemption Song,' Bob Marley: Marley would have been a hero to billions whether he was Irish or Jamaican or Japanese. But he happened to be from Jamaica, so reggae music was the conduit for his genius. Yet there is no musical artist in the history of the world who is as important globally as Bob Marley. From frat parties at Stanford to teens in Kenya, 'Redemption Song' is sung, and it is certainly the spiritual content of the lyrics, the uplifting message and ... whatever that guy was channeling it's just true, and it's just beautiful. That guy is number one, and his number-one jam is 'Redemption Song.'

Okay, friends, name your top five!

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