Friday, March 8, 2013

Alvin Lee and the Conservative Top 10

Alvin Lee, founder and figurehead of Ten Years After, died recently. He was 68. The only information available so far has been on his website: "With great sadness we have to announce that Alvin unexpectedly passed away early this morning after unforeseen complications following a routine surgical procedure." Indeed, as the old joke goes, a hospital is no place for a sick person.

In the era of blues guitar gods Lee was certainly one of the pantheon, AKA "Captain Speed Fingers." Ten Years After enjoyed considerable success from the period beginning with their appearance at Woodstock in 1969 until the departure of Lee in 1974. Some of their re-workings of blues standards are arguably definitive and many of their originals are near facsimiles of standards themselves. Lee remained musically active until the end. His latest album was released in 2012.

Good Morning Little Schoolgirl (Live) by Ten Years After on Grooveshark

One of These Days by Ten Years After on Grooveshark

Love Like A Man by Ten Years After on Grooveshark

Ten Years After recorded their signature I'd Love to Change the World following a change of record labels and musical direction. It turned out Lee would prefer their previous bluesier direction and soon left the band after. All around I'd Love to Change the World is their magnum opus: It contains one of the great guitar riffs of the era, is redolent with the counterculture gloss, and its interplay of acoustic and electric guitar with a hard finish is masterful. What it wasn't was an embrace of new world liberalism. In fact, I'd argue for its inclusion in any honest Top 10 of Conservative anthems. Look at song's first verse:
Everywhere is freaks and hairies
Dykes and fairies, tell me where is sanity
Tax the rich, feed the poor
'Til there are no rich no more
I'd love to change the world
But I don't know what to do
So I'll leave it up to you

I'd Love to Change the World by Ten Years After on Grooveshark

Not exactly a paean to tolerance and brotherly love one would expect of the era. For some reason, the media never took Lee to task for his Nugent-like sentiments. Even the song's chorus seems to resigned to a cynical "why bother?" (So I'll leave it up to you.)

For a comparison look at National Review's Top 50 of Conservative anthems. Scanning the list, it'd be easy to think that Conservatives, at The Review anyway, don't do irony. Take the example of Springsteen's Born in the USA used at various Republican rallies (until The Boss offered a cease and desist) as a case in point. In fact, the list's frequent misreading of the songwriter's intent may seem to border on the delusional. Like in the choice of Tammy Wynette's Stand By Your Man: Most likely included for inspiring the ire of feminists (also a fave among drag queens). They must've missed the song's up-to-the-neck ironic contrast to the realities of four-time divorceé and spousal punching-bag Wynette's actual life. (A serially abused wife suggesting stand by your man? What next––relationship modeling from Rihanna?) You might forgive them their naïveté since rock really isn't Conservative's territory anyway––that, of course, would be country. 

So in that light, here are some suggestions for an Alternative Conservative Top Ten;  (Blue is where The National Review's and my choices agree.):

1) I'd Love to Change the World, Ten Years After

2) Give Me Back My Bullets, Lynyrd Skynyrd: An anti-gun control anthem that offers a laundry list of a dead end job working man's angers and makes the case: as long as you can shoot those who'd piss you off, there's reason to live. The narrator argues for guns as the low-life's great equalizer (which is pretty much Wayne La Pierre's argument) after admitting to drinking enough whiskey "to float a battleship around" and wanting to shoot a "pencil-pushing" bureaucrat as much as look at them. This isn't exactly the most compelling argument, but to the zealous gun advocate, it's probably as good as any.

Give me Back my Bullets by Lynyrd Skynyrd on Grooveshark

3) Dog Eat Dog, Ted Nugent: It's a scary, scary world out there with different skinned people who would tear apart our society. Which, if you believe the Liberal Media, isn't happening at all. The Nuge has the 411.
Honorable Mention: Symphony of Destruction, Megadeth

Dog Eat Dog by Ted Nugent on Grooveshark

4) Bodies, Sex Pistols: About as virulently anti-choice as it gets: She just had an abortion/She was a case of insanity/Her name was Pauline, she lived in a tree/She was a no one who killed her baby... She was an animal/She was a bloody disgrace. A song about as forgiving as the name Rotten would imply. (Jeez, Johnny, she lives in a tree!)

Bodies by Sex Pistols on Grooveshark

5) Speak English or Die, Stormtroopers of Death (S.O.D.): Said to be written in the tongue-in-cheek voice of a character, Sargent D, and though I hope that's true it could get sticky for those not fluent in subtlety.

Speak English Or Die! by S.O.D. - Stormtroopers of Death on Grooveshark

6) Chapel of Love, The Dixie Cups: Let's see––Gee, I really love you; check, traditional marriage between opposite gendered people; check, wedding in a church (and not synagogue, mosque, ashram, temple, or tabernacle); check, all in the service to the Lord's only sanctified scaffolding for creating proper families––all check. Surely this must bring a tear to the righteously reactionary eye.

Chapel Of Love by The Dixie Cups on Grooveshark

7) Victoria, The Kinks: Though the first verse gives advanced warning that what follows could be satire, literalists might miss that and go directly to the sentimentally jingoistic view of an evergreen empire and monarchy. (As I've mentioned before––see the bottom of this post––too often a lyric's social critique is missed by the chorus's catchy headlines, as in Brown Sugar and Blitzkrieg Bop.) Americans have their own brand of empire and exceptionalism and Victoria fits right into that.
Honorable Mention: Twentieth Century Man, The Kinks (I'm a twentieth century man but I don't want to be here/you keep all your smart modern writers, I'll take William Shakespeare...)

Victoria by The Kinks on Grooveshark

8) 99 Problems, Jay-Z: The language here, while obviously being more urban slangy, isn't much different than the patriarchal tone of much of the Christian Right punditry including its overheated acquisitive capitalism. Aren't the various Conservative Christian discussions regarding keeping women in their place and the role of "gentle" corporal discipline for wifely transgressions (Hey, Sean Connery agrees!) just another way of saying bitch? It's a worldview we can only hope no longer suits Beyoncé's husband and Blue Ivy's dad.

Honorable Mentions: One Less Bitch, N.W.A. (the unrighteous gots to die, especially those Babylonian style 'hos); It's a Man's World, James Brown makes the same point if a bit more politely but no less troglodytically; Under My Thumb, The Rolling Stones; You Could Be Mine, Guns & Roses; and pretty much anything by KISS

Here's a 99 remix that's way better than the original:

9)  Momma Said Knock You OutLL Cool J: Bravado on overdrive, talking large trash like Fox News, and absolutely convinced of his own righteousness – doesn't that just about sum up the Right's approach to foreign policy and military spending? There was a poet who did a piece on the idea that when we say God Bless America the subtext is God Damn Everyone Else (or at best asking for divine indifference toward our neighbors). Walk not so softly and carry evermore big sticks – the message of American exceptionalism. Also, LL embodies the idea of stiff pecs as a career move a la Schwarzenegger, and shout outs to his jammy (handgun): LL could be Schwarzenegger II and, unlike his predecessor, he's American-born and a doable candidate for prez. Don't be surprised to learn that LL was a 2004 Republican convention attendee.
Honorable Mention: We Are the Champions, Queen; I'm the Greatest, Ringo

Momma Said Knock You Out by LL Cool J on Grooveshark

10) Lapdance, N*E*R*D: Politicians sound like strippers to me (ooh baby you want me?), That strippers could give politicians a run for their money in the false promise department I suppose is fair enough, though, all the damage strippers can do is to the wallets of a few selected chumps. Lapdance also argues for superiority through firepower and then like everything else on this list above, is rather short on the bleeding hearts and spiritual growth. Love the song, though.
Honorable Mention: Master of Puppets, Metallica; Government makes you an mindless, hobbled,  addicted drone of dependency, or something like that––an indictment of the welfare state, I guess. Metallica has been accused of being more anti-government before they got rich. Or maybe it was Napster.

Lapdance (feat. Lee Harvey & Vita) by N*E*R*D on Grooveshark

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