There's a lot of stuff that should be in here that isn't. In addition, this
list is biased fairly strongly in the direction of folk music, to a degree
that isn't necessarily reflected in my listening preferences. It's just
that most non-folk music doesn't affect me enough to require that I share it
with others, where as a lot of folk music does. With that in mind, I've
attempted to divide the stuff into two areas: Politics and Life. Politics supposedly
references relationships between a person and a larger community, Life
between that person and hirself or a very few other people. It's a rough
distinction, but it will have to do. I also have a section for songs that
move me on a musical level, where the lyrics as words mean little. I've
termed this Music and Soul for lack of a better term.
I grew up in an household where Phil Ochs never died. As a result, music
and politics have always been entwined for me.
A pamphlet, no matter how good, is never read more than once, but a song is
learned by heart and repeated over and over. -- Joe Hill
- Phil Ochs
It would be easy to put every song Phil Ochs ever wrote on this list, but
then I would just be duplicating Trent Fisher's excellent Phil Ochs page.
- Canons of Christianity
Even though I personally feel Trent mispelled Canons as Cannons, this
still stands as one of my favorite songs.
- Love Me, I'm A Liberal
Some people probably think it should be against the law to write songs
this brutal. My sister apparently ain't one
This is widely considered Phil Ochs' best song, and for good reason.
The poetry in this poignant song written regarding JFK's death is
'Till the universe explodes as a falling star is raised.
- Days of Decision
How can you fight a song that includes the lines
In the face of the people who know they're going to win
There's a strength that's greater than the power of the wind
- Links On The Chain
This song isn't one of his better known ones, but the message it bears
for organized labor is an important one.
- Ballod Of The Carpenter
This is a Ewan MacColl song Phil Ochs covered. I've sent lyrics off to
Trent, but they may not be up yet, so check here for now.
- What Are You Fighting For?
An Ochs song that gets relatively little credit because it's hard to
find, but well worth it in my opinion.
- Indigo Girls
The Indigo Girls have many more songs on my lists of Music and Life, but
their cover of BSM's BMHAWK deserves a hearing.
- Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee
The Indigo Girls did a nice hard-core cover of this Buffy Sainte-Marie
I learned a safety rule, I don't know who to thank
Don't stand between the reservation and the corporate bank
As an interesting aside, a particularly good example of the energy
companies is Freeport-McMoRan. They run the largest gold mine in the
world in the Irian Jaya region of Indonesia and are responsibile to a
large extent for the resultant destruction being visited upon the
indigenous Amungme people by the Indonesian government. For more
information visit the
- Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan never turned out as many political songs at Phil Ochs, but he did
turn a few good ones. They tend to be my favorite Dylan tunes.
- Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carrol
This poignant tale of serving woman killed by a rich tobacco farm owner
attacks any faith we might have in a equitable court system.
- With God On Our Side
If God's on our side, he'll stop the next war.
- Only A Pawn In Their Game
Written regarding the murder of Medgar Evers, Dylan questions where the
responsibility for such a heinous act really lies.
- John McCutcheon
- Christmas In The Trenches
This song detailing the Christmas truce of 1917 during WWI is well worth
hearing. It is one of a few songs that never fails to immediately bring
tears to my eyes.
Soon daylight stole upon us and France was France once more
With sad farewells we each prepared to settle back to war
But the question haunted every heart that lived that wonderous night
``Whose family have I fixed within my sights?''
- Eric Bogle
An Aussie folk singer responsible for many funny and humorous songs,
Bogle also wrote a pair of brilliant first-person anti-war songs.
- The Band Played Waltzing Matilda
Another song about WWI, this one was written from the perspective of an
Aussie wounded fighting with the ANZACs at Gallipoli. If you've ever
seen the movie Gallipoli, you would understand what a waste of human
potential this action was.
- No Man's Land (Willie McBride)
This song takes an interesting twist on the typical first-person
anti-war song. It's written from the perspective of someone visiting
the grave of a soldier who died during WWI.
- Makem and Clancy
This Irish duo (used to be quartet) recorded the first versions I ever heard
of the above two Eric Bogle tunes. They play a lot of traditional Irish
music and write their own. Of course, it's hard to find a group that plays
Irish music and doesn't play something political.
- Four Green Fields
Tommy Makem wrote this song of Irish history. The intro to it on "Live
At The National Concert Hall" doesn't appear on-line (so far as I know)
so I reproduce it here. I have subsequently discovered that it is a
poem written by Seamus Heaney (who won the Noble Prize in Literature
in 1995), titled "Requiem for the Croppies":
The pockets of our greatcoats full of barley -
No kitchens on the run, no striking camp -
We moved quick and sudden in our own country.
The priest lay behind ditches with the tramp.
A people, hardly marching - on the hike -
We saw new tactics happening each day:
We'd cut through reins and rider with a pike
And stampede cattle into infantry,
Then retreat through hedges where calvary must be thrown.
Until, on Vinegar Hill, the fatal conclave.
Terraced thousands died, shaking scythes at cannon
The hillside blushed, soaked in our broken wave.
They buried us without shroud or coffin
And in August the barley grew up out of the grave.
- Operation Ivy
This ska-core band from the East Bay area hit so much right on the head it's
almost unbelieveable. Great sound (if you like punk and ska) and brilliant
Definitely one of Op Ivy's best songs. It's not directly political,
although it's call for Unity among the various factions could be easily
applied to much of the Left-wing.
- Freeze Up
Freeze Up is another classic Op Ivy tune.
the shape of things that came shows on the broken workers face
- Room Without A Window
This song speaks for itself.
- Leonard Cohen
They locked up a man
Who wanted to rule the world
They locked up the wrong man
A genius. I had to limit myself to two songs per album in order to keep the
list manageable, and selecting those two per was an excercise in pain and
frustration. Of all the albums, "Songs Of Love and Hate" is probably my
favorite, if only for the above quote and the most excellent picture of
Lenny. I haven't really listened to the later albums, so I have selected
none from them (although expect this to change sooner or later).
- Master Song
What can I say. (Wasn't that a cheap way to get out of writing
something : ).
- Stranger Song
I have a thing for song titles that end in "Song".
- Story of Isaac
This probably belongs under political songs, but it was so much easier
to put it here.
- Seems So Long Ago, Nancy
I can still remember my father playing this song when I was a child.
I always loved this song, but had no really coherent concept of what it
might mean until I read a recent post by Jon-Alfred Smith. Sooner or
later, with his permission, I hope to make the analysis available.
- Joan of Arc
This is classic Cohen, dark, twisted, and beautiful.
- John Prine
John Prine is most famous for writing Paradise.
- Bruised Orange (Chain of Sorrow)
A brilliant song, I couldn't find it anywhere on the net, so I typed it
- Operation Ivy
Op Ivy that didn't exactly fit purely under politics.
- Healthy Body
I always hear this as a warning to me, just one, to keep lose and cool
and keep track of what really matters. The extended version is even
cooler than the version these lyrics are for.
- Indigo Girls
Songs that make you remember it's a good thing to be alive, even if it hurts
- Prince of Darkness
This is my absolutely favorite Indigo Girls song. I can listen to the
version on Back On
The Bus Y'all for hours. When they played live in Anchorage, I was
grateful that the crowd managed to convince IG to toss the set list and
play Prince of Darkness anyways (they mentioned that it wasn't on the
set list right before they played it : ).
- All Along The Watchtower
Not only is the version on Back On The Bus
Y'all the most incredible cover of AATW I have ever heard, but the
lyrics on the tail end are really cool.
- Closer to Fine
How can you not like this song?
- Least Complicated
I don't know why I like this song, but I do.
This is where those songs go that have invaded my soul and taken away my
control over my life for a day or two because I felt their message
so strongly that all else paled in comparison. The musical equivalent of
falling utterly and irrevocably in love. Luckily for me, if I listen to
them on infinite repeat for at least a day or two I can usually break the
spell. The intervening period bothers my suitemates for some reason : ).
- Throwing Muses
Kristin Hersh is unbelieveable. Every so often, she writes a song that just
rips into my soul, takes up shop in my heart, and leaves me in brilliant,
painful, ectasy. These are a few of those tunes.
I write on these walls, I have no heart at all
Beautiful, painful notes pluck at the heart-strings (sorry about the
- Two Step
Another one of those slow TM songs that are just exquisite.
- Not Too Soon
Written by Tanya Donnely (now of Belly), this is a little poppy, but
nevertheless very sweet (in a good way).
- Kristin Hersh
Kristin did some solo stuff : ).
The version of this on Strings
is unbelievable (Strings is a "singles" release of 4 songs of Hips and
Makers done using three violins, a viola, cello, and double bass).
- Me and My Charms
Again, get the Strings version.
Guess what, the Strings version is incredible.
February 19, 1996 / email@example.com,
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