Back in 2006, National Review published Rockin’ the Right, a list of the 50 greatest conservative rock songs ever, by John J. Miller (hereafter National Review or “they”). Like Christian Rock, Conservative Rock strikes me as an oxymoron. And even National Review agrees with me, starting the article, “On first glance, rock ‘n’ roll music isn’t very conservative. It doesn’t fare much better on second or third glance (or listen), either.” But they try. And fail.
I think their biggest problem is that modern conservatism doesn’t really believe in anything other than tax breaks for the wealthy. But most conservatives think they are secretly libertarians; they think they just have to get rid of all the taxes first and then they’ll get around to protecting civil liberties with their nonexistent government. They also think they have “family values,” which in practice means that everyone but them should be stopped from having fun. I always remember Bill O’Reilly defending Bristol Palin’s out of wedlock pregnancy after blasting Jamie Lynn Spears’. So finding good conservative rock songs is a hard task unless there are a lot of songs I don’t know about that say, “Give me freedom and cut my taxes / Kill the poor with Christian axes.”
All you need to know about the list is that number 50 is that great rock anthem Stand By Your Man. In general, the songs are not so much conservative as non-political and non-offensive. As you would expect. And frankly, it doesn’t include a single great song in the top 10. Here they are:
- 1. Won’t Get Fooled Again
- They write, “The conservative movement is full of disillusioned revolutionaries; this could be their theme song, an oath that swears off naïve idealism once and for all.” But that’s not what the song is about. And this is a funny statement given how reactionary the conservative movement is. It is, in fact, the liberal movement that wants to make incremental improvements in society. The conservative movement wants a revolution; they say so all the time. Pete Townshend said of the song, “It is not precisely a song that decries revolution—it suggests that we will indeed fight in the streets—but that revolution, like all action, can have results we cannot predict. Don’t expect to see what you expect to see. Expect nothing and you might gain everything. The song was meant to let politicians and revolutionaries alike know that what lay in the centre of my life was not for sale, and could not be co-opted into any obvious cause… From 1971—when I wrote Won’t Get Fooled Again—to 1985, there was a transition in me from refusal to be co-opted by activists, to a refusal to be judged by people I found jaded and compliant in Thatcher’s Britain.” You know: Thatcher’s Britain, the government that the modern Republican Party would call socialist!
- 2. Taxman
- I have to give this one to the conservatives. And I’ll be glad to see it go. The problem is that I just don’t have a lot of sympathy for millionaire musicians complaining that their taxes are too high. Is it unkind to point out that when George Harrison wrote this awkward little ditty that the top tax rate was 95% and that it is now 40%? I think most liberals would say that 95% is too high a top tax rate. The Republican Party thinks 39% is too high; they want to lower it to 25%. (Of course, once it is down to 25%, they will want to lower it to 15%. And so on.)
- 3. Sympathy for the Devil
- This is just a bizarre choice. They write, “The devil is a tempter who leans hard on moral relativism—he will try to make you think that ‘every cop is a criminal / And all the sinners saints.'” What? They totally misunderstand the song. The song is about moral ambiguity: good people are also bad; bad people are also good. This is most definitely not a conservative song. (It also happens to be the best of the top ten.)
- 4. Sweet Home Alabama
- This song is pure apologetics and the conservatives can have it. Basically, it is an answer to Neil Young’s Alabama. Lynyrd Skynyrd is saying, “We’re not all racist pigs in Alabama. Look at the blue skies and Muscle Shoals.” Pathetic.
- 5. Wouldn’t It Be Nice
- Remember what I said about non-offensive songs? This is what I was thinking of. They claim the song is “Pro-abstinence and pro-marriage.” Although I am not sure that it’s pro-abstinence, that is certainly a valid reading of the song. What is more important is that the song is unrealistic. The picture it paints of married life is that of a five year old. And that is about as deep as conservatives go when thinking about social issues.
- 6. Gloria
- They write, “Just because a rock song is about faith doesn’t mean that it’s conservative. But what about a rock song that’s about faith and whose chorus is in Latin? That’s beautifully reactionary.” They are not talking about the actually great Them song Gloria but rather the so-so song by U2. This is a ridiculous argument. What’s more, as Jules from Pulp Fiction might have said, “What’s the Fenian to do? He Irish.”
- 7. Revolution
- There are two versions of this song. In the second version of the song, Lennon sings, “But when you talk about destruction / Don’t you know that you can count me out. In.” The song is as confused as Lennon always was about this stuff. Regardless, it is not a conservative song in any way. More than anything it is a liberal anthem against communism or anarchism. It’s shocking, I know: National Review again shows it knows nothing about rock.
- 8. Bodies
- Ah! Finally a song that is as radical and disgusting as the conservative movement. They write, “Violent and vulgar, but also a searing anti-abortion anthem by the quintessential punk band.” Before I start, only someone who doesn’t know anything about punk would say that the Sex Pistols are the quintessential punk band; it is the same thing as saying, “I only know of one punk band.” Pathetic. Bodies is not really anti-abortion; it is more anti-woman and anti-sex. If conservatives want to embrace misogyny along with their anti-abortion beliefs… Wait! Of course they want to do that!
- 9. Don’t Tread on Me
- Any song by Metallica can’t be all good. This song was written to make up for …And Justice for All which was kind of down on America. It is telling that in writing a pro-American song, all the boys could do was spout a lot of catch phrases. The song has never been performed live. Co-writer James Hetfield doesn’t like it. I must admit: it is a rock song and it does have a (vile) conservative message. And they are welcome to it.
- 10. 20th Century Man
- Luddite does not mean conservative. I prefer old literature to new; I hate the modern world; and I am not conservative. As National Review pointed out in discussing Gloria, conservatives are reactionary, not truly conservative. No 20th Century Man for you!
So I’m only inclined to give the conservatives four of these songs. They get the utterly forgettable poor-rich-boy-cries-about-his-hardships Taxman. They get the Confederate flag waving Sweet Home Alabama. They get Don’t Tread on Me because the song was created to pander to them. And they get Bodies because John Lydon had a major hate-on for women when he was young and conservatives have a major hate-on for women all the time. Otherwise: no rock for you!
Oh: they can keep Stand By Your Man too.