Sunday, February 7, 2010

Where is the Nuge?

Perhaps you watched the Who play a medley of their old hits during the Superbowl Halftime Show earlier this evening. If you're anything like me, you probably didn't, given that you can hardly stand watching Townshend and Daltrey continue to dilute the live power of a once-great band, one of the greatest really, by piling on the auxiliary musicians at the expense of their now entirely dead rhythm section.

Unlike me, you probably don't read National Review's "The Corner" blog, so you probably didn't see a post written by John J. Miller referring to a list he created a few years ago of the "50 greatest conservative rock songs of all time." I remember reading the list at the time it came out and noting that several of the inclusions seemed dubious at best. Looking back at the list now, I was inspired to point out where Miller happens to go wrong, and offer my own far superior suggestions for future lists.

The list:

1. The Who, "Won't Get Fooled Again." This choice for #1 is actually pretty legitimate. Although the sentiments expressed within hardly match up with those of the tea party crowd, there are a lot of parallels to be drawn between classical conservatism (of which National Review once served as an intellectual hub) and the song's attitude of "revolution, whatever."

2. The Beatles, "Taxman." Legitimate, I guess. I don't feel as if complaining about taxes is solely the domain of conservatives, and it's true that Harrison's complaints are pretty general and say nothing about his general belief about the redistribution of wealth (to which I am absolutely positive he is less than conservative).

3. The Rolling Stones, "Sympathy For The Devil." Specious. Miller's argument is that Jagger makes the devil into " the sinister inspiration for the cruelties of Bolshevism" based on those lines about "kill[ing] the czars and his ministers/Anastasia screamed in vain." One can find any number of lines that conservatives wouldn't find agreeable at all: the Devil personified as an a general during the Blitzkrieg raids, claiming that "you and me" are responsible for the deaths of the Kennedys, etc. Could easily make the case for this (and many other Stones songs) as classic "liberal" songs based on Miller's logic.

4. Lynyrd Skynyrd, "Sweet Home Alabama." Miller's reasoning is that it's a "tribute to the region of America that liberals love to loathe," which is a stupid generality that by itself doesn't merit any inclusion. BUT, I do believe a case can be made based on the line in this song about George Wallace, and the rumored boos that accompany it. If they are indeed boos (and given their friendship with Neil Young there is a good chance they are) then I don't think Miller has much of a case.

5. The Beach Boys, "Wouldn't It Be Nice." Oh come on. I did a quick lyric check again just to be sure, and it'd would take an awful lot of meaningless extrapolating to call this anything other than a completely apolitical song (Miller sez: "Pro-Abstinence and Pro-Marriage"--wrong on both counts).

6. U2, "Gloria." Spurious reasoning: "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?" Don't see many conservatives breaking out any Latin in public discourse lately.

The really sad thing is that this song, of all songs on the list, is probably the most bass-heavy. You'll find that 80s production is always preferred in our most patriotic music (and that has just given me an idea for a dissertation).

7. The Beatles, "Revolution." Legitimate. I don't buy Miller's argument that its shots at Mao make it solely the province of the right (he seems to be unable to comprehend a left critique of Communism, but whatever), but like #1, any song that proves itself skeptical of revolutionary politics is at least some kind of conservative.

8. The Sex Pistols, "Bodies." Surely this is the most interesting choice in the top 10, and I love the idea of William F. Buckley at the National Review office cranking this tune as the one punk song that conservatives can find mildly acceptable (Miller admits it is "violent and vulgar," suggesting even more strongly that this is a token pick). In my mind, this placement seems legitimate, if only because Johnny Rotten is surprisingly reactionary on the subject of abortion.

9. Metallica, "Don't Tread On Me." This counts as legitimate--James Hetfield is apparently a Republican, one of the few actual ones on this list (Lars Ulrich, meanwhile, has revealed himself as a flaming San Francisco liberal). This would be a perfect gateway tea party song if any of the tea partiers ever wanted to branch into metal for inspiration (which I'll admit is unlikely).

10. The Kinks, "20th Century Man." I guess this is legitimate, again if you think nostalgia for the 19th century is an overriding concern of the right. There are plenty of other Kinks songs that might have worked better--most of Arthur, for instance.

Some Other Notable Inclusions

11. Rush, "The Trees."
I guess this could count as the "Ron Paul inclusion"....

18. Living Colour, "Cult Of Personality." Specious. The right is just as guilty, if not significantly more so, of numerous "cults of personality," many of which are described in the song itself (Jonah Goldberg aside, Mussolini is usually thought of as a right-wing figurehead).

20. The Clash, "Rock The Casbah." Complete bullshit. Miller tries some fake narrative about how the title of the song is anti-Muslim and is played by British forces in Iraq. So is "B.O.B.," but that does not a conservative song make. The Clash expressed not one legitimate conservative sentiment that I would consider convincing. How do you get on this list calling an album Sandinista!?

21. David Bowie, "'Heroes'." Also complete nonsense. By the same token, merely mentioning the Berlin wall does not a conservative song make, either.

25. Led Zeppelin, "The Battle of Evermore." What?? It seems that Tolkien, like Orwell, is constantly having his politics misconstrued by partisans of both ends. Robert Plant's lyrics are complete nonsense, and there's nothing possible here one can glean about conservatism unless one is really grasping for straws.

29. Iron Maiden, "Rime Of The Ancient Mariner." The reasoning continues to get worse: this time, apparently, only conservatives really get Samuel T. Coleridge.

34. Blue Oyster Cult, "Godzilla." Completely specious, unless one takes it to be a metaphor about how awesome it was that we bombed Hiroshima/Nagasaki.

35. Creedence Clearwater Revival, "Who'll Stop The Rain." It takes a severe lack of common sense to even consider Fogerty in this company. Again, serious levels of straw-grasping.

37. The Band, "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down." Legitimate, although I don't think Robertson was really endorsing the views of the Civil War South...

46. The Scorpions, "Winds Of Change." From my liberal vantage point, "Winds Of Change" is indeed a hilariously appropriate song for the current American conservative mentality.

47. Creed, "One." Don't remember hearing the song, but I'll let Miller win this one for the conservatives.

What are songs that you know of that you think legitimately present a mainstream conservative point-of-view? Hard to think of, right? (And hippie-bashing by punks doesn't count.) I'll provide a few of my own suggestions later in the comments.


  1. Husker Du "Turn On the Fox News"
    Pavement "Fillibuster Jive"
    Public Enemy "Black Michael Steele In The Hour Of Chaos"

  2. I'd replace "Bodies" with Graham Parker's "You Can't Be Too Strong."

    I thought the Pavement song was called "Millard Fillmore Jive."

    This post is great, and I always relish a new critical beatdown.

  3. "You Can't Be Too Strong" makes it in at #30, but I agree, it could easily replace the Sex Pistols song as a more coherent and "conservative" anti-abortion song.