October 10, 2002
The Conservative Top 40

Via The Poor Man comes The Top 40 conservative rock songs. My initial reaction was to snark about the cheesy nature of many of the songs within, but I reconsidered. A requirement for making the list was cracking the actual Top 40, so any questions of taste can be foisted on the public at large, and we all know how that goes. I'll leave that for a genuine conservative like Eve Tushnet. There were plenty of other points of interest, so let's get started:

Song #2 is "Revolution" by the Beatles, which gets things started on the wrong foot for me. Listmaker Bruce Bartlett includes it because it is "fundamentally anti-revolution". Why is being "anti-revolution" inherently conservative? Am I the only one who remembers the Reagan Revolution of the 80s and the Gingrich-led Republican Revolution of the 90s? Does that make me a conservative for opposing the Contract With America?

Bartlett also expresses surprise at the rebuke to the "often-violent demonstrations" on college campuses contained within the lyrics. I think he's misreading their sentiment. It's pretty clear that L&M agree with the goals of the revolutionaries ("Well you know/We all want to change the world"), they're simply disagreeing with the methods. Doesn't that put Lennon and McCartney in the same category as Martin Luther King? I'll be magnanimous and state that their belief in the effectiveness and righteousness of nonviolence is a universal humanitarian one, and not one that hews to a particular political ideology.

Song #7 is "Turn! Turn! Turn!" by the Byrds. Bartlett notes:

This is an odd conservative classic, having been written by old time lefty Pete Seeger and performed by a group that later glorified drugs in "Eight Miles High." Nevertheless, it makes my list because the lyrics are drawn straight from the Book of Ecclesiastes. I figure that any song based on the Bible deserved inclusion. I also like it.

Hmm. The one lyric that always comes to my mind when I think of this song is "A time for peace, I swear it's not too late." Given when this song was recorded, I don't think you'd have had too many conservatives humming along.

Song #15 is the Bobby Fuller Four's "I Fought the Law (And the Law Won)", which Bartlett fetes as having a "strong law and order message". There's a bit of subtext in there as well if you look - consider the lyric "I needed money 'cause I had none" and ask yourself if this isn't a tacit admission that poverty causes crime. I don't usually hear conservatives making that case.

Song #18 is George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord", a song whose inclusion Bartlett recognizes may be problematic:

The inclusion of this song may be controversial because of its non-Christian lyrics. However, I take the view that being deeply religious makes the song per se conservative, even if the religion is Hinduism or Buddhism.

Or Hare Krishna, I guess. I look forward to their application for faith-based services funding.

Song #30 is Madonna's "Papa Don't Preach". Says Bartlett:

Amazingly, this is a strongly pro-life song, for which the singer was criticized by pro-choicers at the time. In it, she asks her fatherís advice about what to do with an out-of-wedlock child. "My friends keep telling me to give it up," she sings, but in the end decides, "Iím gonna keep my baby."

Hmm again. I recall it being religious leaders who criticized this song, claiming that it "glorified" premarital sex, but whatever. I actually think the choice Madonna's character is making is not between abortion and carrying the baby to term, it's between adoption and raising the child herself. I suppose as long as she doesn't apply for welfare or AFDC she qualifies as a conservative heroine.

Finally, there are a couple of interesting choices in the runners-up as well. I'm not exactly sure how "Summertime Blues" qualifies as a "libertarian" song. It's a song about the drudgery of having to work for a living, which (call me crazy) would seem to resonate across the political spectrum. "Wake Up Little Susie", a song about how two kids fear their lives are ruined because their dirty-minded friends will never believe that a boy and a girl could spend a few unchaperoned hours together without having sex, is cited for its "cultural conservatism". Indeed.

UPDATE: Charles Dodgson weighs in, as do Max Sawicky and Alex Frantz.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on October 10, 2002 to Music

I agree with most of your criticisms.

Re: Madonna
I'd say it qualifies because she keeps the baby. Yeah, I'm sure it was criticized by short-sighted conservatives at the time, but it was nonetheless about taking responsibility for the consequences of your (sexual) actions, which is the province of the right (to be fair, left preaches contraception, but the error can be negated after-the-fact).

I also disagree on "Wake Up Suzie"... they fear for their lives because they fell asleep. They are worried about their reputations, what people will think, what their parents will say, etc. There isn't any whining about how "unfair" the rules are and whatnot, merely the fear of what happens now that they (accidentally) broke them.

At least that's how I remember it...

Posted by: R. Alex on October 10, 2002 12:02 PM

So I guess you're a Conservative if you don't support violent revolution, read the bible, opposed the Vietnam War, and believe in God. Since that would mean that the Berrigans, Hillary Clinton, and Al Gore are conservative leaders, can somebody explain why conservatives don't seem to like them very much?

Posted by: Alex on October 10, 2002 12:45 PM

I think the unfairness in "WAke Up Little Susie" is pretty clearly implied. All they did was fall asleep during a boring movie. Why should their reputations be ruined because of that? They clearly don't think that anyone will believe them, which is also pretty unfair IMHO.

Regardless, my point is that this is a curious ideal to celebrate. Isn't deconstruction fun? :-)

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on October 10, 2002 3:14 PM

The Beatles changed the line in "Revolution" for the slower White Album version. In that one it's ,"Don't you know that you can count me out...in", giving the song dual meaning.

They did this cause they didn't want people to think the song was just an anti-revolution song. Kinda silly for them to write that whole song and only to then okay the voilence in an alternate version.

And to be a conservative you generally are someone who prmotes Judeo-Christian values and ideas, one reason Hillary and "good-'ol Al" aren't considered that.

Posted by: Conrad on July 30, 2003 1:25 AM

A point of clarification. The songs were not ranked in any way. I listed them in alphabetical order by artist.

Posted by: Bruce Bartlett on June 20, 2004 6:35 PM

FYI all you conservative cats, I'm alive and kicking out conservative rock and roll right now!

Right here:



Posted by: Peter on January 20, 2006 11:11 AM