I wasn’t sure I’ll have something to write about this topic this week. I could think of some songs, but I wasn’t sure I could pull off an opening for the topic of Power and Responsibility. Of course, as we all know, power corrupts, and turns people who hold too much power for too long irresponsible. But I preferred not to engage with clichés. However, reality provided. This is the 12th consecutive year in which Israeli-Palestinian peace NGOs—namely Combatants for Peace and the Parents Circle Families Forum—hold a binational memorial service for casualties on both sides. It is one of the most emotional and significant events I ever had the privilege to attend, and it’s been growing by the year, bringing together Israelis and Palestinians to call to end the occupation, the hostilities, and the violence. Like in many years before, the service was criticized by right-wing groups in Israel, and a counter-protest was held outside the venue. Unlike past years, however, the counter-protest was more than just a protest. People who opposed the service followed people who attended it to their cars, threatening them, cursing them, spitting at them and sought a reason to get violent. The Israeli minister of education, Naftali Benet (a right-wing member of parliament) tweeted on the topic, but instead of condemning such behavior he claimed that the attendees “can handle it” thus implying that they also deserve it. This misuse of power, from an elected member of government and the minister of education, no less, represents accurately what we’re talking about when discussing power and responsibility. An elected official gets his power from the public, and is therefore responsible to the entire public—even to those who would rather give this power to someone else, and even people he does not agree with. This explicit violation of this responsibility has a name—it’s called corruption.
Mainly known for the musical hooks and catchy tunes, the Kinks are also fantastic lyricists. It is therefore no wonder that they manage to cover our entire topic in a single song that remains catchy and fun and even somewhat lighthearted. Taken from their 1970 album “Lola Versus the Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One” (an album that contains most of my favorite Kinks songs), “Powerman” is a protest song against the power and influence possessed—and bought—by the upper class. The first three verses are quite generic, but in the last verse the Kinks finally point the finger at the owners of record labels, singing that “He’s got my money and my publishing rights // but I’ve got my girl and I’m alright // And she got me going, and she keeps me sane // but powerman, powerman, got money on the brain.”
Kanye released “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantast” in 2010, and that album remains—in my humble opinion—his magnum opus to this very day. “POWER” was the first single released from the upcoming album, giving a sneak peek into Kanye’s new musical style and proving once again that he is the biggest name in hip-hop (circa 2010) and one of the most interesting musicians in the world, as he truly reinvents himself anew with each and every release. “POWER”, however, was also somewhat personal and self-referential. After a few too many so-called “Kanye moments”, the rapper decided that it might be time to tackle his own demons—which he generally did in the album, but specifically in the tune in question. “No one man should have all that power” Kanye keeps reasserting throughout the song, and samples King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man” for emphasis, really pushing his message through.
Tears for Fears—Everybody Wants to Rule the World
It was never easy for me to take Tears for Fears seriously. But still, they are such a musical landmark and so representative of the New Wave 80’s sound, that I can’t truly hate on them either. Also, I do secretly love some of their songs in a non-ironic manner, but let’s just keep that between us, right? Few of their songs, however, are as anthemic as “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”. In spite of the random—and mildly racist—video clip, the song still provides a decent (even if slightly obvious) reflection on the aspiration for power. And even though I add it to this week’s list with some tongue-in-cheek, it’s actually a good song and can be offered with a slightly more serious interpretation, as the Lorde excellent cover version suggests.
Jesse Winchester—Step by Step
Jesse Winchester’s “Step by Step” is a great piece of southern blues-rock. It also discusses the matter of corruption in a somewhat metaphorical way: “cause Jacob’s golden ladder // gets slippery at the top // and many a happy-go-lucky saint // has made that long, long drop”. It is exactly that metaphor that got this song picked for the finale episode of The Wire’s first season. Being possibly the best TV series to ever critically deal with political systems that are rotten to the core with corruption, The Wire also happens to have a great soundtrack, and that won Jesse Winchester a spot on this week’s list.
The Beatles’ 1966 album “Revolver” is one of the band’s most interesting album, as it lies exactly on the cusp between the pop music stage of the Liverpool Four and their psychedelic pop era. In that, it opens with a catchy, rock-n’-roll-y, and yet extremely critical tune “Taxman”. Somewhat of a hybrid between Wincheter’s “Step by Step” and the Kinks’ “Powerman”, “Taxman” is a slightly-whimsical yet potent protest song against tax collection authorities and how they make people’s lives miserable. Another thing that makes it wonderful is how it is constantly updated in live versions, mentioning politicians or adding more verses, just like in this fantastic version by George Harrison and Eric Clapton.
Elvis Presley—Only the Strong Survive https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TxbkXLEcKqA
Leonard Cohen—The Future https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rH1XTOBF0YQ
Timber Timbre—Do I Have Power? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cZwPMj5OwvA
Bob Dylan—Masters of War https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h2mabTnMHe8
Huey Lewis & the News—Power of Love https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KCkgYhtz64U