The tradition of protest music long obsoletes chart history, if not the history of documented music itself– but theres something about the symbolism of the charts that still attracts campaigners desiring to trigger a stir.
Comin over here: Stewart Lees anti-xenophobic routine has been used as part of a recent demonstration single.
( Rex Features) For Steve Chandra Savale of Asian Dub Foundation, his bands spontaneous, somewhat ramshackle project was as much about “uniting people around a vibe” as anything else. The song was composed as an album track in March last year, with Lees routine about previous Ukip leader Paul Nuttall dubbed over the top. A postponed release as a result of the pandemic used a chance for a run on the songs charts.
Rage Against the Machine, here at Lollapalooza in 2008, would reach No 1 with their bold single Killing in the Name
( Rex Features) That includes the rather macabre effort to take “Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead” to No 1 when Margaret Thatcher died in 2013. 6 years after it was first created, a Facebook group called “Make ding dong the witch is dead No 1 the week Thatcher passes away” all of a sudden sprung to life. The anonymous female, who had actually first set it up in 2007, was floundering at the requests and eventually connected with Morter to assist. “The lady that was running [the page] found me and said, What the hell do I do? I dont understand what to do, weve got literally thousands that have joined and want to do it. What do you suggest?” keeps in mind Morter. He offered his help, acting under a pseudonym due to the dissentious nature of the campaign. The song reached No 2 in the charts, but Morter stays persuaded that, based on the iTunes sales information, it had actually moved enough units to go to No 1. Having actually held out at the top of the download chart all week, the song slipped to second location at the last minute. Says Morter: “I think there was a little bit of shenanigans going on there.”.
The confluence of social media and digital music services have actually made it easier than ever to turn the charts into a political placard, and the success of efforts like the Thatcher project and Morters Rage Against the Machine bid have shown the tactics practicality. These targeted projects have turned up with increasing frequency recently. In the run-up to the 2017 basic election, ska outfit Captain SKA launched a new version of their song “Liar Liar”, functionally retitled “Liar Liar GE2017”. The initial had actually been penned in 2010 about the David Cameron-led coalition but this new take trained its goal on Theresa May. Accompanied by a comic video, it charted at No 4, made headings in The New York Times, and even ruffled the generally austere then-prime minister herself, with May informing BBC Radios Newsbeat that she was “not extremely delighted about it”.
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A couple of years later on, in December 2019, a bid to crown Jarvis Cockers 2006 song “Running The World” (with its refrain of “c **** are still running the world”) followed the Conservatives basic election victory. A month after that, in January 2020, “Come Out Ye Black And Tans” by Irish rebel group The Wolfe Tones spiked in the download charts. The campaign was an action to plans by the Irish federal government to honor the centenary of the controversial Royal Irish Constabulary, the force notorious for cops cruelty and extrajudicial killings. Influenced by this Irish effort, the Welsh self-reliance advocates at YesCymru pushed a rendition of the folk tune “Yma O Hyd” (suggesting “still here”) by former Plaid Cymru president Dafydd Iwan into the UK iTunes charts too.
” I expect its sort of subversive and fun,” says Lee. “I forget who it was that said the function of funny was to afflict the comforted and comfort the afflicted, however I believe a great deal of people have got some convenience from seeing these things survive. Often, the more dumb they are, the more wonderful it is that theyve managed to do it.”
These songs differ from the downright psychopathic to the seriously serious. The Great Chart Reclamation began around February 2007, when activist group Stop the War Coalition launched a variation of Edwin Starrs “War” credited to a group called Ugly Rumours– the name of then-Prime Minister Tony Blairs university rock band. The project corresponded with the fourth anniversary of the Iraq War and kicked off at a march in London, with attendees motivated to purchase the tune on their cellphones.
This sensation of collective catharsis is something that Morter, Savale, and Masterton all mention too– while acknowledging that the real change-making work happens elsewhere. Morter explains it as a form of “armchair advocacy” however notes that a lot of the Facebook groups hes produced for many years reside on as active communities to this day. Masterton marvels whether clicking a mouse button can ever have the same impact as taking to the streets over a particular cause.
One man who knows more than a lot of about releasing political songs to the top of the charts is Jon Morter. A DJ from Essex, Morter first made headings in 2009 with his effective effort to provide United States rap-rock band Rage Against the Machine their first Christmas No 1– and keep that years X Factor winner, Joe McElderry, from swiping the slot. He d tried the exact same feat a year prior to with Rick Astleys “Never Gon na Give You Up” (a popular internet meme at the time), however eventually it was the bold message of RATMs “Killing In The Name” and Morters ability to mobilise a Facebook community of thousands that broke Simon Cowells iron grip on consecutive Christmas blockbusters.
These days, the charts are less visible than when music mags would publish the outcomes or Top of the Pops aired primetime efficiencies each week. Stewart Lee admits that theres an element of fond memories to going into the charts– particularly amongst those who grew up with shows like TOTP– but states that they still retain some emblematic significance. “People have produced their own imaginary rules about the significance of it,” says charts analyst James Masterton.
But if you can make the race to No 1 a close-run thing, then you can a minimum of rely on a few news headlines to draw attention (or outrage) to your project. “I dont believe any persons going to necessarily switch their political obligation based upon somebody singing a song about some kind of political issue,” says Masterton, “I believe what its all about is an opportunity to raise awareness of a cause. And if nothing else, to enable individuals to reveal support for something– it does facilitate that.”.
Most of these chart campaigns would be described as a type of reactive protest, instead of driving at any tangible future modification: Jarvis Cocker calling the Conservatives “c ****”; Ugly Rumours painting Tony Blair as a warmonger; Asian Dub Foundation and Stewart Lee sending up Brexiteers as bigoted xenophobes. Its as much about cathartic release and feeling heard as anything else.
In current years, advocates and rabble-rousers have increasingly taken objective at the upper ranks of the pop charts in a quote to adopt them as a type of political billboard. In the very same spirit of the Sex Pistols launching “God Save the Queen” in the week of the 1977 Silver Jubilee, contemporary efforts have taken on whatever from Boris to Brexit to the Hillsborough disaster and war in foreign lands. The custom of protest music long obsoletes chart history, if not the history of recorded music itself– however theres something about the meaning of the charts that still brings in campaigners desiring to trigger a stir.
” A lot of this is less about concentrating on the long term and more about showing what they feel the nation feels at a particular moment in time,” says Radhika Patel, a political campaigner and organiser based in London. “I dont think thats necessarily wrong, I simply believe its not especially impactful if they want to make change, because regrettably you cant make change by just having one single out. In some methods its simply something funny for individuals to hold on to, or feel like somebody comprehends.”.
Ultimately, these projects are stunts: their impact lasting not much longer than the songs themselves. There are many pop tunes that consist of social or political messages, and their timelessness as works of art indicates a cause can live on in individualss imaginations. And with each brand-new entrant, this peculiarly British chart custom grows more established.
The Kunts chart success amazed even Morter, while the Asian Dub Foundation track was among the most-downloaded in the country in the first week of the year (it peaked at 65 in the official charts).
Ever since, Morter states his inbox has actually been packed with requests not just from major labels and promotion agencies interested by his methods, however by other social and political advocates too. Hes helped on digital campaigns for everyone from The Rolling Stones to The Justice Collective (raising funds for Hillsborough charities). If theres a project to get a demonstration tune into the charts, theres an excellent opportunity Jon Morter has actually been involved at some point.
As far as song lyrics go, “Boris Johnson is a f ****** c ***” is not exactly what you d call chart-friendly. That didnt stop comedy punk group The Kunts getting their politically charged track (called, naturally, “Boris Johnson is a F ****** C ***”) to No 5 in the official Top 20 at Christmas. Simply a few weeks later, as the UK officially left the EU, comic Stewart Lee and Asian Dub Foundation were pressing a humorous anti-Brexit ode featuring lyrics from a 1,000-year-old Anglo Saxon poem into the download charts.
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” War” hit No 6 in the midweeks and eventually charted at No 21. The songs manufacturer, Ben Grey, summed up the thinking behind the song at the time: “We desired to try and reach the people who may be more into watching The X Factor than listening to politics.
Stop the War Coalition demonstrators protest in Parliament Square in 2007
While it didnt break any new ground in the charts (reaching No 25), it was clear that these projects were ending up being more smart: the song was released at the start of January, normally a peaceful time for brand-new music, and an email project had notched up 10s of thousands of pre-sale downloads in advance of the release date. Lewis has actually since claimed that it was only a change in how the charts are determined (counting the number of downloads rather than the number of payments gotten) that prevented the song from hitting the top spot.
While it didnt break any brand-new ground in the charts (reaching No 25), it was clear that these projects were becoming more savvy: the tune was released at the beginning of January, generally a peaceful time for new music, and an email project had notched up 10s of thousands of pre-sale downloads in advance of the release date. One man who understands more than the majority of about releasing political tunes to the top of the charts is Jon Morter. If theres a project to get a demonstration song into the charts, theres a good opportunity Jon Morter has been involved at some point.
The majority of these projects contribute their profits to charity, but the go for a number of these chart pirates is merely about revealing uniformity. Morter most just recently added to 2 new chart quotes: The Kunts abovementioned Boris Johnson single, stimulated on by the prime ministers U-turn over Christmas restrictions, and the anti-Brexit partnership in between Asian Dub Foundation and Stewart Lee, which was called “Comin Over Here”. The Kunts chart success surprised even Morter, while the Asian Dub Foundation track was amongst the most-downloaded in the nation in the very first week of the year (it peaked at 65 in the main charts).