by Baruchi Malewich
This week’s theme is right up my alley, and boy am I happy that it will accompany us for two consecutive weeks. This week and the next we’re all about saying ‘Taking on the system’ and, as there are many great anti-establishment songs, we have decided to divide this theme into two lists: ‘old’ and ‘new’, arbitrarily drawing the line at 1990. This week we will be focusing on some great tunes of punk, hip-hop, and yes—even some country music. And this, I think, points at an interesting aspect I would like to discuss in my opening: anti-establishment sentiments exist on both sides of the political map—left and right, progressive and conservative. Many of Trump’s voters, I’m sure, have deep feelings of resentment against the establishment. In fact, The South—with its history of bootlegging and moonshining—takes great pride in its animosity towards the federal system and anyone representing it. The progressive left, on the other hand, is also highly critical of the political and financial establishment, as the deepening of neo-liberalism serves to further empower the rich, and hinder solidarity. The same can be said about the political atmosphere in Israel, where I come from: the radical right denounces the political establishment because it limits the settlements to some extent, and the progressive left resents the establishment because it allows for infringement of human rights of Palestinians and other minorities. The important point is this: these sides are not symmetrical. They are not the same, and just because they both have criticism towards the establishment doesn’t mean they have mutual interests or a common goal. I heard many people on the left who believed that Trump’s victory in the elections, or Brexit for that matter, are signs that people are finally trying to bring down the establishment and that there is an opportunity for a collaboration here. I think they’re wrong, and I think the rise of hate crime in the US and in the UK is evidence of that. This is something I tried to remember while compiling this week’s list, and this is something I hope you will keep in mind while listening to it.
Oh wow. I still can’t believe it’s been less than a year since I first heard this song. It caught me immediately: the psychedelic melody accompanied by harmonies country guitar-picking, its highs and its lows, and its anthem-like qualities all inspired me with a deep sensation of wanderlust. It was while I watched the iconic 1969 ‘Easy Rider’ that I first came across it, and nothing says ‘counterculture’ like this movie and like this song. To a great extent, this movie explores the difference between progressive counterculture and conservative counterculture (referred to in the movie in a geographical sense of North vs. South) in America during the 1960’s. While it’s not the easiest movie to watch (strange editing techniques, very few lines of dialogue), it is a must for any movie lover or music lover, as it boasts an absolutely wonderful soundtrack.
It seems like there’s an epic battle on which was the greatest Southern Rock band of all times—and it seems like the forerunners would be CCR, The Band, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. And while I personally love all three, I think Skynyrd should win the title, perhaps thanks to ‘Free Bird’ alone. It’s such a massive tune, that despite it goes on for nine full minutes, it never gets old and never feels long. And, of course, it has one of the greatest guitar solos of all times. While it takes a romantic angle of a breakup—namely the narrator leaving his loved-one for a life on the road—it emphasizes the inability to ‘chain’ or ‘change’ an individual and in that presents some anarchist notions. Lynyrd Skynyrd, it is important to note, definitely belongs to the conservative part of the political map, and for years has been taking pride in the southern way of life and in the confederate flag (which often waved during their concert, on their album sleeves or official t-shirts). However, its members have recently denounced it and made it clear that they do not relate to the values it currently represents. I’m personally not sure that is enough—I don’t know if back in the 1970’s what it represented was that much better—but Lynyrd Skynyrd remains one of the most important bands that epitomize anti-Establishment Southern Rock.
Public Enemy remains, to this day, one of the most iconic groups in hip-hop history, one that truly shaped the genres in its dense sound, its utilization of samples and scratch music, and of course its uncompromising lyrics. In that, Fight the Power is not merely an anti-establishment anthem but a defining moment in pop culture—one that marks the beginning of incorporation of African-American protest music and iconography into the mainstream. The video for fight the power is full of references to African-American resistance to racism and persecution: the Black Panther-like dancers, the posters of Martin Luther King and other leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, and of course the lyrics.
Kanye West—New Slaves
Twenty-three years after Public Enemy, Kanye West released Yeezus. Now, personally, I wasn’t a big fan of the album as a whole—or at least I thought it was far inferior to what I to-this-day consider Kanye’s magnum opus: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. However, songs like New Slaves stand up and create the iconic moments of this album. This is an exceptionally perceptive piece, resisting racism and the establishment that molds it, and ends in one of the most beautiful crescendo’s designed by the brilliant producer who is Kanye West (namely the way he samples Omega’s ‘The Gill with the Pearl’s Hair’).
Punk music! The best representation of anti-Establishment music circa late 1970’s and early 1980’s. And few bands were ‘sticking it to the system’ like the Dead Kennedys. While hailing from California, Jello Biafra and the rest of the crew were no Beach Boys. They made hardcore, noisy anti-fascist music, presenting a radical leftist agenda and criticizing everything that had to do with ‘the man’. Their first single, ‘California Über Alles’ pertains to the opening words of the first stanza of the German anthem ‘Deutschland, Deutschland über alles, über alles in der Welt’. These words are no longer sung as part of the anthem as they are associated with Nazism. It is a satirical take on the then-governor of California Jerry Brown, which presents him as a hippie-fascist leader that threatens to kill everyone who isn’t ‘cool’, and includes many allusions to the holocaust.
Skipping to the other side of the pond, we arrive at what is, perhaps, my favorite punk song of my favorite punk band. In December 1979 The Clash released their iconic album ‘London Calling’, which, while it is definitely a punk album, draws a lot from reggae and ska music. This revolutionary album tackles many of the social hardships of the time: unemployment, drugs, and racism. ‘Guns of Brixton’, written by the band’s bass player Paul Simonon (who himself grew up in that area of South London), reflects the frustration of the Brixtonite immigrants with the recession and the poor way in which the police treated them. It calls for resistance, even if it is violent. While the song was released before the Brixton riots of 1981, it represented exactly those aspects that led to the riots.
What is there to say about this? This is such an epic piece, an epic poem by an epic musician, a precursor of hip-hop music and spoken word, and a call for a revolution that completely shakes off from the Establishment. Just pay attention to the lyrics, and reach your own conclusions.
Baruchi Malewich is an Israeli expatriate currently residing in the UK. He completed his BA is Government and Diplomacy from the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya and his MPhil in International Relations from the University of Cambridge. He was a DJ in the student radio of both schools, and is an avid music fan. He is currently working on PhD applications and on an online publication devoted to researching the role of theory in the