Republican Party Dance-Mix

by John Holbo on May 21, 2006

The Who, “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” Conservative rock anthem. File under: complex irony, I guess.

Will someone be so kind as to email or post the whole list? Also, is there significant, er, hermeneutic analysis, above and beyond the short bit Adler quotes, or is it just the list? Also, this is funny:

Listeners get to decide what the song means, not the creator. The audience got Springsteen’s “Born In The USA” was pro-America, even if Bruce was too dense to figure the matter was out of his hands.

Never mind that concern for the plight of the working man need not be anti-American, I think liberals should push back against rampant conservative ‘lyrical activism’, running rough-shod over the original intentions of our nation’s founding playlists.

I assume “Okie From Muskogee” made the cut. Also “Sweet Home Alabama”. Lots of country music. (I’m reading a book about Laibach. Maybe some Rammstein?) “Material Girl”. Any number of bling-themed songs? The Smiths? “Shoplifters of the World”? Something by Stryper?

Ah! Turns out Bruce Bartlett did his top-40 a couple years ago. The criteria are debatable, as ‘religion’ is deemed an “unambiguously conservative value”.



Sean Carroll 05.21.06 at 10:13 pm

You can find it here:

Among the ironies: “I Fought the Law” held up as a law-and-order classic, while “Janie’s Got a Gun” celebrates the right to bear arms and “I Can’t Drive 55” is a principled objection to the nanny state. (Don’t even get me started on “My City Was Gone” and “Cult of Personality.)


fnook 05.21.06 at 10:23 pm

John Miller is a friggin tool.


Kieran Healy 05.21.06 at 10:41 pm

The criteria are debatable, as ‘religion’ is deemed an “unambiguously conservative value”.

To which one can only reply, Matthew 10:34.


Kieran Healy 05.21.06 at 10:50 pm

I’ve always thought “Like a Rolling Stone” is a viciously conservative song. Like an angry parent railing against an errant child who has experimented on their own and then fucked up badly, much to the satisfaction of the I-told-you-so parent.


Mike Jones 05.21.06 at 11:04 pm

Holy Mother of God, the NRO crew is not only irony-proof, they’re context-free and totally unencumbered by the thought process (to quote one of my favorite NPR personalities)! It has to be parody, right? How else to explain the inclusion of “Stand By Your Man” at #50 as the cherry on top of the nutcase sundae. I guess domestic violence is now a conservative value, eh? And including “Godzilla” and even pointing out the line Nature points up the folly of men with the current “what global warming?” crowd in office. Brilliant.


almostinfamous 05.21.06 at 11:06 pm

Among the ironies: “I Fought the Law” held up as a law-and-order classic, while “Janie’s Got a Gun” celebrates the right to bear arms and “I Can’t Drive 55” is a principled objection to the nanny state. (Don’t even get me started on “My City Was Gone” and “Cult of Personality.)

hey sean, mind help getting the pieces of my head back together since you helped make it explode?


almostinfamous 05.21.06 at 11:06 pm

the inability to type should tell you that i’m not lying


alan 05.21.06 at 11:30 pm

Talk about trying too hard. I think they must not have listened to the whole song. And some of them are really from, ah, left field: Iron Maiden doing “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is conservative? Because Colerige is dead?

Anybody who invokes without irony as a conservative anthem the lyric “I exploit you, still you love me / I tell you one and one makes three / I’m the cult of personality,” with *this* administration running the show is fully gonzo.


Jonathan 05.21.06 at 11:53 pm

The Clash song in particular.


Christmas 05.21.06 at 11:54 pm

To which one can only reply, Matthew 10:34.

To which one can only reply, Matthew 5:9. Or Matthew 5:44. Or John 18:36. Or Matthew 19:24. Or Matthew 22:21. Surprise, surprise – the Bible contradicts itself! Yes, conservatives can cherrypick verses and use dubious interpretations to justify a set of conservative beliefs, and liberals can ignore those same verses and use different interpretations to justify a set of liberal beliefs. This suggests that not even Christianity – much less the whole of religion – represents an “unambiguously conservative value.” Religion is a justification for what one already believes, not the source of that belief.


S. E. Kaufman 05.21.06 at 11:58 pm

My. Head. Just. Exploded. (Sorry. Holbo. Post. Holbonic. Punctuation.) But one of those numbnuts is actually arguing that “Born in the USA” is a conservative anthem because, well, because liberals hate war and therefore hate vets too. This rationalization runs counter to every other song the Boss has ever written, and shows a generosity of interpretation more often derided by conservative types as “typical liberal over-interpretation,” but you know he has a point: if the liberals had just defeated Reagan, prevented the VA from denying vets access to healthcare of the mental or physical variety, then HELLS YEAH! Springsteen wouldn’t have had to have written “Born in the USA.” On what world, I ask you: On. What. World?

(The answer, for those who want it, is the one in which this album, this one, and maybe this one too, you know, might indicate that he’s not entirely correct. I’m only saying…


Daniel 05.22.06 at 12:14 am

He forgot “God Save The Queen” by the Sex Pistols (after all, it’s about the Queen)


Anna in Cairo 05.22.06 at 12:52 am

Wow. To these people, words no longer have any meaning. I mean, Sweet Home Alabama is a CONSERVATIVE song???? And “I fought the law”? And Bruce Springsteen (anything at all by him)? And their idea that the intent of the composer means nothing is so Foucault-ian. I thought weird French literary theory was supposed to be a LEFTIST thing, not a RIGHTIST thing.


josh 05.22.06 at 1:17 am

Oh, those damn right-wing post-modernist relativists, with their hifalutin’ ‘death of the author’ theories and their hip, smug irony. I tell you.
It’s a strange, strange alternative universe these guys inhabit…


Mr. Toad 05.22.06 at 1:40 am

Wagner, Ride of the Valkyries: Original fratboy rock. Rock is not really conservative in a William F. Buckley style of conservativism; it’s generally only the yahoo sort of “conservatives” who view it as such.


Alex 05.22.06 at 5:58 am

The Clash. Conservative. The corpse of irony is raped in the public square, roasted hats are going like hot cakes, arctic conditions reported from hell.


abb1 05.22.06 at 6:11 am

If you read the third verse of “Imagine” backwards, it reads: “Nuke Iran Now”.


engels 05.22.06 at 6:59 am

Definitely a conservative anthem. The proper title is (Fool Me Once Shame on You Fool Me) Won’t Get Fooled Again.


Bruce Bartlett 05.22.06 at 7:14 am

Since my old paper was cited, I should explain something about it that may not be clear. It was presented to an organization of conservative intellectuals. Many in the audience were quite old and still held the view that rock & roll is the devil’s music. My goal was to try and convince them otherwise, which is why I made the point about religion being a conservative value.

I would also say that one difference between my list and John Miller’s is that he listed album cuts and I did not. I intentionally chose songs that made the Top 40 list in order to weed out total nobodies.


The Modesto Kid 05.22.06 at 7:58 am

Kieran, I’ve always heard the speaker in “Like a Rolling Stone” as being somebody who had been hurt by the addressee (call him RS) in RS’s profligate days and now that RS was knocked down, is refusing to lend him a helping hand back up. Sort of like “Positively 4th Street” except the romantic rejection angle not played up as much, RS may be male or female. (Though I think more likely, the latter.)

For a really excellent take on sexism in Dylan check out Richard Goldstein’s article in the latest The Nation.


Urinated State of America 05.22.06 at 9:35 am

Jeez. The Bruce Bartlett ones are surreal. A Song by the Kinks, one by Elton John, and one by Dusty Springfield (the Dusty one supposedly supporting traditional patriarchal values: irony is lost on these folks)


mythago 05.22.06 at 9:48 am

bruce, as long as you’re including religion as a conservative value, I would think “They Ain’t Making Jews Like Jesus Anymore” ought to make your cut.


DivGuy 05.22.06 at 9:59 am

I love when people cite “Sweet Home Alabama” as a conservative song. It really pulls back the curtain on what they think the term means –

In Birmingham they love the gov’nah
Now we all did what we could do
Now Watergate does not bother me
Does your conscience bother you?
Tell the truth

Support for Richard Nixon during Watergate? Conservative

Support for the unreconstructed racism of George Wallace? Conservative


soubzriquet 05.22.06 at 11:32 am

Some odd choices, certainly. The idea that religious topics in songs are inherently conservative is risible.


Tom 05.22.06 at 11:46 am

I thought the politics in WGFA was allegorical, the real point being that when the old boss of conscience is overthrown, the new boss of appetite is found to be just as enslaving. It’s directed against John Lennon’s moral and psychoanalytic ideas more than his political ones.


"Q" the Enchanter 05.22.06 at 12:26 pm

Guess the NR types aren’t much for originalism when it comes to songwriter’s intent.


Slocum 05.22.06 at 1:03 pm

What I find interesting is the inclusion of songs that really aren’t political at all, but merely positive about the U.S. Chuck Berry’s “Back in the USA”, for example. Oddly enough, though, it’s almost plausible to call the lyrics ‘conservative’ because, in this age of ‘Supersize Me!’, a lot of American liberals actually do hate…hamburgers. And many aren’t real big on freeways (everybody should be on the subway), jet air travel (global warming), or Chatanooga, Baton Rouge, or ‘Ol St Lou’ (too far south).

The hostility of liberals to not just GW’s government but to American culture generally (even if that hostility is largely a matter of perception)–that’s a problem (a “What’s the Matter with Kansas” sort of problem).


Ginger Yellow 05.22.06 at 2:35 pm

I wonder where Leonard Cohen’s ‘The Future’ fits on the Bartlett scale of lyrical conservativsm. If religion is an unambiguously conservative value, I take it “crack and anal sex” are unambiguously liberal.

Incidentally, Bartlett bizarrely leaves The Beatles ‘Taxman’, which is about as conservative (and especially Republican-conservative) as they come, off his list, apparently on the grounds that it was “buried on some obscure album”, ie Revolver. What the hell’s that about? According to the esoteric journal Rolling Stone, Revolver the third greatest album of all time and sold 5m copies. In what universe is that obscure?


Martha Bridegam 05.22.06 at 2:36 pm

If they claim “Won’t Get Fooled Again” I suppose they wouldn’t mind people singing it in Iraq?


jhupp 05.22.06 at 3:53 pm

I think the most absurd of these is “Rock the Casbah.” I’ve spent the last 18 hours trying like mad to wrap my head around it, but I just can’t do it. The song lampoons repressive social structures and Middle Eastern oil barrons. You know, the Bush family BFFs and the number one allies of conservative American foreign policy. They must have missed every part except the part where the Middle East gets bombed.

Not to mention that it’s, ummm, THE CLASH.

I think Mike Jones put it perfectly: irony-proof, context-free, and totally unencumbered by the thought process.


jhupp 05.22.06 at 3:59 pm

That said, it is important to note that author’s intent and the content of the extant work are not the same. Matt Yglesias had a great post on this a few weeks ago. It’s a terrific explanation of why framers’ intent is a bad standard. So the mere fact that a song is by The Clash or by Bruce Springsteen should not in and of itself disqualify it from being conservative.

That said, this is not one of those cases. “Born in the USA” and “Rock the Casbah” simply cannot be called conservative songs by any reasonable analysis of the works themselves.


Chris Bertram 05.22.06 at 4:21 pm

Since today’s American conservatives, pumped up on ressentiment, like to imagine themselves are outsiders rebelling against the librul establishment, just about any generic revolt-against-authority song can be recyled in their imagination as “conservative”. Come to think of it, didn’t Carly Simon write a song about them?


Chris Bertram 05.22.06 at 4:21 pm

… as outsiders …. [obviously]


Pithlord 05.22.06 at 4:58 pm

I think the conservatives are on to something here. It really doesn’t matter what the author of the song privately intended, but what the effect is on the audience. “Rock the Casbah”, whatever the intentions of its Marxist authors, has been used repeatedly as the theme song for various acts of violence against the Muslim world. How many bombs dropped when it was blaring in the cockpit? How many Shi’ite widows strip searched to it?

Whether hostility to the traditional social structures of the Muslim world is genuinely conservative is arguable, of course, but it is the conservative movement (in the Western sense) that is violently pulling those structures apart. (At least until Hillary gets in.)

More generally, you cannot seriously listen to the Clash without acknowledging their fascination with tribe and war. As leftists, their nostalgia tends towards the Popular Front period, but you can’t help but here an echo of St. Crispin in the lines from the Card Cheat, “From the Hundred Years’ War to the Crimea/With a lance and a musket and a Roman spear/To all of the men who stood without fear/In the service of the King.”

Sure, it is ironic in the broader context of the song. But it calls up emotions of British patriotism in their most feudal form.

As for “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” it is quite obviously a counter-revolutionary song, and was intended to be.


vanya 05.22.06 at 6:03 pm

I am a huge Clash fan, but I have to admit that “Rock the Casbah” is a problematic song. Even when it came out back in 1983 it seemed like a strange song for the Clash to write – kind of trite, basically “Dirty Dancing” set in the Middle East. Of course it was written by leftists, but the text is certainly not unambiguously left wing, especially by the standards of 2006, and arguably now “neocon.” Certainly a Chris Hitchens would agree with every word in the song – it is about the power of rock music to overcome religious fundamentalism and autocratic rule. While calling it a conservative anthem would be a stretch, you have to admit that there is nothing in the song for a neocon to object to. Many on the far left today would probably condemn the song for its imperialist assumption that Western culture is superior to Islam and that muslims would be happier in a secular pleasure-oriented world.


y81 05.22.06 at 6:04 pm

What pithlord said. Also, Rock the Casbah lampoons the Prophet, an activity which is condemned here, and praised at Instapundit and Volokh, and is therefore demonstrably conservative.


The Modesto Kid 05.22.06 at 7:43 pm

Hey I just thought of the obvious one — can’t imagine how they left Young Conservatives off the list.


engels 05.22.06 at 9:14 pm

didn’t Carly Simon write a song about them?

I don’t know, but Nirvana did.

He’s the one who likes all our pretty songs
And he likes to sing along
And he likes to shoot his gun
But he don’t know what it means…

y81 and pithlord – feel free to sing along.


Answer Guy 05.22.06 at 10:12 pm

The list appears to be unavailable.

Which is just as well since I think my head would explode if I read the whole thing. The Clash? Bruce Springsteen? Elton John? Living Colour? Are you kidding me?

Did they manage to include much of anything written by actual right-wingers? (I guess Sammy Hagar sort of counts; he’s a known Bush supporter.)


almostinfamous 05.22.06 at 10:12 pm

vanya, that’s in the same vein as saying the dead kennedy’s “kill the poor” was used by racists and supremacists as a theme song. the song is exaggerating a position to make it look stupid, not endorsing a position.

what people do with RTC or KTP is their business but i’m off to set up a turbine attached to Joe Strummer’s grave to see if i can;t solve the world’s energy problems.


Prudence Goodwife 05.22.06 at 10:28 pm

25. “The Battle of Evermore,” by Led Zeppelin.
The lyrics are straight out of Robert Plant’s Middle Earth period — there are lines about “ring wraiths” and “magic runes” — but for a song released in 1971, it’s hard to miss the Cold War metaphor: “The tyrant’s face is red.”

Led Zeppelin- The Anti Hammer & Sickle of the Gods.


Anna in Cairo 05.23.06 at 1:40 am

I am Muslim, and my kids are Muslim Egyptians raisedi n the Middle East, and we love that song Rock the Casbah and think the video is hilarious. Who told you guys Muslims have no sense of humor, anyhow?

But, we definitely would not call the song “conservative.” That’s just idiotic. In what sense of the term?

And, most people understand ironic shock value type songs like “Kill teh Poor” or “Killing an Arab” or other such things, you have to be completely stupid to miss it and think the song’s actually in favor of those things.


John M. Burt 05.23.06 at 4:44 am

How come nobody has mentioned one of the greatest conservative rock songs of all time, one which celebrates as does no other song, the selfless humble courage of our fighting men, as they march on, unquestioning, to battle?

I refer, of course, to the “Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die Rag” by Country Joe and the Fish:

And it’s one, two, three,
What are we fighting for ?
Don’t ask me, I don’t give a damn,
Next stop is Vietnam;
And it’s five, six, seven,
Open up the pearly gates,
Well there ain’t no time to wonder why,
Whoopee! we’re all gonna die.


Sam Dodsworth 05.23.06 at 6:14 am

And, most people understand ironic shock value type songs like “Kill the Poor” or “Killing an Arab” or other such things..

Um… “Killing an Arab” is actually about the central scene from Albert Camus’ “L’Etranger” – existentialism, not shock value. I remember a couple of my schoolmates making that mistake back when Libya was the Designated Enemy. Are there people on the American Right who think it’s about killing Arabs? If so, that’s even funnier than thinking “Born in the USA” is patriotic.


Anna in Cairo 05.23.06 at 6:31 am

I know it’s from Camus. But the title of the song is shock value, sorry. Otherwise they would have titled the song “the stranger.” And I have seen a story about Marines playing it in Iraq unironically. May be an urban legend– I devoutly pray that it is.


Anna in Cairo 05.23.06 at 6:35 am

Actually, now that I reread this thread, poster #34 (pithlord) refers to Killing an Arab being played by US military in Ira. Maybe he can tell us if this is just a metaphor or if it’s based on some sort of fact.


Sam Dodsworth 05.23.06 at 6:51 am

If anyone’s playing “Killing An Arab” in Iraq at the moment then I withdraw what I said about the misreading being funny.


vanya 05.23.06 at 8:09 am

Sorry, I gotta disagree. “Rock the Casbah” is not exaggerating a position to make it look stupid,, it’s a straight forward anthem about people refusing to bow down to an autocratic anti-fun regime. It has nothing in common with songs like “kill the poor” which is plainly meant to be ironic. For a punk group the Clash were pretty irony free. I do believe that Strummer probably meant the song to be symbolic, I don’t think it was meant to really be about the Middle East, it’s an allegory about kids telling their elders to bugger off, and the inability of authority to control people’s lives. In that sense you could argue it’s not a conservative song. Still, it’s certainly one of Strummer’s weaker efforts.


Ben Alpers 05.23.06 at 9:15 am

Since my old paper was cited, I should explain something about it that may not be clear. It was presented to an organization of conservative intellectuals. Many in the audience were quite old and still held the view that rock & roll is the devil’s music.

In fact, these lists of “conservative” rock songs are strained enough that they almost make one respect Evangelical tract cartoonist (and Old Christian Right throwback) Jack Chick’s claim that even Christian rock is the work of the devil.


Pithlord 05.23.06 at 6:38 pm

Unfortuantely I can’t source it, but I remember watching some footage of some Marines humiliating Iraqi teenagers with “Rock the Casbah” in the background a few years ago. I remebered it because of the irony. I do think that “rock and roll rebellion” is totally bogus, and that rock and rap are both the soundtrack of American imperialism worldwide. That’s not to say that there isn’t some good stuff, or that people are bad to like it. But it is worth being more critical than just accepting the artists’ own leftist politics as the sum of the effect of the music.

In response to “engels”, Cobain was obsessed with this problem.


Barbar 05.23.06 at 9:37 pm

Jaybird gets it right.


joel turnipseed 05.24.06 at 12:11 am

Anna,, no idea whether the kids in Iraq are singing the Cure, but I know that when I received my M16 in USMC boot camp the first thing I and the guy next to me (a kid from Berkeley) did was sing–very much under our breaths after exchanging a sly grin–“Killing an Arab.” Of course, that was 1986 and was done with all ironic intent. And for all that, as compared to “Napalm Sticks to Little Children” (sung to “Jesus Loves the Little Children”) and some of the other shit these sick bastards sing, Robert Smith’s Stranger tribute is a lark.

Of course, I’m sure there are plenty of young Marines smart and ironic and nihilistic enough to know & sing the Cure song in Iraq–as well as all-too-painfully aware that the most relevent words in the tune might well be “I’m alive–and dead. I’m a stranger…”

So–don’t be too righteously outraged.

As to the rest of this: agree w/majority of the posters–it’s something of a head exploder to see some of these as “conservative” ditties. What next, Woody Guthrie’s guitar on NeoCon rally poster in cause against “Islamo-Fascism?”

W/r/t Dylan–there is, no doubt, a free and early sense of mocking the petty and utopian. But you know, Woody Guthrie had his own problems with the Communists (and his own women problems). What can one say other than that they were both artists and looking to be free before all else & also that a certain class of leftist does need a swift kick in the ass now & again (or at least a really good verbal tweaking).


Anna in Cairo 05.24.06 at 12:14 am

Vanya, yes the song Rock the Casbah is about telling elders to leave us kids alone, and that is why Middle Eastern kids like mine can totally relate to it. They love the line “Sharif don’t like it” – it makes all kinds of sense to them.

Generational gaps don’t just exist in the west.

I want Pithlord to elaborate on how rock is the anthem of imperialism. I just don’t see it. Pop being the anthem of commercialism, maybe, and commercialism being related to imperialism, OK, but that’s not the same thing really. I mean, there’s no intent on the part of the musicians – and also, rock does not equal pop.


perianwyr 05.24.06 at 8:20 am

I find Aphex Twin to be perfectly expressive of conservative values. Prove me wrong, why don’t you. Can you?

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