Inspired by October’s TUC march in Manchester, I’ve been thinking about modern day marching songs.
While the music playing through the PA system on the day was a mixture of things, some feel good rebellion songs (The Who’s ‘My Generation’, some Bob Marley, Clash, Jam…) it did come to rely, increasingly on the 1990s Britpop songbook, climaxing with Pulp’s ‘Common People’ and Oasis ‘Don’t look back in anger’ as we neared the Tory Party Conference at GMEX.
Now, personally, I felt ‘Common People’ worked, and did have a kind of political charge to it, but ‘Don’t look back in anger?’ If it’s a slice of Mancunian sentimentality you’re after, give me Elbow any day…
While I never really bought into Britpop at the time, there are other reasons for being uneasy about the prominence of Britpop on the march soundtrack. For one, Britpop was notoriously co opted by New Labour in 1997, and by extension, the use of Britpop on the march might be seen to be suggesting a nostalgia for the days of Blair: Things have moved on, both politically and musically since 1997. There’s a whole generation of politically interested teenagers who didn’t even live through Britpop going on marches for one, what are they listening to? Does modern protest even have a soundtrack, or, as Dorian Lynskey argued very persuasively in 33 Revolutions per minute, is the modern protest song a dying breed?
As such, I propose 19 songs for possible co-option or inclusion on the soundtrack of any future protest marches you might be planning to attend or organise. Some of the choices may well seem a bit odd, but my choices are steered by personal taste as well as overall vibe and feel of the song, and as such are bound to be idiosyncratic. Your list will no doubt be different.
With one notable exception (which I’ll explain in a minute) all songs were released post 2000, and in order of playlist, they are:
Daft Punk ‘Revolution 909’: Because every march needs a warm up song for a bit of ambience.
Le Tigre ‘Get off the internet’: Because you can sort of dance along to it while marching or waiting to set off, and it promotes direct action over digital activism, which is kind of what marching is I suppose.
Sleaford Mods ‘Tweet Tweet Tweet’: I think there may have been some Sleaford Mods on the TUC march soundtrack, but a bit more never does any harm.
Poppy and the Jezebels ‘Sign in, dream on, drop out!’: Their 2012 paen to youth unemployment. Bang on, and relatively up to date.
Pretty Girls Make Graves ‘Parade’: Perfect: A song with a marching band tempo, about going on strike and union activism. Suitably bolshy.
Aaran Fyfe ‘All These Days Of Changing’: Bang up to date, came out a month or so back I think. A songwriter for whom the words ‘Voice of a generation’ will probably be applied at some point? Only time will tell…
Jake Bugg ‘Lightning Bolt’: This qualifies as a fast paced feel good one with a positive kind of attitude while being vaguely stroppy. Keeps the feet tapping and spirits up.
Sleaford Mods ‘The Wage Don’t Fit’: There’s always more than one voice of a generation… The definition of ‘Austerity Pop’ surely?
Santigold ‘Disparate Youth’: For it’s general sense of discontent and unease in the modern world
MIA ‘Galang’: Mainly because I think it’ll be great fun to march through Manchester, en masse, chanting ‘YAH YAH YEY…’ etc, and it will encapture a vague sense of warrior spirit or something…
La Roux ‘Uptight Downtown’: It just sounds like it was written about the 2011 riots to me, and has a similar sense of unease and discontent as the Santigold track, albeit with a vague sense of elation as well. But it would work as a marching song because it has that kind of Nile Rogers esque swagger to it, while encapsulating Britain today quite well.
Ting Tings ‘We Walk’: Perhaps I’m being a bit literal here, but it is called ‘We Walk’ isn’t it. As the lyric goes, ‘When it all goes wrong, we walk’
Georgia ‘Move Systems’: Just for general attitude and sound, bang up to date.
Stereolab ‘Ping Pong’: This is cheating because it came out in 1996 (I think…), but, lyrically, it was clearly light years ahead of its time…
Elbow ‘Lost Worker Bee’: Fast enough to march to, vaguely fits the mood.
Doyle and the Forefathers ‘Welcome To Austerity’: Our first defining example of ‘Austerity Pop’, or ‘Austerity Agitprop’. And it still sounds good, five years down the line.
Grace Mitchell ‘NoLo’: ‘How do you know, what the top looks like when you’re living on the bottom?’ She may not have meant it that way, but, if the tune fits…
Florence + The Machine ‘Spectrum’: If for no other reason than doing a conga to ‘Spectrum’ would beat the pants off singing along halfheartedly to ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’, for me anyway. I class ‘Spectrum’ as my euphoric, feel good moment towards the end of the march song.
Elbow ‘One Day Like This’: Compulsory moment of Mancunian sentimentality as march closes.