.50 Songs to Commemorate the Death of the Great American Experiment in Democracy

Here’s a bunch of music that in some way or another might provide you with some sonic shelter from this particular storm that’s a-brewin’.

1. Sister Rosetta Tharpe
“Didn’t It Rain”
Oh, but didn’t it rain, my brothers and sisters. Rained 2,800,000 popular votes in favor of the losing candidate. Rained vile, nutty outbursts that continue to this day in the terror-tweeter moment. And now it is cold, soooooo cold, the Putin vortex cometh, and Sister Rosetta Tharpe is singing for the swinging kids of London, circa the mid-sixties and live on a train platform. Oh, man, didn’t it rain. Dance between the raindro ps, in a spirit of celebration and defiance.

2. Rainbow
“Can’t Happen Here”
Or can it? Has it? What happened, Ritchie Blackmore? Here’s a hard-rock classic from the early eighties that sort of spells out an oil-fouled future as seen through the bulging white slacks of Joe Lynn Turner, vocalist.

3. Missing Foundation
“Kingsland ’61”
Missing Foundation was a legendary New York band, if you can even call them that, who were on to this whole “1933, the Party’s Over” business long before Glenn Beck put on a Christmas sweater and asked us all to forget about his past sins. This track is a total brain-scraper and you’ll quickly appreciate its uses as a primal-therapy tool—let it be your guide to an anarcho-cathartic release of a most gratingly angry variety.

4. John Brown’s Body
“Orange and Gold”
John Brown was an American abolitionist hero of the first order who lived in the Adirondack mountains of New York. John Brown’s Body is a American Reggae band from Ithaca, New York. Orange is the color of American fascism. The toilets are gold and you know what they are full of.

5. Drive By Truckers
“Surrender Under Protest”
American Band was a great 2016 release from Drive-By Truckers, a kick-it-easy Southern-altrock offering with punchy, poignant lyrics that take on all sorts of rolling American injustices and political issues and is definitely not your daddy’s “Sweet Home Alabama,” Kid Rock.

6. Johnny Cash
“The Battle Hymm of the Republic”
Gee whiz, I am trying not to be divisive or anything here—I know how those Trump people really want us all to stand together, as one, and kiss the ring (or else)—and so I thought this offering from Johnny Cash might serve as a kind of olive branch to our friends in the alt-right Confederacy of their hate-damaged minds. In the lead-in to this performance on his short-lived TV show, Cash talks about how he could imagine soldiers on either side of the war of Northern Aggression singing this patriotic classic as they headed home and into the loving arms of their webbed-feet children. Well he doesn’t actually say that.

7. Fiona Apple,
“Trump’s Nuts Roasting on an Open Fire”
Not really sure what message Fiona is trying to convey here in this nuanced Christmas offering to the president elect but she seems to be suggesting that we cook his testicles. Trump McNuggets? Ewwww. I don’t about that, Fiona, but this stuff is pretty funny.

8. Boyd Rice
“Total War”
A cartoon character that looks suspiciously like Donald Duck, and is carrying a giant Swastika on his back while meat-faced men in fascist-chic attire make menacing faces? That sounds about alt-right. Boyd Rice is this kind of scary and somewhat inscrutable musician-provocateur whose art-fuck heyday included a notoriously knife-wielding picture taken with the leader of the American Front, which ran in the pages of Sassy. He says it was a prank and if the Wikipedia entry is to be believed, he’s a Social Darwinist and an authoritarian, and if a 2006 Stormfront posting entry on him is to be believed, Rice is not a Neo-Nazi but would rather you just called him a fascist. Okay then. I guess this is the sort of alt-right nomenclature stuff we have to get used to.

9. The MC5
“The American Ruse”
The MC5 were the revolutionary White Panther vanguard rockers of the 1960s, probably best known for the barn-burning “Kick Out the Jams.” But this grooving little slice of agit-rock feels right up our current alley, it’s a total killer, and here they are playing it on British TV. Plus they were from Detroit, which is in Michigan, which is where this year’s sinister Russian ruse played out, if those reports about Paul Manafort’s electoral counsel to Trump are to be believed, and why not?

10. Patti Smith
“A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall”
Speaking of the MC5, Patti Smith (who was married to MC5 guitarist Fred “Sonic” Smith) was asked to perform at the Nobel event honoring Bob Dylan’s award this year. An extraordinary moment ensued. Smith stumbled partway through the iconic song and it came to a hard, awkward stop, mid-verse. Patti soldiered on after an apology to the audience, and not long after, there was another moment of potential stumble—but this time she persevered and pushed through to the rousing, uplifting end. Lots of people watched this and thought she stumbled in a moment of clarity about our times, the clear menace afoot, the hard rain is already falling. The imperfection of the performance rendered it to an exquisite, humble perfection, sort of in the Japanese tradition of kintsugi, where you repair broken pottery with gold, highlighting the breaking point as the source of strength.

11. Sonic Youth
“Teenage Riot”

C’mon millennial kids, time to hit the streets. I hope it works out your way. This map says it should, right? 

12. Mark Arm
“Masters of War”
The Mudhoney frontman put out this version on the Dylan classic around the same time everyone started wondering about this kid Kurt Cobain, and this will be the last time I mention or highlight a Dylan track in this list and will warn readers in advance that there are no Nirvana songs coming up. The lyrics to “Master of War” are extremely bitter and brittle, and Arm’s delivery does the song total justice.

13. The Exploited
The best part about this classic from Scottish punks the Exploited is when lead singer Wattie Buchan calls the White House and gets hooked up with a secretary in the executive branch. “Can I speak to Mr. Reagan please?”  No, but have a nice day. Republicans used to be so pleasant. Whatever happened?

14. Mariee Sioux
“Two Tongues”
I saw Mariee Sioux perform this First Nations song not long ago in Pt. Reyes and have listened to it just about every day since then, a welcome, gentle, trippy earworm for this season of the mean. The fork-tongued people have indeed stolen our Democracy, lies and betrayals as far as the eye can see, and she sees right through it like a candle in a buffalo’s eye.

15. Zero Boys
“Civilization’s Dying”
Apparently some Norwegian futurist-scholar who looks like Bernie Sanders predicted everything correctly in recent years, including the fall of the Soviet Union, and he recently predicted that the American Empire will collapse by 2020, regardless of who is nuking North Korea. At least we have the Zero Boys as we dance on our own grave.

16. Neil Young
“Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World”
For now, at least. In the meantime, Neil, stop hanging up on reporter-fanboys from Newsweek when they ask you a question you don’t like. That’s straight out of the Trump media handbook, and it’s unseemly.  

17. The Ramones
“The KKK Took My Baby Away”
“I’ll take classic punk songs for $600, Alex.”
“This Ramones song is reportedly about how right-wing Johnny stole left-wing Joey’s girlfriend, and is not, as some have suggested, Steve Bannon and Ivanka Trump’s plan for subsidized child care under the Trump administration.”
“What is the KKK Took My Baby Away, Alex?”
“Right you are!”

18. The National
“Start A War”
This song isn’t about starting an actual war but it does have a choice lyric that I think of whenever someone mentions how Hillary big-footed the Democrat primaries this year: “We expected something, something better than before. We expected something more.” Maybe next time.

19. The Chills
“Pink Frost”
Not your president? Not your country? Thinking of taking a little respite from the ol’ U.S.A. as it sorts out its problem? You might consider New Zealand as an alternative to moving to Canada. For one thing, the music scene is way cooler, they don’t like nuclear bombs, and haunting songs like this one from the Chills come complete with ugly sweaters that are nevertheless kind of comforting and lord knows I could use some comfort right about now in this year of the chilling effect.

20. Gorecki
“Symphony of Sorrowful Songs”
I first listened to Gorecki’s Third Symphony around 2009 and in very short order it became one of my all-time favorite pieces of recorded music, on the list between the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” and Big Mama Thornton’s take on “Wade in the Water.” I can’t write about it or I’ll start weeping again, sorry.

21. Nina Simone
“Mississippi Goddamn”
...and she means every word of it.

22. Iron Maiden
“Run to the Hills”
The Canadian Rockies are pretty hilly, but they do have mountains in New Zealand as well, big ones. (see #19)

23. Pharaoh Sanders
“The Creator Has a Master Plan”
And perhaps he does. I’d like to see his tax returns while we’re at it.

24. Jimi Hendrix
“Machine Gun”

On the advice of the High Holy Hippies of Bolinas, I’ve decided that I’m “gonna pick up my axe and fight like a farmer,” just like Jimi. This guitar will kill fascists dead.

25. Eminem
“Campaign Speech”
There are some extremely wicked, raw and aggressive anti-Trump rhymes on this Slim Shady election-season outburst. And then there’s lines like “got slapped with a Colin Kaepernick practice sock.” I pledge allegiance to this extremely nasty piece of music. 

26. The Rolling Stones
“Commit a Crime”
The Stones Blue & Lonesome is the album of the year and “Commit A Crime” is pretty much exactly what just happened and continues to happen in the criminal kleptocrat conspiracy now coming into harsh relief. I wrote about this album recently and considered it the best news of 2016, but in reality it’s the second-best news of 2016. The best news of 2016 in these parts is none of your business but see #27 for a hint.

27. Sly and the Family Stone
“Family Affair”
It’s a family affair, see.

28. Ian Whitcomb and the White Star Orchestra
“Frankie and Johnny”
You arrange the deck chairs, and I’ll hum the old classic and keep an eye out for polar bears floating around on ice cubes, wondering whatever happened to the icebergs of their frosty arctic youth.

29. William S. Burroughs
“The Junky’s Christmas”
Here’s an uplifting tale of a desperate junky trying to score some smack who finally gets the fixins for a proper fix, but just as he’s about to shoot up, he hears a guy in the hotel room next door moaning in pain, with kidney stones. The junky takes pity and gives his drugs to the guy, shoots him up and eases his pain. Redemption follows. Moral: It’s the small gestures of sacrifice and decency that are going to get us through this. Or heroin.

30. Tom Petty
“I Won’t Back Down”

And nor shall I. Nor should you.

31. Iggy Pop
“The Passenger”
Sure, I could have included “Search and Destroy” and been a street-walkin’ cheetah with a heart full of napalm, just like angry Iggy. But the mood invoked by “The Passenger” feels more appropriate and provides a kind of nerve-balm—Iggy’s just checking out the scenery, letting it pass without judgement or comment and it speaks mightily to the power of bearing witness as a form of resistance. If you let it.

32. Blind Willie McTell
“Razor Ball”
The classic from McTell keeps coming to mind whenever I check to see if Trump has nabbed any talent for his upcoming inauguration ball. This is my kind of ball, I mean hall, down around the Razor Ball.

33. The O’Jays
The early seventies classic is a staple in the New Orleans second-line marching band scene and is the perfect track to describe the two-faced plantation liberalism that characterizes the white-dominated political and media landscape down there. Closer to home, “He smiles in your face, even as Trump says the media’s a disgrace.”

34. Santana
“Soul Sacrifice”
The drummer is just a flat-out monster, and everyone is tripping balls. Meanwhile, the nation has just sacrificed its soul to the forces of racist hatred, but we can always get naked and pretend we’re at Woodstock or something.

35. Husker Du
“I’m Never Talking to You Again”
Correct. I didn’t really care when you voted for Bush, twice, cousin. He was horrible but not an outright fascist, and people can agree to disagree. However.

36. Sonny Sharrock
“Promises Kept”
I can name a few: Osama Bin Laden, health care for millions of struggling Americans, clean-energy revolution, saved the auto industry, equal pay for women, the list is long and strong. As is this track from the late free-jazz skronkmeister Sonny Sharrock.

37. The Frogs
“Grandma’s Sitting in the Corner with a Penis in her Hand Going No, No, No, No, No”
Sorry Grandma, they really did repeal Obamacare and privatize Social Security and gutted Medicare, and left you holding the bag.

38. The Fugs
“CIA Man”
Russian hackers and the FBI is whackers, but the CIA, man—they called it.

39. Captain Beefheart
“Dachau Blues”
It is critical to bust out this harsh old Captain Beefheart classic whenever an anti-Semitic jackass should come to occupy a position of  high power. Never again means never fucking again.

40. Allen Ginsberg
“Capitol Air”
Times like these is when I really miss Ginsberg’s presence in the American culture, because of punchy numbers like this. I got to know Ginsberg a little after interviewing him way the heck back and one time he said that I had a “haunted quality” about me. I had to agree, and it’s only gotten worse since election day. Then he tried to pick me up.

41. Slash
“Godfather Theme”
Someone’s going to be terror-tweeted into sleeping with the fishes before this is all over, don’t you think?

42. Eric Idle
“Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”
Tomorrow is another day, another chance to resurrect our broken Democracy and lift our heavy hearts. A weighty cross to bear indeed, and so it is important to retain a spirit of mirth.

43. NOFX
“Idiots are Taking Over”
As if any further explanation is necessary.

44. Adicts

“Tune In, Turn On, Drop Out”
The Adicts turn the Timothy Leary LSD slogan into a catchy pop-punk tune and make me remember the time I was editing the college radio newsletter and suggested that people turn off, tune out, and drop dead. I’m feeling some of that spirit scanning the Breitbart headlines this morning.

45. Big Mama Thornton
“Let’s Go Get Stoned”
Let’s, while there is still time.

46. The Action Swingers
“Fear of a Fucked-Up Planet”

Long live Ned Ludd, who called it in 1994.

47. Nirvana
“The Man Who Sold the World”
Okay, so I lied. Did I lie? The media lied. See #12? Who wrote that? Did I write that? I never wrote that. Disgusting media.

48. Bob Dylan
“Not Dark Yet”
Goddamn this whole lying thing is becoming a big problem (See #12). Are you calling me a liar? No, you’re a liar. No, you’re a liar. Well anyway, it’s not dark yet…but it’s gettin’ there. Check back with me on on Jan. 21.

49. Peter, Paul and Hitler
“Trump the Magic Fascist”
It’s an alt-right sing-along, folks! And just in time for a prime-time performance at the inauguration! “Oh, Trump the magic fascist/lied by the sea/and grabbed that pussy at the ballot box/all the way to the West Wing.”

50. Sister Rosetta Tharpe
“That’s All”
Brothers and sisters, thanks for taking a spin through this list. I leave you with another classic from Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and this one with the choice lyric:
Listen, people fighting one another
And think they’re doing swell
And all they want is your money
And you can go to heeeeyyyyy

That’s all.


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