Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Politics and Pop Don't Mix

Pop and politics make uncomfortable bedfellows. Over at
Guido Fawkes's excellent blog site there’s the news that Tory London Mayor hopeful is recording with the Cheeky Girls, one of whom is the girlfriend of the Lib Dem MP, Lembit Opik. It’s yet another strange twist in the strange relationship as politicians have attempted to ‘appeal to younger voters’ by using pop music.

The Labour party used D-Ream’s 1994 No.1 Things Can Only Get Better as the theme for their 1997 election campaign, when it was re-released and eased back into the top 20 at No.19. There is no evidence to suggest that had any Tory supporters bought the record it would have pushed it higher. Neither is there any support for the argument that it won Labour any marginal seats. Most often the stance of pop has been to attack, through music, the government of the day. It’s an activity that goes back to the days of the blues and America’s black community and even before that. Few have done it more amusingly than the cast of Spitting Image who in 1984 updated the Phil Spector classic, The Da Doo Ron Ron as a song about Ronald Reagan's bid for re-election in 1984. Two years later Spitting Image had a No.1 in Britain with The Chicken Song but this was in no way politically motivated. Fortunately, probably, for the Tories, Margaret Thatcher was not around when politics went pop because when asked about her favourite song, she unhesitatingly said Telstar by the Tornados. There seems to be no truth in the rumour that Labour are so confident of victory in the Scottish election that they’ve asked the Bee Gees to re-record their 1987 No.1 You Win Again as ‘We’ll Win again’.

It’s 1983, well before Tony Blair even contemplated getting his guitar out for a jam in Downing Street, the then leader of the Liberal Democrats, David Steel, had pop pretensions of his own. He cut an utterly awful record called I Feel Liberal – Alright in an effort to appeal to the younger voters. The song was actually written and produced by Jesse Rae the kilted rocker who lives near David Steel in the Scottish Borders. Rae had a minor hit in 1985 with Over the Sea. The cover of the Steel record illustrated the dance steps to I Feel Liberal – Alright but somehow you can’t imagine anyone, even at a Lib-Dem disco, getting suitably moved to get down and par-tee.

Former Czech Prime Minister Vaclav Havel was a man known for his penchant for a bit of rock ‘n’ roll. He rarely missed the opportunity of catching a gig by visiting bands that included The Rolling Stones. Which is why he may have been persuaded to appoint Frank Zappa as the Czech Republic’s Representative for Trade Tourism and Culture in 1991. Unfortunately Frank, who once famously told the audience at a gig at The Royal Albert Hall, “everyone in this place is wearing a uniform”, was a little too free with his advice to his new boss. He said that it was “unfortunate that President Havel should have to bear the company of someone as stupid as Quayle even for a few minutes.” Unfortunately Quayle, Dan to his friends, was the Vice President of the United States of America and when the US government got wind of the remarks they suggested the choice was simple - trade agreements with America or free Zappa records for life. No matter how much you like rock, running a country comes first and Havel relieved Zappa of his portfolio immediately; yet more proof that pop and politics are far from comfortable bedfellows.

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