The Top Ten Conservative Rock Songs of All Time
I am not a conservative. Neither are most of the musicians I list below. But it is important to understand that protest music has produced songs that inveigh against the left-leaning culture that has traditionally dominated rock and roll. Over the years, many of the genre’s icons have registered disaffection with groupthink or one-track politics. Some of rock’s statements of political pushback have become classics.
- The Beatles, “Revolution”
“But if you go carrying pictures of chairman Mao
You ain’t going to make it with anyone anyhow”
John Lennon had mixed feelings about the student protests of 1968. In “Revolution,” he affirmed his commitment to social change but inveighed against tactics of hate and the foolish embrace of authoritarianism. His anti-protest protest anthem became a classic and one of the band’s most penetrating proto-metal songs. Their live film performance below captures the group at its most powerful.
2. The Sex Pistols, “Bodies”
“She was a girl from Birmingham
She just had an abortion…
She was a no-one who killed her baby
She sent her letters from the country
She was an animal
She was a bloody disgrace”
In “Bodies” Johnny Rotten and the boys recorded one of the most unsettling rock songs of all time — infuriating, graphic, and angry.
3. Bob Dylan, “Neighborhood Bully”
“Well, he’s surrounded by pacifists who all want peace
They pray for it nightly that the bloodshed must cease
Now, they wouldn’t hurt a fly. To hurt one they would weep
They lay and they wait for this bully to fall asleep”
After visiting Israel in early 1980s, Dylan affirmed his Zionism in this deeply sarcastic and memorable skewering of the Jewish state’s detractors and defended Israel’s bombing of an Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981.
Bob Dylan: Neighborhood Bully (1983)
As I write, the fragile "peace" between Israel and the Palestinians on the West Bank looks to be holding. At least, the…
4. The Who, “Won’t Get Fooled Again”
“I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around..
Meet the new boss
Same as the old boss”
Like “Revolution,” The Who’s arena anthem highlighted guitarist Pete Townsend’s suspicion of radical change, the persistence of avarice, and the inevitable reverse-cycle of revolutions. It was the rock god’s equivalent of George Orwell’s Animal Farm.
5. Lynyrd Skynyrd, “Sweet Home Alabama”
“In Birmingham they love the Gov’nor, boo hoo ooo
Now we all did what we could do
Now Watergate does not bother me
Does your conscience bother you?
Tell the truth”
The Southern rock band was returning fire from Neil Young’s “Alabama” (“See the old folks/ Tied in white robes.”) While not defending Southern racism, the band was affirming its hometown pride and roots — and leaving just enough wiggle room for the listener to understand that they didn’t approve of Gov. George Wallace’s segregationist policies (“Now we all did what we could do”). “Sweet Home Alabama” sports one of the most memorable opening riffs in rock history.
6. Rush, “Freewill”
“You can choose from phantom fears
And kindness that can kill
I will choose a path that’s clear
I will choose free will”
“Freewill” is less a conservative song than an Objectivist one, affirming the hyper-individualistic and utopian-capitalist philosophy of Ayn Rand, one of the band’s avowed heroes. “Freewill” denounces mysticism, fatalism, and statism — and affirms the primacy of the individual. It also features some of the trio’s finest studio playing.
7. The Clash, “Safe European Home”
“I went to the place where every white face
Is an invitation to robbery
And sitting here in my safe European home
Don’t want to go back there again”
The Only Band That Matters made enough money on its first album for Joe Strummer and Mick Jones to fulfill the dream of visiting Jamaica where the band took inspiration for its reggae-infused songs. They discovered that being punks didn’t shield them from the harsh realities of life in an impoverished nation. They returned home jaded and recorded this track for the opening of their second LP.
8. Elvis Presley, “U.S. Male”
“I’m a U.S. male ’cause I was born
In a Mississippi town on a Sunday morn
Now Mississippi just happens to occupy a place
In the southeastern portion of this here United States”
Okay, this 1968 studio track may not be recalled as one of the King’s greatest — but it was good-humored assertion of masculinity in which the star gamely poked fun at himself and his generational differences with the flower-power set. (“She’s wearin’ a ring that I bought her on sale/And that makes her the property of this U.S. male.”) Take it with smile. Elvis did.
9. Dead Kennedys, “Holiday in Cambodia”
“So, you’ve been to school
For a year or two
And you know you’ve seen it all
In daddy’s car
Thinking you’ll go far
Back east your type don’t crawl”
Can a rock song change your life? This one changed mine. At age 17 it made me a lifelong punk. The Kennedys mostly inveighed against the corruption of U.S. corporatism and military power. But above all they despised hypocrisy — including that of college kids who glorified dictatorships.
10. Cheap Trick, “Surrender”
“Father says your mother’s right
She’s really up on things
Before we married Mommy served
In the WACs in the Philippines
Now I had heard the WACs recruited
Old maids for the war
But Mommy isn’t one of those
I’ve known her all these years”
Cheap Trick is a favorite on the USO circuit. They not only avoid political controversy but tip their hats to down-home values and the liberating joy of rock and roll within the all-American settings of living rooms, backyard barbecues, and military families.
Bonus Mention: REO Speedwagon, “Keep on Loving You”
This guitar-and-piano driven anthem is not political. But I am convinced that Trump should use it as his reelection rally song. (Just don’t tell my friend Steve Bannon.)