For someone whose favourite song is apparently and, rather bizarrely, ‘How Much Is That Doggy In the Window’ Margaret Thatcher’s influence on music was pretty big.
Can there ever have been a British politician that inspired so many people! The right wing tyrant who believed that there no such thing as society Margaret Thatcher was, for many artists, a muse and an inspirational force in the mid eighties music scene.
Many musicians were up in arms by the swing to the right, some even organised a movement to try and influence ’the kids’ into voting against her and whilst Red Wedge was, on paper, a great idea- in practise it sent more people scurrying away from the ballot box than even the Labour leadership’s disastrous fumbling attempts to combat the Tory Reich.
Far more effective were the never ending series of songs from many of the punk and post punk generation who now really had something to sing about.
In the late seventies the 2-Tone movement combined ska and punk with a celebration of left wing ideology that culminated in The Beat’s ‘Stand Down Margaret’, a song that was hilariously misunderstood by top Tory Ed Vaizey who could not believe that anyone would diss his idol and thought that the song was about princess Margaret- and these people want to run our country!
Whilst the mainstream popstars ponced around on yachts or in their new romantic finery in videos the underground seethed to the vehement anti Thatcher anger of Crass, Angelic Upstarts, the poetry of Linton Kwesi Johnson, Half Man Half Biscuit’s sardonic wit, or the ‘coal not dole’ miners benefits that we all played in the mid eighties. The Specials cover of Dylan’s ’Maggie’s Farm’ twisted the song with a new updated meaning, Heaven 17’s ‘(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thing’ touched on the same sort of dissatisfaction and as if to show the ‘international’ venom reserved for the dislikeable leader was just as strong there was Welsh language band Daffyd Iwan a’r Band song ’Magi Thatcher.’
And the songs have kept coming with ’Thatcher F*cked the Kids’ from Frank Turner, and the Forlorn Hope’s rather mean ’Gonna Laugh When Margaret Thatcher Dies’.
There was also bigger names like Billy Bragg, the Redskins, Elvis Costello, the Housemartins bringing their lyrical pop politics to the charts. Meanwhile Richard Thompson was agitating along with a whole bunch of English folk singers adding to a huge list of songs that mention Margaret Thatcher from the last quarter of a century including Terry Edward’s ‘Margaret Thatcher, We Still Hate Her’, Robert Wyatt’s classic ’Shipbuilding’, the sardonic Hard Skin’s recent ’Still Fighting Thatcher’ and an endless list of names including the angriest band ever, Conflict, loveable indie duo Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine, poet and troubadour Attila the Stockbroker and of course Morrissey’s succinct ’Margaret On The Guillotine’
Finally how could we forget the Not Sensibles sneering and hilarious ‘I’m In Love With Margaret Thatcher’ a DIY punk classic of the early eighties that played dumb whilst making its sarcastic, singalong point.
Whilst many doubt the effectiveness of all this pop polemic- especially in the light of David Cameron’s much mooted love of the Smiths and also the Jam’s ‘Eton Rifles’- a love that somehow made an astonishing oversight on the lyrical front proving how easy it is to avoid the social commentary if you want to.
So whilst Thatcher and her cronies danced around her handbag the eighties agit pop crews tapped into the very strong feeling of the UK streets and celebrated a rearguard reaction by the non Tory rump in those bleak times changing the face of eighties pop culture…