Subliminal Messaging We Appreciate – These 5 Songs Are, Surprisingly, Radically Progressive!

Image credit: Flickr by LaertesCTB
Music and culture are in a constant state of reaction to each other – music charts cultural progress, and culture changes as music pushes social boundaries. In the case of these five songs, social ideas are challenged in ways we wouldn’t expect. Radical for their times in either their outright, obvious messaging, or their subtlety and trickery, each of these songs takes a stand against social constructs that ought to be challenged – and they manage do it through amazing music, something we can all appreciate.

5 Feed the Children (Book of Lies) – Leftover Crack

One of the underrated punk bands, Leftover Crack is a strange, strange creature. Feed the Children (Book of Lies) has decidedly distorted vocals, an overt danceable ska beat, and classic punk style guitar. It is the prototypical ska/punk song – and that is totally okay because it’s really freaking good. Whether or not you can exactly understand the words (which really, you can’t), the song is overwrought with frustration about all the things wrong with this world. The only way to exactly explain what Leftover Crack take issue with would be to paste the lyrics into the article. In short: poverty, hunger, political and religious corruption, ignorance, economic depression, greed, genocide, and the unraveling of society. It’s quite a lot, and yet the song’s ska undertone makes it strangely upbeat. The juxtaposition of the ska with the classic punk (done by many bands) is at its peak in this song, because the conflict between the two is indicative of the larger message of the song – which is that everything’s going wrong, but we still keep going on. If you’ve got half a brain, you’ll pick up on the lyrical content of the song, it will give you pause (while you’re dancing your heart out, of course).

4 We Are All On Drugs – Weezer

Weezer deserves all the credit they can get for this song – mostly because MTV refused to play it. How kick ass is it when the TV channel that produced The Real World refuses to play a song about drugs – I mean, COME ON. Talk about the epitome of hypocrisy. I’m 99% sure Weezer’s plan wasn’t to espouse drug use, like some of the less intelligent MTV folks might’ve thought. The song makes you want to get up and throw your body around in classic rock n’ roll fashion. As anyone in our generation can relate to, the explosion of recreational drug use (abusing prescription pills, cough syrup, glue huffing – mostly all sky rocketing during the late 90s and early 2000s) was rampant. Of course, Rivers Cuomo later detailed that the song was more about being over stimulated by whatever your “drug” of choice was (literal drugs, music, sex, food, you get the idea). However, one of the beautiful things about Weezer’s music is that it is so lyrically simple that it offers a multitude of interpretations. In my (not so?) humble opinion, We Are All On Drugs is a cultural critique of the desire for instant-gratification and hyper-active-attention-span we have all come to accept as normal.

3 What – A Tribe Called Quest

Besides the fact that this song is brilliantly structured and that A Tribe Called Quest are one of the most innovative hip-hop groups of our era, What on its own is a masterpiece. There is no single message to be gleaned, except perhaps the overwhelming feeling that everything is connected. The structure of “what is X without X?” allows the listener to take the time to really ask that question. The most poignant question may be “what are laws if they’re not fair and equal” – a damn good question to be asking. Tribe’s ability to make catchy rhymes with sick beats is in no shortage here, and the impact at the end of the song is a veritable moment of ‘aha!’, as if the light bulb has gone off and you really see that everything is connected. Talk about social and humanitarian responsibility!

2 Don’t Quote Me On That – Madness

This surprisingly complex song attempts to unravel several issues at once. Firstly, the obviously overarching theme of this unbearably dance-y song (you CANNOT sit still when it’s on) is media misconstruing quotes. As the song progresses it details misquotes; the main point to be made is that the protagonist, assumedly Madness themselves, don’t care what your race or ethnicity is – they just want you to “shut up, listen, and dance” (a point ignored by British press, who wanted to mar all bands associated with skinhead subculture, regardless of the message of the music). In the racially tense world that was England during the 80s (see above), musicians were the voice of the tolerant, the positive-anti-racist, humanitarians, and artists. They provided youth the ability to ignore the British Movement propaganda, as well as giving them an outlet for all their energy and frustration. What cooler subject to dance to than racial tolerance? None!

1 Too Much Too Young – The Specials

The very basis of The Specials’ music was to create socially progressive, anti-racist, social-justice oriented music that didn’t feel like you were listening to a school lecture. And they succeeded with astounding results. In Too Much Too Young, Jerry Dammers laments the consequences of not practicing safe sex… babies. Not that we don’t love babies, but what 19 year old girl truly wants to be sitting at home trying to raise a child when they could be out having fun. Not to mention, during the mid-80s when Too Much Too Young was released, Britain’s economic status was not great, especially for working class youth – those most at risk for teen pregnancy, and STDs. In a society that lacked proper education, The Specials took it on themselves to promote all the healthy choices that youth should be making, and they did it through hip, sexy, danceable music.

Never doubt that musicians are far more important to the social climate than we give them credit for. Music doesn’t only react to the world at large, but it serves to critique and create the environment for change. From the 60s and protest music, through to the present day with anarcho-punk, we have countless examples of music being exceedingly influential. If the British government goes so far as to warp media’s representation of musicians, they obviously are a force to be reckoned with. Luckily for us, we’ve got these five songs (indicative of far more in existence) to keep us thinking, and evolving, as the socially mindful beings that we are.

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