THE BLOG
05/27/2006 02:15 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Right-Wing Rockin': The Hypnotized Never Lie

All the kids are talkin' about the National Review's new list of "the 50 greatest conservative rock songs of all time." Heh, heh. It looks like the righties are assuring us that they're 'hep.' You can almost hear the squeak of pencil protectors against Ban-Lon as they insist: Yes, sirree, we're down with what the young people are doing. Just because we're pro-war business tools in thrall to religious extremists, that doesn't mean we don't know our 'beat groups' and 'rhythm combos.' We read Teen Beat too, you know! And conservatism can be fun.

Mimus Pauly clued me in that the New York Times had posted the list on-line. Amanda Marcotte and the Rude Pundit have already dissected it, but here are a few more thoughts before the Dockers-wearing hipsters on the right dissolve into an embarrassed puddle.

Words are less important than the sound in rock & roll.

As a songwriter, this one's always been hard for me to accept -- but the fact is, while words matter, people receive rock & roll as a rhythmic construct and a sonic texture. The effect is physiological. Real rockin' music raises blood pressure, stimulates adrenaline, creates sexual stimulation and physical aggression.

Have you got a thundering bass, a driving beat, and over-amped guitars (through tube amps, even if the Russian secret police are trying to stop you!)? Then it doesn't matter if you're singing the foreward to "God and Man at Yale." The effect will be subversive to everything conservatism represents.

Their number one song is "Won't Get Fooled Again" by the Who!

Case in point. Pete Townshend's slashing chords, the hypnotically repetitive synthesizer part, Daltry's opening howl ... it screams of William Blake's "Marriage of Heaven and Hell," not Edmund Burke. "The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom" and all that ... (note: para updated to reflect incorrect musical info in 1st draft)

And, excuse me, but the song's apolitical, not conservative. "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss" and "the parting on the left is now the parting on the right" are not exactly ringing endorsements of neo-Straussian economics. (typo in lyric corrected, thanks to an astute commenter)

On the album, Daltry sings "We know that the hypnotized never lie/do they?" A great Townshend line. Live, he (and later Townshend) always sang: "Do you??" Here's a question for extra credit: Who do you think they were addressing? Discuss.

"Bodies" by the Sex Pistols.

They endorse this one because Johnny Rotten/Lydon's objecting to the abortion of a pregnancy he fathered by a psychotic groupie. Leaving aside the fact that this form of anguish isn't a left/right issue, let's be clear about the lyrics they're endorsing (and they're hardly unambiguous about abortion). This "conservative icon" says, and I quote: "F**k this and f**k that, f**k it all a f**k, f**king brat, she don't want a baby that looks like that, I don't want a baby that looks like that."

They were a great rockin' band, but that's not why the NR likes the Pistols. They like 'em because their lead singer talks like Dick Cheney.

"Sympathy for the Devil," Rolling Stones.

This one makes sense, since the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld cabal is so demonstrably the incarnation of evil. Modern conservatism is Satanic. But I didn't think they'd be so open about it.

"Sweet Home Alabama," Lynyrd Skynyrd.

This choice demonstrates the sloppiness of right-wing analysis. Sure, Ronnie Van Zant disses Neil Young for putting down "Southern Men." But here's what the late Mr. Van Zant and his backup singers say about George Wallace (emphases mine): "In Birmingham they love the governor (boo-oo-oo)/now we all did what we could do/now Watergate does not bother me/does your conscience bother you? Tell the truth."

In other words, we protested against our right-wing governor, so we don't feel hypocritical now that we know about Watergate. Van Zant and Neil Young later made up and became close friends (Neil was a pallbearer at Ronnie's funeral.) This is why I wrote once that Ronnie would have kicked his little brother's ass for playing at the 2004 GOP Convention.

What's the matter, righties? Can't you hear the words? Then, as it says in the beginning of the song:

Turn it up.

"Revolution," Beatles.

This one's a muddled song, politically. Lennon's line, "if you want money for people with minds that hate/don't you know that brother you'll have to wait" would seem to exclude donations to Republican campaigns. As for "When you talk about destruction, don't you know that you can count me out" he adds "in" on one version.

Kind of like the Administration's foreign policy proclamations.

"I Fought the Law," the Crickets.

A great song, but conservative? Let's see: "Robbin' people with a six gun" is cruder than the Halliburton-style corruption that dominates the conservative movement, but it may be apt nonetheless.

What's striking about the song is the sheer amorality of the singer's explanation for his life of crime ("I needed money 'cause I had none" is all the justification he needs). Come to think of it, I'll give them this one. It is a conservative rock song.

"Stand By Your Man," Tammy Wynette.

Hilarious. "You'll have bad times/and he'll have good times doing things that you don't understand" must be about those travel junkets with Jack Abramoff.
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Many of their selections are laughable for their inability to know irony when they see it. Some are inexplicable ("Wake Up Little Susie"? Huh?) Others confuse a singer's bowing to society's conformist pressure with an endorsement of that pressure (see "Wouldn't It Be Nice" -- by their logic, why not include "Society's Child" by Janis Ian?)

Maybe the National Review will be coming up with a list of "Top 50 Conservative Hip-Hop Songs" soon. That's one I'd like to see, given the Right's inclination toward easy money, bling, infidelity, theft, gas-guzzling cars, and shooting people in the face.

Until then, conservatives, keep on rockin'. I can't wait to see Scalia and the rest of the gang gettin' down. Pass the Dutchie, somebody!

A Night Light