Everyone knows there are great political songs from the likes of John Lennon, Bob Dylan and Billie Holiday, but less celebrated is the politically-minded music of the last two decades. We list our favourite cross-genre political songs of the last 20 years.
10. Elbow — Leaders of the Free World 2005
An anti-US foreign policy song which expresses dismay at the ending of East-West peace. The band reminds us that we came to the brink of nuclear war in the 60s, and says: “The leaders of the free world are just little boys throwing stones, and it’s easy to ignore ‘til they’re knocking on the door of your homes.”
9. Thom Yorke - Harrowdown Hill 2006
This song is named after the place where former Iraq weapons inspector Dr David Kelly committed suicide. The song speculates that Dr Kelly was assassinated, with the words: “Did I fall or was I pushed?... Don’t ask me, ask the ministry.”
8. Jarvis Cocker — Running the World 2007
Jarvis uses a certain four-letter-word to describe the people running the world, bemoans the capitalist system with its “fuck the morals, does it make any money?” attitude and tells his listeners they can protest if they don’t like it — just don’t expect anyone to listen.
7. Muse — Uprising 2009
Taken from an album called ‘ Resistance’ which is packed with references to George Orwell’s 1984, this song is a call to arms: “Rise up and take the power back, it’s time the fat cats had a heart attack”, because the powers that be “ try to... keep us all dumbed down... And endless red tape to keep the truth confined.”
6. Green Day — American Idiot 2004
This song protests against an “idiot America” declining into an ultra-nationalist society, with a fearful media constantly on the look-out for terrorist threats in a post 9/11 world. The song also digs at the Bush administration with the words: “I’m not part of a redneck agenda."
5. Radiohead — Electioneering 1997
Electioneering was inspired by the writings of Noam Chomsky, and features on an album full of songs about modern life, capitalism and globalisation. The song is written from the perspective of a politician ranting to the electorate with the words: “I will stop at nothing to say the right words when electioneering” followed by an evil laugh.
4. Black Eyed Peas — Where is the Love? 2003
This anti-war, anti-racism and anti-hate song suggests we’re all “addicted to the drama” of the search for terrorists, misled by the media and kept in the dark about the real reasons for the overseas wars.
3. Faithless — Mass Destruction 2002
Released during the search for Iraq’s WMD, this song lists all the things that Faithless believe are the real weapons of mass destruction, including racism, greed and fear. The song’s refrain holds the ultimate message: “Inaction is a weapon of mass destruction.”
2. Manic Street Preachers — If You Tolerate This 1998
This Welsh band’s songs are often peppered with political messages, and in this one the Manics lament their lack of anti-war, anti-fascist fervour. This is summed up by the warning chorus: “If you tolerate this, then your children will be next.”
1. George Michael — Shoot the Dog 2002
Written at a time of particularly close co-operation between Britain and the US on foreign policy, George sings of “Tony dancing with Dubya” and characterises Britain as a dog owned by America, warning that this dog may be shot as a warning to its owner. The lyrics even have a fictional Cherie Blair warning her husband not to get into bed with Bush: “Tony, I know that you’re horny, but there’s something ‘bout that Bush ain’t right.”