Video: All the news that’s fit to sing
irishtimes.com features the first of a series of online ‘musical columns’. Temper-Mental MissElayneous, Doctor Millar and other songwriters will sing about Ireland and its crises, to rekindle the social fire at the heart of music
Nixon in China: In 1987 John Adams and Alice Goodman took an old news story – the visit of the anti-communist president Richard Nixon to communist China in 1972 – and turned it into a musically dazzling opera that is still performed.
Mississippi Goddamn: Introduced as “a show tune, but the show hasn’t been written for it yet”, it was Nina Simone’s musical response to the murder of the civil-rights activist Medgar Evars and the bombing of a church that killed four young children. “You don’t have to live next to me, just give me my equality.”
The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Gil Scott Heron funkily satirises the reductive and commercial nature of television. Then it was used in a Nike ad.
Love Me, I’m a Liberal: Phil Ochs’s life on the leftward musical and political margins eventually played havoc with his mental health, but not before he wrote Love Me I’m a Liberal, a song puncturing the wishy-washy political posturing, hypocrisy and faux concern of “liberals” who “love Puerto Ricans and Negroes as long as they don’t move next door”.
Alternative Ulster: Stiff Little Fingers’ punk-rock plea for change in their home province. “Take a look at where you’re living. You got the army on the street, and the RUC dog of repression is barking at your feet.”
Banana Republic: The Boomtown Rats’ scathing assessment of 1980s Ireland. Subsequently, of course, Ireland became a functional western democracy more akin to a quince.
Born in the USA: Bruce Springsteen’s song about the betrayed hopes of the working American. Ronald Reagan heard it as pure jingoism and claimed it as his favourite song.
A Design for Life: Manic Street Preachers have a chart hit bemoaning the shallowness of modern society that rather impressively opens with the line “Libraries give us power”.