Jackson Browne: Walls And Doors
‘There are those who build walls,’ sings Browne on Standing On The Breach, ‘and those who open doors.’ Don’t know which person or what particular wall he had in mind, but the singer goes on to remind us in powerful terms: ‘There can be freedom only when nobody owns it.’ This is not a Jackson Browne song – he translated the Spanish lyric of Cuban artist and friend Carlos Varela – but it has all the hallmarks of one. And the sentiment.
Dixie Chicks: Not Ready To Make Nice
The Chicks did not like George W Bush but the new president is likely to be given an even rougher ride. He has already with that defaced concert poster. Natalie Maines and company are not ready to back down or make nice.
Ry Cooder: Mexican Divorce
Talking of walls, Cooder was talking about a different kind of divorce when he described it as a sin. This Burt Bacharach-Bob Hilliard composition was first recorded by the Drifters in 1962 but Cooder’s 1974 version gave it more of a Mariachi feel. Mexicans are bracing themselves for a painful separation: ‘One day married, next day free/ Broken hearts for you and me.’
Bruce Springsteen: Long Walk Home
The Boss backed the wrong candidate for president but will not shy away from reminding him of his duties. The blue-collar workers’ hero wrote about the nation’s need to return to core values under Bush in 2007. The message remains the same.
Blondie: Contact In Red Square
Written by the band’s keyboard player Jimmy Destri, this unashamed pop tune from 1977 is full of clever lines: ‘I got my papers and a cyanide pill/ My Polaroid’s a taser in disguise,’ chants Debbie Harry. But the Russians should not be a problem ‘unless the long arms of the CIA detect me’. The band visited the country on their 2008 world tour.
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young: Ohio
Neil Young’s protest anthem was written as a reaction to the Kent State shootings in 1970 – ‘Four dead in Ohio. Tin soldiers and Nixon coming.’ Young has mellowed somewhat but is likely to be on a president’s case again if Obama’s warning about racial tensions is not heeded.
Bob Marley: Redemption Song
By the time he had finished writing one of his finest songs on the Wailers’ final album Uprising, Marley had been diagnosed with the cancer that eventually took his life. It was described as ‘an acoustic spiritual’ with only a dash of reggae. He talks of his own mortality, slavery and the need for activists to continue their work and fight for the future. ‘Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery/ None but ourselves can free our mind,’ he sang, echoing the Jamaican political leader Marcus Garvey.
Billy Joel: Leningrad
Joel met circus clown Viktor from Leningrad while touring the then Soviet Union in 1987. Aspects from Viktor’s and the American’s lives are compared to show the cultural differences and parallels of the two countries. The song is a tribute to Viktor’s story and an alternative take on the cold war, the story of how two characters from disparate worlds can become friends despite their differences. Like Trump and Putin?
Bob Dylan: Masters Of War
‘You that never done nothin' but build to destroy/ You play with my world like it's your little toy.’ Somehow the world seemed a safer place in Obama’s care. Now Dylan, long after his Freewheelin’ fears of 1963, may be concerned about hawks again after an era of doves.
Jackson Browne: Going Down to Cuba
‘They say that Cuba is the enemy, I’m going down there anyway,’ says the elegant wordsmith on Time The Conqueror in 2008, long before Obama restored diplomatic relations. The slackening of constraints were sure to be reversed by Trump. Browne sings of the Cubans: ‘You know they’re going to make it through/ They make such continuous use of the verb to resolve.'