She Was Only A Grocer’s Daughter –Protest Songs Of The Thatcher Age
It’s a well-known fact that Margaret Thatcher is arguably the most controversial British politician of the last century. From the Miner’s Strike against Arthur Scargill in 1984 to the 200,000 strong Poll Tax riots just over 30 years ago, there is no evidence to suggest there wasn’t backlash against any of her policies. Such splitting times lead to a certain level of galvanism and rallying against prominent figures, to some known as a revolution, although in this case, the revolution wasn’t physical. In this instance, it was an artistic revolution, designed to stick two fingers up to the Grantham Grizzler and all her Tory MPs.
No-one has ever seen a time like the eighties. The external shocks that the Cold War and Mutually Assured Destruction brought only played into people’s paranoia and fundamentally, the emergence of such a right-wing government spearheaded by the former Education Secretary and the first female Prime Minister in British history facilitated this artistic revolution and anti-establishment sentiment. Everyone from comedians to musicians felt the Iron Lady’s impact, but it is musicians who would take the most umbrage to Thatcher’s policies. Everyone from Morrissey to the Blow Monkeys would write a song directly or indirectly against the Prime Minister and some would become enshrined in history as grave analysis of the time.
In this feature, we're going to take a look at some of the most startling and intriguing protest tracks meant to demean the Iron Lady and where they came from.
Morrissey - Margaret On The Gullotine
On his successful first solo album, Viva Hate, the former Smiths frontman took no prisoners in a sombre tune dedicated to the death of the incumbent Prime Minister. His refrain of "When will you die?" is a line that Morrissey claimed that a lot of people were thinking by the end of her tenure. He would go on to describe the death of Thatcher as a "wonderful dream" in its opening lines, characterising the angry sentiments of his native Lancashire and the North against a leader who, it could be said, took their livelihoods with the demise of the manufacturing industry in the eighties.
The Blow Monkeys - Checking Out
A year earlier into Thatcher's tenure, the eminent Blow Monkeys didn't just release one song about Thatcher and instead based their highly successful third LP around her. Checking Out is a fine example of a track that's not only great on its own, but also does a good job as a protest song, with lines such as "If she gets in again/Well, people that would be the end" telling the story of Dr. Robert's view on the Conservative Prime Minister's time in office thus far. As a song itself, it's got plenty of funk and groove and that head-bobbing bassline is something to be proud of.
Billy Bragg - Between The Wars
As time has passed, it seems that Billy Bragg's ability to write protest songs has increased, especially given the turbulent times experienced in the laat decade with the financial crisis and Brexit, amongst other things. Between The Wars sees Bragg assume the role of a now unemployed union worker thanks to Thatcher and that with the Cold War in this time, World War III could be impending. However, the song's title does suggest it could be during the time between the First and Second World War, especially given that this was the time of the UK's only General Strike to date in 1926. His delivery is blunt and gruff, with spoken word verses detailing voting choices - "I kept the faith and/I kept voting/Not for the iron fist/But for the helping hand", and this only draws more parallels to Thatcher. It suggests that the union worker has always voted in favour of the left-wing side, especially given the mention of the "iron fist" to suggest a leader who is too hardline for the worker's liking, as well as Bragg's.
The Style Council - Walls Come Tumbling Down!
Paul Weller, over the course of the eighties, was noted for writing a number of anti-Thatcher songs, both during his time with The Jam and The Style Council. As a great exponent of a left-wing political persuasion, Weller was well-placed to take aim at the Iron Lady throughout his career. In a similar vein to to the previously-discussed Checking Out, Walls Come Tumbling Down! offers a fast-paced and funky takedown of Thatcher as Weller's lyrics are seen to encourage a revolution amongst the ordinary folk. He's quite forthright in the delivery on lines such as "You don't have to take this crap/You don't have to sit back and relax", as well as making points about diversity on the chorus, which greatly portrays Weller to be angered by Thatcher, with Walls Come Tumbling Down! appearing as a rallying cry in her final term.
Despite that only being a four song selection, there's a lot of anger held within those four songs, with each artist bringing forward their own personal gripes against the Iron Lady. If history tells us anything, it's that times of hardship and division brings more hatred than unity, and the message here is clear - it's at such testing times that unity is needed and as much as the current government are appearing to push for it, it's not without the work of us on the ground that unity can be acheived.