Thursday, February 9, 2012

Themed Music: Union Workers and the Working Class UPDATED

A new feature here at Nerdy Pop will be to create a list of music under a certain theme.  Our first feature is songs of the "Union Workers and the Working Class".  From the shores of Ireland to the working class of Britain to the mines of America to the class-divided Australia, these songs inspire, uplift, and anger all at the same time.  Men, women, and children are exposed to cruel working conditions, even today, and unions have helped workers gain rights and better pay.  As I've highlighted Seth Lakeman's most recent album, I won't be including its brilliance. Our first song is one I've been listening to a lot is our last one...

"Which Side Are You On?"
Written by Florence Patton Reece
Performed by Florence Patton Reece, Pete Seeger, Dick Gaughan, Ella Jenkins, Dropkick Murphys, Natalie Merchant, Ani DiFranco, and more
In the struggle between the United Mine Workers and the mining company in Harlan County, the company paid Sheriff JH Blair to illegally ransack the union leader's house. The leader, Sam Reece, had caught wind and was not present, for fear he might be killed and arrested, foiling his future plans.  But his wife and two girls were caught in the crossfire, left at home to be victimized and terrorized.  Among the clutter and after the chaos, Reece's wife Florence wrote on the back of the house calendar the lyrics to "Which Side Are You On?".  She set it to the tune of the folk ballad "Jack Monro".  The song remains a classic and was used not just in the 1930s but again in the 1970s for another union strike.

"Fields of Athenry"
Written by Pete St. John
Performed by everyone?
Mistakenly known for a traditional folk ballad of the Irish resistance, "Fields of Athenry" was not written until the 1970s when the Irish rebellion came to a head yet again. The British lackeys present in Dublin, one being Charles Trevelyan, had believed that the starving Irish could survive on corn alone, and enforced a policy, but the corn was sparse, as the Irish did not yet know how to grow it.  And the British received food first. The song details the plight of an Irishman who stole corn from the British to feed his family.  In an emotional and anger-driving surge, the Irishman Michael was shipped off to Australia's Botany Bay, you know the place where the British took over and used as a prison, much like they did shipping off inmates to America and Barbados to work as slaves.

"Diggers' Song"
Written by Gerard Winstanley
Performed by Chumbawamba, Billy Bragg, and more
The earliest this song saw print, that we know of, was in 1714, though written much earlier, and it concerned land rights and the treatment of Diggers, a communist group who tried to retain equal rights among their people.  The Diggers saw lived in harmony with the earth and each other and believed that life was meant to be lived peacefully and together as one class, classicism causing much friction, especially in that day. The song took to be used by peasant and worker classes and has just as much relevance today as Donald Trump tries to eradicate Scottish landowners and destroy and move in on their land.  The song "The World Turned Upside Down" is also closely related, and the title is often interchanged with "Diggers' Song", though the lyrics differ.

"The Cutty Wren"
Performed by Chumbawamba
The English Peasant Rebellion of 1381 gave light to this song.  Interestingly, the song does not generalize the peasants.  Rather, they're given names, characteristics, and a vengeful persistence to eagerly serve the peasant the population and give the landlord his due.  their plan was to cut him up and serve him to the poor, so they'd be fed.  The ultimate justice.  Disgusting, but a great nail in the coffin.

"Moreton Bay"
Written by Francis MacNamara
Performed by Bernard Fanning, John Denver, and more
Again, we refer to the penal colony of Europeans who descended upon the native lands of Australia.  In 1826, Patrick Logan took role of Commandant of Moreton Bay penal settlement, in which he treated prisoners cruelly.  Of note, this song in particular states other harsh prisons which have no equal to the horrors of this one under Logan's law.  In 1828, Logan ordered 200 prisoners flogged for a total of 11,000 lashes.  In 1830, though, Logan would be killed by Aborigines while exploring.  So important was this song that it stayed an anthem, an anthem which outlaw hero Ned Kelly wrote in 1879's Jerilderie Letter.

"9 to 5"
Written by Dolly Parton
Performed by Dolly Parton
Many take this long lightly, but it's from it and quite a call to not just women but everyone to stand up for yourself and await the day when your dreaming will come to fruition.  This work that isn't truly valued right now will one day show reward.  It's a rich man's game, and you spend your life putting money in his wallet.  And Dolly's's a rich man's game.  That glass ceiling is super thick, isn't it?  An inspiring working song for the regular worker.

"You'll Never Leave Harlan Alive"
Written by Darrell Scott
Performed by Patty Loveless, Kathy Mattea, Brad Paisley, Red Molly, Darrell Scott
This is one of the most painful and haunting songs, the closest you can get to that of a an Ancient Greek prophetic tale. The family leaves Harlan, only to be forced back into Harlan to work for the large coal mining company.  And no coal miner ever left Harlan alive.  The final line kills me: "And you spend your life diggin' coal from the bottom of your grave."  Mining deaths are still no stranger to today's world, and mining companies, especially outside of America bank massively.  In many mining villages, the only profit eventually to be made is from coal mining.  This cuts a life span down considerably, either from black lung or from collapse. The film Songcatcher includes a B-plot on this very aspect.

"The Shipyard Apprentice"
Written by Archie Fisher
Performed by Archie Fisher, Malinky, Dick Gaughan, and Battlefield Band

A song heavily in cultural heritage, "The Shipyard Apprentice (Fairfield Crane)" demonstrates the pride and anguish of the centuries of Scottish who dedicated their lives to the empire, building their ships.  It's also telling of a generational trade, wherein you did what your father did, while in growing up knowing a trade and the culture of it, one learns to take care of oneself, especially during the hardships of times during WWII.  The last stanza says so much...
Now I've sat in the school frae nine tae four and I've dreamed of the world outside
Where the riveters and the platers watch their ships slip tae the Clyde
I've served ma time behind the shipyard gates and I've sometimes mourned my lot
But if any man tries tae mess me about, I will fight like my father fought

"Take This Job and Shove It"
Written by David Allen Coe
Performed by David Allen Coe, Johnny Paycheck, and the Dead Kennedys
The classic Anthem for the country crowd, "Take This Job and Shove It" relays the story of a man who's lost his wife, for whom he worked the job.  But his reality, his problems, his life, are of no concern to the fat cat who sits in his office and drives his fancy car.  Can you imagine how many people actually went to their bosses in 1977 and 1978 after this song and said the very title?  The outlaw country singers were out to stick it to the man, and no one represented that like Paycheck, Coe, and Nelson.

"Workin' Man Blues"
Written and performed by Merle Haggard
This song is exactly how it sounds.  I don't likes whiners, but this song has a bit of a repetition feel to it, where he does the same thing over and over.  But the other thing that keeps him going is his loyalty to his family.  Though somehow, I feel they're second thought in all this.  He doesn't even note is he cares for them.  Come to think of it, I don't even like this song.  So it's not officially on the list, but it's a song about the working class, y'all!

"We  Got Fooled Again"
Performed (and written?) by Coope, Boyes, and Simpson
This is an incredible song written as a response to "Won't Get Fooled Again" by The Who, and it's incredibly powerful.  Coope, Boyes, and Simpson's flawless harmonies and rich voices with smooth crescendos and decrescendos that make the song even more powerful.  They don't represent anger like The Who.  They represent in this song the stupidity that we are as a public that falls for show the Government puts on while no problems ever get solved.

In the name of progress,
We believe the lies
And get the same old shite,
Just different flies,
A different colored rosette,
But nothing seems to change.
Another dame, another knighthood.
We got fooled again!

We got fooled again!
Nobody gives a cuss.
No jobs, no factories.
We don’t even make a fuss!
Dignity and caring,
Or simple profit and gain?
I think you know the answer.
We got fooled again!

In the name of profit,
Markets rise and fall;
When they’re up you get a pittance;
When they’re down, sod all.
You’re laid off and right-sized,
Left out in the rain;
But the boss got a bonus
We got fooled again.

"Shift and Spin" (UPDATE)
Written by Ewan McVicar
Performed by Malinky
The Scottish ballad was written by a social worker who was interviewing Paisley Thread Mill employees, many of whom were women, working the job because they could have no other.  While working the job with incredibly low pay, they would dream of a better life, and the only way to do that was to be married off.  When that doesn't happen, they settle for being a literal spinster for the rest of their lives, working in the mill.

No comments:

Post a Comment