But hey, let’s get political for a minute — as some artists often to do — to show you exactly why I’m choosing to abstain. We all get frustrated with the imbalance of wrong and right in the world. Sometimes, we can’t help but break out the soapbox and make our voices heard. After all, it’s your goddamn right. On the other hand, I’m about to give you a whole slew of reasons to change your mind. Protest songs have often been the backbone of many a political movement. The right song at the right time can galvanize an entire generation, serving as a call to arms and a catalyst for change. In fact, the best protest songs live on for ages despite their agendas (U2’s “Pride (In the name of Love), Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power" and Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall” to name a few). The wrong song, however, will inspire palms to join forces with faces and spend an eternity in wherever it is forgotten maxi-singles go to die.
Artists Against AIDS Worldwide, “What’s Going On?”
Watching bad things happen to great songs is enough to inspire a protest song in and of itself. While this one started off with the best of intentions — a simple AIDS awareness fundraiser — the attacks of 9/11 changed its purpose drastically. As we all struggled to make sense of this scary world, the changes we were about to face as well as the fate of the world in general — picking the proper voice to articulate and adapt this jam into a post-9/11 anthem was going to be tough. Which is why I’m assuming they just threw up their hands and let Fred Durst have the mic.
Public Image Ltd, “Don’t Ask Me”
So, It’s the late '80s, world issues are a hot topic. Red Hot + Dance and all that shit, right? In less than four minutes on a track fit only for 1990s Greatest Hits ... So Far? (the “So Far” being completely unnecessary in retrospect), John Lydon’s blanket political mantra calls our attention to war, global warming, recycling, depleting natural resources, corrupt politicians, the importance of voting, and every other worldly injustice under the sun offering only two conflicting pieces of advice: “Don’t ask me / 'Cause I don’t know," but also “Don’t blame me / I told you so” — saying everything and still nothing all at once. I'll admit this was my favorite PiL jam when I was 13. Then again, Metal Box is an awfully difficult record for a tween to wrap his head around.
2 Live Crew, "Banned in the USA"
It’s hard to believe that in a world where Ke$ha has 8-year-olds worried about boys touching their junk and Danny Brown has made cunnilingus cool again, obscenity in music was once sending motherfuckers to jail on the reg. No one band in these days had more reason to complain than 2 Live Crew. They might have been otherwise written off as just another mid-'80s, foul-mouthed, Miami booty bass ensemble if their lyrics hadn’t made them martyrs in the good fight for free speech. That said, their next move, capitalizing on said notoriety and championing the First Amendment as if it were their intent from day one, suggests these dudes should have stuck to racially insensitive horniness rather than equating their foul mouths to the civil rights movement, the atrocities of the KKK and the revolutionary tactics of the Black Panthers with bad green screen and Pleasantville video tape effects.
The Peace Choir, “Give Piece a Chance”
Remember this one? There’s probably a reason you don’t. Fresh on the heels of Operation: Desert Storm, the music community — headed by none other than criminally unappreciated feminist, performance artist, musician, activist, etc., Yoko Ono — was lightning fast in converting this former anti-Vietnam anthem into a cluttered, poorly executed clusterfuck, adapting its lyrics to every early '90s cliche imaginable and making “The Super Bowl Shuffle” sound like “We Are the World." Amina, Adam Ant, Sebastian Bach, Bros, Felix Cavaliere, Terence Trent D'Arby, Flea, John Frusciante, Peter Gabriel, Kadeem Hardison, Ofra Haza, Joe Higgs, Bruce Hornsby, Lee Jaffe, Al Jarreau, Jazzie B, Davey Johnstone, Lenny Kravitz, Cyndi Lauper, Sean Ono Lennon, Little Richard, LL Cool J, MC Hammer, Michael McDonald, Duff McKagan, Alannah Myles, New Voices of Freedom, Randy Newman, Tom Petty, Iggy Pop, Q-Tip, Bonnie Raitt, Run, Dave Stewart, Teena Marie, Little Steven Van Zandt, Don Was, Wendy & Lisa, Ahmet Zappa, Dweezil Zappa and Moon Unit Zappa all in the same pot prove there’s a fine line between an all-star ensemble and too many cooks in the kitchen. I will say the onslaught of comical vocal fills around 2:45 almost makes it worth sitting through the whole thing.
The Hollies, “Stop in the Name of Love”
The genius of The Hollies is undermined solely by their unwillingness to disband and their penchant for stunts like this one — a remake of The Supremes hit “Stop in the Name of Love,” appropriated as a plea to disarm nuclear weapons. A noble effort, but I doubt it ever made it into Ronald Reagan’s Walkman.
Rap Against Rape, “What Did I Do Wrong”
Long before Republicans were parsing, qualifying and slicing types of rape so that victims of these atrocities could be finally be certain of what group they belong in, Ireland was way ahead of us. Assembling a team of DJs, backup dancers and top-notch MCs in the early '90s, this dance floor anthem was sure to be a thing that make you went “Hmm ... ” before you dropped a roofie in someone’s drink — it does not, however, somehow stand the test of time, and I just can’t put my finger on why.