Wednesday, March 14, 2012

33 Revolutions Per Minute

Dorian Lynskey, 33 Revolutions per Minute: A history of protest songs from Billie Holiday to Green Day (2011)

I have just finished reading this book – well I read all but two chapters – there are 33 chapters in total that explore the history of protest music with a focus on the United States and England but also with chapters on each of Chile, Nigeria and Jamaica. What a fantastic read – get it and take a look at it if you can.

The book focuses on the social context and political events of each era with each chapter focusing on a specific song and then discussing other silimar songs and artists of that time:

Part 1

Chapter 1: Billie Holiday, “Strange Fruit”

Chapter 2: Woody Guthrie, “This Land is Your Land”

Chapter 3: Zilphia Horton, Frank Hamilton, Guy Carawan, and Pete Seeger, “We Shall Overcome”

Chapter 4: Bob Dylan, “Masters of War”

Chapter 5: Nina Simone, “Mississippi Goddam”

Part 2

Chapter 6: Country Joe and the Fish, “I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die Rag”

Chapter 7: James Brown, “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud”

Chapter 8: Plastic Ono Band, “Give Peace a Chance”

Chapter 9: Edwin Starr, “War”

Chapter 10: Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, “Ohio”

Chapter 11: Gil Scott Heron, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”

Chapter 12: Stevie Wonder, “Living for the City”

Part 3

Chapter 13: Victor Jara, “Manifesto”

Chapter 14: Fela Kuti and Afrika 70, “Zombie”

Chapter 15: Max Romeo and the Upsetters, “War Ina Babylon”

Part 4

Chapter 16: The Clash, “White Riot”

Chapter 17: Carl Bean, “I Was Born This Way”

Chapter 18: Linton Kwesi Johnson, “Sonny’s Letah (Anti-Sus Poem)

Chapter 19: The Dead Kennedy’s, “Holiday in Cambodia”

Chapter 20: Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five feat. Melle Mel and Duke Bootee, “The Message”

Chapter 21: Crass, “How Does it Feel”

Chapter 22: Frankie Goes to Hollywood, “Two Tribes”

Chapter 23: U2, “Pride (In the Name of Love)”

Chapter 24: The Special AKA, “Nelson Mandela”

Chapter 25: Billy Bragg, “Between the Wars”

Chapter 26: R.E.M., “Exhuming McCarthy”

Part 5

Chapter 27: Public Enemy, “Fight the Power”

Chapter 28: Huggy Bear, “Her Jazz”

Chapter 29: The Prodigy feat. Pop Will Eat Itself, “Their Law”

Chapter 30: Manic Street Preachers, “Of Walking Abortion”

Chapter 31: Rage Against the Machine, “Sleep Now in the Fire”

Chapter 32: Steve Earle, “John Walker’s Blues”

Chapter 33: Green Day, “American Idiot”

While this book cant be said to cover the field with respect to the history of political music, it does a damn fine job of it. It is almost like reading history through the eyes of the music of the time. Major themes and events include:

· Civil Rights Movement

· Industrial Relations

· Vietnam War

· Jamaican Independence and Politics

· Apartheid

· Homosexuality

· Irish Politics

· Environmental Issues

· Feminism (Riot Girrl)

· Thatcher, Regan and Bush

The book is well researched and well written and absolutely worth reading. There is also a list in the Appendices of 100 recommended protest songs in addition to those discussed in each chapter. The book discusses the history of each artist, other artists of each era and comments on the changing prevalence of protest music over time with a particular view that protest music has died in modern times. Genres of music are considered – from folk music, rock, punk disco, hip-hop to techno, and the level of engagement of artists in each genre with protest songs and political issues is considered in detail. This is fantastic book, I highly recommend it!

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