Apparently, Lennon didn’t think that much of this 1971 song as the years passed. It was inspired by an interview the singer gave to Tariq Ali and Robin Blackburn of the Marxist newspaper, Red Mole. From this source, peaceful revolutions were inadequate to dismantle the existing capitalist system. It’s not clear if Lennon was writing from their perspective the way a fiction author may not necessarily believe in the thoughts and actions of their characters. However, the lyrics suggest support for a worker’s revolution of the kind that Karl Marx envisioned: to take to the streets and even violently usher in communism.
Humorist Tom Lehrer finds the silver lining in nuclear destruction!
Nuclear war would kill us all, but at least, unlike an adversarial war, we would all be doing something in common. Dying!
The 1959 song is touching on the concept of mutually assured destruction, early considered here by Frankie Goes To Hollwood’s Two Tribes, and Dawn of Correction by The Spokesmen. It is the premise that countries won’t start a nuclear war because they will be destroyed, too.
In the 1980s, “Star Wars” technology was touted as a way to get around this, by using satellites and other weaponry to shoot down incoming nuclear missiles. Twenty-first century worries about “rogue states” possessing nuclear weapons has revived some interest in this gambit.
Bob Dylan sang just a few years later, similarly, in Let Me Die in My Footsteps – that he would face nuclear fallout before hiding in a fallout shelter.
Bob Dylan sang about the Cold War back in 1963. Not totally accepting that the world would end from nuclear destruction, he nonetheless poetically sang about preferring to sleep (and die) in a meadow rather than hide in a fallout shelter.
In the 1950s, fallout shelters, often underground, were built to avoid coming into contact with and to provide protection from “fallout.” This is the radioactive material that would be produced from nuclear explosions.
The Clash sang about the draft, back in 1980.
Conscription is the formal term for the draft. It is when governments compel military service from citizens to fill vacancies. It is considered necessary to have the personnel to wage wars, but controversial for reducing personal freedom and choice. One may be able to lawfully avoid conscription for religious and moral reasons, as a conscientious objector. Draft dodgers unlawfully go into hiding to avoid military service… and hope for amnesty.
The melody seems to come from Rudy Can’t Fail by the Clash, or maybe their version of I Fought The Law. Like the Clash, Bragg is British, and his folk and protest music is punk-tinged.
This song communicates that the privileged aren’t better people than those less well off. It tries to correct a stereotype that those out of work aren’t in all cases lazy, but that they just have less opportunities than the upper class. It came at a time of hardship for the working class in the 1980s, when even if industrious, may have found themselves struggling to get by, unemployed.
In politics “haves” and “have nots” are popular ways to describe economic classes of people in a fixed social structure. Here, the “haves” accumulate more and more wealth, at the expense of the “have nots.” In Marxist terms, these would be the bourgeosie and proletariats. Today, we have seen the division described as the 1 percent and 99 percent, from the Occupy Movement.
The title is also from the 1937 Ernest Hemingway novel, which became a film with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.
Timeless protest songs aren’t so direct, but perhaps Keith and Mick were not trying to be metaphorical back in 2005. The song takes on George W. Bush, of course, who was quite the anti-muse for many artists.
“Neo con” is short for neoconservative. This goes back to the 1960s when the Stones started rocking. Conservatives were looking around at society and government and feeling that change was happening too fast. Conservatives are cautious of change, especially when alterations in public policy are untried and untested. But it just so happened that to get things back to the way they wanted them, would also require some dramatic shifts away from what they saw as socialism to classical liberalism.
Neoconservatives were often like classical liberals who strongly value individual freedom and a limited role for government. They supported going back to the future, so to speak.
More informally, neo con is simply a put down, and the swearing and name-calling in this song might be considered intellectually lazy. It is not a Stones classic but an interesting, provocative part of their legacy, all the same.
This is an early song critical of Ronald Reagan, then governor of California, decades later president. It comes from a concept album, Blows Against the Empire, that in 1970 attempted to tell the story of a rejection of American values. A spaceship would come to find a new home for people!
The specific jibe at Reagan begins having a B-movie star sending dogs in with the National Guard, to put down a protest at the University of California’s Berkeley campus, back in 1969.
“Rock Against Reagan,” a punk tour and movement, came later the 1980s.