Country Joe And The Fish – Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-To-Die-Rag

Country Joe McDonald, of Country Joe and the Fish, was let out from the US Navy. He sang this 1967 song a few years later, at the original Woodstock, kind of on a lark and against his wishes.

It became an anthem against the Vietnam War, which is the “next stop,” meaning more deaths to come in more places. With this “GI humor” and a dollop of nihilism, it blames political leaders for the war. It denigrates large corporations that profit it. Soldiers are expendable pawns.

The song was also controversial for being borrowed in composition from an old ragtime tune. And of course, for the F-word “F.I.S.H.” cheer that sometimes introduced it.

Peter Schilling – (Let’s Play) USA

This is a manic, repetitive, garage band-chorded new wave vamp with a melody limited in “tessitura” – the range of notes. With irony, the lyrics question American values and policies relating to firearms, the environment, declining literacy… and more.

Schilling is German.

Should the validity and persuasive force of political criticism from foreigners carry more or less weight?

Michael Jackson – Man In The Mirror

A #1 in 1988 for “Jacko,” though not written by him, is sung in the first person as a declaration to change for the better. It comes off as a self-inflicted guilt trip, with Michael looking at his reflection, knowing he could do more to help those less well off.

Technically, around 99% of the world were financially worse off than the singer!

But we could all take from the song the hope that change can start with us, at the individual level. Some critiques of poverty alleviation maintain we too often look to or expect “the government” to get to work on the situation, freeing us to focus on our own selfishness… that we should help others organically. The government, in this view, may be seen as impartial and arbitrary, coercive and even uncaring. But as people, together as a society, there is optimism the poor can be voluntarily assisted by philanthropists large and small. The trade-off can be less coordinated efforts. A concern is whether the problems of poverty are too large and complex for such decentralized, non-expert responses.

Man In The Mirror could provoke an interesting discussion about the size and scope of government and the responsibility of individuals, to their brothers, sisters and strangers, too. It’s typically maintained that as government gets bigger, the role for individuals decreases. This is also debated.

Elton John – Indian Sunset

Bernie Taupin, the lyricist, takes artistic licence and changes history, such as how Apache leader Geronimo died in 1909. But Sir Elton delivers a lengthy story, told as if he was Native American, about colonization. Culturally, the US policy was assimilation, and economically and socially, native Americans were relocated to new “homes” by law, beginning in 1830. Resistance was frequently violent, and the various conflicts are informally known as the Indian Wars, which could be said to have led to treaties and the setting up of reservations. The song’s sunset is a metaphor for the end, though over the next century or so, Native Americans, through political activism, have done much to demonstrate and gain respect.

For a less respectable take on Native Americans: Europe – Cherokee

Temptations – Ball Of Confusion (That’s What The World Is Today)

With so many challenges in the world, perhaps it’s best just to let the band play on. Not taking a political stance, the Temptations list ills such as racism, war, drugs, gun violence, government spending and taxes… even local government with a reference to city inspectors. Yet it is not a song of apathy or giving up, but perhaps realistic for not attempting to predict where things are headed. The chaotic, pyschedelic arrangement may attest to this. Or, that Motown was not interested in protest records despite the times.

Toni Childs – Zimbabwe

American singer Toni Childs now lives in Australia, and sings about an African country from her 1988 debut. The general lyrics about unity and peace could be transplanted elsewhere. Hopefully the singer wasn’t latching on to the care and concern for Africa at the time, that was a pop star cause of the era. However, at this time, fresh from civil war, independence was still new to Zimbabwe, formerly called Rhodesia. Alas, the song proved to be wishful thinking.

Zimbabwe, under dictator Robert Mugabe doesn’t have fair elections, and to near-genocidal proportions does not uphold basic human rights. Economically, while apparently the country is improving, Zimbabwe will be forever known for having something like an inflation rate north of 11 million percent, back in 2008. It was said tourists would pay for their meals at restaurants prior to being served… as the food would cost more if they paid after eating!

Steve Earle – City Of Immigrants

Multiculturalism is the term for a system of values which maintains that our ethnic and cultural identities are important, and should be protected, promoted and even enhanced, through government policy. Multiculturalism is cherished for officially recognizing that diversity matters. Earle sings about this, expressing excitement about the dynamism and energy from just being on a street and seeing, hearing, different people speaking different languages. Multiculturalism is also criticized for promoting our differences instead of common ground.