Bruce Cockburn – Call It Democracy


Canadian folkie Bruce Cockburn argued back in 1986, that the foreign policy of powerful countries is about making a buck, not lifting people in poor places out of their misery. As well, that international organizations are not benevolent, either. The International Monetary Fund is a target in one verse.

The IMF goes back to 1944, and on the face of it, with almost 200 member countries, seeks to encourage financial stability in countries dealing with low revenues, high debt, inflation, high unemployment, and more. The IMF works to foster international trade.

Cockburn figures the IMF does more harm than good, leaving developing countries in debt.

More generally, the IMF has been criticized for the conditions it has sometimes imposed on countries to get into their version of fiscal shape. This has meant getting troubled countries to reduce public spending to address government debt. The IMF has also been criticized for not been sensitive enough to local conditions and on-the-ground needs of the places it exists to serve.

Also by Cockburn: If A Tree Falls, If I Had A Rocket Launcher

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Katrina & The Waves – Walkin’ On Sunshine

This 1985 tune earns about $1 million per year in royalties for the band. You’ve heard it in movies like High Fidelity, American Psycho and Daddy Day Care. And on TV shows like The Gilmore Girls and The Drew Carey Show. If a program needs to emphasize some good feelings, this song is the go-to choice.

You can appreciate politicians would try to latch on to this poppy infectiousness.

Republican Michele Bachmann represented Minnesota from 2007-2015, in the U.S. House of Representatives. She is known as a Tea Party supporter. When campaigning for President in 2012, the politician played this song.

Katrina and her Waves objected! Did Michele even ask?

The band had other catchy tunes, but fall into the one-hit wonder category. Too, Bachmann dropped out of the presidential race, but has the distinction of being Minnesota’s first female federal Congresswoman, at least for her party.

Still, Tom Petty was not a fan of Bachmann, either: American Girl.

Bernie Sanders – This Land Is Your Land

Bernie Sanders is a Senator from Vermont. He’s running for President of the USA for 2016. Known as a passionate social justice advocate, Bernie Sanders was apparently at Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, back in 1963.

Fast forward about 25 years, to Sanders doing an album of folk songs. Well, he doesn’t sing, but speechifies the lyrics of this most famous Woody Guthrie anthem. Maybe Sanders was paying homage to William Shatner’s cover of Mr. Tambourine Man.

Do you feel these recordings hurt or assist Sander’s effort to win the candidacy of the Democrats for the next election?

54-40 – I Go Blind

54-40 is a well-known Canadian band that blends alternative and folk influences. Like many Canadian outfits experience, finding success in the larger American market has been challenging.

Their 1986 song was covered, near note-for-note, by Hootie And The Blowfish, 14 year later:

The American band had a hit with it. The song made the Friends TV show soundtrack, and is on one of their great hits compilations. Does 54-40 feel cheated? Their song could have been the hit, and breakthrough they desired.

The band took their name from this very problem.

“54-40 or Fight,” refers to 19th century expansionist tendencies or plans of the USA, into Canada. The numbers relate to territory between Oregon, and up to Russia’s Alaska. In between, of course, this would be what would become Canada. Americans appeared to want the land and might go to war for it.

U.S. Presidential candidate James Polk campaigned on winning all this territory, in 1844. His slogan: 54-40 or fight.” Polk won, but diplomacy and compromise created the present boundaries.

Likewise, 54-40, the band, no doubt still benefits from the royalties of Hootie And The Blowfish singing their song.

Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers – Rebels

Struggling to satisfactorily record this song back in 1985, Petty apparently hurt his hand, punching a wall.

The song’s narrator calls himself a rebel, born in Dixie.

By the dictionary, a rebel is a person who stands up for what they believe in, even if most others aren’t on the same page. Politically, a rebel could be a revolutionary or even a terrorist.

It is a debate whether citizens should have the right to rebel against their governments. Constitutions may entrench this, with freedoms of expression, speech and assembly (gathering, meeting). This typically means resistance using legal and conventional means. But violence can come from rebels.

And Petty is using the American Revolutionary War of the 18th century as a metaphor. This was the armed battles between Great Britain and the American colonies. These colonists – the rebels – resented British imposition of taxes.

More from Petty: American Girl

Boris Grebenshchikov – This Train Is On Fire

Called by some the Russian Bob Dylan, “BG” is the face and sound of classic rock music in the Soviet Union. Well, to the extent it was permitted!

This Train Is On Fire is considered a “perestroika anthem.” Perestroika, meaning restructuring, was an effort within the Communist Party, to open up the political and economic system of the Soviet Union, in the 1980s. This happened.

Did a song play a leading role in ending the Cold War? Wow!

Diff’rent Strokes – Theme Song

Race relations in America were lightly addressed from 1978-1985, in this TV sitcom. Two African American orphans are adopted by a rich Park Avenue, widower/single Dad, who is white. An early episode has a social worker not believing that a white man should be raising African Americans.

Can popular culture, even through the “boob tube,” lead and shape public opinion? Another question could be this: is a comedy show that is meant to entertain, the right or best forum for such issues to be addressed.