Prayuth Chan-ocha – Because You Are Thailand

Not too many heads of country are pop stars?

Chan-ocha is the prime minister of Thailand, and writes patriotic and nostalgic songs for and about his country.

If we join hands … the day we hope for is not far away,” sings someone on his behalf, as the leader is more like the Bernie Taupin, to Elton John…

Yet critics might think all this to be adult contemporary propaganda – imagine John Tesh with a rifle pointed at you? The man is in power as he took it via the military (a “coup d’état”) in 2014. The military, under his direction today, is not tolerant of dissent.

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Jim Nabors – Back Home Again In Indiana

Jim Nabors is best known as a singer, and as doofus mechanic, Gomer Pyle, from the Andy Griffith Show, on TV. He sang this song, almost 100 years old now, each year at the pre-race ceremonies for the Indy 500 auto race.

The song is about a wanderer missing his home, the “Hoosier state” of Indiana.

Countries, states, towns and regions often have official songs. These can be national anthems, and official state or town songs. By “official,” that typically means the tune was chosen democratically, like ratified by a legislature.

Citizens still might more informally and conventionally, choose unofficial works of music to represent them. “Back Home In Indiana” is an example of this. The official state song of Indiana is “On The Banks of the Wabash, Far Away.”

Official or not, these songs in general tend to be patriotic. They may touch on the history, traditions, values and goals of a political community. Singing them may build and maintain a connection people have to where they live.

Julia Ward Howe – Battle Hymn Of the Republic

Howe is the author of this 1861 song, also known as “Mine Eyes Have Seen The Glory.” It has become a Christian worship song for referencing the return of the Lord. Written with a visit to a Union Army camp, the song has also somehow become both a spirited call to arms and an anti-war song for linking the Christian, Book of Revelations day of judgment to the American Civil War. Today, it is further widely performed as a patriotic song, at political party conventions, funerals of great politicians, and presidential inaugurations. And of course, American college football games…

They Might Be Giants – James K. Polk

James K. Polk was the 11th President of the USA, serving 1845-49. The lyrics race through the man’s accomplishments, and suggest that he was a successful president not needing to seek a second term. If so, then why is Polk not more on our minds, wonder They Might Be Giants?

It is not clear if they are being cheeky (or if we are too cynical to imagine a neutral biography of a politician). Polk basically governed over a time when the map of the entire continental United States was set, though ethically today we might question territorial expansion (Texas) and invading Mexico. This was part of “manifest destiny,” a belief in the superiority of Americans necessitating expansion.

Pete Seeger – If I Had A Hammer

Pete Seeger, whose name pretty much means folk music, died at aged 94 this week.

Rest in Peace.

This is one of his most famous songs, and probably the most covered. It was co-written in 1949 with Lee Hays, of the Weavers, the group which first recorded it.

If I Had A Hammer has general lyrics lending themselves to wide applicability. The message of love and justice and freedom was popular with the American civil rights movement. The tirelessness tenacity of not giving up, swinging hammers and ringing bells, also clearly exemplifies the dedication of Seeger to the many causes he believed so greatly in.

For more Seeger songs here, see the Playlist.

Steve Earle – F The CC

From 2004, Steve Earle lets off steam with a few expletives related to censorship and surveillance, policing, foreign policy… wrapping up with how comedian Lenny Bruce died to protect democracy. This confused song is more about attitude, perhaps, and a rocker bemoaning declining personal freedom in America. Maybe it is scattered, but it’s got energy many protest songs lack.

The FCC, from the song title, is the Federal Communications Commission. This agency goes back to the 1930s, and regulates communications. Historically, that has meant radio, but obviously expanded as technology progressed. Today,  the FCC is somewhat of a watchdog for electronic surveillance, given concerns for homeland security (protecting the country from external attack by terrorists). The agency has been criticized for being ineffective in this regard, or at least, not being able in its mandate to look into classified matters related to another agency, the National Security Agency. The NSA, in part, collects intelligence for domestic security.

Another song reviewed here is about electronic surveillance: Alan Parsons Project, Eye In The Sky.

Patti Smith Group – Citizen Ship

The “Godmother of Punk” sings about one’s connection to their country in 1979. The space between ‘Citizen’ and ‘Ship’ may be another way of referring to a country, as a naval vessel of people. That kind of a craft may have leaks if people don’t feel connected to its course.

Having citizenship, without the space between, is like having legal membership in a country. The membership card is often a passport or other official government document.