Jackie Shane – Any Other Way

U.S. born Jackie Shane lived in Canada and some like to think he is a relative of Little Richard. This song, a cover, became popular in Canada in 1962.

What’s political is Shane is seen to be using the word ‘gay’ in the lyrics for its sexual orientation connotation, and not simply as a synonym of ‘happy.’ This double meaning was not mainstream back then.

“Tell her that I’m happy/tell her that I’m gay”

The singer was a gay performer who often dressed in drag, and to many today, is seen as an early LGBT artist. Rumours are he is no longer alive, in hiding, or incognito, living her life today, as a transgender woman.


Ma Rainey – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

The ideology of conservatism rejects social change coming too fast. This includes “social conservatism” that views popular culture as being too liberal. That is, too unrestrained. A social conservative would lament the present day as lacking sexual mores.

But conservatism can also be criticized for looking too longingly on a staid, reserved past, that is part myth.

In other words, social conservatives may be all incensed about today’s twerking and booty shaking. But it’s not that new?

Gertrude Malissa Nix Pridgett… Ma Rainey, was born around 1896. Near a century ago, she had no problem singing lyrics embedded with racy double entendres:

All the boys in the neighborhood
They say your black bottom is really good
Come on and show me your black bottom
I want to learn that dance

Nor was Rainey some fringe performer. She was a professional blues singer. Rainey performed and recorded with Louis Armstrong, Fletcher Henderson, Coleman Hawkins… these are household names in jazz.

John Lee Hooker – I Don’t Wanna Go To Vietnam

Boogie bluesman Hooker slows things way down, way down, to a shuffle, to comment on the Vietnam War. He would likely have been too old to have to serve, but was probably singing for others who had the blues about the conflict in the late 1960s and into the 1970s. Hooker notes that people lose friends there, and leave family behind, and there are enough troubles at home already.

J.B. Lenoir – Eisenhower Blues

Lenoir (1929-1967), was a bluesman from Mississippi. He was profiled in director Martin Scorcese’s documentary, The Blues. This song, from 1954, has the singer suggesting that President Dwight D. Eisenhower (in office 1953-61), was not doing enough to create jobs, forcing him on relief – social assistance.

While this 34th President was largely preoccupied with foreign affairs, perhaps Lenoir was thinking of Eisenhower’s efforts to cut back the New Deal programs. The New Deal refers to a collection of Great Depression-era social programs hinged on three “R”s – relief, recovery and reform.

Janis Joplin – Mercedes Benz

Who wanted instruments to get in the way of a voice like hers?

The song is considered a rejection or critique of consumerism, which was in part the credo of 1960s hippies. Consumerism can mean being aware of and getting informed to make good decisions when spending money. But the definition here is about mindlessly buying more and more stuff, that isn’t really necessary to live a fulfilled life.

This is for debate, but in this song, Janis may have been feeling unable to keep up with the Joneses, who all had better things than her. And so she asks God to provide shiny, expensive luxuries. Of course, God doesn’t do that; God wants you to give it all away! And thus is Janis dismissing the vain accumulation of those around her in an ultimate manner?

The Beatles – Come Together

American psychologist and drug taker Timothy Leary (1920-1996) ran for Governor of California in the 1960s, against future President Ronald Reagan. Leary’s campaign slogan was “Come Together, Join the Party,” and apparently Lennon copped this for the chorus to this 1969 single and Abbey Road album grooving, bluesy classic. The song is sort of a campaign theme song for Leary.

Leary spent time in many jails for his views that drugs could aid psychiatry, for treating people. Another President, Richard Nixon, called him the most dangerous man in the country.

Perhaps in the twenty-first century, collective hysteria over psychedelic drug use seems quaint. Yet the official “War on Drugs” continues, and many talents were forever lost prematurely, partly due to drugs (Jimi Hendrix, for instance).

Elvis Presley – Heartbreak Hotel

Presidential candidate Bill Clinton, in Blues Brothers shades, shows style over substance playing the sax on a late night talk show. He was criticized for demeaning politics and crassly trying to reach out to a black audience. This was 1992.

Okay, the song Elvis sang in 1956 is about a lonely man that kills himself. But sour grapes aside, it worked for Bill at the ballot box. Will incumbent Barack Obama need to stun the world with some new-found musical ability for this fall’s presidential election?

More from The King on this Blog: In The Ghetto