Aimee Mann – Can’t You Tell?

Old school hipsters will want you to know that like them, you should appreciate Aimee Mann. She led 80’s new wavers ‘Til Tuesday, but has a longer, more distinguished, if low-key, solo career.

Today, with this song, Mann is singing as if she was 2016 Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump.

It is part of an artist’s campaign, sort of like these social media challenges of posting inspirational happenings for one month. This one, is 30 Days, 30 Songs, wanting a “Trump-Free America.”

Mann imagines “The Donald” as a sociopath who has no plan for America beyond winning. He can’t stop the damage he is wreaking, and would wreak more, if president. But that, Trump has a conscience and truly, privately wishes someone would put a stop to him getting the top political job of the land.

Who is to blame? Trump for, sure. But Mann as Trump suggests his supporters carry responsibility, too, wanting to crown Donald Trump and troll and lambaste his detractors. That’s an interesting point: Donald Trump is who he is, but what is it in the American political culture that has put this person in prominence?

One could argue, this instalment of 30 Days, 30 Songs could try to get into the minds of Trumpsters to better understand their feelings and motivations, and support for Trump. What gave rise to their stridency?

Mann doesn’t like Trump, and by extension, maybe his adherents, too? But the song even accords some humanity to the man. This is not just from it suggesting Donald wants off this runaway train, but through the tune’s fluid, effortless melody and soothing, jangly instrumentation.

It might be one of the sweetest salves of a protest song, despite Trump being so abrasive in style?

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Adam And The Ants – Kings Of The Wild Frontier

From 1980, New Waver Adam Ant wears a Jimi Hendrix jacket, and sings about feeling like an American Indian under his skin. Is this campy or offensive?

One point made is that beneath the white skin is a “wild nobility,” a freedom and danger that stuffed-up Caucasians suppress. But as well, Adam sings of cultural imperialism: from “centuries of taming,” Native Americans may have lost their roots, too.

The tribal drum rhythms, though, may be more African. Whatever, call it world music, then!

Also by this band: Goody Two Shoes

Tears For Fears – Everybody Wants To Rule The World

Freedom can be used for good or ill, and countering our selfish tendencies as individuals, as groups and through governments can be challenging. If choice can also lead to war and misery, should we enjoy ourselves to the fullest extent now before the coming Armageddon?

The narrator of the song wants help in making decisions related to freedom. This 1980s new wave song could then consider what checks and accountability mechanisms may be important and necessary to temper our freedoms and guide us to making the “right” choices. Typically, these institutions include:

  • at the international level, bodies such as the United Nations and international agreements that countries agree to follow;
  • at the country level the rule of law and constitutions, an independent judiciary and the media (a free press); and
  • at the societal level, the family, church and peers.

All of these institutions have their own strengths and weaknesses; their ability to steer us to the good is often questioned. Sometimes these institutions are not trusted for seeking or encouraging and wielding excess power themselves.

Thus like the song bemoans, we are left with holding hands while the walls around us fall?

Missing Persons – Words

Missing Persons were an American new wave outfit in the 1980s, whose husband and wife members (Terry and Dale Bozzio) did apprenticeships with Frank Zappa. Sadly, the short-lived success from this one-hit wonder of a song ended the band and the relationship.

The song is probably about a doomed affair in which one partner is not listening.  The lyrics also strive to be more universal: “What are words for, when no one listens any more?”

Political discourse today is lamented for lacking the intellectual rigour and creative artistry of its past practitioners. Indeed, compare a typical or random speech from George W. Bush to that of any one made by Abraham Lincoln… In this regard, those doing the talking may need to be producing something worth hearing.

Thompson Twins – King For A Day

1980s new wavers named after twins, when there were three (?) imagine themselves as benevolent sovereigns.

A king (or it could be the queen, even a pharoah) is the head of a state/country, in this esteemed position based on birthright. One would be king for life, not for a day, unlike this song’s request.

In modern times the monarchy performs a largely symbolic and ceremonial function. So, perhaps the Thompson Twins are referencing the earlier days of such sovereigns, then widely seen as dictatorial, possessing near absolute power over their kingdoms and empires. The Magna Carta (Great Charter), in 1215, started a long process of limiting the power of kings, putting a document over them, a constitution.

XTC – Dear God

This protest song takes aim at God as the cause of suffering in the world. Now, a Christian apologetic rejoinder to new wavers XTC’s 1986 song could note that evil exists in the world as God gave humans free will; that it is their task to shape up and not cause harm and suffering to others.

Dear God is considered an atheist song, yet the narrator is writing to God, as if He lives. So, the song is simplistic (including having a child sing) and a little confused (so what does XTC believe in?). Still, the tune is refreshing as a protest song, for laying the blame beyond us, our politics and governments.

Men Without Hats – Pop Goes The World

Canadian new wavers, also known for The Safety Dance, had a top 20 novelty hit in this, from 1987, which is mostly about two musicians, Johnny and Jenny, seeking fame. Canadian artists since rock and roll began have struggled to “penetrate” the US market, with its massive population (relative to Canada), and thus sales potential.  The album is the same name, and could be considered a lighthearted concept album, and curiously or deliberately uses toy piano like sounds and melodies that were already passé by the time of release – as if daring Americans to like it.

The lyric:

And every time I wonder where the world went wrong,
End up lying on my face going ringy dingy ding dong

…may sum up precisely the frustrations in politics of “making a difference,” be that peace in the Middle East, reducing child poverty, ending violence against women, balancing government budgets, even getting potholes filled on city streets!