October 5, 2020
Contemporary Western culture, in all its music and films and art and literature, has, for the last century been seeped in liberalism, and that hasn’t always been a bad thing. In the early 20th century, when music as a commodity was still a novel idea, American culture was far more conservative than today. It was largely through liberal ideas that art – in all its different mediums – was able to grow and evolve. The entire raison d’être of rock-and-roll has always been eschewing conventional orthodoxies for fresh sounds, and its lyrical themes often mirror that unorthodox approach. That’s why in 1967, the Ed Sullivan show refused to air the Doors’ first hit, “Light My Fire,” citing its drug-laden lyrics.
But today, we live in an entirely different era. Songs like Cardi B’s “WAP” climb the pop charts. They don’t push artistic boundaries; instead, they add to a homogenous ocean of pop music, brimming with lascivious self-indulgence. For true innovation, many feel compelled to look back to the era of what is now deemed classic rock. Despite rock’s often liberal leanings, conservative themes can be found throughout the genre.
Here is a list of some of the best songs over the course of the development of rock music that went against the grain of liberalism, espousing more traditionally conservative ideas in their lyrics. Keep in mind that art doesn’t have to adhere to any dogma to be “good” – and none of these artists themselves are necessarily conservative; in fact, often they lean left personally.
1. “Sympathy for the Devil,” The Rolling Stones, 1968 (album: Beggars Banquet)
In 1967, Russian author Mikhail Bulgakov published The Master and Margarita, his biting satire of the Soviet Union, in which the devil pays a visit to the adamantly anti-theistic USSR. It was the English translation of this seminal work, gifted to Stones singer Mick Jagger by his then-girlfriend, Marianne Faithful that inspired this 60s rock epic.
The song’s lyrics echo Dylan’s style of painting various vignettes as backdrops for his characters. In “Sympathy for the Devil,” the Russian Communist revolution was presented as the conniving work of the devil – the song’s narrator:
“I stuck around St. Petersburg; When I saw it was a time for a change; Killed the czar and his ministers; Anastasia screamed in vain.”
The song is the Stones at their most acerbic, but also at their most punk. At a time when Ashbury Park hippies convened in drum circles to sing Woodie Guthrie’s “This Land Is Our Land” and sympathize with their Cold War adversaries, the Rolling Stones countered that their sympathies were, in fact, with the devil. Ronald Reagan may have felt, in Bruce Springsteen’s 1985 hit “Born in the USA” the patriotic gleam he wished to invigorate in the fiber of the American public, but if he wanted lyrics to reflect the content of his anti-Soviet agenda, it is precisely the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” he should have chosen as his campaign anthem.
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