The Carter Family: “No Depression”
“I’m going where there’s no Depression; to a better land that’s free from care. ‘Gonna leave this world of toil and trouble; my home’s in heaven, I’m going there.” It’s like the girl in the radiator said: in heaven, everything is fine.
Uncle Tupelo: “No Depression”
And here is that song covered by Jeff Tweedy and someone who at the time was known by a name other than The Guy Who Was Once In Uncle Tupelo with Jeff Tweedy. This song singlehandedly started an “alt-country” movement in indie music, which is why you are wearing a checkered western shirt this very instant. This song even inspired the alt-country genre’s official rag, No Depression, which is now defunct, because of, you know, the Depression.
Chris Thomas King: “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues”
Man, American music used to be really sad, back during the days of O, Brother Where Art Thou.
Tom Waits: “Cold Water”
There were so many hobos, then. Tom Waits would have fit right in.
Sharon Jones: “This Land Is Your Land”
But Woody Guthrie knew the solution: Communism! And now Brooklyn’s very own soul sister Sharon Jones agrees. (As does the federal government, to a point. Ha ha, remember when Wall Street failed and FDR was like well then let’s make the government set up lots of programs to give engineers and laborers and farmers and artists and writers jobs? That was awesome, and will never happen again.)
Billy Bragg: “To Have and Have Not”
Billy Bragg knows his Communism, and his Woody Guthrie, having worked with The Guy in Uncle Tupelo Who Wasn’t the Guy in Uncle Tupelo Who Wasn’t Jeff Tweedy on two albums of Woody songs. And he is a traveling singer-songwriter whose guitar is a machine what kills fascists.
The Clash: “This Is England”
Much like the Fascists of England’s National Front, as discussed in this roughly contemporaneous song by fellow British working-class heroes The Clash. This is the best song I know about life in a perpetually distressed economy where the weather is always cold and all the people are overweight xenophobes; god, was there a worse place to live in recent history than in Northern England during the Thatcher years? We’ll soon find out!
(Sorry, the fan video that I linked to there is too awesome to escape comment. It opens with an ariel photo of… England! Yep, this is it! Anyway.)
M.I.A.: “Paper Planes” [remix feat. Bun B and Rich Boy]
Speaking of The Clash, this “Straight-to-Hell”-samping ditty and its remix, especially, is about poverty, and about crime as a method of redistributing wealth. Which will be fun, as that starts to happen more and more.
Kanye West: “Good Life”
Of course, the end result of hip-hop’s aspirational make-it theme is empty materialism, as Kanye knows.
Duran Duran: “Rio”
And the materialism of the already wealthy is what got us into this mess. I looked for a while for the song that best embodies conspicuous consumption, and I think that the lifestyle-porn video for this song put’s Duran Duran’s brand of hedonism over the edge.
Big Black: “Big Money”
Steve Albini think that the drive for money is a scam the world plays on all of us, and is mad about it. (But, ironically in this context, I’m told that Steve Albini is actually a compulsive gambler.)
The Manic Street Preachers: “Natwest – Barclays – Midlands -Lloyds”
The Psychedelic Furs: “All That Money Wants” (Although “President Gas” turned out to be fairly prescient)
Somewhere between Duran Duran and Big Black are two bands that decried the greed of the 80s (and, in the MNPs’ case, the banking industry) with their essentially commercial music: anthemic punk’s inevitable arena-rock blowout and caustic New Wave’s radio-ready slickness, respectively.
Patti Smith: “Free Money”
Before the genre and its ideas became commodified, though, the idea of wealth was a fever dream as raw as that of any coke-pushing rapper.
Constantines: “Credit River” (Only because I couldn’t find a video for The Mendoza Line’s “Road to Insolvency”)
But, yes, buying all the things you need, for free, can only lead to credit card debt.
Drive-By Truckers: “Righteous Path”
Oh, look, “Got a whole lot of debt and a whole lot of fear”, and, as above, a whole lot of twang. Yeah, as was sorta discussed earlier, new-school country and roots bands are exactly who’d you expect to be making good music about poverty and panic. This song is about a heartland family man who’s convinced that his well-being is a matter of morality, even as he lives in the midst of a glut of material goods that he’s been are the same thing as the American dream.
The Arcade Fire: “(Antichrist Television Blues)”
“Working downtown for the minimum wage…” And yes, as in the all-American Springsteen songs this number bites, part of what that comes from is a people (a whole new generation of which are about to come) tempered by the flame of want, toughened (and embittered) by years of having to work a shit job to make ends meet.
Elliott Smith: “Angeles”
Of course some people come to the city to find work and lose their soul.
Hall and Oates: “Rich Girl”
Luckily, for those of us who live in New York and work in the creative professions today, we can rely on our old man’s money.
And, in closing: