This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.
KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #469: White Riot by The Clash.
There is a long, rich legacy of political songs based upon real events. “Biko” by Peter Gabriel and “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” by U2 are just two examples that spring readily to mind. I have always maintained that poets and artists, singers and writers are among the most dangerous forces allied against oppression because they have the power and skill to put into words what so many people feel and, in doing so, rally us into action.
“White Riot” by The Clash concerns real events that took place in England at the end of the 1970s and into the early 80s. As mentioned in previous posts, this was the era of Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. It was a time of austerity. Unemployment was high. Poverty was on the rise. Ordinary citizens were growing frustrated. Throughout History, times such as this often give rise to political scapegoating. In this specific case, the scapegoats were immigrants. Politicians on the Right gave speeches extolling actions designed to “Keep Britain for the British”. ***It is sad how History repeats. “Make America Great Again” and “America First” policies introduced by Trump were, in fact, nothing new on his part. They were a repeat of what transpired in England in the late 70s and in Germany in the 1930s with Jewish people as the scapegoats then.
In the case of this song, the tipping point for many people opposed to racism was a concert given by the legendary singer/guitarist, Eric Clapton. At a concert, he gave an anti-immigration speech from the stage and re-iterated his support for policies to “Keep Britain for the British”. Around the same time, there was to be a music festival celebrating Jamaican culture. As you know, Reggae was very popular in the UK and this festival had been a regular event for several years. However, in this tense political climate, hundreds of police officers descended on a parade being held to lead festival attendees to a park for a concert. A riot ensued. Joe Strummer and Topper Headon of The Clash were in the parade because of their love of Reggae and, as such, they became involved in the riot.
Arising from this incident was a group that called themselves, “Rock Against Racism”. Their slogan was, “Love music. Hate Racism”. One of their first organizational events was to host an anti-racism concert. The headliners of that concert were The Clash. The song “White Riot” premiered there. There is a full documentary about this race riot and the anti-racism concert. I will post the trailer below and then, in the comments section, I will post The Clash actually performing this short, two-minute burst of rebellion.
Sometimes we are guilty of judging books by their proverbial covers. In the case of some of the early Punk Rock bands, we have labelled them as uncivilized and as anarchists. In the case of The Clash, they were actually trying to change the systemic nature of their government’s policies so as to protect immigrants from being singled out for abuse. Like many good musicians, they used the power of their words to chronicle a case of injustice. “White Riot” was their battle cry. The documentary below tells this story.
The link to the trailer for the White Riot Documentary, featuring The Clash and many others, can be found here.
The link for archive footage of The Clash premiering White Riot at the Rock Against Racism Festival can be found here.
Rock Against Racism have a website that can be found here.
The Clash have an interesting website that can be linked to here.
Thanks, as always, to KEXP for creating their own list of 500 great songs and inspiring me to create my own. A link to their website can be found here.