This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.
RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #318: Guns of Brixton by The Clash.
Brixton is a borough (or suburb) of the city of London, England. It sits just to the south of the city proper. It is close enough that you can walk from the centre of Brixton to #10 Downing Street in only a matter of a few hours. Pre-WWII, Brixton was a thriving commercial and cultural centre for the area. It was claimed that the Brixton Market was the largest in all of England. However, during The Blitz in WWII, Brixton sustained heavy property damage. In addition to the lives that were lost in these raids, the biggest issue turned out to be loss of housing. In the years that followed the War, as much of the UK underwent a massive restoration movement, many of the buildings that had housed the citizens of Brixton fell under the wrecking ball’s swing, to be replaced with cheap, Council-Tenancy buildings. At the same time, the end of the War saw massive immigration changes around the world. One of the biggest that affected Brixton concerned the arrival of scores of people from the Caribbean. As with any influx of immigrants, they soon began to settle in and started to bring their customs and cultural practises to bear. One of the ways this manifested itself was that Brixton became the Reggae hotspot of the UK. The famous Brixton Market and local park became home to all sorts of Reggae-flavoured festivals and other cultural events such as movies. However, if you were to look at an aerial map of Brixton, one of the things you would notice is how little green space there is. It wasn’t long before Brixton started becoming overwhelmed with the number of people moving to the area. With any situation in which overcrowding is a factor soon, crime became a problem. The Conservative Government of Margaret Thatcher responded punitively and enacted search and seizure powers for the Police that ended up being a form of racial profiling. Tensions between Caribbean immigrants and the local police were rising daily. It was during this time that Paul Simonon, bassist for The Clash, wrote his most famous song for the band called “Guns of Brixton”.
“Guns of Brixton” is a defiant song that asks residents:
“When they kick at your front door,
How’re you gonna come?
With your hands on your head
or on the trigger of your gun?“
The song name-drops a character from an influential movie from the Caribbean called The Harder They Come by Reggae pioneer Jimmy Cliff.
*We talked about him and the importance of this movie in Post #451, which you can re-read in the comments section below.
In the movie, Cliff plays a character called Ivanhoe Martin (based upon a real-life Jamaican criminal). The song talks about him, as follows:”
“The Money feels good and the life, you like it well
But surely your time will come
As in Heaven and in Hell.
You see, he feels like Ivan
Born under the Brixton sun
His game is called survivin’
At the end of The Harder They Come.”
That reference was a pointed show of support by The Clash for their friends in Brixton. The Clash always were drawn to the Reggae culture and had always hoped that Blacks and Whites would find common ground through music and would be a strong enough force to cause social change to come to the UK. Not long after The Harder They Come was released and made the rounds, “Guns of Brixton” was released by The Clash. Violence erupted in 1981 in an event called The Brixton Race Riots. Many people were injured and much property was damaged as history, of a sort, repeated itself in Brixton.
To this day, racial tensions remain high and, from time to time there are flare-ups across England. As for The Clash, “Guns of Brixton” turned out to one of their most popular songs ever and a huge concert favourite. Sometimes, you have to stand up for your beliefs and support of others, even if the act of doing so fails to stem the tide against them. At least your friends know who they can count on. For what it is worth, that still matters. Here are The Clash with “Guns of Brixton”. Enjoy.
The link to the official website for The Clash can be found here.
The link to the review of the song, “The Harder They Come” by Jimmy Cliff (as referenced above) can be found here.
Thanks to Rolling Stone Magazine for reporting on the very best music from across the Pond and around the world. The link to their wonderful website can be found here.
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