Tuesday, October 16, 2012

In The Ghetto

Protest Songs/ Message Music: Part 4
Well, I was originally intending to end this little series on Part 3, but decided to add one last post with a few more political songs, as well as ones with a social message. Oh, and in case you were wondering why the most famous protest song has been left out of this series, Barry McGuire's "Eve of Destruction" was previously featured here during Folk Rock Week.

Written by Mac Davis and recorded by Elvis Presley, "In the Ghetto" is a narrative on generational poverty: a boy child born to a mother with already too many mouths to feed in the ghetto of Chicago; the boy grows hungry, steals and fights, buys a gun, steals a car, runs, but is shot and killed just as his own son is born, thus continuing the cycle. Originally titled "The Vicious Circle," the structure of this gospel- style tune emphasizes this inescapable circle with its simple, stark phrasing and the repetition of "in the ghetto" at the end of every fourth line. Released in April 1969, this song was Presley's first Top-10 hit in the US in four years, peaking at #3, and his first UK Top-10 hit in three years. Known for taking his music seriously, here's a passionate live performance by the King in '69.
One of The Rolling Stones' most politically inclined works to date would be "Street Fighting Man" from their 1968 album Beggars Banquet. Originally titled and recorded as "Did Everyone Pay Their Dues?," Mick Jagger (with Keith Richards) allegedly wrote this about Tariq Ali after Jagger attended a March 1968 anti-war rally at London's U.S. embassy, during which mounted police attempted to control a crowd of 25,000. Released as a single in the US in August 1968, this rock tune only managed #48 on the charts, despite its popularity, because many radio stations refused to play the song based on what were perceived as subversive lyrics. Since, it has been covered by many other artists and it ranked #301 of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Here's live footage of "Street Fighting Man," taken from the Stones' last tour of the 1960s. 

In March 1968, The Doors released a very dramatic single, "The Unknown Soldier," written jointly by the band members. This psychedelic rock song was Jim Morrison's reaction to the Vietnam War and the way the conflict was portrayed in American media at the time, with lyrics describing how the news was being presented in the living rooms of ordinary people. In the beginning of the song, a mysterious organ sound depicts the mystery of the "unknown soldier," and by the middle, the song turns into a military cadence complete with a military drum beat and the sound of Sergeant counting off, followed by a drum roll and rifle shot. As you'll see in this footage, the group gets pretty theatrical with this performance, with Robby Krieger aiming his guitar at Morrison like a rifle and Morrison falling to the floor after the drummer plays a rimshot. Peaking at #39 on the Billboard charts, here's the dynamic "Unknown Soldier" live by The Doors.
Our final "message song" of the day comes from Motown with "Love Child" by Diana Ross & The Supremes, the group's eleventh #1 single in the US. Written by The Clan (Motown's staff songwriters), this pop/psychedelic soul tune is notable for its then-controversial subject matter of illegitimacy, with lyrics about a woman who grew up as a "love child" asking her boyfriend not to pressure her, in fear of creating a love child themselves. Released in September 1968, this single knocked off and kept The Beatles' massive "Hey Jude" off the top spot in the US, the last of five replacements at #1 between The Beatles and The Supremes (the two most popular music acts in America during the 1960s). Going on to outsell all of the The Supreme's previous or subsequent singles, here's the debut of "Love Child on the season premiere of The Ed Sullivan Show, September 29th, 1968. (Ed Sullivan performance removed from YouTube).