Social Commentary in Song
A song sometimes has a lyric with a discernible message. This message may be skilfully presented, but the music which accompanies it can be so flimsy that it doesn’t stand up to extensive listening. Alternately, a strong melody can annoy the more verbally inclined by being adorned with banal, lovey-dovey words. Then there are songs which include all the hip political slogans and are danceable but clumsy. This could be because they lack irony or are too self-righteous.
‘Plato’s Caveman’, an act from West Yorkshire, UK, use lyrical social commentary in the tradition of Richard Stilgoe or Neil Innes, but in a more hard-hitting vein. The musical theatre virtues of melodic strength and perfect diction are present. So are some great jazz/funk keyboards, acoustic guitar and cajon.
The technique common in the folk tradition of putting new words to existing melodies, in order to reflect current events, is extensively employed. ‘Hotel California’ is re-imagined as ‘Welcome to the European Union’; ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ becomes ‘You Can’t Always Get Them to Listen’; ‘Mr Blue Sky’ is newly rendered as ‘Miss The Blue Sky’. The writer treats pop songs like folk songs, refashioning them.
Plato’s Caveman’s 2016 CD ‘Coincidence Theory’ contains a few courageous songs.
‘Please Help Save Us’ is a clever white-boy rap – with no drum loop. The lyric points to the social paranoia which can be stirred up in the aftermath of a lunatic shooting spree. It then shows how governments can capitalize on this by creating detention camps, CCTV and travel restrictions. The cajon and funky piano accompaniment suffices as backing.
There is a brave discussion of the murder of Jo Cox, MP for the West Yorkshire constituency of Batley and Spen, in ‘The Ballad of Tommy and Jo’. ‘Ballad’ is used in the folk, rather than pop, sense because it tells a story, rather than being a slow song.
‘The Ballad of Jimmy S’ is even more fearless. The late Jimmy Savile, for those who don’t know, was a DJ, TV presenter and celebrity fundraiser from Leeds. A posthumous child sex abuse scandal utterly destroyed his harmless, grandfatherly image.
The song is in a broiling 12/8 time signature and is awash with dark minor 9th chords. The sudden loudness of the chorus suggests shock as Savile’s name is transformed into the words ‘so vile’. The lyric also speaks of how Savile ‘fixed it forever behind the scenes’, a reference to Savile’s biggest media vehicle. ‘Jim’ll Fix It’ was a massively popular television programme in the 70s and 80s where Savile enabled kids to meet their heroes or undertake daring feats.
The reworking of ‘Razzle Dazzle’ (from the musical ‘Chicago’) is another standout. ‘Razzle Dazzle 2001’ is a biting satire on the government and media’s possible deception of the public over the September 11th attacks.
The CD’s closing song deals with Plato’s cave analogy. We are all looking at shadows cast on a wall by real objects. We assume the shadows, i.e. our mistaken perceptions fed to us by those in power, are real but they are just shadows. More funky piano helps provide a fitting end to this strong album.