Now Thatcher I Call Music Vol.2 (originally published on GuySpy, Apr 16 2013)

As the eighties wore on, pop got a bit more sophisticated and shiny. Mrs Thatcher did too.  At the same time unions crumbled, AIDS loomed, things that were publicly owned were privatised (see “Shopping” by Pet Shop Boys for an arch take on this) and an awful lot of people bought their council house. And money flowed, for some. But the pop fight continued, albeit dressed to reflect the times. Consider the blue-eyed soul of the Blow Monkey’s 1987 album “She Was Only a Grocer’s Daughter” – the title a direct hit in itself, but the contents (most notably “(Celebrate) The Day After You”) delivering a polished anti-Thatcher message designed to slip comfortably into the CD players of Dire Straits lovers everywhere.

1987 saw Wet Wet Wet bring back a little of Wham’s rough and ready approach with their debut hit “Wishing I Was Lucky” – another cry from disaffected youth dressed up in a killer tune. Harmless enough, but if you were a teacher and a pupil wrote “I lie kicking in the gutter and wishing I was lucky, it’s the only life I know” as a poem, you’d be phoning social services wouldn’t you? It’s an astonishingly effective précis of just how many people felt excluded from Thatcher’s capitalist boom. Of course, Wet Wet Wet are actually a terrific example of Thatcherism in action as they pulled themselves up from nothing and made shedloads of money before – and pay attention here pop aspirants – imploding in a blizzard of cocaine and mediocrity.

There are dozens of much more angry, much more direct examples – Billy Bragg, Heaven 17, Elvis Costello, and everything by Chumbawamba. But in terms of the charts, it seems that the resistance had rather run out of steam. The Communards fought the good fight longer than most, issuing a pair of singles in 1988. The first, “For a Friend,” was and is a genuinely heartbreaking expression of personal loss, and also fury at the government’s slow response to the onslaught of AIDS (“Another man has lost a friend, I bet he feels the way I do….tears have turned from anger to contempt.”) Given the subject matter it’s a miracle it made it all the way to no.28.  The second, “There’s More To Love,” was a pointed, almost nursery rhyme-like reminder that (to paraphrase the lady herself) children do have an inalienable right to be gay. It was a direct response to Section 28 (which had just passed into law) prohibiting the “promotion” of homosexuality in schools as a normal way of life. The government’s earlier message of “Don’t Die of Ignorance” now felt like it came with an implicit “but do die” tacked on at the end especially for us. “There’s More to Love” made it to no.20, but it was pretty much the last hurrah for political pop in terms of chart performance.

The Iron Lady wasn’t, however, done with influencing the charts. By 1987 (and for the remainder of the decade,) much of the top 40 starts to look like it’s been privatised. Apart from occasional stealth raids by The Communards and Morrissey, it’s all songs about having a good time and getting (or not getting) what you want, with the occasional charity record thrown in to make us feel like we we’re giving something back. I won’t hear a word said against Stock Aitken and Waterman tunes, but it’s hard to argue that their all-conquering “Sound of a Bright Young Britain” wasn’t the sound of a brainless young Britain enjoying the short term pleasures that Mrs Thatcher brought. They took the her vision of a classless society and applied it to pop, turning checkout girls into stars and ultimately succeeding where she failed. Mel and Kim probably summed it up best, chanting “Fun! Love! Money!” on 1987′s hit “F.L.M.” What else was there?

Well, as history has shown us, lots. Time was running out for Mrs T, and in her place we’ve had a succession of leaders who have never quite got the hang of annoying the youth of today to the level where they make themselves into pop stars in order to make a point. It’s that sense of being voiceless, of being wronged, of wanting to get off the dole that gave rise to some of the best and most affecting music of the decade. Famously, Bananarama made their first Top of the Pops appearance while still signing on – I doubt you’d catch The Saturdays attempting the same trick. Perhaps we need a bit less “Viva la Vida” and a bit more “Viva Hate” (god bless Morrissey). Anyway – in a roundabout sort of a way – we have something to thank Margaret Thatcher for after all. Well I never.


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