Billy Bragg


I would consider myself someone who has lefty politics but a healthy disinterest in anyone who sings lefty songs.

That's not to say that I like right wingers and conservatives in music; far from it. But, having been raised in the 1980s, when music either mattered or twittered around in beeps and frivolity, I come with a bit of baggage about music and politics that does not serve an artist like Billy Bragg very well.

You see, I've trained myself to ignore Billy Bragg. And that's probably unfair to him, especially when he has a new album to sell.

Who do you blame for the disgust people have about politics in music? Do you blame Sting, who seems to have started the whole thing in 1980 with "Driven to Tears," which was a non-single from an album (Zenyatta Mondatta) that had only two decent songs on it? Or do you blame War-era U2, who simply decided to start doing political songs when no one wanted to hear their October album?

I tend to blame Sting; U2 came after, after all.

So, as the man says, blame it all on Sting. I'm deliberately oversimplifying, primarily out of unfairness, but it was the rise of politics in music during the early 1980s that ruined things for the likes of Billy Bragg. At no time would his folky approach have been confused with anything other than a Dylanesque attempt to carve out an audience amongst the politically active youth of Thatcher's England. Plenty tried, but Bragg went to the states and found lefty sympathizers and released albums on major labels, trying to carve out a place in that market. But Bragg never became Sting, and for that, he's probably a much happier fellow.

At the time, I suppose I tolerated that stuff more than I should have. But I never got into Bragg's kind of music, even after sampling it, because that sort of things was already being done by people who were better. Why would you pick Bragg over John Wesley Harding? And why would you put up with politics in music anyway?

The exception being, of course, Oasis.

You could stack everything Bragg has done up and his entire catalog still does not compare to just one line from the Oasis debut that encapsulated the entire political situation of Thatcher's Britain better than anything actually sung during those years. It arrived in 1994, at the height of John Major's Prime Ministership, and it is the single most brilliant assessment of politics, culture, and society delivered in a song:
Is it worth the aggravation / To find yourself a job when there's nothing worth working for?

Has Bragg ever written anything better? I sincerely doubt it.