Agit Disco 6 by Stewart Home

Agit Disco 6 by Stewart Home

Regardless of lyrical content, the very form of any worthwhile music is simultaneously a demand for social transformation. However for the Agit Disco project I’ve chosen songs with a progressive lyrical message as well as musical muscle. I did listen to a range of musical genres for possible inclusion here, but in the end rejected quite a number of songs I like because they seemed let down by the production and rather too inflexible in terms of the beat for the groove I was trying to get going here – to give just one example I spun “Fuck The Army” by Finnish punks Briard a few times before deciding it just didn’t fit with the other stuff here. I also thought about including material by people like Cornelius Cardew – but while I love his piano realisation of a piece like “Revolution is the Main Trend”, I wanted a version with lyrics but find the vocal performances available on CDs such as “We Only Want the Earth: the LM tapes 1973-78” disappointing. Bands like The Edgar Broughton Band and The Up I dismissed without even bothering to re-listen to anything they recorded, but I’m sure someone else will include them… There is a shed load of Agit Disco out there… Here’s my track listing:

1.   Miners Lockout – Harry Boardman

Boardman was very much a northern face of the folk revival, and while I usually prefer later folk figures like Davy Graham who innovate rather than research old songs and revive them like museum pieces (often even cleaning them up for middle class consumption), for whatever reason I’ve always liked this tune.

2.   Class War – The Dils

The follow up to The Dils’ first single “I Hate The Rich”. The Dils were one of the most obviously political of the late-seventies American west coast punk bands. Although I like their slower and even more melodic third single “Sound of the Rain” better than this, it seemed the appropriate choice here.  The production is far from perfect but the message comes across clearly enough.

3.   The International – Henry Flynt & Nova Billy

As we all know, the working class has no country…. And this remains a great tune. Henry Flynt was one of the most interesting figures of the New York avant-garde in the 1960s and ran the group Action Against Cultural Imperialism, as well as belonging to the Workers World Party. He stood in for John Cale at some Velvet Underground concerts, but his radical avant-garde hillbilly makes Andy Warhol’s house band look tame in comparison.

4.   The Ghetto – Donny Hathaway

It was difficult to choose between this original version and the S.O.U.L. cover on their debut album “What It Is”. But while S.O.U.L. add to the political dimensions of the song with their proto-rap, I particularly love Hathaway’s voice and Phil Upchurch’s guitar work, and in the end the message comes through in the music anyway….

5.   Freedom Train – James Carr

As Johnny Spencer observed on his notes to Agit Disco 2: “The struggles for civil rights by blacks in the USA during the early part of the 20th century was one of the most critical conflicts in the developed west; and up until the late 1960s, much of the music of Afro Americans reflected this. Located within that music was the message of resistance and hope, it spoke, not always directly, of a rejection of the status quo, a refusal to accept, and often of a complete disregard for convention, but also gave out a message of love, and the anticipation of another way of life, a life without burden, a life with justice.” And this is by one of the very best soul singers of the 1960s, despite its familiarity this still carries a huge charge.

6.   54-46 Was My Number – Toots & The Maytals

Prison songs and struggles constitute a song genre on their own, so I wanted an example of that here. Another glaringly obvious choice that still sounds great despite being so familiar. The first band I gigged with used to murder this back in the late-seventies….

7.   Don’t Be A Drop Out – James Brown

A killer groove but possibly no longer one of Brown’s most favoured workouts due to the lyrical content, but stripped of their conservativism I still think the words make good sense,: and besides in its original context this was clearly progressive.

8.   E Pluribus Unum – The Last Poets

These proto-rappers never fail to keep feet tapping with minimal musical input and dig the deeply cerebral and poetic content of their rhymes.

9.   Skin I’m In – Chairman of the Board

Now here’s a great band that didn’t tackle political subjects like racism too often, but they carry it off fabulously. Chairman of the Board were Holland Dozier Holland’s answer to an updated Temptations after they split Motown for writing and producing on their own Invictus label… and of course General Johnson’s fabulous voice can also be heard on recordings by The Showmen which have become perennials on the northern soul scene.

10. Vietnam – Jimmy Cliff

The first superstar of reggae needs no introduction. Given the current ‘war on terror’ a lot of old anti-Vietnam songs sound as relevant now as when they were released….

11. Complication – The Monks

More anti-Vietnam and bomb sentiments from back in the day came from a bunch of US conscripts who formed a band when they were stationed in Germany, and kept it going after they were demobbed. I was pleased to see “Monk Time” on the first Agit Disco, but while not quite as lyrically explicit as that, “Complication” is my favourite Monks tune….

12. Stop The War – Edwin Starr

Another killer tune from the man who brought you “Agent Double-O Soul”. Yes this was only a very slightly less obvious choice than opting for his even better known “War”.

13. Black Power – James Coit

Now this is what I call up-tempo!  I guess it was the beat much more than the message than made it so popular on the northern soul scene.

14. Mighty Mighty Spade and Whitey – The Impressions

There were a lot of tunes I could have chosen by Curtis Mayfield, and this performance with The Impressions might just be the most obvious of them, what a wonderful musician than man was….

15. Fight The Power Parts 1 & 2 – Isley Brothers

Another party favourite from a band who went on for ever, and were really cookin’ for the whole of that time. And yes I chose this rather than other tunes I love by the group like “Vacuum Cleaner” (‘my love is like a vacuum, it keeps pullin’ in’) coz I’m tryin’ to stay on ‘message’….

16. Tribal Jam – X-Clan

This sounds so 1990 but it is just perfect…the black struggle still goin’ strong…. I thought I’d include more rap here, but after I’d reviewed quite a few old school classics this was the one that snuck thru to the play list.

17. Message From A Black Man – The Temptations

I like The Temptations best in their funk and psychedelic phases. This comes from the “Puzzle People” album and I wore my vinyl copy of that out before it was reissued on CD.

18. Burn, Baby, Burn – Mel Williams

This tune is included to represent a trend of deniable political lyrics in soul and disco records. When Martha and the Vandellas had a hit with “Dancing In The Street”, Motown Records issued denials it was about the Detroit riots because that’s what many people understood it to be addressing. This is more blatant about its relations to political struggles, using as it does a famous political slogan of the sixties for its title. Of course Aretha Franklin’s scorching version of “Respect” became a civil rights anthem although it is ostensibly a relationship song. Incidentally the slogan “burn, baby, burn” turns up in other soul and disco tunes, probably most famously “Disco Inferno” by The Trammps. I want both The Trammps and Mel Williams played at my funeral as the coffin goes into the flames.

19. Historie Connective – Metal Urbain

Stuck on the end and not really fitting with the vamp we’ve just concluded is “Historie Connective”, a tune I’ve loved since I first heard it back at the end of the seventies. While sounding nothing like rap, the drum machine and other sonic noises some how place this in sync with that… and by moving from the English language to another at the end of this play list is just my way of indicating how deep the well of Agit Disco is….

1.   Miners Lockout – Harry Boardman

2.   Class War – The Dils

3.   The International – Henry Flynt & Nova Billy

4.   The Ghetto – Donny Hathaway

5.   Freedom Train – James Carr

6.   54-46 Was My Number – Toots & The Maytals

7.   Don’t Be A Drop Out – James Brown

8.   E Pluribus Unum – The Last Poets

9.   Skin I’m In – Chairman of the Board

10. Vietnam – Jimmy Cliff

11. Complication – The Monks

12. Stop The War – Edwin Starr

13. Black Power – James Coit

14. Mighty Mighty Spade and Whitey – The Impressions

15. Fight The Power Parts 1 & 2 – Isley Brothers

16. Tribal Jam – X-Clan

17. Message From A Black Man – The Temptations

18. Burn, Baby, Burn – Mel Williams

19. Historie Connective – Metal Urbain

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17. October 2008, 16:47 details & comments (2) Posted in: Stewart Home Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , The permalink address (URI) of this photo is: http://www.stefan-szczelkun.org.uk/agitdisco/?p=67

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  1. Fashionable and exciting but, despite the presence of the godlike ‘Class War’ by The Dils, lacks the presence of anyone with real a pair of blue shorts with pink stripes e.g. Bog People, Grazdanskaja Oborona, The Cosmopolitans, Ton Steine Scherben, Poison Girls, G.F. Fitz-Gerald, Bing Selfish, Gordon Solie Motherfuckers etc.

    Lateral HyetographyJanuary 30th, 2009 at 12:11
  2. I like the idea ‘blue shorts with pink stripes’ and that list you give looks fingerlickin.
    Have you checked out AD14 ?

    stefanJanuary 30th, 2009 at 17:22

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