How Margaret Thatcher influenced pop culture

Whilst it’s one of those truisms of pop culture- the devil may have the best tunes and the Tories always have the worst (lynsey De Paul, Tony Hadley….) but for someone whose favourite song is apparently and, rather bizarrely, ‘How Much Is That Doggy In the Window’ Margaret Thatcher’s influence on music was pretty big.

Can there ever have been a British politician that inspired so many people! It seems bizarre that the right wing tyrant who believed that there no such thing as society Margaret Thatcher was, for many artists, a muse and an inspirational force in the mid eighties music scene.

It wasn’t all Smashey and Nicey and being good mates with Jimmy Savile in those post punk years. Many musicians were up in arms by the swing to the right, some even organized a movement to try and influence ’the kids’ into voting against her and whilst Red Wedge was, on paper, a great idea- in practice it sent more people scurrying away from the ballot box than even theLabour leadership’s disastrous fumbling attempts to combat the Tory Reich of the time.

Far more effective were the never ending series of songs from many of the punk and post punk generation who now really had something to sing about.

In the late seventies the 2-Tone movement combined ska and punk with a celebration of left wing ideology that culminated in The Beat’s ‘Stand Down Margaret’, a song that was apperently misunderstood by top Tory Ed Vaizey who could not believe that anyone would diss his idol (although that could well be a media myth as it turns out that Ed is also a big fan of the Redskins).

Whilst the eighties mainstream pop stars ponced around on yachts or in their new romantic finery in videos the underground seethed to the vehement anti Thatcher anger of Crass or the Angelic Upstarts, the poetry of Linten Kwesi Johnson, Half Man Half Biscuit’s sardonic wit, the ‘coal not dole’ miners benefits that we all played in the mid eighties, The Specials cover of Dylan’s ’Maggie’s Farm’ which twisted the song with a new updated meaning, Heaven 17′s ‘(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thing’ touched on the same sort of dissatisfaction and as if to show the international venom reserved for the dislikable leader was just as strong there was Welsh language band Daffyd Iwan a’r Band song ’Magi Thatcher.’

And the songs have kept coming with ’Thatcher F*cked the Kids’ from Frank Turner, and the Forlorn Hope’s rather mean ’Gonna Laugh When Margaret Thatcher Dies’.

There was also bigger names like Billy Bragg, the Redskins, Elvis Costello, the Housemartins bringing their lyrical pop politics to the charts. Meanwhile Richard Thompson was agitating along with a whole bunch of English folk singers adding to a huge list of songs that mention Margaret Thatcher from the last quarter of a century including Terry Edward’s ‘Margaret Thatcher, We Still Hate Her’, Robert Wyatt’s classic ’Shipbuilding’, the sardonic Hard Skin’s recent ’Still Fighting Thatcher’ and an endless list of names including the angriest band ever, Conflict, loveable indie duo Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine, poet and troubadour Attila the Stockbroker and of course Morrissey’s succinct ’Margaret On The Guillotine’

Finally how could we forget the Not Sensibles sneering and hilarious ‘I’m In Love With Margaret Thatcher’ a DIY punk classic of the early eighties that played dumb whilst making its sarcastic, singalong point.

Whilst many doubt the effectiveness of all this pop polemic- especially in the light of David Cameron’s much mooted love of the Smiths and the Jam’s ‘Eton Rifles’- a love that somehow made an astonishing oversight on the lyrical front proving how easy it is to avoid the social commentary if you want to.

Whilst Thatcher and her cronies danced around her handbag the eighties agit pop crews tapped into the very strong feeling of the UK streets and were celebrated as a rearguard reaction by the non Tory rump in those bleak times.

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8 comments on “How Margaret Thatcher influenced pop culture”

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  1. ONLY TO RIGHT BETTER SONGS THE END

  2. The 80s saw a creative wind of hatred that coloured an alternative music spectrum from Tracy Thorn to The Exploited! Perversely, she proved to be the most powerful unifying force of that time: “I may hate your favourite band, but at least they hate Thatcher!” etc.

  3. Quite right. It was my favourite era of music, then we got landed with the stadium rock, dry ice tossers like Simple Minds, Spandau Ballet etc. The only real thing that has restored my faith in music in God knows how long is Nirvana (oh and Ministry and NIN and few others). But you are right, she did inspire a generation of insurrection so maybe she wasn’t all that bad (Not) :-)

  4. Declan Cochran

    She didn’t just influence music, the film Brassed Off wouldn’t exist without her, and she gets mentioned in High Fidelity (the book) as the reason why Laura had to get a higher paying job than she would have liked. Not that I’m an anally retentive pedant or anything.

  5. Andrew Meredith

    What about ‘Prydain Thatcher’ by a Welsh band whse name I have forgotten?

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