Let's Get This Clear: What We're Not
First things first, let's be clear that this is a Spotify playlist, not a activist cell. No one from Musicto is advocating violence against authority, encouraging direct action against any organisation or individual or expressing partisanship with any political ideology. Furthermore, Musicto is not aligned to any religious group or belief system. The kind of evil we're talking about can't be identified by a long tail and horns.
Secondly, this playlist is not about telling you what to think. With one exception: you are strongly recommended to think for yourself. In an age of fake news and alternative facts, we sometimes have to work hard to find corroboration for information we receive. It's tempting to believe something when it comes from a source we've learned to trust in the past - whether that's the media, a website, a friend, a family member or, for that matter, a rock band - but those people can all make mistakes or be deceived or fail to review all the available information in their haste to reach a judgement.
So, this is not a freedom action group and it's not a font of truth. Got it?
Then what is Music to Fight Evil?
The Other Kind of Passion
It's a playlist of great music. Obviously.
And equally obviously, the songs on the list don't have lyrics about boys meeting girls under a silvery moon.
Musicians devote a lot of their energy to making you want to dance. Music is primal and animal and well, we all know what sort of shenanigans that leads to. Has someone ever calculated the percentage of chart hits with lyrics about love and relationships? Maybe you can look it up and tell me. I'm willing to bet it's a pretty big fraction of the whole. If no one has done it, then you could get started now, although I can't for the life of me think of a good reason why, aside from the sheer quest for evidence-based knowledge (see above).
Love songs have their place and they might well overlap with Music to Fight Evil from time to time. But mostly this list contains songs with a message that extends beyond a relationship between two consenting adults. Because some musicians seek inspiration not from their love life or from the fluff in their navel. Sometimes musicians look at our society and feel so strongly about an issue that they put those feelings to music. Very often that music is as passionate and earnest as any love song to a soul mate. Sometimes music to fight evil comes from the heart just as much as from the mind. Listen to these songs and tell me the potency of the singer's feelings is any less strong than 'Hello' by Lionel Richie.
A List of Woes
So what are we looking for on the list? We want to hear more music from musicians who are reacting to discrimination and injustice of any sort, or harm and exploitation of individuals and groups. That sounds pretty dull, doesn't it? Important and worthwhile, but probably involving a lot of paperwork and meetings, resulting in small but significant changes over an extended length of time. And yet when it's filtered through the voice of an artist, it becomes a war cry: a vital, thrilling and unstoppable force for change.
In no particular order, Music to Fight Evil might include tunes inspired by the struggle against police brutality, military imperialism, genocide, slavery, child abuse, racism, homophobia, religious bigotry, sexual discrimination, cruelty to animals, any sort of violence and the peddling of poisonous lies and rumours. You're welcome to submit additions to the list but it's depressing enough already.
There are so many small evils in the world - every time someone hurts another person or deprives a group of people because of their age, size, physical and mental ability, colour, sexual preference, gender identity or whatever else, it adds a little more to the growing mass of evil.
These things must be discussed, or we run the risk that evil people will conclude everyone else agrees with their callous and vile opinion. And with that conclusion comes the confidence to continue perpetuating their beliefs.
But there is good news: it can be stopped.
How to Fight Evil Every Day
In your life you make a hundreds small decisions every day.
With each one of those decisions, there may be an opportunity to add a little more good into the world. That doesn't mean you have to donate to charity or volunteer at a soup kitchen or hand out political leaflets in the street. But when you have to choose between a small personal inconvenience and a small gain, try asking yourself if maybe you can stand the inconvenience on this occasion. If it's the kind of thing that you'll have forgotten tomorrow, but which could bring even a scintilla of improvement to someone else's life, maybe you can opt for the slightly harder option. Not because you're going to be thanked for it. Just to put a little more generosity of spirit into the world.
So here are some ideas for how to shift the balance of good and evil in the world through tiny changes. Share. Empathise. Listen. Learn. Tolerate. Don't make other people's lives less tolerable in pursuit of your own comfort. Spend your money in a way that supports fairness instead of greed; when you encounter others at work or school, treat them with respect and consideration instead of thoughtlessness or selfishness. When someone articulates an opinion with which you disagree, question it, and if the response is valid, be prepared to change your mind. You won't be showing weakness by admitting you were wrong - you'll be proving your strength of character.
Listen for inspiration: 'Get Better' by Dan le Sac and Scroobius Pip, 'War' by Edwin Starr, 'Born in the USA' by Bruce Springsteen, 'Working Class Hero' by John Lennon
Know Your Rights
Allowing yourself or others to be exploited, in relationships or in the workplace, means you're contributing to a problem. It doesn't make it your fault, but by speaking out against injustice, we have a chance to make a change. Understanding more about, for example, reasonable working conditions, helps you to know where to draw a line in your own workplace and stand up for yourself or others. People are entitled to a safe working environment and fair pay. Anything less is not contributing to the amount of good in the world, right?
Likewise, if you are in a relationship with someone who hurts you, you may have rationalised it into some twisted version of normality or excused it with words like "better the devil you know". But it's never okay for someone to treat you like a doormat. If you can assert yourself without putting yourself at risk, you can change your own life. And when you make yourself happier and more prosperous - so long as you're not hurting anyone - you're adding to the amount of good in the world.
But don't take my word for it. What the heck do I know about your life? Decide for yourself. And while you do it, maybe listen to some music by people who know a bit more about what it feels like to be in your shoes. It just might help.
Listen for inspiration: 'Roxanne' by The Police, 'Luka' by Suzanne Vega, 'Hits and Misses' by Stiff Little Fingers, 'Levi Stubb's Tears' by Billy Bragg
"I'm Not Political"
A lot of people say that they're not interested in politics. Presumably they think of politics as something conducted in high towers by stuffy old men in suits. And there's an element of truth in that. But politics also enters into all human interactions. The way we talk to each other, the financial transactions between us, the way we dress and the expectations we have of ourselves and others. All of those things are perceived according to status. If you've ever watched someone being bullied, you've seen a form of politics in action - the petty politics of one individual exerting his or her power over another for personal gain. If you've ever walked by someone lying in the street, then politics is at work. The relationship between you and a homeless person is political, whether you like it or not.
If you're not political, you probably don't trust politicians, so you won't be expecting other people to make your problems go away. So, do you give up? Is there really no hope? Will everything just get worse and worse, descending into inevitable chaos? Your basic Mad Max scenario? I don't believe that. You know what? Most people, despite what you might think from reading the comments sections of newspaper articles, are pretty decent when you meet them face to face and treat them right. They're just afraid to change, because change is risky. Especially if you have trouble making ends meet. If you have nothing, you'll take risks, because you have nothing to lose. But when you have a little, it's scary to think you might end up losing it. Even though you're up to your waist in manure, you might not dare to change things - you could find yourself up to your neck.
If the time for revolution were to come, would you recognise it? Or would you be too busy protecting your family and your property to realise that something bigger was at stake?
Listen for inspiration: 'Know Your Rights' by The Clash, 'Get Up Stand Up' by The Wailers, 'I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free' by Nina Simone
No Such Thing As Good and Evil
Am I a hypocrite? Sure. If hypocrisy means I sometimes miss an opportunity to make the world a better and more tolerant place. And here I am lecturing you when I promised not to tell you what to think. But a bit of hypocrisy doesn't devalue everything I believe in. And that's the final word on good and evil: it's a glib and nonsensical notion. Life's not that simple. It's almost never black and white. Few of the people who do evil things believe themselves to be wicked. They usually feel their actions are justifiable. In many cases they believe themselves to be heroic. In some cases they are too damaged by violence and fear to be capable of rational judgement. And those people are some of the most frightening of all, because we have good reason to believe that no amount of kindness can save them.
Have you noticed how people who define what's good and bad, right and wrong seem to get all worked up about the people they say are wrong - so much so that they start doing a lot of wrong things in the name of what's right? Yeah? Then let's not be that guy, okay?
The songs on this list might not change your life, but allow yourself the pleasure of considering the meaning and decide for yourself if you agree. Sometimes the strength of feeling in a protest song is clearly very angry and only you can decide if that anger is a valid or an unhelpful response. Anger is an engine for change, but change in itself isn't necessarily good and maybe angry people aren't the best people to lead us.
But it's questions like this that make the music of protest so fascinating and exciting. Love songs are great. All You Need is Love, as a very wise quartet of young Englishmen once said, and who are we to argue? But guess what, that happens to be one of the biggest political hit records of all time.
About the curator: Jon Ewing
After graduating from the University of Keele in England with a degree in Politics and American Studies, Jon worked as editor of a music and entertainment magazine before spending several years as a freelance writer and, with the advent of the internet, a website designer, developer and consultant. He lives in Reading, home to one of the world's most famous and long-running music festivals, which he has attended every year since 1992.