Smalltown Boy - Bronski Beat

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Smalltown Boy - Bronski Beat

Rejected by your family and community, your life becomes so unbearable that you would rather give up everything and run than spend another day amongst people who despise you for being who you are. That's the story behind Smalltown Boy, a UK No.3 hit single in 1984, with an accompanying video that spelled out unflinchingly the emotional agony and physical danger of being one of society's outcasts in an age of intolerance.

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Freedom - Rival

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Freedom - Rival

Generations before us have laid down their lives to protect it and now we're giving it away in return for "likes". Freedom is an essential ingredient of justice and democracy, but those of us lucky enough to live in a free country risk squandering it in return for free access to social media. In their gently funky blues song Freedom, Montreal rock band Rival remind us to be alert to the danger: "How could we ever have a right to complain / when we're the ones that said it's okay / to take our freedom away?"

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Pride (In the Name of Love) by U2

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Pride (In the Name of Love) by U2

If a shot did ring out in the Memphis sky early on the morning of April 4th 1968, it wasn't because Martin Luther King Jr was being shot dead – that didn't happen until past 6pm. There are those who would forgive Bono for his slapdash recollection of one of the saddest days in the history of civil rights (he was, after all, only seven years old at the time)...

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Running the World - Jarvis Cocker

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Running the World - Jarvis Cocker

In the summer of 2006, little had been heard from Jarvis Cocker in a while. After more than 20 years as Pulp frontman, he was dropped by Island Records following the release of Pulp's final album We Love Life in 2001. He had dabbled, almost anonymously, as half of a very low-key indie duo going under the name Relaxed Muscle, but the project had petered out after releasing an album in 2003. So when Running the World came along it ought to have been a big event in the music calendar...

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Walls Come Tumbling Down - The Style Council

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Walls Come Tumbling Down - The Style Council

Former Jam frontman and "Modfather" Paul Weller was determined that The Style Council's 1985 UK Top Ten hit Walls Come Tumbling Down should be a "balls-out soul tune" from the Motown mould and so you could be forgiven for failing to notice at first that this hip-swaying Eighties pop hit is a red-blooded, revolutionary protest song with the very positive and provocative refrain of "Governments crack and systems fall / 'Cause unity is powerful / Lights go out, walls come tumbling down"...

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Mother - Idles

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Mother - Idles

Listening to this furious, caustic, industrial NSFW anthem is like witnessing the nervous breakdown of the British underclass crushed under the boot of an uncaring state. But amongst the confused ramblings that take in escalating working hours, sexual violence, social inequality and media sedation, there's an embittered clarity - a message for a jaded generation sick of the machinations of politicians in their ivory towers...

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Don't Let It Go - Jon Worthy

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Don't Let It Go - Jon Worthy

Emerging from the shadow of the Grand Ole Opry, there's a new, more eclectic sound coming from Nashville today and with it a youthful new broom sweeping away the centuries of conservative Tennessee values. Opening with a sample of Gil Scott Herons's The Revolution Will Not Be Televised and with a chorus that reminds the disenfranchised that they are not alone, Jon Worthy's Don't Let It Go is a product of a fresh and inclusive new Nashville...

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I Am Her - Shea Diamond

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I Am Her - Shea Diamond

I Am Her is a simmering Southern blues rock torch song that shoulders the enormous weight of being a woman in a world that treats women as second class citizens, shamed for their sexuality as the keepers of original sin. But there's a difference that gives the song a jagged edge, because Shea Diamond is a black trans woman with a chequered past that would have Simon Cowell salivating down the front of his trademark half-unbuttoned shirt.

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Holiday Destination - Nadine Shah

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Holiday Destination - Nadine Shah

Staking a claim on PJ Harvey's crown as Britain's leading female art rock singer-songwriter, Nadine Shah's third album has been described by The Guardian as "darkly classy post-punk" and by No Ripcord as "captivatingly bleak" and in this title track she confronts the people and politicians who treat a modern day humanitarian tragedy as a tiresome inconvenience.

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War - Edwin Starr

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War - Edwin Starr

Is there a better vocal flourish in all of popular music than when Edwin Starr cries out "Hunh! Good Gawd, y'all!" in the timeless anti-Vietnam protest song War? It's the inflection of a maestro of the human voice. And with those few syllables, Starr injects a very believable sense of personal exasperation into a song that calls for the warmongers of the world to see sense.

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American Skin (41 Shots) - Bruce Springsteen

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American Skin (41 Shots) - Bruce Springsteen

February 4th 2018 is the 19th anniversary of the death of an unarmed African immigrant in New York called Amadou Diallo. The 23-year-old had the misfortune to match the description of a wanted criminal and was shot dead by police in the street outside his Bronx apartment building in a tragic case of mistaken identity. A subsequent enquiry revealed that the police officers had collectively fired 41 live rounds, 19 of which hit their target. This astonishing fact is immortalised by American storyteller Bruce Springsteen's most controversial song, American Skin (41 Shots).

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I Am Woman - Helen Reddy

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I Am Woman - Helen Reddy

I Am Woman is not exactly a radical feminist protest song, but it did help to crystallise the self-belief of groups of American women in the 1970s to throw off the shackles of centuries of conditioning and assert their own political, economic and sexual potency. Whilst today the song sounds a little kitsch, in 1972 it became a huge No.1 US hit single that represented an irreversible new wave of feminist thinking in the developed nations of the world.

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Jesus in Vegas - Chumbawamba

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Jesus in Vegas - Chumbawamba

Self-proclaimed "anarcho-pop funsters" Chumbawamba were unique in becoming the first anarchist collective indie band to sign to a major label and have a massive worldwide one hit wonder, after which they gave most of the money they earned to social welfare projects and striking dockers. And then they followed up their huge US success with the distinctly anti-American Jesus in Vegas.

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Stop Whispering - Radiohead

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Stop Whispering - Radiohead

Radiohead had a pretty good 2017 by any standards. They headlined Glastonbury and Coachella as part of a tour of the world (which begins again in South America this year) and they re-released their hugely successful album OK Computer to mark its 20th anniversary. But this song goes back even further, to their very first record, Pablo Honey.

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