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...
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"...
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...
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...
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
The culmination of two years of peace activism by John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono, Happy Xmas (War is Over) is a perennial Christmas singalong that started life with the very specific aim of reminding the world, at a time of peace and good will to all men, that war is a choice.
The opening track from the debut album by Atlanta's Kyle Troop & The Heretics is a slice of hardcore skate punk that compares the supporters at a presidential campaign rally to oversexed nightclub drunks salivating over a pole dancer. In a song inspired by the 2016 presidential primaries, the preaching star of Disco is handing out "sugar water" guaranteed to "leave you wanting more" and at the end of it all, Kyle tells me, "people get to take their candidate home like a cheap date"...
Self-proclaimed New Orleans "soldiers of funk" Dumpstaphunk broke the hiatus in their recording career last year to release this "hopeful, yet cautious" track, featuring guest star Trombone Shorty, with the lofty ambition that we might change society and "see the end of all that is wrong".
Billy Bragg's first solo release in four years is a six track mini album called Bridges Not Walls which concludes with this elegy for the way things used to be, viewed through the eyes of the disenfranchised.
Nordic Giants are not so much a band as a multimedia performance art experience. Like a post-rock Daft Punk, they hide their individuality so that the concept of Nordic Giants is untainted by the banalities of the real world, creating cinematic soundscapes which seem to tell stories of monsters and men in grand, impossible landscapes.
The irresistibly catchy Trial and Error proves that just because you hate injustice, it doesn't mean you have to stop moshing. Frank Turner crashes headlong into Sum 41 in a bubbly 2 minutes 50 seconds of pogo polemic by Colorado four-piece One Flew West.
Opening to the prolonged sound of cattle howling and the machinery of death grinding and whirring, Meat is Murder pulled no punches. This is a difficult song for me because I love The Smiths but I also eat meat, so this song is asking me to consider a grisly reality that, frankly, I would sooner ignore. From my point of view, musing the cultural significance of music, that's very interesting. From the point of view of the cattle, it's a different story.
It's hard to sum up a band with such an impressive canon as Bad Religion frontman Greg Graffin urges you to always be on the lookout for the true agenda concealed behind the establishment's strict rules because, as he wrote when he was just a teenager: "they hide behind their lies that they're helping everyone".
Speak My Mind is the protest song equivalent to one of those internet "unboxing" videos, except that instead of a first look at the new iPhone, it's an unexpurgated reaction to the news that your fellow citizens have elected a leader who not only fails to represent your values but is in fact a very real threat to your way of life and the people you care about.