So I decided to gather an iPod playlist of “angry” songs. (Never you mind why –let’s just say strong emotions can make for great songs, and leave it at that.) But as I’ve noted before, I have a pretty substantial list of songs to sort, and there’s no easy way to pick out which ones qualify as “angry”.
Of course, some are obvious — the “you done me wrong” songs. The classic Alanis “You Oughta Know” (I’m here to remind you of the mess you left when you went away), Marianne Faithfull’s incindiary “Why D’Ya Do It?” (Why d’ya do it she screamed, why d’ya do what you did. You drove my ego to a really bad skid.), Bob Geldof’s “One for You”, a parting shot at his ex-wife (You don’t even need to take your clothes off anymore. You’re a bit too old for that stuff, anyway.), and John Lennon’s outraged “Gimme Some Truth” (I’m sick and tired of hearing things from uptight, short-sighted, narrow-minded hypocrites. All I want is some truth).
But really, that could be a kind of short and possibly somewhat depressing playlist. Could at least expand it to that interesting category of songs about people whose behavior is frustrating, though they haven’t actually done anything to you. Billy Joel, of all people, is kind of a master at these — raging at the apathetic slacker in “Captain Jack” (You’re 21 and still your mother makes your bed. And that’s too long!), the show-off in “Big Shot” (When you wake up in the morning with your head on fire and your eyes too bloody to see, go on and cry in your coffee but don’t come bitching to me”). Lennon’s “Working Class Hero” (also covered brilliantly by Marianne Faithfull) is another fascinating example, as the anger really seems more directed at the working class for not realizing they are oppressed, and not that at those oppressing. “Keep you doped with religion and sex and TV. And you think you’re so clever and classless and free. But you’re still f-ing peasants, as far as I can see.”
Which brings us to songs featuring productive anger, the “we can change the world” kind of anger, of which Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” would be the lead example, if only I owned that song. But I do have Queen’s “Fight from Inside”, Springsteen’s “Born in the USA”, Lowest of the Low’s “Eating the Rich” (It’s an evolutionary chow-down), U2’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday” — and maybe The Clash’s “London Calling” qualifies here? (And I’m not sure how to sub-categorize Tori Amos’ Waitress: “I want to kill this waitress. She’s worked here for years. It would be a kindness.”)
Course you have to be careful about songs that sound angry, but aren’t really. Everything Billy Idol does sounds kind of angry, but I think he’s mostly going for horny. Except in “White Wedding” — “White Wedding” really is angry. And all punk and grunge sounds kind of angry, but “Blister is the Sun” and “I Wanna Be Sedated”, for example, are really just about teenage restlessness, not angry. “Lust for Life” is a happy song, no matter Iggy sounding a bit pissed off. And “Smells Like Teen Spirit”? I’m not convinced that “angry” is what it’s expressing. (He feels stupid and contagious. Here we are now. Entertain us.)
On the other hand, true anger can hide inside music that sounds kind of sweet and poppy. For example, Elvis Costello’s “I Want You” and Liz Phair’s “The Divorce Song” sound sort of sad and sweet, but there’s angry tension throughout. And ever really listen to the lyrics of Barenaked Ladies’ “Alcohol”, “One Week”, or “The Apartment”? Sure it all sounds poppy and bouncy and fun, but the singer is pissed off. He likes alcohol more than you. It will still be three days til he says he’s sorry. Why did you change the locks?
For some artists, tracing the anger pattern in their music is a biographical lesson. Beatles music has very little anger in it; just a bit peeps out in a few John Lennon tracks like “Run for Your Life”, “I’m So Tired”, and “Come Together” (though that last one, again, is probably more horny). But post-Beatles John Lennon? Holy, easier to par out the few songs that aren’t angry. Until the last album, which — other than “I’m Losing You” — shows he’s found some peace.
Bob Geldof’s first album with the Boomtown Rats is highly pissed off, then becomes less so with subsequent albums, as the band’s success grows. His first three post-Rats, post-Live Aid albums reveal a man fairly satisfied, even happy. The last? A man whose wife has left him for another man. A man enraged. A man who has just put out the best album of his career (Sex, Age and Death).
I know the only feeling you have is rage
And I know that I’d feel the same as you, but
I think you’d better take a good look around you ’cause
You’re so pissed you can’t even find your drink
Sometimes it’s wise
To know which way the gun is pointing
Before you yell, “I see the whites of their eyes.”
Sometimes you’ll find your senses all disjointed by
The lines and wires of salesmen, cheats and liars
— Salesmen, Cheats and Liars by Lowest of the Low