Radio WMAL

Last week while the Hyde-Bath seniors were beginning their senior evaluation process with the faculty, I got to do some teaching with the underclasspeople.  Given three hour-long sessions, I decided to go musical with my own theme-time radio hour: Radio WMAL.

At first, I figured I’d present a history of protest music, but then thought of all the great songs with powerful messages that don’t exactly fit the protest genre.  I decided to focus on message songs, some of the protest genre and others that simply offer pointed social commentary.  So, I created an iTunes playlist, transferred it to my iPod, and xeroxed several copies of the lyrics.  We listened and then discussed the following (in no particular order):

– “Bourgeois Blues” by Leadbelly (1938). Way ahead of its time.  I also love Ry Cooder’s version.
– “Strange Fruit” by Billie Holiday (1939).  The angriest song in the bunch.  The kids were startled, some floored, by the power of the song’s metaphor.
– “Subterranean Homesick Blues” by Bob Dylan (1965). I agonized over which Dylan song to pick… “Don’t follow leaders, watch the parking meters.”
– “KMAG YOYO” by Hays Carll (2011). We discussed how this song is in the Subterranean Homesick Blues tradition. Love Hays Carll!
– “Political Science” by Randy Newman (1974). Timeless: “Let’s drop the big one now.”
– “Burn On” by Randy Newman (1974). An environmental protest number with Newman saving the drop-dead punchline until the very end.
– “9-1-1 is a Joke” by Public Enemy (1990). Urban anger off Fear of a Black Planet. Funny, but no joke.
– “The Revolution Will Not be Televised” by Gil Scott-Heron (1970). Rap before there was rap.
– “Illegal Smile” by John Prine (1971). Our parents, not in on the joke, were thankful not to have Led Zeppelin blasting them out of the house.  Little did they know…
– “Piece of Crap” by Neil Young (1994). A biting grunge rock anthem to consumerism as only Neil Young can deliver.
– “Too Much Stuff” by Delbert McClinton w/John Prine & Lyle Lovett (1997). Same topic delivered with humor by three pros.
– “Blew ‘Em Away” by David Wilcox (1996). A hilarious ode to road rage.
– “East Asheville Hardware” by David Wilcox (1996). Wilcox transitions to serious in this protest against “big box” stores: “Always go to East Asheville Hardware, before you go to Lowe’s… I’m worried they might close.”
– “Number 29” by Steve Earle (1987). While there may be more obvious Steve Earle songs relative to the topic, this is probably my favorite by him.  I love the way he presents the protagonist, neither mocking him nor paying shmaltzy tribute.

When it was all over, I think the kids learned something.  I know I was reminded of how much fun teaching is.

Onward,  Malcolm Gauld