Pity the conservative rock fan.
So many musicians are ganging up on the president. Bruce Springsteen is on tour playing protest songs. The Dixie Chicks just put out a new album with a song - "Not Ready to Make Nice" - that finds them standing firm against President Bush. And Mick Jagger released a song last year that called the president a hypocrite.
But to prove that there is still some music out there for conservative rockers, National Review has published a list of the 50 greatest conservative rock songs. The magazine's John J. Miller, who compiled the list, explains the criteria: "The lyrics must convey a conservative idea or sentiment, such as skepticism of government or support for traditional values. And, to be sure, it must be a great rock song."
At the top of the list is the Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again," which Miller calls a theme song for "disillusioned revolutionaries" who have forsaken their naive idealism. Also in the top 10 are "Wouldn't It Be Nice" by the Beach Boys (for its pro-abstinence and pro-marriage message), "Gloria" by U2 and "Revolution" by the Beatles.
Rounding out the top 50 are songs by Bob Dylan ("Neighborhood Bully"), David Bowie ("Heroes") and John Mellencamp ("Small Town").
Not surprisingly, liberal rock fans weren't going to concede these tunes without a fight. After the list was posted online late last month, liberal blogs quickly lit up with outrage and offered song-by-song deconstructions of National Review's choices.
"Conservatives are jealous that they can't rock out with a clean conscience to a lot of the music they grew up listening to, so some hack at Natl Review has to make it all okay for them," wrote one blogger. "Why can't they be in on being cool? That seems to be the subtextual whine."
Offered the Rude Pundit: "The entire list is sad and embarassing, like watching Grandpa do the Macarena now, thinking that he's still hip, that he's been hip for the last 30 years. Because to come up with 50 songs, the readers and editors of the National Review had to neglect, almost entirely, the politics and lifestyles of nearly every single one of the music acts on the list."
At least one of the musicians (Mellencamp) was an organizer and star of the 2004 Vote for Change tour that raised money to defeat Bush. U2 has not made a secret of its left-leaning politics. And Paul McCartney (his Beatles have two songs on the list) has spoken out against the war in Iraq.
But, in an interview, Miller, who is the National Review's national political reporter, said he separated the artist from the song when making the list.
"The claim is not about the artist or their intention. The claim is about their song," Miller said. "I'm looking at the lyrics, just looking at the words on the page, and saying this is what they mean. I don't care if Mick Jagger last year released an anti-Bush song. When I'm looking at a song like 'Sympathy for the Devil,' I'm looking at a song about moral relativism and why it's bad."
Indeed, that's why Miller's list of 50 additional great conservative rock songs, posted online last week, included "Let's Roll" by Neil Young, an artist who has a new song out called "Let's Impeach the President."
Miller also rejects the argument that conservative rock fans desperately want to be cool and are just looking for justification to keep listening to artists like U2 and the Clash (whose "Rock the Casbah" checks in at No. 20).
"Rock and roll is mainstream," Miller said. "You can say whatever you want about it's origins and rebelliousness. The overwhelming majority of it has nothing to do with politics. All I'm saying is that there are a handful of great conservative rock songs and these are what they are."
Even the liberal bloggers admit that some of the songs do seem to have a conservative bent. Take, for instance, the Ben Folds Five song "Brick," which tells of a young man's regret and heartbreak over taking his girlfriend to get an abortion.
The Cranberries anti-abortion song "The Icicle Melts" also makes the list, at No. 41.
But on others, Miller seems to have read the lyrics rather selectively. His expanded list includes "Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now)" by Cracker, included for its line about the world having more than enough folk singers, apparently a notoriously liberal lot. But the song also includes the lines: Cause what the world needs now/ is a new Frank Sinatra/ so I can get you in bed.
That would seem to contradict the pro-abstinence message that Miller so admires in "Wouldn't It Be Nice."
Some of the songs made the top 50 for their express anti-Communist sentiments, such as "Right Here, Right Now" by Jesus Jones and "Heroes" by David Bowie, about two lovers separated by the Berlin Wall. Bloggers said that to suggest that only conservatives can be anti-Communist is ridiculous.
"As much as the National Review would like to rewrite history, however, they can't erase the fact that huge numbers of liberals opposed communism, particularly as expressed in the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc," wrote Pete Blackwell on his Parenthetical Remarks blog.
A good sport, Miller has welcomed the debate, even linking to some of his critics from the National Review Web site.
"One of the reasons why this is so much fun is because it reminds me of being awake at 1 in the morning in my college dorm and arguing about the meaning of some song," he said. There's no shortage of people willing to argue with him.
The full list of the top-50 conservative rock songs can be found at nationalreview.com.
The top 10
The top 10 of the "50 greatest conservative rock songs," according to the National Review:
1. "Won't Get Fooled Again," the Who
2. "Taxman," the Beatles
3. "Sympathy for the Devil," the Rolling Stones
4. "Sweet Home Alabama," Lynyrd Skynyrd
5. "Wouldn't It Be Nice," the Beach Boys
6. "Gloria," U2
7. "Revolution," the Beatles
8. "Bodies," the Sex Pistols
9. "Don't Tread on Me," Metallica
10. "20th Century Man," the Kinks