The Thatcher Era's Effect On British Music Journalist Stuart Maconie says Margaret Thatcher and her reforms inspired a wealth of music in the U.K. — the tone of which could be glowing or grim, depending on what part of the country the musicians were from.
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The Thatcher Era's Effect On British Music

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The Thatcher Era's Effect On British Music

The Thatcher Era's Effect On British Music

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Now, we have heard a lot this week about the life of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who died on Monday. And as we head into the weekend, we thought we would take a look at her impact on music. Thatcher's reforms helped revive Britain's economy, but did it with wrenching economic reforms that dramatically altered society, sometimes causing violent upheaval. And that inspired a lot of memorable songs.


THE CLASH: (Singing) You can crush us, you can bruise us, but you'll have to answer to oh, guns of the Brixton...

GREENE: That's the British punk band The Clash, with "Guns of Brixton," catching the mood of discontent in the early Thatcher years. In the north of Britain, traditional industries closed, dragging communities down with them.


THE JAM: (Singing) And a hundred lonely housewives clutch the milk bottles to their hearts, hanging out their old love letters on the line to dry. It's enough to make you stop believing when the tears come fast and furious in a town called Malice...

GREENE: And this is a song called "Town Called Malice," by The Jam. Journalist and critic Stuart Maconie - from Manchester, in northern England - says the kind of songs that were written depended largely on where the bands were from.

STUART MACONIE: The different areas of Britain responded differently, I think. In London, in the south, which was more affluent and more her natural constituency, it had the effect of producing a kind of apolitical response; in that you got the New Romantics, and you got a kind of bright and shiny, aspirational pop, a padded-shouldered version of pop that was about nightclubs, about dressing up.


SPANDAU BALLET: (Singing) Gold, always believing it's gold. You've got the power to know you're indestructible...

MACONIE: But in the north of England, I'd say, and in Scotland - I mean, you got a very different response. I think you got a response of people like The Smiths, which was to sort of be a more defiant kind of reaction against it, a sort of defiantly northern; some would say dour, but I would say a sort of more confrontational pop. I mean, there were some explicitly political records. Morrissey recorded - Morrissey and The Smiths recorded a tune called "Margaret on the Guillotine."


MORRISSEY: (Singing) The kind people have a wonderful dream, Margaret on the guillotine...

GREENE: I mean, that's not just anger at the state of society. That is very personal.

MACONIE: People personified it. I mean, it was called Thatcherism. I mean, it was - she became more than just a person. She became a kind of shorthand for ruthlessness, a kind of callousness, a disregard for working people. And it wasn't just a sort of political response. It was a gut, emotional response. Because don't forget here, where I'm speaking - in the north of England - the affects of Thatcherism were quite visible. Factories closed down, mills closed down, mines closed down; and people were put out of work.

GREENE: People connected her directly to that. I mean...

MACONIE: And of course, you've got to argue, she was an easy person to become a figurehead. She even looked like she should be on the prow of a ship. There is no such thing as society, she famously said - you know, the idea that profit was the ultimate goal. And so you got that kind of response - "Stand Down Margaret," by The Beat, which quite explicitly called for her to resign - which she was never going to do, obviously.


THE ENGLISH BEAT: (Singing) I said, I see no joy. I see only sorrow. I see no chance of your bright new tomorrow. So stand down, Margaret, stand down, please. Stand down, down, down, down, down...

GREENE: Did they know that there was no chance of them getting what they wanted, when they made this song?

MACONIE: Well, I think they were just trying in their own way, I think, maybe, to be sort of pleasant about it. I'm sure they had much more of an angry lyric they could've come up with. But I think "stand down, Margaret; stand down, please" - I quite like that about it. I think - I love the idea that it's almost sort of supplicant, in a way. They're saying, oh, please; just make it stop. You know, they're appealing to her better nature - a better nature, I don't think she really had.

GREENE: But a polite appeal.

MACONIE: A polite appeal, a very British appeal.


GREENE: We've been talking about the music of the Thatcher era with the author, journalist and music critic Stuart Maconie. He joined us from Manchester in northern England. Stuart, thanks so much.

MACONIE: Thank you.


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