This is all very much to do with my very own genre – ‘the message is in the music’ – as this is something that I feel people in general pay so little attention and with the collection of songs on this playlist, I also attempt to do so here while historically illustrating the past, the present, and the future of the subject matter to produce a unique learning experience – however the real intention for the exercise is that you do also download and listen to these songs at the same time as reading this article for the ultimate encounter. Many of us hear lots of songs and may even really like some of them too, but also never truly understand what they really mean – however the BBC in particular were always aware and did subsequently ban the more controversial songs as soon as they were released by the record company, and do tell ‘Frankie’ they can relax now!
I used to cringe during my DJ days when so many would ask for Happy Birthday from Stevie Wonder to celebrate, ignore the verses and true meaning of the song, then just sing the chorus; or present at a wedding reception and get asked for the Righteous Brothers’ You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling without giving the slightest thought for how inappropriate that would be. How about having to watch the happy couple dance to Heatwave’s Always and Forever while knowing statistically-speaking that so many won’t? The really sad one that finally did it for me was a group of people at PCHA wanting to sing Labi Siffri’s Something Inside So Strong at the next Xmas Party soon after it was a big hit – a song primarily designed to bring down a government not entertain!
I have also produced playlists for Change Management, Leadership, Hope, Inspiration, and The School Collection to name but a few for a shameful quick plug and provide training solutions too – so do please call 07966478225, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.fedupwithIT.co.uk for more information.
(Foreword by David A. Griffith)
15 Song Playlist – The Black Plight (the order of play is important, mostly representative of the journey through the years, and the lyrics would be present too)
1. Billie Holiday – Strange Fruit
2. Marvin Gaye – Abraham, Martin, and John
3. Bob Marley – Buffalo Soldier
4. Bob Marley – Get Up, Stand Up
5. Gil Scott-Heron – The Revolution Will Not Be Televised
6. Stevie Wonder – Living For The City
7. Stevie Wonder – Cash In Your Face
8. Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five – The Message **WARNING!
9. Grandmaster Flash & Melle Mel – White Lines (Don’t Don’t Do It)
10. Public Enemy – Fight The Power **WARNING!
11. Lenny Kravitz – Mr. Cab Driver **WARNING!
12. Labi Siffri – Something Inside So Strong
13. Timmy Thomas – Why Can’t We Live Together?
14. Emile Sande – Read All About It
15. Arrested Development – Mr. Wendel
BONUS TRACK: Bob & Marcia Griffiths – Young, Gifted and Black
**WARNING! These so marked songs do contain certain expletives that may be unsuitable for sensitive types. I did consider using the ‘clean’ versions of these songs before I then realised that the expletives may have purposefully been put there to convey the depth of feeling expressed by the artists, and thus were an integral part of the song, so sorry if they do offend! C’est la vie!
Billie Holiday – Strange Fruit is a stirring rendition from a time-honoured artist who clearly demonstrated much bravery to perform this song at a time when it would have been most dangerous for her own personal safety to do so. Lynching black people was an all too-common occurrence in the states among the ‘deep south’ and many of our good people were lost forever during the Jim Crow years, the period beyond the American Civil War right up until more recent times, as sublimely portrayed in the film ‘Mississippi Burning’.
Marvin Gaye – Abraham, Martin, and John. It took a hundred years to enforce the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the American Constitution after they were passed into law following supreme statesmanship on the part of President Lincoln; then still required two new rights acts on the backs of the suffrage from Dr. King and his followers, and the decisive actions of President Kennedy prior to implementation. This song from Marvin, also notably covered by others, is a tribute to these great men and their efforts to free black people, who were also sadly all assassinated before their work was completed – along with Robert Kennedy, Jr. who also gets a worthy mention. (Odd thing too that they appear by date order rather than the actual song title order)
Bob Marley & The Wailers – Buffalo Soldier is the tale of where the journey begins and reminds us how we got there from time and immemorial. Africa is every black person’s ancestral home and Bob Marley gently reminds us with this song.
Bob Marley & The Wailers – Get Up, Stand Up is the most definitive anthem behind which to rally a decent cause. Once again Bob Marley & The Wailers lead the way with a song that has both a strong message to deliver and a good solid bass line with which to do so.
Gil Scott-Heron – The Revolution Will Not Be Televised was the message used by Gil to instruct some black people that television was not the only place that they could catch a glimpse of reality and the real struggle was within our hearts and minds, and our very own actions.
Stevie Wonder – Living For The City tells the tale of a typical black family in ‘hard time’ Mississippi – Specifically how the young man’s life rapidly takes a turn for the worse when he finally decides to seek out the bright lights and big city of ‘The Big Apple’, in search of prosperity and a brighter day no less! No doubt feeling compelled to do so ’cause where he lives they don’t use colored people!
Stevie Wonder – Cash In Your Face is every black person’s real-life nightmare, particularly those who have actually experienced this kind of racial discrimination first-hand for employment and housing rejection who will know what the ‘bottom line’ is, with the ‘excuses’ said using Stevie’s ‘darker’ impersonating voice being representative of that I am sure some of us have also heard before. A somewhat lesser-known album track, (from Hotter Than July), this may be – but the portrayal and parallels in life are just so very real!
Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five – The Message is a hard-hitting message of social injustice from an illustrious rap group that literally burst onto the scene with a song that hits you hard with that heavy beat and magnificent lyrics. Arguably, perhaps the best hip-hop record of all time too – a winner from whatever side of the divide you happen to be from! And the message is don’t push me ’cause I just can’t take anymore! Do carefully listen and pick out the ‘arrest’ depicted near the end – an indication to show just how little has changed with those reprehensible tactics deployed by some state police officers, despite the passage of time!
Grandmaster Flash & Melle Mel – White Lines (Don’t Don’t Do It) is just a little more sinister a subject to deal with. The penultimate and ultimate message ’bout how some blacks are both peddlers and users of the ‘white powder’ drugs and the resulting dangers that go with them. Consequently the law treats you very harshly when caught, unless of course you do then happen to be a white person with sufficient standing to have a decent lawyer bail you out of trouble – with such obvious inequality in the law system and the wider society as a whole!
Public Enemy – Fight The Power. Wow! This song had a powerful impact on my own thoughts, and perhaps those of many others too, having watched the Spike Lee film ‘Do The Right Thing’ where the song featured. It opens with a vociferous response to the past military secondment in high numbers amongst the black community, particularly for those who could not avoid the draft by nefarious means as many whites did – before tackling the other wrongs in society, like when the man says “most of my heroes don’t appear on no stamp”. If ever one needs to be reminded of just how bad racial tension and such things can really get, look no further than this!
Lenny Kravitz – Mr. Cab Driver is our main man telling us about this one instance of the stereotypical racist attitudes that certain white folk carry. Some of us may have heard such tales before or actually experienced something very much like this ourselves at one time or another – but you just have to admire the sheer defiance from Lenny as he literally, and quite explicitly, tells the taxi man precisely what he can do. Oh yes sir, you are indeed a survivor!
Labi Siffri – Something Inside So Strong is a testament of our will to win against all odds in the face of adversity and also a sweet melodic prompting that helps prove to others that these things are not mutually exclusive to the USA and elsewhere. Immerse yourself well within this song and take a good look at how apartheid had previously cast a generation or more into a lifetime of poverty and servitude in South Africa until the great man later emerged, Nelson Mandela – of course!
Timmy Thomas – Why Can’t We Live Together? This is the big question that every decent person must ask of themselves and reconcile at some point in their life, wherever they come from or whatever ethnic persuasion they may be. I first watched this song on TV as a young teenager and was completely mesmerised by both the performance from Timmy and how powerful the message was at that time, and still is today!
Emile Sande – Read All About It – indeed we should! Although collectively as a people we have moved along great strides since the early days when being black was little more than a simple cross to bear; at present there is still much to be done for one with those major international companies who really ought to know better, (if I’m allowed to offer my own personal opinion), that have yet to adequately address inequality in the workplace. Did you know, for instance, that a recently-reported generalised figure of some 119 years will be required for many women to achieve pay parity with men? and sadly Google, (that otherwise truly wonderful bastion of all things internet and beyond), by their own admission have just 2% of blacks employed within their ranks and as Marvin might say, “What’s Goin’ On?” *##*/^ And please try to imagine being a disabled person fighting so hard to keep their job on par, only to then have the now previous UK Work & Pensions Secretary refer to people without a disability as “normal”. Headlines like these serve to remind that our freedoms have to be fought for and that we should never ever become complacent and, as the lady says, “I wanna sing, I wanna shout, I wanna scream ’til the words dry out”.
Arrested Development – Mr. Wendel is a vision of the future, well at least for me at any rate! Some food for thought from the new aspiring black man who has now finally made it big – but still has much empathy with the black elder who he graciously gives a little financial help in exchange for some much-sought after knowledge and wisdom. History teaches us who we are and where we came from, Mr. Wendel is a prime representative of our past and could perhaps one day help to shape our future!
BONUS TRACK: Although not included if ever there was a choice of a song of hope for the future, this would be the one for me and hopefully you might have one of your own too. Young, Gifted and Black is a wonderful tune and good source of encouragement for our younger generation to both inspire and remind them of what they are capable of achieving!
Please Note: All songs are available from Spotify or iTunes, but do let me know if you have difficulty locating any…