EVERYTIME I TURN on the radio, somebody tries to tell me something. I can try to get lost in the bass line, or to ignore certain passages, but that has been getting harder lately. Paul McCartney, for instance, tells me that if I want to be happy I should get rich and retire to the country with a beautiful wife. The Who think I should avoid political activity, and perhaps ride around in a mobile home. Everybody seems to agree that falling in love will solve my problems. Even if I don't think that "it's gonna be allright" I often find myself singing those words.
If you're sick of having to submit to the half-baked ideologies of ambitious musicians everytime you want to boogie. Power to the Working Class will provide a good musical blast of hard-nosed leftist sentiments. The idea of radical rock and roll has been haunting the music world since well before the absurd revolutionary posturings of the Jefferson Airplane, and parts of this album are good enough to make one really wonder why the Townsends and McCartneys have been tolerated for so long.
Power to the Working Class is performed and produced by members of the Progressive Labor Party, including a group of welfare mothers from New York that handles most of the vocals. Half of the album is devoted to folk songs, half to rock. The PLP-LP concentrates on a broad evocation of working class solidarity, with only a little emphasis on the PLP itself, although many songs reflect PL's peculiarly arid brand of communism. And it is PL's position against drugs, often the focus of a facile dope smokers' criticism of PL, that provides the album with its best song. "Politicians and Pushers..."Here the PLP-LP picks up where the Knapp Commission left off:
Because when you're flying high,
Don't you know you can't organize
You can't fight their racist lies.
And the cops they know it too,
Cause they're the pushers in blue.
"Pushers" has a straightforward anger and a sharp blending of words and music which is missing on many other tracks of the album. "Pushers" would be a great thing to hear on a car radio, simply because it combines a fine Smokey Robinson tune with a more comprehensive political statement than any AM rock song you'll ever hear.
More formalized political language characterizes the other rewrites of hard rock songs on the PLP-LP. "High-Heel Sneakers" becomes "Get Out Your Red Flag Workers." "Governor Sargent's Racist Cutbacks Blues," sung to the tune of "Memphis," does feature some good lines:
If elevators break in the project place,
And little kids get killed.
Its allright with me, cause I live on Beacon Hill.
No songs are included which deal specifically with imperialism or the War in Vietnam, a strange omission for an album of political rock.
A FEW MORE serious political criticisms might he made of the PLP-LP. Those who wrote the songs say in the liner that they were attempting to create the beginnings of a "working class culture" which would embody socialist goals. But the same ideological certainty and simplicity which allowed PL to create this album undermines its broad cultural aims. In many of the songs, the lyrics present a simple world of workers fighting with a small, tightly allied group of..."bosses." The songs say that the bosses must be smashed, but one gets very little idea of what "smashing the bosses" actually means, or what the world will look like when its all over. Few concrete images are offered to flesh out the conceptions of "bosses" and "workers." Such a spare framework of slogans would seem appealing only to those who have already grappled their way into PL's model. Sometimes, as in "Talking Unemployment Blues," the mechanical attempt to attach specific images to that abstract model results in lyrics that are almost embarrassingly condescending:
They had plenty of jobs
For bio-electronic-zoological technicians.
12 years experience necessary.
One song which should escape criticism is "The Ballad of Racist Blair's," a pointed and detailed account of a demonstration against a Boston storeowner who raised his prices on welfare check day.
The PLP-LP does not contain the best political music of the rock and roll era. Phil Ochs and John Lennon have both produced political material of more musical sophistication, if of less comprehensive vision, than anything on Power to the Working Class. But, along with the recent album of the New Haven Women's Liberation Band, the PLP-LP is perhaps the only explicitly political album of recent years. After a week of listening, its tunes wash around inside your head just like anything off the AM airwaves, and it is a relief to find yourself singing "Workers-Get Ready" instead of "Put Your Hand in Hand of the Man Who Stilled the Waters."