Is "conservative rock" an oxymoron? The folks at the conservative journal National Review don’t think so, and neither do I, though I’m mystified by their list of the top 50 conservative rock songs. (NR hasn’t yet made the list available on its website, though it promises to do so tomorrow, complete with iTunes links. Meanwhile, you can read the reprinted list here and the rationale behind it in this New York Times article.)
It’s not that I think rock has to be rebellious against the status quo (and therefore liberal) by definition. It’d be pretty easy to make a list of 50 conservative rock songs just by drawing from the Rush and Kinks catalogues. Still, many of these songs are a stretch. It takes some real wishful thinking/deliberate misreading to read songs by Creedence, the Pretenders, or the Clash as right-leaning. (Criticizing the left from even further left doesn’t make you conservative.) It also takes a tin ear for context and irony. (See a detailed critique of the list here.)
Many of the songs on this list (and in the rock canon) are neither strictly liberal nor strictly conservative but politically ambiguous or ambivalent — think of the Who’s ”Won’t Get Fooled Again” (No. 1 on the NR list), the Beatles’ ”Revolution,” the Rolling Stones’ ”Street Fighting Man,” Ten Years After’s ”I’d Love to Change the World” — and they’re all the richer for not being politically doctrinaire.
By the way, where’s Ted Nugent on this list? Where’s Charlie Daniels?
And where is the most conservative popular genre of our time, gangsta rap? Here are songs that glorify self-reliance, entrepreneurship, gun rights, and very old-fashioned patriarchal gender roles. Hook the kids on ”All About the Benjamins” or Get Rich or Die Tryin’ today, and they’ll be espousing the economic theories of Milton Friedman tomorrow.