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 an album with a song that finds them standing firm against President Bush. And the Rolling Stones last year released a song calling the president a hypocrite.
But to prove there is still some music for conservative rockers, National Review has published a list of the 50 greatest conservative rock songs. 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've forsaken their naive idealism. Also in the top 10 are "Wouldn't It Be Nice" by the Beach Boys (for its pro-abstinence and -marriage message), "Gloria" by U2 and "Revolution" by the Beatles. Other selections include 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 lighted up with outrage and offered song deconstructions.
Offered the Rude Pundit: "The entire list is sad and embarrassing, 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 (whose 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."
He also rejects the argument that conservative rock fans desperately want to be cool and are just looking for justification to keep listening to artists such as U2 and the Clash (whose "Rock the Casbah" checks in at No. 20).
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.
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."
A good sport, Miller has welcomed the debate, even linking to some of his critics from the National Review website.
"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.