Sunday, 7 August 2011

The Continued Relevance Of 'Walls Come Tumbling Down'

A couple of years back it became apparent that, while adults are big consumers of music which in past decades would have remained the preserve of teenagers and even MPs felt obliged to list their favourite pop artists, there was a demand for pop music to be played that people in their late 30s, 40s and even 50s remembered from when they were that bit younger.  This was seen on television with the popularity of 'Top of the Pops 2' and on numerous radio stations with programmes, often on a Sunday, presumably to appeal to listeners in that age bracket at home with their families, featuring music from the punk era and the 1980s.  The persistent nostalgia for the 1980s and the parallels between the economic and political situations of that time (especially in the UK) and now have only contributed further to this trend. Of course, there are songs that have never really gone away, but with the extent of this programming on radio with numerous 'golden hour' or 'time tunnel' programmes too, many forgotten gems are being thrust back into our memories.

One song that I heard probably for the first time in 20 years was 'Walls Come Tumbling Down' (1985) by The Style Council.  The Style Council lasted 1983-9, having 16 Top 40 hits but no No.1s. Interestingly they combined a somewhat at times overly polished, self-consciously snappy image with songs that were either almost like easy-listening, notably, 'Long Hot Summer' (1983), almost 'power' pop songs like 'Shout To The Top' (1984) to those like 'Walls Come Tumbling Down' which were very political.  The most prominent member of the group was Paul Weller (1958-) who also wrote 'Walls Come Tumbling Down'.  By the time he did, he was already very successful from his career with The Jam (1972-82; recording from 1977; 18 Top 40 hits including No. 1s in the UK) who had had a Mod style with a support for Britishness but also often challenging lyrics to social and political issues.  The strength of many of their songs was carried on into some of The Style Council's work with almost classic styling that seemed to refer back to music of the 1960s referenced by The Jam's style.  Saying this, the 'Sound Affects' (1980) album had almost psychaedelic elements, almost as if, like The Beatles, The Jam had evolved into this phase.  The politics of The Style Council was far more apparent than even in songs like 'Eton Rifles' (1979) and 'Town Called Malice' (1982).  I have been tempted however, to write how relevant I feel those songs remain recalling 1980s problems now we face so many of them again in the 2010s.

Anyway, in The Style Council, Paul Weller's left-wing political stance, presumably shared with band members Mick Talbot (keyboard, co-founder), Dee C. Lee (vocals; Weller's wife 1988-94) and Steve White (drums), became more apparent.  Weller was involved with both The Council Collective in December 1984 a band which raised funds for the striking coal miners and then in Red Wedge (1985-90) an umbrella organisation led by Weller, Billy Bragg and Jimmy Sommerville which aimed to raise awareness and funds through concerts to help prevent the Conservatives winning their third consecutive election victory at the 1987 election, a task at which they failed.  Weller is rather resentful of this period feeling he concentrated too much on the politics rather than the music, possibly contributing to the decline in popularity of The Style Council, tensions with record companies and its break-up.  However, in my eyes and I am sure of many others who lived through the 1980s we were grateful that they put in the effort to produce something that challenged the enduring Thatcher regime and provided music which was more than simply consumerist, peddling and reinforcing the anti-social trends of the Thatcherite greed era.

Weller has continued to have a very successful musical career and though he may be uneasy with some of the activities he was involved with in the past, he retains immense credibility both musically and for his political record.  I would be very happy if someone re-released or covered this now.  Given the kind of semi-folk revival led by people like Mumford and Sons, perhaps there are groups/individuals out there who could release something like this.  I do not know enough about their politics to know if it would appeal and perhaps these days record companies are far too much part of the exploitative sector of society to even countenance allowing a song like this back to see the light of day.

Unlike some of the political tracks of the 1980s, this one is more timeless.  If you do not know 'Number 10' refers to 10 Downing Street, the official residence of the prime minister.  These days were are used to songs having expletives that have to be bleeped or tuned out, but for the opening line to feature the word 'crap' which was coming into usage in the UK (from the USA) at the time, it was a forceful startling opening.  I guess if you recorded it these days the references to 'colour TV' and 'video machine' and certainly to 'H.P.', i.e. hire purchase, a way of buying items on credit which was pretty dated even by the 1980s, would have to be revised, but I am sure you could get DVD, smart phone and credit card in there somewhere.  The sentiments about consumerism remain as valid, how it has become the 'opiate of the people' in the UK in particular.  The point about dangling jobs 'like a donkey's carrot' is certainly applicable in 2011 as is 'they take the profits/you take the blame': it could have been written specifically to refer to the banking crisis.  Similarly the attempts by government and employers to provoke division among ordinary people by designating some as 'undeserving' or 'scroungers' continues to be a policy.

The whole song certainly could be a rallying cry for those students who protested and those who rioted earlier this year.  I fear even more than in the 1980s when there were still memories of student protests of the 1960s and trade union ones of the 1970s, now people assume that protest is simply criminal, a perception almost the entire media and certainly all political parties put effort in portraying it as.  To adopt such a passive attitude is to let them abuse you without even a fight.  Anyway, for anyone who has never heard the lyrics of 'Walls Come Tumbling Down' or for those who like me, they had become a distant memory, here they are for perusal and discussion.  However, I do suggest that you listen to the original if not least to hear Paul Weller really belt it out ably assisted by Dee C. Lee.

'Walls Come Tumbling Down' - The Style Council
You don’t have to take this crap
You don’t have to sit back and relax
You can actually try changing it.
I know we’ve always been taught to rely
Upon those in authority -
But you never know, until you try,
How things just might be,
If we came together so strongly.

Are you going try to make this work
Or spend your days down in the dirt?
You see things can change -
Yes and walls can come tumbling down!
Governments crack and systems fall
’cause unity is powerful -
Lights go out - walls come tumbling down!

The competition is a colour TV
We’re on still pause with the video machine
That keep you slave to the H.P.
Until the unity is threatend by
Those who have and who have not -
Those who are with and those who are without
And dangle jobs like a donkey’s carrot -
Until you don’t know where you are.
Are you going to realise
The class war’s real and not mythologized?
And like Jericho - you see, walls can come tumbling down!

Are you going to be threatened by
The public enemy at Number 10?
Those who play the power game:
They take the profits - you take the blame.
When they tell you there’s no rise in pay
Are you goning to try and make this work
Or spend your days down in the dirt?

You see things can change -
Yes and walls can come tumbling down!

I must say I am sometimes heartened by what I can find on the internet.  Surprisingly I have found the lyrics to 'Soul Deep' the only single released by The Council Collective, you can even find footage of their performance of it on 'Top of the Pops' which seems pretty incredible now given how the striking miners were being condemned as the 'enemy within' at the times and civil liberties were being flouted in an attempt to break the strike.  I include it here for interest's sake.  I do wonder if you would ever see anything similar performed on a television pop show (not that there are many left) these days; certainly I doubt it would ever appear on SkyTV given the Murdoch connection.  The reference to death I presume, refers to expenditure at the time on cruise and trident nuclear missiles.  The TUC is the Trades Union Congress, the umbrella body for British trade unions which was ambivalent towards the strike given that an official secret ballot for strike action had never been held.  It is as critical of the Labour Movement as it is of the Conservative government.  There is also reference to the North-South Divide in British society, more apparent than ever in the 1980s.  The reference to oppression by employers

'Soul Deep' - The Council Collective
Getcha mining soul deep - with a lesson in history
There's people fighting for their communities
Don't say this struggle - does not involve you.
If you're from the working class, this is your struggle too.
If they spent more on life as they do on death,
We might find the money to make industry progress.
There's mud in the waters - there's lies upon the page;
There's blood on the hillsides and they're not getting paid.
There's brother 'gainst brother - there's fathers against sons
But as for solidarity, I don't see none.
(Let's change that - let's fight back)

Going on 10 months now - will it take another 10?
Living on the breadline - with what some people send.
Just where is the backing from the TUC?
If we aren't united there can only be defeat.
Think of all those brave men - women and children alike,
Who built the unions so others might survive
In better conditions - than abject misery
Not supporting the miners - betrays that legacy
There's brother 'gainst brother - there's fathers against sons:
Let's change that - let's fight back!

Up North the temperature's rising;
Down South she's wine and dining.
We can't afford to let the government win:
It means death to the trade unions
And the cash it costs to close 'em
Is better spent trying to keep 'em open.
Try to feel the pain in those seeds planted
Now are the things that we take for granted
Like the power to strike if we don't agree
With the bosses that make those policies
That keep us down and keep us dumb
So don't settle for less than the Number One!

1 comment:

Virginia said...

This is excellent. I was just listening to this song after downloading The Singular Adventures of the Style Council on Amazon. I had this album on cassette in the early 90s and wore it out. Listening to this song years later, I was struck by how relevant the lyrics still were. My search to see if anyone else has thought about this brought me to this post.