Ding-dong, just a song

About three decades ago, the conservative British politician Maggie Thatcher provoked an unprecedented flood of protest songs.

Great Britain under Margaret Thatcher “inspired” many bands and songwriters to compose protest songs which ranged from extremely critical to downright cynical. And in the last 70 years, few politicians have so often and so explicitly become a target of song lyrics as the British Prime Minister. Politics during her term of office (1979-1990) was characterised by privatisation, deregulation, and the destruction of trade unions, which – despite all economic success – led to an increase in unemployment, social hardship, and a widening of the gap between rich and poor. Her political reputation was further tarnished by the foolish war in the Falklands and by regulations which led to discrimination against homosexuals. A situation full of conflict for songwriters: On the one hand they were experiencing an increasingly tough struggle for existence, on the other they were getting lots of inspiration for moving songs. However, Bruce Robert Howard alias Dr. Robert, once a singer of the Blow Monkeys, doesn’t believe in the idea of Maggie Thatcher “as the ‘midwife’ of a thriving British counter-culture during the 80s and early 90s,” as the German newspaper “taz” puts it in a 2013 interview. “No,” Howard protests. “She was a polarising figure who encouraged greed and selfishness and destroyed people’s lives. Art may be able to flourish under these kinds of circumstances, but that’s nothing to be thankful for. In my opinion, Thatcher had a cynical view of human nature.”

In the 1980s, the Blow Monkeys not only belonged to “Red Wedge”, an initiative led by the musicians Billy Bragg, Paul Weller, and Jimmy Somerville to support the Labour Party, but also “dedicated” their 1987 album She Was Only A Grocer’s Daughter to the daughter of a grocer. It included the hit (Celebrate) The Day After You, which the BBC banned from its radio programme at the time. But where others only celebrated the “day after”, i.e. the end of the Prime Minister’s term of office, Morrissey went even further. The former front man of the Smiths, who had already declared The Queen Is Dead in 1986, even used his 1988 solo album Viva Hate to imagine the despised leader’s execution, not without conjuring up an anti-aristocratic popular uprising scenario like that of the French Revolution. ”The kind people have a wonderful dream / Margaret on the guillotine / Cause people like you make me feel so tired / When will you die?” Of course only a first name is mentioned in the lyrics, but the allusion is more than clear. So clear that – as the singer revealed in his 2013 autobiography – Morrissey was questioned by Scotland Yard. According to the star, the goal at that time was to find out whether he posed a real threat to the famous politician.

Numerous other songs from that era used clear or veiled references to provoke: I’m in Love With Margret Thatcher by The Not Sensibles, Kick Out the Tories by the Newton Neurotics, Maggie, Maggie, Maggie (Out, Out, Out) by the Larks, Thatcherites by Billy Bragg or Shipbuilding by Elvis Costello – a song that cynically revolves around the construction of warships for the Falkland War, juxtaposing possible new jobs with future casualties of war. In 1986 even a French singer, Renaud Sechan, joined in the Thatcher bashing. His song Miss Maggie formulated nasty declarations of love to womanhood itself, each topped by a gibe aimed at the hated British politician. Always the same boorish line of reasoning: women, no matter how underprivileged they are, can never be as stupid, as brutal, as warmongering as men – with one exception: Madame Thatcher …

When “Madame Thatcher” actually died in 2013, it helped a punk song of the band Hefner, which had already been released in 2000, to get heavy rotation on the internet. The Day That Thatcher Dies lets a song protagonist look back on the 1980s and his political socialisation by the Labour Party. The lyrics are defiant: „We will laugh the day that Thatcher dies / Even though we know it’s not right / We will dance and sing all night.“ Towards the end, the piece also quotes a cheerful children’s song from The Wizard of Oz, the famous 1939 film musical, namely Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead. Ding-dong, the witch is dead? For many of Thatcher’s critics, that seemed to fit all too well. Ding-Dong! itself promptly experienced a revival, even advancing into the top echelons of the British charts thanks to social media promotion – and was also boycotted by the BBC. But nobody really cared.