Just for fun, here's a look at some of the politically conservative music made back in the era of Baez and Ochs... Oh, sure, everybody likes to look back at the 1960's folk scene and complain about how all the singers were Lefties, and there were no good right-wing folk singers to be heard. But of course there were -- I mean, some singers who were ideologically robust, though whether they were "good" on not probably depends a lot on your own political perspective. Anyway, here are a few albums that tried to present the alternative viewpoint, giving us a chance to look at the other side of the Vietnam War, and of the steady subversion of traditional, God-fearing American values by the hairy hordes of unwashed, flag-burning pinkos.
Wini Beatty & Rhett Fink "Folks Songs For Taxpayers" (Key Records, 1966) (LP)
(Produced by Vick Knight & Don Blake)
This is a fascinating historical document, evidence of the ideological roots of California's anti-tax movement about a decade before the grassroots mobilization of the Proposition 13 campaign in 1978. The album is staged as a faux-cabaret performance, with pianist Ms. Wini Beatty singing in front of what sounds like a handful of conservative cohorts, singing politically-slanted parodies of various pop standards and folk tunes, each given a contemporary topical theme, with a sharply right-wing tilt. The "songs" are all pretty short, mostly just a verse or two, with Beatty moving on to a new one after the chorus comes around, just enough to evoke the original song and to get in a barb or two. Some of the lyrics are clever, though most are rather blunt and not nearly the zingers Beatty & Co. think them to be... There are some songs specifically about taxes, and others about the Civil Rights Movement and pinko college students... Many are just plain mean-spirited and hostile, like one attacking Lady Bird Johnson, calling her charitable works a fraud to cover up for her husband's pinko leanings. Indeed, as the record progresses, it becomes clear that this isn't a real intellectual cry from the conservative Right, ala William F. Buckley, but rather an outlet for more reactive far-right groups such as the Birchers. They start fulminating about communism and the Russians, etc. and pointing fingers at liberal politicians, students and activists who are supposedly trying to bring totalitarianism to American shores. It's all very 1950s in perspective, but just when you're ready to laugh it off as an anachronistic relic, you realize that this brand of harsh anti-everybody politics did finally come to full fruition in the "tea party" movement of 2008, et. al. So, it's historically relevant, but it is at its heart an unpleasant record to listen to: the snide, insidious, sneering tone of the performances is mirrored in the forced, vindictive guffawing of the "audience," all of which simply oozes score-keeping, resentment and outright malevolence. It's a record of its times, although perhaps (as is often the case) not exactly the record that it was meant to be.
Anita Bryant "Mine Eyes Have Seen The Glory" (Columbia, 1966) (LP)
(Produced by David Rubinson)
The American left, queers and feminists in particular, loathed Anita Bryant for her conservative politics and her strident anti-gay activism, which made her a controversial and polarizing national figure. Still, one of the all-time great political ironies was when Bryant included a version of Phil Ochs' blistering political anthem, "Power And Glory," on this otherwise dreary album of patriotic tunes. It's possible that Bryant and her entourage meant the recording to be a poke in the eye to Ochs ("Try and reclaim the patriotic center from us, will you? Hah! Take that!") but most people just assume that having Bryant record this semi-socialist anthem it was a mistake, or even a prank on the part of some mischeivous A&R man. Still, it is a great song, and this album proves that even a drippy singer like Anita Bryant couldn't ruin it. Plus, Ochs probably got a few good royalty checks out of it -- enough to buy a new guitar, a piano, or maybe even a gold lame suit!
Tony Dolan "Cry, The Beloved Country" (Key Records, 1967) (LP)
While many rightwing folkies were explicitily intended as novelty acts, songwriter Tony Dolan was certainly one of the more serious and more intellectually potent of the practitioners... A Yale student when he started his gig, he got the nod from pundit William F. Buckley, who wrote the liner notes to his album, and made the rounds of national TV programs such as the Dick Cavett and Merv Griffin shows... Say what you will about his youthful musical follies, Dolan worked hard and made a lot of powerful connections... He went into journalism, earning a Pulitzer for investigative reporting in the late '70s, and eventually became one of Ronald Reagan's speechwriters, contributing nost notably to the "evil Empire" speech which defined the hard edges of Reagan's anticommunist foreign policy. Not bad for a curly-haired kid with a guitar!
The Goldcoast Singers "Here They Are!" (World Pacific Records, 1962)
A prescient set of political satire from the Kennedy era, recorded live at the San Francisco State Folk Festival in 1962. This isn't a "right wing" record, per se, but since the Greenwich Village folk scene so quickly coalesced around the New Left, the biting satire of the Ed Rush/George Cromarty duo stands out, particularly its insightful (and pointed) lampooning of the Civil Rights Movement. In one deft, catchy chorus of the uptempo "Peace Corps Rejects," they critique the white, liberal Ivy League college students who became Freedom Riders in the South, as well as the NAACP for putting them in danger, and questioned the effectiveness of civil disobedience as a tactic: "We come on the Greyhound bus/thirty-seven of us/the NAACP paid our fees/put in in jail/don't accept bail/integrated buses will set the South free..." The song reflects an extremely brief moment in time when satirists could poke fun at these campaigns, though events such as the March on Washington and the passage to the 1964 civil rights bill, and the numerous bombings and lynchings that were given national attention soon made the Civil Rights Movement a sacred icon in mainstream, middle America. This record was also remarkable for its early criticism of America's involvement in Viet Nam (at the time still limited to a small number of "advisors" on the ground) with biting songs such as "The Royal Laotian Cha-Cha-Cha" and "Please Mr. Kennedy," which dealt more broadly with the Cold War and the draft. The best-known song on this album is "Plastic Jesus," a cheerful critique of consumerized and hypocritical religiousity and evangelicism. Although they had some of the same level of wit and bite as Phil Ochs, the duo's career was cut short when Cromarty was drafted in '63. He reemerged a decade later with an innovative and influential album of new acoustic music entitled Grassroots Guitar; I'm not sure what Rush went on to do, musically, if anything. [Footnote: the song "Please Mr. Kennedy" was revived -- in altered form -- in the Coen Brothers film, "Inside Lloyd Davis," where is was remade into a calypso-rock novelty number about nuclear war. To their credit, the Coens gave credit to the Goldcoast Singers... as well they should!]
The Goldwaters "...Sing Folk Songs To Bug Liberals" (Greenleaf Records, 1964) (LP)
A real, live, campaign-year LP recorded as pro-Goldwater propaganda. Plus, as the record says, just to bug liberals. And here it is, fifty years later, and it still works! In much the same way that the Monkees were put together as a prefab pop band, the Goldwaters were created as a faux-folk band solely to promote the Barry Goldwater presidential campaign, and evaporated in a puff of smoke the second he lost... Apparently at one point John D. Loudermilk was signed up as the producer, but left midway through, and at some point the record had to be re-recorded to take out a bunch of anti-Kennedy jokes... Y'know, after Kennedy got killed and all. The magnificently obsessive Conelrad website has an excellent interview with one of the former members of the band, Ken Crook.
Janet Greene & Dr. Fred C. Schwarz "What Is Communism?" (Chantico Records, 1966)
Singer Janet Greene was the musical mouthpiece of one of the 'Sixties most rabid anticommunists, a lecturer named Fred C. Schwarz who bankrolled a group called the Christian Anti-Communist Crusade and recruited Greene -- an actress working on a children's television show in Ohio -- to set some of his ideas to music. Normally her songs were released on 45rpm singles, but here they are gathered together as one LP side in a 4-LP set, along with fourteen "concise lectures" by Schwartz, detailing how the sneaky Commie rats were plotting to destroy America. It's political camp in its highest form; Greene's songs are also collected on the FREEDOM IS A HAMMER compilation, listed below. By 1967, Greene was ready to move on, and dropped the political stuff from her repertoire, but this is the work she's best remembered for, with kitschy classics such as "Inch By Inch," "Fascist Threat," and "Commie Lies." I mean, really -- how can you go wrong??
Autry Inman "Ballad Of Two Brothers" (Epic, 1968) (LP)
This Vietnam War-era patriotic album contains Inman's biggest hit, Bobby Braddock's "Ballad Of Two Brothers," a topically-themed recitation song, a duet with singer Bob Luman that went to #14 on the charts as a single. It's accompanied here by oldies and standards such as "There's A Star Spangled Banner Waving Somewhere" and "Ballad Of The Green Berets," as well as contemporary songs such as "Stand Up For America," "Must We Fight Two Wars," "Vietnam Blues" and even the social commentary of "Skip A Rope." Strong stuff that tackled a lot of contemporary issues.
The Lonesome Valley Singers "Hello Vietnam: Country And Western War Songs" (Diplomat, 1965) (LP)
A vigorous, robust defense of the war in Viet Nam, with a little bit of twang! This cheapie album kicks off with a cover of Tom T. Hall's "Hello Vietnam" and includes even blunter songs with titles such as "Jungle War," "It's Got To Be Done," "What We're Fighting For" and "Don't Worry Just Pray." The Lonesome Valley Singers were one of the anonymous house bands for the budget-line Diplomat label, and recorded numerous records on various themes such as railroads, prison songs, drag racing and at least one other patriotically-themed album, 1966's Men In The Green Berets, listed below. Lord only knows who the pickers were that played in this band!
The Lonesome Valley Singers "Men In The Green Berets" (Diplomat, 1966) (LP)
Piggybacking on the popularity of Sgt. Barry Sadler's Ballads Of The Green Berets, this is another, perhaps less nuanced pro-Vietnam album, with songs of macho might and derring-do...
The Lonesome Valley Singers "God Bless The Working Man" (Diplomat, 1971-?) (LP)
This later album is still pro-Vietnam War, but tackles a wider range of themes and presents a richer picture of the American cultural landscape, albeit from the point of view of what what had been dubbed "The Silent Majority" by President Nixon, the un-hippie "squares" who supposedly supported the war. Songs include "God Bless The Boys In Uniform," "The Politician And The War," "P.O.W.," "War Time Taxes" and slightly more forlorn, resigned-yet-hopeful songs such as "Oh Victory" and "Will We Ever See Peace Again." This disc has a conservative tilt, but is a more nuanced, less propagandistic snapshot of early '70s America.
SSgt. Barry Sadler "Ballads Of The Green Berets" (RCA, 1966)
This was probably the most prominent mainstream album to stand in contrast to the leftwing politics of the hippie-era music business, an LP that circulated in cut-out bins for decades to come, but obviously sold well when it came out. The title track was a big hit on both the Pop and Country charts in '66, vaulting Staff Sargeant Barry Sadler, a member of the Special Forces, into the national spotlight as a bona fide media star. Neither his vocals or the musical accompaniment are anything to write home about, but the songs actually stand up well, particularly those that give a sympathetic, ground-eye view of one of the most dismal wars in American history. Even though this is clearly a propaganda album, it still reflects the ordinary soldier's point of view, and sympathetic portrayals were hard to come by, particularly in film and TV, where the romantic halo of war had been rubbed off years ago when Korean War proved to be unpopular in the heartland, and rock-'em, sock'em war stories seemed less entertaining or inspirational than they once had. To many, the Vietnam War was like Korea's pesky kid brother, and Hollywood wouldn't really tackle it seriously until the '70s and '80s with unflattering films such as The Deerslayer and Platoon. So for folks who want to give Vietnam vets their propers as red-blooded, all-American soldiers, Barry Sadler's flag-draped hit album represents the final, brief moment when such celebration was still possible.
Vera Vanderlaan "Torch Of Freedom" (Vanco, 1968) (LP)
Despite their suspiciously-foreign sounding last name, Vera Vanderlaan and her husband William were apparently true, red-blooded Americans, New England dairy farmers who heard the call of freedom in the dark days of the 'Sixties countercultural onslaught, and became early shock troops in the American "culture wars." In 1967, they self-produced their first record, America Awake, and spent the next three years on the road as one of a handful of viable right-wing folk acts... As with Ms. Greene, the Vanderlaans mostly put out 45rpm singles, though they did get out this LP in '68, and the songs are collected on the HAMMER OF FREEDOM album, below...
Rev. Jack Van Impe "Marked For Death: Can America Survive?" (Artists Records, 1970) (LP)
No music on this one, but I just had to mention it. This is one of my all-time favorite albums, a cherished possession, and an ultra-classic of hysteric, over-the-top, rabidly paranoid, apocalyptic conservatism, with Michigan-based evangelical TV preacher Jack Van Impe holding forth on hippie sex orgies, drugs and rock'n'roll, on the impending sabotage of America by the fearsome SDS (the by then nearly-defunct far-left Students For A Democratic Society) as well as the nuclear war that will bring forth the Apocalypse as prophesized in the Book of Revelations. Whoo-hoo!! Apparently mixmaster DJ Shadow sampled part of this album on a track somewhere... and it is certainly a goldmine for hot samples: I used to play it on my radio show from time to time, particularly the part where he raves about rock'n'roll:
...and that's just him getting warmed up. Great record. You can hear it online at the Recordo Obscura blog, if you dare. I bet his other albums are a real hoot as well. (NOTE: some sites list this as having come out in 1972, but I think that's incorrect. Van Impe makes several references that make it clear that these sermons were made in the summer of 1969, and I doubt he wasted much time getting it out, what with the immediate crisis and "sudden destruction" looming at the time. The references to '72 were part of his prophecy, not a marker of when he made this record.)
Rev. Jack Van Impe "The Coming War With Russia" (Jack Van Impe Ministries, 196-) (LP)
Anyone know when this one came out? Some sites say '73, but it seems like it must have been much earlier... Anyway, although he's since transferred his apocalyptic projections onto China, Van Impe periodically revives his hopes for an America-vs.-Russia slugfest, so I suppose this album will always have a timely element, at least as far as Reverend Jack is concerned...
John Wayne "America, Why I Love Her" (RCA, 1973)
A delicious patriotic kitsch classic. Wayne doesn't attack lefties, except by inference, his virile, shining love of America and American values such a beacon that their pallid pinko preferences wilt in comparison. The recitations are the best, particularly the title piece, "America, Why I Love Her." I'm also fond of "Why Are You Marching, Son?"
Various Artists "ATOMIC PLATTERS: COLD WAR MUSIC FROM THE GOLDEN AGE OF HOMELAND SECURITY" (Bear Family, 2006)
The German archival label, Bear Family, turns its attention to the defining historical conflict of the late 20th Century, with this stunning 5-CD, 1-DVD omnibus of Cold War propaganda and kitsch, ranging from duck-and-cover civil defense PSAs and snippets of news broadcasts to a hefty helping of conservative musical acts, including several of the artists listed here, and novelty tunes galore. Country, rock, pop, jazz and blues, and everybody's wondering when the Big One's gonna drop. This collection was curated by the same folks who put together the more compact FREEDOM IS A HAMMER album, below.
Various Artists "FREEDOM IS A HAMMER: CONSERVATIVE FOLK REVOLUTIONARIES OF THE SIXTIES" (Omni Recording Corporation, 2012)
This single-CD collection gathers music from several of the artists listed above, Janet Greene, Tony Dolan, and Vera Vanderlaan... This is probably the easiest way to explore these artists' legacies, other than YouTube, I suppose.
Various Artists "NEXT STOP IS VIETNAM -- THE WAR ON RECORD: 1961-2008" (Bear Family, 2010)
If you thought Bear Family's Cold War box set was massive, then check out this 13-CD monolith, which mixes music and spoken word to cover the arc of changing public opinion about American involvement in Viet Nam, back from the days when it was still called Indochina to the evacuation of the US embassy and beyond. It's a pretty impressive historical tour de force, with hundreds of tracks, including a lot of really rare and obscure material. Some of the most interesting stuff, I think, comes from the early '60s, when you still had people writing songs that treated the war like earlier conflicts, lamenting boyfriends or sons who had shipped out to nobly fight on some foreign shore... Of course, there's also plenty of antiwar material as well, from folkies like Phil Ochs, Pete Seeger and rock and pop musicians as well, not the least of which includes Country Joe McDonald, who wrote the song that gave this collection its title, and who contributes liner notes as well. I'm glad they also included some of his post-war recordings as well, as McDonald proved to be a more nuanced critic than many might have thought, shifting his activism in the late '70s from simply opposing the war to supporting the returning veterans and publicizing the health hazards of Agent Orange and other chemicals used by American soldiers. This collection is probably too much of a bummer for many casual listeners, but I can't imagine there are too many university poli-sci and history departments that wouldn't wand a copy in their library. And it's five, six, seven, open up the pearly gates...
(Lions Gate, 1992)
Pity they never came out with a soundtrack for the film Bob Roberts, which featured actor Tim Robbins playing a Tony Dolan-esque folksinger who goes into politics and proves himself more unscrupulous than thou... The character was in essence a lampoon of a lampoon, but not surprisingly may have had more resonance than the music it was making fun of... A nice, cynical farce.
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