Pinning down just ten songs to include in a list of top ten songs by Gang of Four is difficult. Although the band only put out a limited number of albums, the indisputable fact remains that every single album contains at the very least three standout songs and in the case of the first album, Entertainment! they accomplished the incredibly rare feat of making an album without a single weak song.
10. Not Great MenEntertainment!
Do you suppose if Hitler had won World War II that FDR and Churchill would be considered villains in our history books? Do you think that Saddam Hussein was considered a hero in Iraq history books. Ever notice how there are no such things as lousy founding fathers?
9. I Found That Essence RareEntertainment!
Pure blessed rock and roll. Except that it examines the possibilities of Situationist principles of detournement; the use contradictory images to create a third meaning separate yet still somehow connected? If you have ever taken just a moment to consider the irony of naming that sexy two piece bit of swimwear after a beachy bit of land on which atomic testing was conducted, then this is the song for you. And if you haven’t ever considered that for even a moment, this song is especially for you.
Ahh, the much-maligned album Hard. Considered by many to be the point at which Gang of Four died. A close look at the lyrics reveals that the problem lies not so much with the band as with its fans. Gang of Four had always approached their subjects obliquely, but at least with their first three albums it was pretty easy to figure out that the topic was supposed to be taken from a political perspective. On their fourth album Hard, however, Gang of Four moved closer toward abstraction than they ever had before. “Independence” is the last song on the album and probably the best sounding. Lyrically is it totally coherent despite seeming almost impenetrable.
A song from one of the later Gang of Four albums, which are often dismissed by hardcore fans. Too bad. “Cadillac” is a great song, both great sounding and containing brilliant lyrics. My favorite is the line that asks why “plastic bag woman must wait while nylon men walk out in space.” Yeah, I can’t help but wonder that myself. Why are we spending billions to send men back to the moon when that money could be spent making sure old women get medicine and children don’t die because their parents can’t afford a doctor. You know what? I ain’t going to slave for a Cadillac.
6. Call Me UpSongs of the Free
A tough, pounding song that is a call to wake up to the influence of competition on what you do with your life. If you’ve ever felt that you could accomplish great things if you just didn’t watch so much television, or play video games so much, or listen to music or surf the internet, this song speaks to you. It is a call to wake up to the distraction of consumption. Americans currently live under the impression that the standard of living is higher than ever because everyone can afford a DVD player and computer. As “Call Me Up” says, don’t upset the ice cream cart, you’ve got it good. But the fact is that the standard of living isn’t higher, it’s lower. Is having fun your reason for living?
5. I Love a Man in a UniformSongs of the Free
It’s funny because it’s true. That’s also why it’s scary. You ever notice how you hardly ever see sons or daughters of rich people enlist in the military? “I Love a Man in a Uniform” has a martial beat punctuated by gunshot drum effects as the lyrics recount in first person why the singer joined the army. Tired of having no prospects, of having his dignity taken away by having to rely on handouts and assistance, and looking to regain his confidence-and by extension his manhood-he really has little option but to join the military. The mocking tone of militaristic ability as a symbol of sexual virility combines with effects of Top Gun-style recruitment advertisements to position the singer as a victim of ideology from all sides.
4. Why TheorySolid Gold
The song that contains the widely misinterpreted lyrics “What we think changes how we act.” I read a review of this album on Amazon.com where the person seemed to think this lyric meant that we sometimes act not in accordance with how we think. Completely misses the point. This is another key song in Gang of Four’s political mind-field, making the radical suggestion that every opinion we have is formed by the ideological environment in which we grow up. That ideology inculcates a false sense of the natural. By suggesting that we can change how we act by changing how we think, the band is saying that we need to question more. We need to question our sense that everything we believe, all our values, are within us because they are simply right. Values are learned through an ideological prism. Acting as if women are inferior isn’t natural, it’s a learned behavior. And if you take the time to question that opinion, you will wind up changing the way you act on that opinion.
3. What We All WantSolid Gold
Led by a fierce, pounding drum and bass rhythm, this may be Gang of Four’s best-sounding song. It is rock and roll, that’s for sure and as good an answer as there can be for any criticism that the band couldn’t rock out. Not to suggest that this song doesn’t have a message, of course. Indeed, it does, making the ever-more-pertinent query: “Could I be happy with something else? I need something to fill my time.” This song is best listened to at full volume while driving. But don’t think about it too much or you just might wind up going home, cranking up eBay, and selling off all that crap you’ve collected over the years.
A fascinating examination of love and sex from a political point of view. The song details what goes on in the privacy of the bedroom, specifically why so many couples seem so disappointed. Long before Oprah Winfrey was covering the issue of media influence on the body, Gang of Four were asking if people respond to each other sexually based on what they really want and expect, or based upon what they see in magazines and read in books. What is the ideal beauty? What is great sex? What is communication, for that matter. “Contract” asks the question: “Is this really the way it is? Or a contract in our mutual interest?” It’s a vital question. With the divorce rate so high, with porn still being the single biggest cash cow for the internet, and with women starving themselves to death in some insane pursuit of a genuinely perverse sense of beauty, maybe more couples should start asking if their relationship is based on what they really want, or what they’ve been told they should want.
1. Natural’s Not In It. Entertainment!
Not just Gang of Four’s best song, but really the key song of their entire career. Gang of Four looked to rock music as a method of passing along critical thinking. One of the most famous quotes from the band has to do with the lack of subtlety in entertainment and how songs and music don’t seem to require much firing off in the synapses. The most brilliant thing about Gang of Four’s songs is that they act very subliminally. Just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, something pops inside your brain and you realize “Yes! That’s what they meant!” “Natural’s Not In It” is the keynote song because it not only works effectively as a device to delineate how Gang of Four music is going to work-the lyrics are essentially a series of disconnected thoughts and images that point to the fact that leisure is sold as a commodity to keep you happy and distracted enough from realizing that your livelihoods are being stolen right out from under you. It should be played every single day by every single radio station in America. Surely, it is it not just by coincidence that it is found in the Sofia Coppolla film Marie Antoinette.