Bad Politics Baby

The level of political support and funding for NZ music has been one of the successes of the last nine years of the Labour govt. While there are legitimate arguments that the NZ On Air model leads to a glut of sound-a-like commercial fare there has also been a huge surge in interest in NZ music, a dramatic increase in airplay and subsequently the kiwi music scene has become more sustainable for musicians and record labels alike.

Never-the-less, despite the current political support for music, very few contemporary kiwi musos are making songs about politicians. To find songs praising politicians we need to cast back into history. In the early 70s, Norman Kirk, the leader of the Labour Party was a very popular figure – so much so that when Ebony wrote a song about him, 'Big Norm', it became a minor hit. A decade and a half later Gerry Otimi and the Inventors School heralded another Labour leader in song with 'Kia Kaha David Lange'. Take a listen and it will be obvious why Gerry didn't share Ebony's success. You can hear the song on the Counting The Beat Nuclear Free podcast (mp3).

It's even rarer to have politicians themselves make records. National Party MP Marilyn Waring surprised many, especially those fromher own party, when she released a single in 1980. She was originally approached abour recording a single with punk band Proud Scum, a collaboration I wish she had seen through, but rejected that in favour of a cover of John Lennon's 'Working Class Hero'.

NZ music hasn't always had the political support it enjoys now. Marilyn Waring was part of a National government headed by the infamous PM, Rob Muldoon. In those days rock and pop records attracted a 40% sales tax, while opera and classical recordings were deemed to be cultural products which were tax exempt. Musicans and the music industry railed against the distiction to no avail. Dunedin band The Knobz took exception and recorded the tongue-in-cheek protest song 'Culture' featuring a Muldoon impersonator and a video clip filmed on the steps of the Beehive. (There's a ropey version of that clip on the video page)

Muldoon impersonations also featured on a satire record by Danny Faye in the mid 70s. One side features 'My Way' recorded in the style of Muldoon while the other is in the style of Labour leader Bill Rowling.

As we head toward the current election one of the (many) disappointing aspects of the campaign has been the lack of campaign songs. Where are the rousing anthems of political prowess and utopian vision? They are few and far between. National have commissioned a song from a New Zealand songwriter - the insipid 'Choose A Brighter Future'. Meanwhile Labour comissioned a song last year, 'A Better Way With Labour', which was written and recorded by none other than Chris Knox. Sadly it hasn't been blasting through prime time telly in the political broadcasts – you've got more chance of hearing Mr Knox on a bread ad. I don't know if Labour decided the song didn't fit the image or whether Knox couldn't come up with a decent rhyme for a new verse on trust (it's all about trust, you know) but you can hear the song here on Counting The Beat.

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