The U.K. Pop Artists Who Took Aim Against Thatcher
Few political figureheads have provoked as much polarization from the public as Britain’s Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (aka The Iron Lady), who died of a stroke Monday at age 87. Thatcher, who served from 1975 to 1990 as leader of the Conservative Party, was notorious for her inflexibility and strength in the face of adversity. Many of those who were most effective in standing up to her existed outside of the political realm: Countless musicians took aim at the Tory figurehead’s policies, recalcitrance during the Cold War, support of free-market economics in a period of recession, efforts to disempower labor unions, and decision to lead England into the Falklands War against Argentina in 1982.
Some pop stars, including the English Beat and the Specials, began attacking Thatcher as early as 1980. The Beat’s “Stand Down Margaret” echoed the frustration of the working class: “I said I see no joy/I see only sorrow/I see no chance of your bright new tomorrow.” The Specials' decision to cover Bob Dylan's “Maggie’s Farm” also reflected the hopelessness of the common man in a nation ruled by Thatcher: “Well, I wake up in the morning, fold my hands and pray for rain/I've got a head full of ideas, and they're driving me insane/It's a shame the way she makes me scrub the floor.”
The Specials' own song, 1981's "Ghost Town," was also a piece of social commentary about England's unemployment-plagued inner cities during the Thatcher era--a theme explored in another U.K. hit that same year by mod revival band the Jam, "A Town Called Malice."
Thatcher provoked such ire from established musicians that some begged not for her resignation, but for her rapid demise. Elvis Costello, who had already written the song “Shipbuilding” for Robert Wyatt in 1982 in reaction to the Falklands War (Costello released his own version in 1983), later penned the far more hostile “Tramp The Dirt Down” on his 1989 album Spike. “That’s when they finally put you in the ground/I’ll stand on your grave and tramp the dirt down," he sang.