As we noted on Wednesday when we discussed Black Friday and its associated Record Store Day releases, we’re not such big fans of the whole getting-up-early-to-battle-other-shoppers-for-discounted-flat-screen-TVs idea that comes with the day after Thanksgiving. In fact, we’re much more in favor of the inverse Buy Nothing Day concept, and not just because we loathe shopping at the best of times and thus buying nothing isn’t exactly a stretch for us. As such, we thought we’d get into the non-spirit of the day with some of our favorite anti-consumerist anthems.
The Clash — “Lost in the Supermarket”
This was the first song that came into our heads when we came up with the idea for this feature, and for good reason — it’s a classic of consumerist alienation and the hollowness that comes from what we rather too tritely call “retail therapy.” Strummer’s lyric and Mick Jones’ forlorn delivery capture beautifully the feeling of loneliness under fluorescent lights, searching for something you can never quite find.
McCarthy — “We Are All Bourgeois Now”
Yay for bitterly sarcastic left-wing anthems! We’ve always found the stridently polemic aspect of a lot of anti-consumerist music hard to take, so we’ve always very much appreciated the razor-sharp humor of this particular song. “In booming Britain, we all work together to raise ourselves in the world,” sang Tim Gane through audibly gritted teeth, and you could just about see him slowly pushing pins into a Maggie Thatcher voodoo doll as he did so.
Gang of Four — “We Live as We Dream, Alone”
A song that pretty much quotes directly from the Communist Manifesto? Yeah, we reckon this qualifies.
Warren Zevon — “Down in the Mall”
On a similar note, you can always rely on Warren Zevon for an acerbic lyric on the topic of your choice, and sure enough, his deconstruction of consumerism — centered around the conceit of someone building a new mall outside his town — was both hilarious and brutal. “We’re buying CDs, and we’re buying lingerie,” Zevon proclaimed gleefully (summoning, amongst other things, the deeply troubling image of the great man rummaging through the discount bras). “We’ll put it on a charge account we’re never gonna pay!” It’s the American way!
The Slits — “Spend, Spend, Spend”
This brooding, reggae-inflected track works the somewhat tired consumerism-as-addiction angle — ‘Have you been affected?” asks Ari Up during the chorus, “You could be addicted!” — but The Slits were so great that they could make even the hoariest of clichés work.
Devo — “Freedom of Choice”
Much as we love Devo’s unique aesthetic and flowerpots, we do get a bit frustrated at how many people miss the fact that beneath the energy domes was a very smart and cerebral band. “Freedom of Choice” is a subtly brilliant lyric, suggesting that the great American public are more fond of crowing about their constitutional right to choose than using it (unless, of course, the choices being made are ultimately meaningless choices between consumer items.) The kicker comes with the outro, where the lyrics change subtly: “Freedom of choice/ Is what you got/ Freedom from choice/ Is what you want.”
Manic Street Preachers — “Strip It Down”
The Manics aren’t short on critiques of consumerism — you could also argue for “Slash ‘N’ Burn,” “Natwest Barclays Midland Lloyds” (written after none of the banks mentioned would give the band a loan), or, of course, “A Design for Life” here — but we’ve always been especially partial to this manifesto of sorts from their very first EP. “I don’t want to dance for people to watch,” sneers James Dean Bradfield, “or smother my life in interest accounts.” And as ever with the Manics, there’s a sense that this song is more sad than angry, imbued with both fatalism and resignation. It’s a subtlety that lends the song much greater emotional weight than it would have carried as simple anti-capitalist tirade.
Anal Traffic – “Shit for Dickheads”
This Australian queer punk band specialized in pretty graphic songs about anal sex, but this song turned its attention to consumer culture, with glorious results. We have no idea what happened to Anal Traffic (Googling, as one might expect, proves at best futile and at worst, well, um, you can imagine). If anyone knows, do let us know in the comments section.
Crass — “Buy Now, Pay as You Go”
This list wouldn’t be complete without at least one track by veteran anti-capitalist rabble rousers Crass. The lyrics to “Buy Now, Pay As You Go” work along similar lines to “Shit for Dickheads,” albeit in a rather more verbose manner, railing against everything from “a satin-lined bunker where your corpses can rot” to “sexy glossy adverts left on my mat.” (It also contains the immortal couplet “Lusting for objects, white wall refrigerator/ Cut off your fingers and buy a vibrator.” Um. OK.)
Janis Joplin — “Mercedes Benz”
Joplin’s sense of humor was always underrated, and she absolutely nails America’s preoccupation with idiot materialism (and, for that matter, idiot spiritualism) in this three-verse sledgehammer of a satirical prayer. Wonder of wonders: people still take it literally.