Ten Songs That Foreshadowed the 2011 UK Riots

Watching footage of the UK riots has been shocking, scary and difficult, but the British have a history of taking to the streets in times of social upheaval as an act of defiance. The proof is in songs by its musicians: everyone from the Clash to Morrissey to Motorhead to the Arctic Monkeys has a good riot song. Check out the soundtrack to the 2011 UK riots after the jump.

1. Motorhead “Burner”

Riots in the burning street/
Crystal night outside/
Brutal music in the night, enough to make you cry
/Nobody knows how it is to sleep and drown the world /Outside in the distance, the city in the fire /See the houses burning down, mile after mile

2.-5. The Clash, “London Calling” and “White Riot” and “London Burning” and “Guns of Brixton”

It was hard to choose a Clash song–most of their catalog was written during a time when rising unemployment, drug use, anarchy and racial strife were big issues of the day (sound familiar?). These four songs, we'd say, epitomize that feeling the most.

“London Calling”

The ice age is coming, the sun's zooming in / Meltdown expected, the wheat is growing thin / Engines stop running, but I have no fear / 'Cause London is drowning, and I live by the river

“London's Burning”

“London's burning! London's burning!/All across the town, all across the night/
Everybody's driving with full headlights/Black or white turn it on, face the new religion/
Everybody's sitting 'round watching television!”

“White Riot”

This is Joe Strummer exhorting white people to find a decent fuel to express public disobedience.

Are you taking over / Or are you taking orders? / Are you going backwards / Or are you going forwards?”

“Guns of Brixton”

Written and sung by Paul Simonon the bassist, this predated the 1981 riots–but people's feelings of discontent were already building up due to heavy-handedness of the police which eventually led to the riots.

When they kick at your front door/ How you gonna come?/ With your hands on your head/ Or on the trigger of your gun/ When the law break in/ How you gonna go?

6. Anarchy in the UK – Sex Pistols
This song has been called “a call to arms … a statement of self rule, of ultimate independence.”

I am an anti-christ / I am an anarchist / Don't know what I want but I know how to get it / I wanna destroy the passer by cos I … I wanna BE anarchy!


7. The Smiths, “Panic”

Burn down the disco, hang the DJ–people are rioting on the streets and the music they're playing has nothing to do with our lives.

Panic on the streets of London / Panic on the streets of Birmingham / I wonder to myself / Could life ever be sane again ?

8. The Specials, “Ghost Town”

This town, is coming like a ghost town / All the clubs have been closed down / This place, is coming like a ghost town / Bands won't play no more / too much fighting on the dance floor

9. Judas Priest, “Breaking the Law”

There I was completely wasting, out of work and down/ all inside it's so frustrating as I drift from town to town/ feel as though nobody cares if I live or die/ so I might as well begin to put some action in my life

10. Arctic Monkeys, “Riot Van”

Got chased last night/
From men with truncheons dressed in hats/
We didn't do that much wrong/
Still ran away though for the laugh

BONUS: Sinead O Connor, “Black Boys on Mopeds”

OK, she's not British, but she lives close enough to the Brits to deliver this song with impassioned fervor.

These are dangerous days/ To say what you feel is to dig your own grave/ England's not the mythical land of Madame George and roses/ It's the home of police who kill blacks boys on mopeds

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *