The death of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher today at the age of 87 is monumental from a cultural and musical stand point for those of us who came of age in the 1980's. Thatcher and U.S. President Ronald Reagan galvanized musicians on both sides of the Atlantic to critique them for their right wing domestic policies and heavy handed approach to foreign affairs. In the U.K., 2-Tone era bands were united in their opposition to her, with The Beat, The Specials (Ghost Town) and UB40 (Madam Medusa) all recording songs took her to task for gutting social welfare programs and declaring war on the working class and more vulnerable members of British society.
On the news of her passing today, Dave Wakeling of The English Beat who penned the iconic "Stand Down Margaret," shared the following statement:
"Although I rejoice in no one's death, Margaret Thatcher's passing is an important event for those who lived under her regime. She made competitors out of neighbors, and people stopped talking at bus stops, even about the weather, in the shadow of her affected, pretend posh accent. margaret made herself big on the tears and suffering of others, more Cromwell than Churchill, yet however much pain she caused us, I wish comfort and solace to her family today."Here is one of the best live versions of the song ever recorded by the band in 1980.
The New York Times had the following succint overview of the way Thatcher in particular generated significant opposition from the community of musicians:
From the beginning, some of the toughest depictions came from musicians. Opposition to her free-market ideology infused albums like Gang of Four’s 1979 “Entertainment!” and, in the same year, the Clash EP “Cost of Living,” the cover of which Joe Strummer reportedly wanted to include a collage featuring Mrs. Thatcher’s face and a swastika. Robyn Hitchcock, in the song “Brenda’s Iron Sledge” (1981), imagined Thatcher’s Britain as a surreal dogsled ride to hell. The Beat’s “Stand Down Margaret” (1980) called on her to resign. In 1985, Billy Bragg, Paul Weller, Kirsty McColl and other musicians founded Red Wedge, a collective aimed at forcing her to do just that.
When that effort failed, some turned to dark fantasies. In “Margaret on the Guillotine” (1988), Morrissey trilled “People like you/Make me feel so tired/ When will you die?” Elvis Costello, in “Tramp the Dirt Down” (1989), promised “When they finally put you in the ground/ I’ll stand on your grave and tramp the dirt down.”