Rocks Off caught a little of the coverage of the Obama adminstration and Congress' deadlock over the country's impending default on its debt this morning. We could barely make heads or tails of it, but the underlying message was fairly clear: Holy shit, are we ever fucked.
We are already about two and a half years into what many people call either the Great Recession or Lesser Depression, and if the nation's credit rating is lowered, we don't see how that could improve the situation very much. (We speak as one whose credit rating is not all that great ourselves.) Luckily, if there's one class of people who know a thing or two about being broke, it's musicians, many of whom have spent at least some time on the margins of society.
Rocks Off put on our jukebox cap this afternoon and came up with five songs that warn the government what their constituents are in for if they don't get their act together PDQ; our only criterion was that they be a little more recent than "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime." Yes, we know we are barely scratching the surface of the iceberg, so feel free to chip in your own favorites in the comments. It's free.
5. Ice Cube, "Once Upon a Time In the Projects"
"I sat on the couch but it wasn't stable/ And then I put my Nikes on the coffee table"
One of our favorite songs from AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted proves something well worth remembering in these difficult times: Being poor does not mean your life has to be boring. Quite the contrary - over the course of an average day in Ghettoville, U.S.A., Cube gets a contact high, a sweet malt-liquor buzz and two weeks' room and board at the county's expense due to an outstanding warrant.
4. Howlin' Wolf, "Poor Boy"
"Poor Boy sews patches on his clothes/ Stuffs newspaper in his shoes"
Personally, Rocks Off would rather Wolf read that newspaper, but when you're broke you gotta do what you gotta do. Out of all the songs called "Poor Boy," Rocks Off chose this one because you can never have enough Howlin' Wolf, and it comes with a very important message about friendship.
3. Merle Haggard, "If We Make It Through December"
"If we make it through December we'll be fine"
It's never too early to start thinking about the holidays, especially if you've just been laid off like The Hag and your children are going to be looking at some empty stockings come Christmastime. One of Merle's most down-at-the-heels songs retains a note of stubborn optimism that is 100 percent American.
2. Townes Van Zandt, "Marie"
"Well, the man's still grinnin' says he lost my file, I gotta stand in line again/ I want to kill him but I just say no/ I had enough of that line, my friend"
Seriously, how much money does Rocks Off have to contribute to Sheila Jackson Lee's campaign for her to stand on the House floor and read these lyrics into the Congressional Record? When "Summer wasn't bad below the bridge, a little short on food that's all" is about as good as it gets - and it gets a lot worse - you know you've got problems.
1. Ray Charles, "Busted"
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"The fields are all bare and the cotton won't grow/ Me and my family got to pack up and go"
No disrespect to Johnny Cash or Wanda Jackson, but now and forever after, Charles' "Busted" will remain the gold standard for songs about not having a dime to your name. The horns are so punchy on this 1963 classic it's like they're trying to swing their way out of poverty all by themselves. In a way, they did - "Busted" was a Top 10 pop and R&B hit and has been endlessly anthologized ever since, so it probably bought Brother Ray at least a couple of houses on its own.