Rocks Off sincerely prays that those of you with today off are at least peripherally aware of why you have today off. For our annual MLK Day reflection this year, we thought we'd leave the songs about Dr. King to Bono, and instead share a few of our favorite songs that set his dream to music in one way, shape, form or another.
Rocks Off may not be free at last, but we're sure trying. Before you judge us too harshly, please remember these came straight off the top of our head. Thank God Almighty.
8. Patty Griffin, "Up To the Mountain (MLK Song)": Because Rocks Off swore that any time we posted something about Dr. King, we would include this stirring, nearly a cappella song from 2007's Children Running Through. We'd hate to go back on our word, and besides, "Mountain" is also a dead-on telegraph for the red-haired Austin songbird's gritty 2010 gospel LP Downtown Church.
7. Staple Singers, "Freedom Highway": A bit of a rarity here, in that the Staples' freedom highway is the Chicago family's clapping and stomping 1965 account of the same road traveled by Dr. King and so many others during the Civil Rights Era. Always socially on point, Roebuck, Mavis and the rest of the Staples crew have converted many a nonbeliever.
6. Soup Dragons, "I'm Free": Pasty UK bands have been mining reggae and dub for their own alternative purposes since at least the Clash, and Scotsmen the Soup Dragons were doing it in fine rude-boy style in 1990. A bit of a precursor to the wide-eyed dance-pop that would soon follow from the likes of Jesus Jones, Ned's Atomic Dustbin and the Shamen as well.
5. George Michael, "Freedom '90": Also from 1990, George Michael's ultra-slick ode to bein' free - with the year appended to prevent confusion with Wham!'s 1984 hit "Freedom" - missed out on being the year's being the year's biggest dance-club sensation because of two words: Madonna's "Vogue."
4. Aretha Franklin, "Think": The Queen of Soul's 1968 hit espouses a dream of a different kind: That the (presumably trifling) man she is addressing get his act together PDQ. Although it's been since used to sell everything from panty hose to cut-rate bulk merchandise at Big/Lots, it's hard not to feel a little empowered when 'Retha belts out "Freedom!" in the chorus. (Over and over and over again.) In any given year, "Think" has about a 50 percent chance of being butchered by one American Idol hopeful or another.
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3. Merle Haggard, "Okie from Muskogee": Because Merle believes in "livin' right and bein free." So did Dr. King, and so do we.
2. Team America, "Freedom Isn't Free": Yes, this Trey Parker-penned tune from Team America: World Police is a take-off on boot-in-the-ass Toby Keith-type flag-waving country, but only up to a point, and not nearly as tongue-in-cheek as the better-known "America (Fuck Yeah!)." Lyrics like "'Cause the only reason that you're here/ Is 'cause folks died for you in the past/ So maybe now it's your turn to die kicking some ass" may raise a chuckle or two, but deep down they're no joke.
1. Lynyrd Skynyrd, "Free Bird": Those of you who would scoff at our including this song, and this band, Rocks Off kindly points you toward "The Ballad of Curtis Loew" on 1974's Second Helping. Now tell us Ronnie Van Zant and crew were racist.