By The Landlord
"It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership." – Nelson Mandela
"You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life." – Winston Churchill
"If the highest aim of a captain were to preserve his ship, he would keep it in port forever." – Thomas Aquinas
"Leadership at one time meant muscles; but today it means getting along with people … Power based on love is a thousand times more effective and permanent then the one derived from fear of punishment." – Mahatma Gandhi
What makes a great leader? Courage, honesty, integrity, respect, consistency, judgement, motivation, intelligence, foresight, stamina? The past month in particular has put this topic in the right in the spotlight. After the UK’s Brexit vote, all the key players who campaigned for it then resigned to leave others to pick up the pieces. And with the departure of David Cameron, the prime minister who started it all, alongside farcical leadership battles within the two biggest political parties, here comes Theresa May, a new unopposed, unelected PM who, to the embarrassment of the UK and smirks across the world, has now appointed Britain’s biggest political buffoon as foreign secretary. It’s like a political version of the Carry On films. But sadly without Kenneth Williams. I think it’s safe to say that we are not exactly in a golden era of political leadership.
But this week’s song topic can cover all kinds of leadership, not just referencing the political kind, the great and the good, the historic and the hated, the evil and envied, but all variety of authority figures, from military and history, to culture, business, education, sports, spiritual and more. Your song suggestions might refer to any of these figures specifically, or even talk about any kind of leadership.
Great leaders always possess a quality that makes others listen when they speak. Passion inspires passion, but it doesn’t have to come with shouting. Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela spoke with a quiet authority, and it is sometimes those who do not need to shout have the most power. But has there every been more inspirational speaker than Martin Luther King Jnr, whose 1963 speech, with that quivering voice, with those rises and falls, still makes me well up a bit, even though it was several years before I was born.
King’s speech has been quoted and sampled numerous times in song, so feel free to use this as a source in songs, alongside material from other speakers. Another key 1960s figure, Malcolm X has been extensively sampled in hip-hop, perhaps most notably by Public Enemy. Chuck D in continues to be something of a community leader himself, visiting schools and other organisations.
Yet in song, leaders who lie to the public throw up a particularly potent element, and it is in the context of war that this often becomes starkest. Winston Churchill is still regarded as Britain’s greatest prime minister, and on this subject he could also be candid about not being truthful: “It is a fine thing to be honest, but it is also very important to be right… In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.”
However, while this might apply to the subterfuge that allowed successful D-Day landings, the same cannot be said about going to war on the basis of bogus weapons of mass destruction. Tony Blair, George W Bush, and Donald Rumsfeld - that means you.
Notorious leaders have inspired songs as much as the great and the good. So you might reference anyone from Pol Pot to Hitler to Idi Amin to Genghis Khan. Leaders don’t have to create fear to inspire loyalty, but unfortunately many have done so throughout history. As an exception, Alexander the Great somehow managed to do both, but his legacy is more positive, expanding his empire with a multiculturalism and inclusiveness after battles, and encouraging marriage between east and west in all spheres, personal and cultural. And above all he was always keen to inspire bravery, rather than inspire fear: “I am not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep; I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion.”
According to Alexander then, the best leaders therefore are lions leading lions. Unfortunately that rarely applies to the Three Lions on the England shirt. So what makes a good manager in any context. It certainly varies in different spheres. In business “management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things”, says Peter Drucker - management and business expert. But your song references might be more fun with sporting figures, players or managers, especially those whose leadership has inspired or annoyed. A blood-soaked JPR Williams instructing his players before he left he field, for example? Of these there are many, but one that comes to mind inspired a song by Morrissey, with a play on words to perhaps one of the most terrifying but effective footballing captains of recent times:
So should a leader be close to those they lead or distant? “A man who wants to lead the orchestra must turn his back on the crowd,” said Max Lucado the millionaire US preacher and writer. So with this quote in mind, you might consider two other types of leaders - first the religious types from popes to preachers. And with preachers in mind, perhaps think of leaders who are actually in the musical stage, those who in their own genre are band leaders, some absolute leaders of the musical kind - Glenn Miller, James Brown, Prince or Fela Kuti, – they led in all ways on all kinds of stages.
Who then is this week’s band leader, conducting your nominations into lists? I’m delighted to welcome yet another new manager to the bar - the excellent EnglishOutlaw. Put forward your song suggestions until time is called on Monday evening UK time for EO’s playlists published next Wednesday. Lead on!
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Fancy a turn behind the pumps at The Song Bar? Care to choose a playlist from songs nominated and write something about it? Then feel free to contact The Song Bar here, or try the usual email address.