By Rachel Courtney
I didn't plan on writing a post like this.
Last Thursday, I thought maybe I'd write one of those cute posts where you incorporate the names of the song into a story. I've really enjoyed posts like that in the past and I thought it would be a fun challenge.
But then, this weekend, everything went wrong in my country. The white power movement has always been here, and for a lot of my life I believed overt racists, KKK members, people who dressed in Nazi regalia were kind of a joke compared to more insidious institutional and unconscious racism. But in the USA in 2017, the white power movement is empowered in a way they haven't been for decades. They've made inroads into mainstream politics. They have the winking approval of our president and his top advisers. And this weekend, they marched. They didn't wear hoods, they didn't wear masks, and they were heavily armed. They surrounded an African-American church with only the anti-fascist counter protesters to protect the people inside. A young man came all the way from Ohio to Virginia to speed in his car down an empty, blocked off street into a crowd of counter protesters, and he killed someone.
People are hurt and die every day, people are hurt and die in terrorist attacks many times every week around the world. In every instance, the loss of life is horrific and tragic. But Heather Heyer could have been me. She could have been my sister or my brother. She could have been any of a hundred people I know and care about. She could be me tonight when I take the streets in solidarity with those hurt and killed in Charlottesville and in opposition to fascism and racism in all its forms. She was there to stand up against hate and she was killed for it. As I sat down to write this, I got news about my friend who suffered what he thought was a minor injury when he was struck in the neck by a torch on Friday, when a crowd of white supremacist marchers surrounded and attacked a smaller group of counter protesters around a statue of Robert E. Lee in a Charlottesville park. The blow partially dissected his carotid artery, which caused a clot which today caused a stroke. He's in the ICU and expected to recover but just how much is unclear.
So, I got behind on listening to songs and had to catch up fast on a huge volume of fantastic nominations, but it was great to have the diversion of listening to music and reading everyone's wonderful commentary. My radio show this week was unexpectedly political and that has carried over somewhat into my choices of music today. My A-list is about waiting for something better. The B-list is just songs I love about waiting for different things. I've tried to draw heavily from songs by and about people of colour and women in the US and around the world.
The A-list starts with the song that made me realise that I needed to go in this direction – Prince singing When Will We B Paid? The Staple Singers wrote this in 1971, Prince still needed to say i in 2001 and nearly 50 years after it was written it's still relevant. We need to do better.
The next song, by Barbara and the Browns, isn't explicitly political, as much of the list is not, but it's about waiting and yearning for something better. Barbara says I Don't Want to Have to Wait and I agree.
Billy Bragg, with Waiting for the Great Leap Forward, is dated and almost quaint in some ways but we still haven't made that leap. We've had baby steps forward and great leaps back.
The Marvelettes bring us another song about holding on, waiting, for that moment when everything works out. I'll Keep Holding On.
Please forgive me when I say I'm not the biggest fan of Bob Dylan. I appreciate his talent, I love his radio show, I enjoy some of his music but he just doesn't get me that excited. And I think he was a real jerk to Joan Baez. However When the Ship Comes In is a song I've loved since childhood, probably because I was raised to be, well, kinda into revolution and social change. This version by the Chieftains with the Decemberists maintains the folky feel of the original, just a little more of a Celtic style and prettier vocals. And oh boy, just you wait 'til the revolution comes!
Speaking of revolution, Black Uhuru's No Loafing (Sit and Wonder) tells the people living under apartheid, in spectacularly chill fashion, NOT to wait, not to "Sit around and wonder/what do do/Cause in South Africa here is a fire/On the youth".
The United States, with 5% of the world's population, has 21% of the world's prisoners within its borders. Those prisoners are disproportionately black males, with rates of conviction and severity of sentencing running along racial lines. When Jonte Short of Fried tells her lover she'll be there When You Get Out of Jail, she's articulating the experience of too many black women in America.
I'm not a religious person, but as reader Amylee said, the (and Uncleben nominated) Jesus Is Waiting by the Reverend Al Green makes a good case for it. The idea that there's a better place waiting for us somewhere beyond the life we know is a compelling one that gives many people comfort. This is the one song on this playlist that I also played on my radio show on the same topic.
Another song about leaning on faith for support is Jimmy Cliff's Sitting In Limbo. "They're putting up resistance/But I know that my faith will lead me on."
It's hard to know what Sandy Denny is talking about exactly in the gorgeous It'll Take a Long Time. It's like a storm at sea but what "it" means is personal to Sandy and the listener, I suppose. All we know is we need to weather it and it will take a long, long time to get better.
Culture's song Black Starliner Must Come is about, well, putting up with slavery until Jah sends a space ship to pick you up. So basically, more faith in a better world to come after death, making up for a raw deal in this one.
Finally, a spare and beautiful version of another Sandy Denny song, Who Knows Where the Time Goes?, sung by Nina Simone. While the other songs on this list are about waiting for something better, here we have found what we want and need and are letting the days pass unnoticed, savouring the time until it is gone.
Waiting For A Better Tomorrow A-list Playlist:
Prince – When Will We B Paid?
Barbara and the Browns – I Don't Want to Have to Wait
Billy Bragg – Waiting for the Great Leap Forward
The Marvelettes – I'll Keep Holding On
The Chieftains with the Decemberists – When the Ship Comes In
Black Uhuru – No Loafing (Sit and Wonder)
Fried – When You Get Out of Jail
Al Green – Jesus Is Waiting
Jimmy Cliff – Sitting In Limbo
Sandy Denny – It'll Take a Long Time
Culture – Black Starliner Must Come
Nina Simone – Who Knows Where the Time Goes?
While You Wait For Other Things B-List Playlist:
Bootsy Collins – What's a Telephone Bill?
Diana Ross – Do You Know Where You're Going To
Delta 5 – Anticipation
Alton Ellis – Anticipation
Etta James – Waiting For Charlie (To Come Home)
Lee Dorsey – Ya Ya
Roberta Flack – Jesse
Thin Lizzy – Waiting For An Alibi
Nina Simone – Don't Take All Night
Gigliola Cinquetti – Non Ho L'Età
The Chantells – Waiting In The Park
Chuck Wood – Seven Days Too Long
Neil Young – Till The Morning Comes
Guru's Wildcard Pick:
A very late elimination from my own lists was Astrud Gilberto's beautiful version of this song. But for me, the version from the movie will always be the one. This is Danielle Licari and Jose Bartel providing the singing voices of Geneviève and Guy in Les Parapluies de Cherbourg. The song is "Ne Me Quitte Pas", is sometimes translated into English, not as "Don't Leave Me", but as "I Will Wait for You".
Rachel Courtney runs the Philadelphia-based radio show Uneasy Listening.
These playlists were inspired by readers' song nominations from last week's topic: Hang on a minute … it's songs about waiting. The next topic will launch on Thursday at 1pm UK time.
New to comment? It is quick and easy. You just need to login to Disqus once. All is explained in About/FAQs ...
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.