Reagan-Thatcher Redux: What Got Us Through

Following the US election on Nov 8, 2016, we asked Dowsers contributors to discuss the moods and music the results inspired. We collected their responses in a series, After the Election.

In the early ‘80s, just as I was starting high school, starting to think for myself for the first time, and developing semi-informed opinions about the world around me, that world took a turn toward the troubling. With Maggie Thatcher in power in England and Ronald Reagan assuming the U.S. presidency, the Western world suddenly made a treacherous shift toward the right, and the neocon movement was on the rise.

Fortunately for me, right around the same time, I discovered the joys of college radio, opening up the burgeoning world of post-punk and new wave to my eager, impressionable ears. As luck would have it, a number of artists from that realm in both the U.K. and U.S. were turning out tunes that expressed their frustration at the state of things. Naturally, punk was perfect for crafting urgent, aural agitprop fueled by righteous anger, and the likes of Black Flag, The Clash, The Dead Kennedys, and The Bad Brains were right on the money in that regard. But from the politically conscious synth funk of Heaven 17’s “(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang” to The Specials’ spooky reggae noir portrait of Thatcher’s England on “Ghost Town,” there were plenty of ways to turn sociopolitical angst into affecting music that could both inform and inspire.

That remained true throughout the ‘80s, and history shows that the evil these songs decried was eventually unseated. Three decades later, both sides of the big pond are beset by even darker political demons, and music remains a natural place to turn for solace and motivation. Soon, we will undoubtedly see a whole new crop of songs that speak to this disturbing moment in our history, but in the meantime, the ones that worked for us back in the ‘80s can still do the trick. Some of them are directed specifically to Thatcher and/or Reagan, but their targets are nevertheless timeless, and others provide just the kind of sympathetic sigh or rallying cry we need right now.