Thursday, October 8, 2015

ROCKTOBER: Do-Re-WE

Very few songs are about us.

Take a listen. Spin the dial on the radio, or run a playlist on Spotify, or Shuffle your iTunes, and pay close attention to the personal pronoun. It’s always “I” and “me” and “you.” Once in a while it’s “they” and “them.” But rarely is it “we” and “us.”

When “we” or “us” means “you AND me” -- as in a couple united in a struggle against the world, or against one another -- that’s not the rare WE I have in mind, because tons of songs refer to a couple as a “we.” (Think: Pat Benatar’s “We Belong,” or Bowie’s “Heroes,” or Sugar’s damning “The Act We Act.”)

What is rare is the artist and the song willing to speak for a whole group of people.

A few years back, I read a compelling and quirky novel called “Then We Came to the End” by Joshua Ferris. The book’s audacious for its attempt to tell the story of a dysfunctional modern corporate office space through the plural personal pronoun protagonist of “we.” When something happens to a character, “we” saw it happen. “We” heard it. “We” thought it. On occasion, the device is revealed to be insufficient to the task, but it mostly holds up, and at times it creates a different kind of intimacy and involvement for the reader, as if the reader is one of the people who works in one of the regional offices, or perhaps four floors down.

“Make Them Gold,” a new song off the latest CHVRCHES album, brought this to mind. The song stood out for me because it addresses a “we”:
No one tells us what is hard and what is fair
And we will deliver once we know where to fall
We are made of our longest days
We are falling but not alone
We will take the best parts of ourselves
And make them gold
So I played a quick game. What songs, without cheating, without sifting through my iTunes collection, could I name in 5 minutes that are about a collective “we”?

Here’s all I could think of that qualified:
  • We Will Rock You - Queen (and “We Are the Champions,” natch)
  • We Do What We’re Told - Peter Gabriel
  • These Days - R.E.M.
  • It’s the End of the World - R.E.M.
  • We Are Young - fun.
  • We Didn’t Start the Fire - Billy Joel
  • How Far We’ve Come - Matchbox20
That Queen double feature is the ultimate us v. them anthem in Rock History. Peter Gabriel and BIlly Joel, R.E.M. (“It’s the End…”) and Matchbox20 are going for something more disturbing and cautionary, for a shared responsibility in how things have turned out. With “These Days” and fun., it’s a sort of anthem cry to the younger generation to step up and own the day or night. Time to be the adults in the room instead of waiting for the adults -- who generally suck, by the way -- to step up.

Here’s what I appreciate about the songs I just listed: they make me feel something entirely different than the standard lovelorn or smitten song, different than the song about the search for self or identity, about the individual’s need to find acceptance or escape. There’s just something different to a song that’s about US, a you and me and them us that means we share responsibility or shame, culpability or hope. Whatever it is, it’s US. WE own it. Some portion of ALL of us. Together.

Know what this list of songs needs to make it more about US and less about ME? Some additions! Leave some of your favorite “We” songs in the comments section so I can make a killer playlist of The Greatest WE Songs!

6 comments:

Bob said...

We take care of our own-- Springsteen

Bob said...

We run this town-- Jay z

We walk-- rem

Anonymous said...

We built this city? (Abbie)

goofytakemyhand said...

The Way We Move - Langhorne Slim
Baby We Were Young - Dirty Guv'Nahs
Something About What Happens When We Touch - Lucinda Williams
We May Be The Ones - Paul Westerberg (may be under Grandpaboy)
We Used to Wait - Arcade Fire

And I'm cheating here - People Like Us
Talking Heads People Like Us (The John Goodman version from the David Byrne movie "True Stories" may be even better)

Billy said...

Kids in America - Kim Wilde
We're All In This Together - High School Musical cast

joan faires said...

we're not gonna take it - twisted sister
we gotta get out of this place - the animals