Here’s a curious little novelty item from my promo vaults. Released by Mercury in 1992, this CD single — recorded by Don Was under the cheeky, but not particularly clever, pseudonym A Thousand Points of Night — was timed to coincide with the great Bush/Clinton/Perot three-way showdown known as the ’92 election.
“Read My Lips” wasn’t a hit, and it isn’t a particularly entertaining listen, but after hearing it for the first time in many years this morning, I’m fascinated by how much political pop music has changed in the last 18 years. Jackson Browne and the Amnesty International crowd made some political statements with their music in the ’80s, but by the early ’90s, “Read My Lips” was about as topical as pop got — and the next generation of artists wasn’t interested in politics at all.
That changed in the early aughts, when 9/11, a new Iraq war, and various W. administration shenanigans made politics an every-day concern for artists who’d grown up taking peace and prosperity for granted; these days, musical statements about current events are arguably more common than ever. But they’re also a lot angrier. I mean, yeah, Bruce Cockburn wanted a rocket launcher as far back as the ’80s…but for the most part, artists used to be more interested in imparting a message than venting their rage, and they couched those messages in solid songwriting. Remember when Reagan mistook “Born in the U.S.A.” as a GOP-friendly anthem?
It made a few small news waves in its day, but “Read My Lips” sounds pretty quaint now. I sort of miss the days when a song like this counted as a bold statement.