More Than Just A Song

A new series of programes about songs which have had a political impact.



Series about songs which have had a political impact.

3/3. Okie from Muskogee by country singer Merle Haggard was a number one hit in the US in 1969. It hit a chord in conservative middle America which regarded the song as a long overdue backlash against the long-haired, anti-Vietnam, hippie culture of the time. President Nixon was delighted, but was Merle Haggard really a redneck, and was he being entirely serious? His recent songs have protested against George W Bush and the Iraq war.

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Robin Denselow tells the story of This Land is Your Land, a stirring patriotic ballad sung in every school in the US. Yet it's really an angry left-wing protest song composed by the radical folk singer Woody Guthrie - written in the Depression as a riposte to Irving Berlin's God Bless America.

But those verses with a political message are now usually omitted and Guthrie's most popular song has become an anthem of the right as well as the left. It's been recorded by everyone from Bing Crosby to Pete Seeger, and from Billy Bragg to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir; and was even performed at President Bush's victory party in 2004.

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God Bless Africa, was composed in 1897 by a Methodist teacher in the Eastern Cape, Enoch Sontonga. Later, it was adopted by the African National Congress and became an inspirational anthem in the struggle against apartheid, forever associated with Nelson Mandela and the other prisoners on Robben Island.

It was sung by the crowd when Mandela was inaugurated as South Africa's president in 1994 and is now part of the country's national anthem. Enoch Sontonga died in 1905, aged 32. His grave was eventually identified ten years ago and is now a national monument.

Presented by Robin Denselow