On first glance, rock ’n’ roll music isn’t very conservative. It doesn’t fare much better on second or third glance (or listen), either. Neil Young has a new song called “Let’s Impeach the President.” Last year, the Rolling Stones made news with “Sweet Neo Con,” another anti-Bush ditty. For conservatives who enjoy rock, it isn’t hard to agree with the opinion Johnny Cash expressed in “The One on the Right Is on the Left”: “Don’t go mixin’ politics with the folk songs of our land / Just work on harmony and diction / Play your banjo well / And if you have political convictions, keep them to yourself.” In other words: Shut up and sing.
But some rock songs really are conservative–and there are more of them than you might think. Last year, I asked readers of National Review Online to nominate conservative rock songs. Hundreds of suggestions poured in. I’ve sifted through them all, downloaded scores of mp3s, and puzzled over a lot of lyrics. What follows is a list of the 50 greatest conservative rock songs of all time, as determined by me and a few others. The result is of course arbitrary, though we did apply a handful of criteria.
What makes a great conservative rock song? The lyrics must convey a conservative idea or sentiment, such as skepticism of government or support for traditional values. And, to be sure, it must be a great rock song. We’re biased in favor of songs that are already popular, but have tossed in a few little-known gems. In several cases, the musicians are outspoken liberals. Others are notorious libertines. For the purposes of this list, however, we don’t hold any of this against them. Finally, it would have been easy to include half a dozen songs by both the Kinks and Rush, but we’ve made an effort to cast a wide net. Who ever said diversity isn’t a conservative principle?–John J. Miller
EDITOR’S NOTE: This week on NRO, we’re rolling out the first five and then all 50 songs from a list John J. Miller compiled that appears in the June 5 issue of National Review. To get the whole list NOW, check out the latest issue of National Review . For itunes links to all 50 songs, hang on until Friday, when we’ll unveil the whole list.
#5: “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” by the Beach Boys (1966) ; buy CD on Amazon.com
The music here is special for a million reasons, starting with those familiar Beach Boys harmonies. But it’s also because those opening bars are so different from the rest of it–that treble-fluffed backbeat for eight bars is suddenly interrupted with a soprano wish, more prose than poem, posing a question with only a wisp of rhythm and a hint of rhyme: “Wouldn’t it be nice if we were older? Then we wouldn’t have to wait so long.” Those two tunes that play against each other in the introduction are like a dream pressed tight against a heartbeat–and then we wake up and speak.
“Wouldn’t It Be Nice” says a lot with a little. It seems so jarring, so goody-two-shoes today not because it asserts old-fashioned values but because it assumes them: It is, however unlikely, a song about wanting to be married. Note what Brian Wilson and Tony Asher do not say: “Wouldn’t it be nice if we could have sex? These cultural mores have got to go!” They don’t even say, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we could do this without our parents finding out?” No, these are kids who accept that there is a place and time for everything, and that some urges are best delayed–even if we don’t see any good reason past faith to do so. They are looking forward–something rarely done anymore–to a time when what they want comports with the rules they trust, rules more important than an impulse or a wish, rules that preserve civility and order and life.
Get this: They’re looking forward not only to the carnal pleasures of being married but also, one assumes, the entire set of joys and responsibilities that marriage brings. Who knows if kids really felt this way in 1966? Maybe a lot of them didn’t–but maybe a bunch did. Perhaps a few still do. And if they do, wouldn’t it be nice?
Wouldn’t it be nice if we were older?
Then we wouldn’t have to wait so long
And wouldn’t it be nice to live together
In the kind of world where we belong?
You know its gonna make it that much better
When we can say goodnight and stay together
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could wake up
In the morning when the day is new?
And after having spent the day together
Hold each other close the whole night through?
Happy times together we’ve been spending
I wish that every kiss was neverending
Wouldn’t it be nice?
Maybe if we think and wish and hope and pray it might come true.
Baby then there wouldn’t be a single thing we couldn’t do.
We could be married
And then we’d be happy.
Wouldn’t it be nice?
You know it seems the more we talk about it
It only makes it worse to live without it
But lets talk about it
Wouldn’t it be nice?
–Michael Long is a director of the White House Writers Group and the editor of “Too Tough for TV: Rejected jokes of the late-night comics.”