Friday, 20 January 2012
Songs for Social Justice: Patti Smith - People Have The Power
Today's blog has been written by Paul Simpson, singer and lyricist with The Wild Swans. We would like to thank Paul for his support throughout this project.
Perhaps if Robert Johnson had met Jesus, the Buddha or the prophet Muhammad at the Rosedale crossroads instead of the devil, optimism and positivity in the lyrics of rock songs wouldn’t now be considered quite so Sir Cliff-tastically uncool. Lennon’s caustic anger always trumped McCartney’s hokey nostalgia, than that’s just the way it is, but occasionally a rock song offers hope without making us cringe and such is the case with Patti Smith’s People Have The Power. Those four potent words are about as simple and direct and powerful a message as it’s possible to sing without sounding hopelessly naïve. There’s so much conviction in Patti’s delivery that by the time she reaches the pre-chorus refrain of ‘The power to dream, to rule, to wrestle the world from fools, it's decreed the people rule’ she’s almost levitating with excitement because she knows she just seconds away from the chorus and absolute connection.
Universal truths can be an extremely effective weapon in song, just listen to Give Peace A Chance and All You Need Is Love. OK, the latter’s slightly naïve message was flawed but I suppose All You Need Is Love, Food and Shelter didn’t scan so well. People Have The Power seeks to inspire and fuel change, and what’s more, not just for the ‘stick-it-to-the-man’ hippy-dippy sake of it, but in a constructive, focussed, ‘we outnumber you, stand aside, we want out’ way.
Ironically the William Blake inspired verses of this anti war song - all shepherds and soldiers sharing visions of peace beneath the stars, appeared shortly before the so-called ‘liberation of Kuwait’ and the Persian Gulf War. My favourite line of all in the song is ‘People have the power - to redeem the work of fools’.
For me Patti Smith’s simple message of optimism and the desire for change through union has never been more relevant than in these ill-governed times.
Patti Smith - People Have The Power