THROWBACK THURSDAY: Bill Winter’s “The Top 25 Liberty Songs”

[The below was originally released in 2001 for “LP News” by Bill Winter, who was at the time the editor.]

It’s been said that popular music — whether rock, rap, pop, folk, or country — is the soundtrack by which we live our lives.

If that’s the case, Libertarians want to sing along to a soundtrack that reflects their most fundamental value: Liberty.

That’s why we came up with “Liberty’s Best Songs” — 25 songs that celebrate human freedom, civil liberties, resistance to tyranny, or just plain old all-American “I did it my way” individualism.

The songs were chosen from over 200 suggestions sent in by LP News readers. Our selection process wasn’t scientific: If someone sent in a compelling 100-word essay (or lyrics) explaining why their favorite tune was a libertarian classic, it made the first cut.

From there, we winnowed the list down to a Top 25, based on musical and lyrical merit, the number of votes received, the song’s musical genre, and thedate the song was released.

Do those last two criteria hint at a “quota” system? We plead guilty.

Our goal was to include a wide variety of musical styles, so you’ll find everyone from crooner Frank Sinatra to punk rockers NOFX; from rasta master Bob Marley to country luminary Hank Williams, Jr.; from classic rockers Rush to alternative folk / punks the Pogues; and from rappers Public Enemy to the original Fab Four, the Beatles. No matter what your musical taste, there should be something for you on the list.

We also understand that most people’s favorite songs come from one particular era. “Every generation throws a hero up the pop charts,” Paul Simon sang on “The Boy in the Bubble” from Graceland. Whether you came of age in the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, or ’90s, we wanted to make sure that at least one of your era’s heroes was included.

This is by no means a definitive list — nor is it in any particular order. But it is a list of 25 great songs that celebrate liberty. Sing them loud. Sing them proud.

  • Song: Sunshine
    * Artist: Jonathan Edwards
    * Album: Lucky Day (Capricorn, 1971)
    Released in 1971, the same year the Libertarian Party was founded, “Sunshine” was a crossover hit that reached the Top Five. A catchy, upbeat yet laid-back country anthem, its folky lyrics were almost custom-written for the second American Revolution. The song begins on a defeated note, with the hero telling the sunshine to go away because “some man’s…trying to run my life / He tells me I better get in line.” But the hero realizes that “time is all we’ve lost,” and defiantly claims: “He can’t even run his own life / I’ll be damned if he’ll run mine.” The song ends hopefully with the lyrics, “Sunshine come on back another day / I promise you I’ll be singin’ / This old world she’s gonna turn around / Brand new bells will be ringing.” This could be an optimistic theme song for all Libertarians.
    [Submitted by Mark J. Zetzer Jr.]
  • Song: My Life
    * Artist: Billy Joel
    * Album: 52nd Street (Sony / Columbia, 1978)
    The central problem of libertarianism is how to draw the lines that neighbors and government may not cross in dealing with individuals. Billy Joel’s “My Life” is the pop song that I think best spotlights that question. Joel sings: “I don’t care what you say anymore / this is my life / Go ahead with your own life, and leave me alone…And you can speak your own mind / but not on my time.” The lyrics simply declare personal sovereignty, expressing equally well the thoughts of a teenager, standing up to his parents; an adult, setting personal boundaries for a domineering lover, spouse, or friend; or — I like to think — an overtaxed, overregulated citizen, rethinking his relationship to society and government.
    [Submitted by James Merritt]
  • Song: 911 is a Joke
    * Artist: Public Enemy
    * Album: Fear of a Black Planet (Uni / Def Jam, 1990)
    This is a witty little rap tune about a government service that costs lives by being slow — and selective about which neighborhoods get efficient government ambulance service. The lyrics say: “Hit me / Going going gone / Now I dialed 911 a long time ago / Don’t you see how late they’re reactin’ / They only come when they wanna / so get the morgue, embalm the goner / They don’t care, ’cause they stay paid anyway / If your life is on the line, you’re dead today…’Cause 911 is a fake life-saver.” This was one of the first rap songs to take on the bad effects government has on inner cities — besides police brutality and harassment.
    [Submitted by Marc Brandl]
  • Song: Get Up, Stand Up
    * Artist: Bob Marley & The Wailers
    * Album: Burnin’ (Tuff Gong / Island, 1973)
    “Get up, stand up / Stand up for your rights / Get up, stand up / Don’t give up the fight.” It is the message of the Founding Fathers set to a reggae beat. And Robert Nesta Marley (R.I.P.) had the spirit of a Founding Father with Rastafarian dreads. Rastafarians believe in religious and personal freedom, including the freedom to smoke ganja (which is their sacrament). Later, Marley sings: “Most people think / Great God will come from the sky / Take away everything / And make everybody feel high / But if you know what life is worth / You will look for yours on Earth / And now you see the light / You stand up for your rights.” A worldwide classic of freedom and empowerment.
    [Submitted by Andrew Williams]
  • Song: The Band Played Waltzing Matilda
    * Artist: The Pogues
    * Album: Rum, Sodomy & the Lash (WEA Records, 1985)
    Written by Australian folk singer Eric Bogle, the song describes Australian soldiers marching off to the Empire’s Great War in Europe — which would be eclipsed, of course, by an even “greater” war just 25 years later — and coming home “armless, legless, blind and insane.” War isn’t just “another government program,” as Joseph Sobran has written, but its bloodiest, most senseless and self-aggrandizing program. With their haunting melody and lead singer Shane MacGowan’s lugubrious brogue, the Pogues express this libertarian sentiment in especially poignant fashion. This may be, quite simply, the finest anti-war song ever written.
    [Submitted by Tony Pivetta]
  • Song: Liberty
    * Artist: Grateful Dead
    * Album: So Many Roads (BMG / Arista, 1999)
    “Liberty” is an ode to uncompromising freedom. Its opening stanza recalls Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty or give me death!” — “Saw a bird with a tear in his eye / Walking to New Orleans, my oh my / Said, ‘Hey bird, wouldn’t you rather die / Than walk this world when you’re born to fly?’ ” The song pays homage to unflinching individualism: “If I was the sun, I’d look for shade / If I was a bed, I would stay unmade / If I was a river I’d run uphill…” And the chorus exults for all to hear: “Ohh freedom, Ohh liberty / Ohh leave me alone / To find my own way home…” It also doesn’t hurt that the Grateful Dead was perhaps the 20th century’s most “libertarian” musical entity, eschewing industry rules and conventions to blaze a most original trail for some 30 years.
    [Submitted by Gary Snyder]
  • Song: Something for Nothing
    * Artist: Rush
    * Album: 2112 (Uni / Mercury, 1976)
    The song that best exemplifies liberty is “Something for Nothing,” written by Neil Peart (who is a Libertarian). The lyrics begin by pointing out how most of us are waiting for someone or something to come along and change our lives. Then, in the reprise, the song says: “You don’t get something for nothing / You don’t get freedom for free.” To me, these lyrics say freedom can only be attained and preserved by a continuing effort and sacrifice. The last stanza is about freedom and how it allows an individual to create a life for himself that best reflects his goals and values.
    [Submitted by Tom M. Brakebill]
  • Song: 1%
    * Artist: Jane’s Addiction
    * Album: Jane’s Addiction (Triple XXX, 1987)
    Rather than providing a 100 word interpretation, I am submitting the actual lyrics, because the Liberty message needs no interpreting. It’s almost as though the song was written to describe the uphill struggle the LP and all liberty lovers have faced over the past 30 years from both gangs and governments alike. The song says: “All the people I know wanna be left alone /some people! / I don’t know! / they won’t leave you alone / you gotta be just like them / biggest gang I know they call the government…the gang and the government / no different / the gang and the government / no different.”
    [Submitted by Hunter Schaeffer]
  • Song: Taxman
    * Artist: The Beatles
    * Album: Revolver (Capitol, 1966)
    This song highlights in a funny way the lengths that government will go to tax people. It also conveys quite well the attitude many politicians have — namely, that our money is theirs and we should be happy that they let us keep any of it. The lyrics, written by George Harrison, make a wonderfully libertarian point about taxes: “If you drive a car, I’ll tax the street / If you try to sit, I’ll tax your seat / If you get too cold, I’ll tax your heat / If you take a walk, I’ll tax your feet.” And don’t miss the last line: “I’m the taxman, yeah, I’m the taxman / and you’re working for no one but me.”
    [Submitted by Pierre Parent]
  • Song: Copperhead Road
    * Artist: Steve Earle
    * Album: Copperhead Road (Uni, 1988)
    When arguing against the War on Drugs, Libertarians frequently draw parallels to alcohol prohibition. But they rarely do it as persuasively as Steve Earle. Set to an urgent mandolin, this country/rock classic is the story of John Lee Pettimore, whose grandaddy brewed moonshine on Copperhead Road. “Now the revenue man wanted grandaddy bad / He headed up the holler with everything he had,” sings Earle. “It’s before my time but I’ve been told / He never came back from Copperhead Road.” Fast-forward 50 years: After two tours of duty in Vietnam, Pettimore comes back “with a brand new plan / I take the seed from Columbia and Mexico / I plant it up the holler down Copperhead Road.” Recycling history, before long “the DEA’s got a chopper in the air…” And restating Prohibition’s deadly lessons, Pettimore warns the DEA: “I learned a thing or two from Charlie don’t you know / you better stay away from Copperhead Road.” Three verses, 50 years of history, and one lesson: Prohibition kills.
    [Submitted by Bill Winter]
  • Song: America
    * Artist: Neil Diamond
    * Album: The Jazz Singer (Sony / Columbia, 1984)
    The perfect pro-immigration libertarian theme song. This song’s lyrics embody what I believe is the best ideal of America: A star guiding the journey of people fleeing from hunger and oppression. People come to America because they only want to be free.” America will be their new “…home, it’s a new and shining place / Make our bed and we’ll say our grace / Freedom’s light burning arm…Everywhere around the world / They’re coming to America / Every time that flag’s unfurled / They’re coming to America.” This song’s stirring music gets anyone’s heart pounding, a fitting accompaniment to the stirring lyrics.
    [Submitted by Paul Rolig]
  • Song: The Plan
    * Artist: NOFX
    * Album: Life in The Fat Lane / Fat Music Vol IV (Fat Wreck Chords, 1999)
    Two years ago, I bought a punk rock compilation titled Life in The Fat Lane / Fat Music Vol IV. I loved the entire album, but when it got to “The Plan” I stood in amazement. It was talking about the things I stood for, in a crude punk way, of course. I listened over and over; I had no idea what a Libertarian was. Later that week I heard Harry Browne on the Don & Mike radio show. He showed me that there is a political party that reflects my ideas; I no longer had to vote against anyone. I never felt so free, and I owe it all to NOFX. The song says: “Call it Libertarian ‘cos we do as we please… / It has to do with freedom and personal liberty / I don’t f**k with you, don’t f**k with me…”
    [Submitted by Bob Loop]
  • Song: People Want to Be Free
    * Artist: The Young Rascals
    * Album: Freedom Suite (Atlantic, 1969)
    A simple and eloquent expression of libertarian thought. There are no complex topics, no over-the-top explanations of free-market economy. No mention of a large and overbearing government, only a single, beautiful assertion, “All the world over, so easy to see / People everywhere just wanna be free / I can’t understand it, so simple to me / People everywhere just got to be free.” This is the core of my libertarian beliefs. Any other argument I can formulate stem from that simple idea: “People want to be free.” Listening to this song always reminds me of why I’m a Libertarian.
    [Submitted by Dave Greer]
  • Song: I Want To Be Free (That’s the Truth)
    * Artist: Too Short
    * Album: Shorty the Pimp (BMG / Jive / Silvertone, 1992)
    While Too Short’s lyrics are often explicit, and he is considered more hardcore than mainstream, he is not about the “gangsta rap” that glorifies violence. Back in 1992, the year this song came out, LP Presidential candidate Andre Marrou joked that the Republicans don’t want anyone having more fun than they do, and the Democrats don’t want anyone making more money than they do — but Libertarians want you to make money and have fun. Too Short is clearly with the Libertarians. In “I Want To Be Free,” he recognizes that the police are standing between the average black man and his peaceful enjoyment of both money (“They see a brother makin’ major cash / They knock a patch out his black ass”) and fun (“Cause the 5-0’s always tryin’ to jack a playa.”) The song is full of references to illegal searches, police robbery, racial profiling, and other War on Drugs abuses. And of course you’ve gotta love the title.
    [Submitted by Starchild]
  • Song: Capitalism
    * Artist: Oingo Boingo
    * Album: Only A Lad (Uni / A&M;, 1981)
    I think the lyrics speak for themselves as to why this song best exemplifies the spirit of liberty: “There’s nothing wrong with Capitalism / There’s nothing wrong with free enterprise / Don’t try to make me feel guilty / I’m so tired of hearing you cry / There’s nothing wrong with making some profit / If you ask me, I’ll say it’s just fine…There’s nothing wrong with wanting to live nice / I’m so tired of hearing you whine / About the revolution / Bringin’ down the rich / When was the last time you dug a ditch, baby?” We are the only party who unabashedly supports capitalism and this song speaks to that — while admonishing the naysayers to admit that they have no real appreciation for the people they supposedly speak for.
    [Submitted by David Sarosi]
  • Song: My Way
    * Artist: Frank Sinatra
    * Album: My Way (WEA / Warner, 1969)
    This song reflects our Libertarian spirit. To me, it is about freedom of choice in all aspects of our lives. Sinatra mentions regrets, yet he dealt with the consequences of the decisions…he never sought to be bailed out by anyone else due to poor choices. Upon reflection, there were good times and bad times, but he is happy and proud to have done it his way. The lyrics (by Paul Anka) are a tribute to the spirit of unbowed individualism: “For what is a man, what has he got / If not himself, then he has naught / To say the things he truly feels / And not the words of one who kneels / The record shows, I took the blows / And did it my way.” I can not think of a better song to express my Libertarian beliefs.
    [Submitted by Kelley Galambos]
  • Song: Inside Four Walls
    * Artist: Nevermore
    * Album: Dead Heart in a Dead World (Century Media, 2000)
    This heavy metal song is a blunt criticism of the War on Drugs. The band members had a friend who has been put in jail for drug use, and they strongly believe he doesn’t deserve to be there. The middle of the song has a short monologue that says: “It’s a cold fact, that in the United states of America, typical drug offenders do more time than child molesters, rapists, and murderers. Is this justice? Is this the American way?” He then screams, “NO!” The song is most impressive because you can tell he really feels what he’s saying.
    [Submitted by Jerome Barthelemy]
  • Song: The Coalition to Ban Coalitions
    * Artist: Hank Williams, Jr.
    * Album: The Pressure is On (WEA / Atlantic, 1987)
    The all-time best liberty song, containing the clearest libertarian sentiment, comes from country legend Hank Williams, Jr. If you hear it, you’ll want to nominate it for Official Theme Song of the Libertarian Party. I’ll let the lyrics speak for themselves: “This is the coalition to ban coalitions / I’m not a politician, but I’ve got views / some folks want to ban cars, some want to get rid of Fender guitars / hey, you do your thing and we’ll do our thing, too…now they want to take my cigarettes and all my good whiskey / and these damn coalitions they are after you and me / they want to get rid of my .44s and all the R-rated films / if they only knew how much we’d all love to get rid of them.” Somebody ought to approach Hank about joining the party.
    [Submitted by James Bennett]
  • Song: Freedom of Speech
    * Artist: Ice-T
    * Album: The Iceberg / Freedom of Speech (WEA / Warner Bros., 1992)
    Rap artist Ice-T has a history of getting into trouble with the censors, most famously when his previous band N.W.A. released “F**k the Police” and then when Bodycount put out “Cop Killer.” So it’s no surprise that he’s something of a First Amendment fanatic, which he makes clear in “Freedom of Speech,” his raw free speech manifesto. Let’s allow Ice-T to explain: “Freedom of Speech, let ’em take it from me / Next they’ll take it from you, then what you gonna do? / Let ’em censor books, let ’em censor art / PMRC, this is where the witch hunt starts… / If you don’t like what I’m sayin’? Fine / But don’t close it, always keep an open mind / We only got one right left in the world today / Let me have it or throw the Constitution away.”
    [Submitted by Ananda Creager]
  • * Song: God Bless The USA
    * Artist: Lee Greenwood
    * Album: American Patriot (EMD / Capitol, 1992)
    I know this was George Bush’s unofficial anthem during his second run for office, but it’s a moving song — perhaps more so to me, as I’m a retired military man. I view the Libertarian Party as soldiers of a kind, fighting to regain freedoms we’ve lost over the years. I’m a new Libertarian and I’m proud to stand next to all of you in defense of our constitutional freedoms. Greenwood sings: “If tomorrow all the things were gone / I’d worked for all my life / And I had to start again / with just my children and my wife / I’d thank my lucky stars / to be living here today / ‘Cause the flag still stands for freedom / and they can’t take that away / I’m proud to be an American / where at least I know I’m free…”
    [Submitted by Gregory Waggett]
  • Song: Monster / Suicide / America
    * Artist: Steppenwolf
    * Album: Monster (Uni / MCA, 1969)
    One of the finest examples of libertarian music ever. From “Once the religious, the hunted and weary / Chasing the promise of freedom and hope / Came to this country to build a new vision…” to “America, where are you now? / Don’t you care about your sons and daughters?” this song cites good and bad events in the history of our nation. The lyrics (by John Kay) say: “The spirit was freedom and justice / Its keepers seemed generous and kind / Its leaders were supposed to serve the country / Now they don’t pay it no mind / Cause the people got fat and grew lazy / Now their vote is a meaningless joke…Yes, a monster’s on the loose / It’s put our heads into the noose….” A classic rock anthem about the decline and fall of the American dream of liberty.
    [Submitted by Bob Geller]
  • Song: Legalize It
    * Artist: Peter Tosh
    * Album: Legalize It (CBS Records, 1976)
    There may be more eloquently argued pro-marijuana legalization songs, and there may be more persuasive ones — but there are none more catchy or memorable. Over a slinky reggae beat, Tosh sings about his beloved ganja: “Legalize it, yeah yeah / That’s the best thing you can do.” His rationale? Well, “Doctors smoke it / Nurses smoke it / Judges smoke it / Even the lawyers too.” If that doesn’t convince you, perhaps his medical arguments will: “It’s good for the flu / it’s good for asthma / It’s good for tuberculosis…” OK, so Tosh (who used to appear on stage with a cigar-sized spliff in hand), won’t win any debating points. But the song has become a pro-legalization classic because it’s impossible not to sing along with.
    [Submitted by Paul Scott Williams]
  • Song: Rather Die Than Be Your Slave
    * Artist: Poker Face
    * Album: Sex, Lies and Politiks (PokerDudes, 2000)
    This Allentown (PA) band is not to be believed! With a sound that is a cross between Creed, Alice in Chains, and Pink Floyd, they grab you immediately with their music. The band’s intense sound hammers the freedom message home in song after song. My favorite song is “Rather Die Than Be Your Slave.” The lyrics: “The sun rose high and burnt the night away / Who stood before me was my enemy / Don’t tread on me / He’s come to take away my liberties / I’d rather die than be a slave to thee / Don’t tread on me!” The band never lets you forget their message.
    [Submitted by Deb Sackett]
  • Song: Government Cheese
    * Artist: The Rainmakers
    * Album: The Rainmakers (Polygram, 1985)
    Forget about free speech, drug legalization, gun rights, or immigration. The Rainmakers are willing to tackle the really tough issues — free government cheese! Actually, this is a (semi)-serious song about the spirit-sapping effects of government welfare. The lyrics say: “Give a man a free house and he’ll bust out the windows / Put his family on food stamps, now he’s a big spender / No food on the table and the bills ain’t paid / ‘Cause he spent it on cigarettes and P.G.A. [Pure Grain Alcohol] / They’ll turn us all into beggars ’cause they’re easier to please / They’re feeding our people that Government Cheese… / Going to hell in a handbag, can’t you see / I ain’t gonna eat no Government Cheese.” It rocks, it’s loud, and it’s damned right!
    [Submitted by Larry Lawver]
  • Song: The Trees
    * Artist: Rush
    * Album: Hemispheres (Uni / Mercury, 1978)
    There are any number of songs by Rush that express libertarian ideas; I am tempted to choose 2112 instead, especially since it is an interpretation of a book [Anthem] by my favorite libertarian author, Ayn Rand. But 2112 really doesn’t qualify as a single song. The Neil Peart-penned “The Trees” certainly does, and eloquently contrasts the ecstasy of individualism with the destructive tyranny of collectivism. The song is a parable about coercive equality: “There is unrest in the forest / There is trouble with the trees / For the maples want more sunlight / And the oaks ignore their pleas…” When some of the trees form a union to demand “equal rights,” the outcome is predictable (to Libertarians, anyway): “And the trees are all kept equal / By hatchet, axe, and saw.”
    [Submitted by Chip Wilson]
  • Just in case your favorite song or artist didn’t make the list, here’s 25 runners-up: “Lady Liberty” (Orleans); “Long Haired Country Boy” (Charlie Daniels Band); “Won’t Get Fooled Again” (The Who); “Free” (Stryper); “God & the F.B.I” (Janis Ian); “(Come and) Sing A Simple Song of Freedom” (Bobby Darin); “Power Play” (Steppenwolf); “People Have The Power” (Patti Smith); “Smuggler’s Blues” (Glen Frey); “Freedom” (Jimi Hendrix); “I Won’t Back Down” (Tom Petty); “Promiseland” (Willie Nelson); “We’re Not Gonna Take It” (Twisted Sister); “Stand Up” (The Steve Morse Band ); “Closer to Free” (BoDeans); “Vital Signs” (Rush); “It’s My Own Business” (Chuck Berry); “Everyday People” (The Rembrandts); “Grievance” (Pearl Jam ); “What’s He Building” (Tom Waits); “Don’t Ever Take Away My Freedom” (Peter Yarrow); “I’ll Try Something New” (Smokey Robinson & The Miracles); “Don’t Dream It’s Over” (Crowded House); “It’s My Life” (The Animals); and “Cry Freedom” (Dave Matthews Band).

Note: When more than one reader suggested the same song, either the first — or the most persuasive — submission was selected and credited. Submissions have been edited or expanded as necessary.

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