Capitalism in song | Financial Times

Capitalism in song | Financial Times

Swampians, what can I say? We asked for, and we received, your fabulous suggestions for the all-time best songs about capitalism, money and business. In fact, there were so many wonderful submissions that I will devote my entire Swamp Note this week to summarising and analysing them (Ed is off for two weeks, fyi)

First came some oldies but goodies from the pro-labour left — Pete Seeger’s, “Banks of Marble”, (…the banks are made of marble/With a guard at every door/And the vaults are made of silver/That the workers sweated for), and of course “Brother Can You Spare A Dime?” which was written in the midst of the Great Depression. According to my Swamp source, Republicans tried to have it banned from the radio as “anti-capitalist propaganda”, but Bing Crosby did their work for them when he subsequently covered it. It took the Weavers to revive it years later. 

Then there were the capitalist realpolitik tunes like Pink Floyd’s “Money”, (Money, it’s a hit . . . don’t give me that do goody good bullshit), Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing”, (Now look at them yo-yo’s, that’s the way you do it/You play the guitar on the MTV/That ain’t workin’, that’s the way you do it/Money for nothin’ and your chicks for free), and finally the striped down and rather nihilistic “Pretty Green” by The Jam (I’ve got a pocket full of pretty green/I’m gonna give it to the man behind the counter/He’s gonna give me food and water /I’m gonna eat that and look for more). 

On that note, nothing is grimmer than Tom Waits’ “God’s Away On Business”, which actually received the single highest number of nominations. As the man sings it, “I’d sell your heart to the junkman baby/For a buck, for a buck/If you’re looking for someone to pull you/Out of that ditch/You’re out of luck, you’re out of luck . . . God’s away on business.” A song for our polarised times, I fear. 

Several of the nominations came with useful economic advice. I was pleased to be reminded of Simply Red’s “Money’s Too Tight To Mention”, which gets into the failures of Reaganomics, and the Wall Street Shuffle by 10cc, which was a bit too close for comfort, given some recent currency movements: “Do the Wall Street shuffle/Hear the money rustle/Watch the greenbacks tumble/Feel the Sterling crumble.” Unlike many economists, Swampians and their favourite crooners were happy to acknowledge what they didn’t know. One reader put forward Willie Edwards’ cult favourite, “Dollar In”, which poses the question, “A dollar in, a dollar out, how does interest come about?”

But my personal favourite suggestions were those that focused on what money can’t buy. As Sheryl Crow sings in “Soak Up the Sun”, “It’s not having what you want; it’s wanting what you’ve got.” I was also thrilled to see a reader suggest Kris Kristofferson’s wonderful “Me and Bobby McGee.” As Janis Joplin sang it in the best version, “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose/Nothin’ ain’t worth nothin’ but it’s free.” Wise words for a market top. 

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