Get Up Stand Up

Like most people we often revisit tunes, albums and songs that seem almost part of my DNA. They make me smile, laugh, or cry. Songs can take us to a definite place and time. Certain songs remind us of significant moments in our lives and others bring close people that we love. Mason (2021) suggests music can be the purest form of communication and claims ‘music has a power that is immeasurable to the listener, an open window to one’s soul’ (Mason on-line) A grandiose claim to be fair and way too absolute but it has some resonance.
Mallouky (2021) develops this idea by suggesting that songs and artists can give us a sense of security in that we can find comfort, familiarity, and safety in the song and artist choices we make. Therefore, music can often feel like the lightning rod to channel our thoughts and feelings to provide a sense to the world where sense may seem in short supply. Indeed, Levitin articulates that we allow artists and songs to, ‘control our emotions and even our politics’ (Levitin 2008) and in this way music and songs can inspire and comfort us, which feels real and tangible.
The discourse concerning music and politics is rich and varied. From our national anthem through classical endeavours to the modern pop standard, the platform has been used to celebrate and denigrate political processes and occasions. Thomson (2016) argues that the ‘very nature of our political development is mixed inextricably to a narrative that concerns itself with conflict as well as harmony.
Whist there is a space to celebrate harmony, it is equally vital to acknowledge the role of conflict within music. It feels as important to recognise the essential place music can have on our political awakening Thomson 2016) Levitin offers that by the time we are eighteen to twenty years old we have formed a huge backlog of sounds and music that can define who we are and where we feel our lives are going (Levitin 2008) and according to Thomson (2016) we cannot escape the tracks and tunes that have come to define us.
It is important to recognise that some people won’t have access to popular culture in the way we have accessed it and therefore the work that colleagues do in terms of the ‘promote the vote’ campaign in Bradford is vital to how social workers see, observe, and promote the idea of democratic processes.
For those that are interested, there are a group social workers in Bradford that take part every year in the Promote the Vote campaign in the preceding couple of months prior to any mayoral or local elections. According to ADASS (2021) the purpose of the campaign is to try to ensure ‘that adults with learning disabilities understand their right to vote’ and far more importantly that they are supported to exercise that right and participate in the democratic process of elections.
We thought therefore it might be worthwhile casting an eye over those songs and artists that have inspired us politically and inevitably brought us to the world of social work and then keep us there.
These are just our immediate thoughts and choices, and it is worth noting that on another day and time these would inevitably change depending on mood, temperament, or any number of variants connected to the human condition.
Feel free to get involved and suggest your choices.
Our Top Desert Island Discs – why we are social workers?
The Sex Pistols – God Save The Queen
Let’s start here. As good a starting point as any. It isn’t just a song. It is a blistering clarion call and one that feels as vital today as ever. This hasn’t been included because of the pending coronation, though that would be a good enough reason. There is something incredibly incendiary about this song to our ears, and it still stands and has influence in the face of the prevailing culture wars.
The Press Music Review (online) argues that God Save the Queen’ is pure in your face rock and roll, though the authors would offer it sits within the genre of punk. The song has an antagonistic and ferocious delivery with an absolute focus on ‘on adult apathy, governmental disregard and vapidity’ (The Press 2022). The final refrain of ‘no future, no future for you’, resonates and chimes with a visceral reality in cities like Bradford where we have largest number of under sixteens in the UK (Kalia 2018) These young people feel disenfranchised from the local and national political apparatus and have a sense that the nations movers and shakers don’t care much, nor do they value the opinion of young people. The themes contained in God Save the Queen are as alive within our national discourse as they ever were.
Tracy Chapman – Fast Car
David Browne (2020) writing in The Rolling Stone argues that Fast Car is one of the most socially conscious songs to emerge from the eighties. The themes in Fast Car are resonant from a contemporary perspective, particularly when we consider the impact of a global pandemic, the ravages of austerity, and the lack of any tangible valued employment opportunities. The narrator in the song is a ‘young woman who drops out of school to support her father, who is alcohol dependent whilst dreaming of escaping in an automobile owned by her destitute partner.
Fast Car certainly didn’t sit comfortably with much of the output at the time, particularly the ‘hair metal’ brigade as the song is a deliberate attack on right wing politics of the day yet still has reach and a significance from a 21st century viewpoint.
Browne argues that measuring the song against 21st-century social conditions Fast Car has rarely been far from the political agenda and in this sense is timeless. The political narrative is almost suffocating and and he so eloquently offers ‘all of us have ‘had a situation in our lives when all we have wanted is to get in a car and just drive away from it all’ (Browne 2020)
Kate Bush – Women’s Work
Some songs seem to breathe and bring life experiences into a very sharp focus. Woman’s Work isn’t overtly political, and yet often the best songs are immersed in an agenda that pushes the listener to think and reflect on the words. There is very real and deep undercurrent to this song. A point beautifully articulated by Jen Chaney in 2018 who argues the song has been used in more and more dramas and documentaries to suggest a mood or/and a mind-set related to ‘fighting injustice, or those just trying to find shreds of hope’ where non-exists (Chaney 2018)
Ross writing in 2008 appraises the song and argues the melody and words pinpoint a strong sense of ‘empathy and humanity’ (Ross 2008) which is hardly surprising given the subject matter. Bush wrote the song for the movie ‘She’s Having a Baby’ where the central theme of the film is risk to life.
There is a huge connection with social work here that is echoed by Ruth Allen when defining the social work profession. Allen articulates a role for the professional that is concerned with ‘life, treasuring humanity, and love’ (Allen 2018) Not just a song then but an internal cry to external world for safety and security.
The Cranberries – Zombie
The song was originally inspired by the deaths of two children in Warrington when the Irish Republican Army detonated a bomb in the town. Tim Peacock argues that the video to support the song was originally banned by the BBC. Some of the scenes are filmed using live footage of ‘the troubles in Belfast.
The lyrics are overtly political though Delores Riordan, the singer in The Cranberries refutes this stating ‘the song was written from an entirely humanitarian point of view (Vox 1994) The anti-violence message of the song still resonates according to Peacock (2022) with journalist and ‘hacks’ referencing the lyrics within the song when considering attacks in Manchester, Paris, and Egypt.
The humane and compassionate cry within the song clearly has a tangible link to social work particularly when considering the International Federation of Social Workers definition which refers to human rights and social justice (IFSW online) Miranda Garza in article titled ‘songs of protest’ argues that ‘music is one of society’s best teachers’ (Garza 2021) and the palpable frustration within the song and melody are a lesson many political leaders choose to ignore.
Freedom – Beyonce (featuring Kendrick Lamar)
A monster of a song, and it feels like a storm from start to end, and what a storm. The song is powerful de Freitas (2015) and the lyrical themes deliver a potent message regarding breaking away from ‘metaphorical chains’ and of ‘self-preservation through a heady mix of blistering soul and the restrains of the pulpit preacher. Mike Wass argues that Freedom ‘undoubtedly ranks as one of the most powerful protest songs of all time’ (Wass 2020) he also offers it is a tune that deserves its place in the pantheon of political protest songs and should remain there forever.
Pluto Reporter (2018) argues the song may be overtly political, but there is definite power within the delivery that manifests a passion and strength that carries the listener along and offers inspiration on so many levels.
The song was adopted for the ‘Freedom For Girls’ campaign which is concerned with ‘empowering girls to transform’ society and the video and song were used as to promote the ‘international day of the girl’. The focus here is issues relating to access to education, child trafficking, and child marriage (Adegoke 2017), and these are themes that are global and at the very heart of social work.
Rage Against The Machine – Killing In The Name Of
The bands name is an absolute pointer to where we are heading here and Eves writing in 2022 observes that the band wrote mainly about ‘socio political injustices and inequalities with ‘killing in the name’ being a furious and anger fuelled take on the beating of Rodney King and the Los Angeles riots.
The song might be considered controversial in terms of the themes of police brutality and the accusation that member of the law enforcement agencies and officials in high office being members of the Ku Klux Klan – ‘some of those that work forces are the same that burn crosses’ (RATM 1992) The anger and fury of the song are exemplified by the final verse ‘when de la Rocha screams fuck you I won’t do what you tell me’ fifteen times’ (Blazek 2017)
The song feels alive and contemporary when linked to the Black Lives Matter movement and, in particular with the Murder of George Floyd in 2020. The listener would surely burn with a righteous anger and fury when considering in the intervening thirty years since the song was released. The issue of police brutality and the murder of black people on the streets where they live is pertinent and appears as legally sanctioned today as it ever was.
The Clash – Know Your Rights
This is a public service announcement with guitars ‘hollers’ Joe Strummer at the start of the song. The song and lyric are concerned with class, and as John Robb suggests on the website Louder Than War Strummer is being both abrasive and satirical when exploring themes such as poverty, disadvantage, and oppression. Considering the reference to ‘public service announcements’ with guitars he is mocking the classic information ‘drops’ between the tv schedules of the time that were meant to keep people informed and stave off potential accidents and crisis.
Strummer advises the listener to understand the following rights with the attendant caveats though:
Number 1 – The right not to be killed (unless it is done by the police)
Number 2 – The right to food money (but be prepared for investigation, humiliation, and rehabilitation)
Number 3 – The right to free speech (as long as you’re not stupid enough to actually try it)

Robb (2022) argues the lyrics alone would stand as review if we were to just merely leave them here for the reader to peruse. The authors once advised a potential social work student to read the lyrics to most Clash songs when asked if we could direct the person to some relevant reading before they started their social work course.

Bob Marley – Get Up Stand Up

Probably the yard stick by which every other political or protest song is measured. The song and lyrics are motivated by a desire for change and a call to action. McCann argues the song stands the test of time and is as resonant now as it always has been. Sullivan writing in 2011 argues the song has endured as ‘an international human rights anthem’ and the fact the song is still performed is testimony to ‘the persistence of oppression and human rights violations in all forms throughout the world’ Sullivan (2011)

The song written by both Bob Marley and Peter Tosh is glorious in terms melody as well as the substance of the lyric. The core themes deal with the notion that ‘unalienable rights are not reserved for a special class or for those who wait patiently for greener pastures’ Sullivan (2011) There is a rallying cry against those that ‘tell you Heaven’ is waiting in one form or another and therefore your reward will eventually materialise, though not in this world. (Call Me Fred- online)

According to website Marley was so touched by what in he saw in Haiti and the impact poverty was having on the population he was inspired to right the song. Ptredis writing in the Guardian 2020 argues that the song is limitless in its reach as the core of the song deals with issues that are all pervasive and in this sense ‘Get Up Stand Up, is a militant, righteously pissed off call to arms and that it has lost none of its urgency’ Petridis (2020) which is surely a key message for all social workers.


Allen. R (2018) Social work, Cats and Rocket Science

Blazek. (2017) The Story Behind@: Killing In The Name Of’ by Rage Against The Machine (Accessed April 2023)

Browne. D. (2020) The Rebirth of Tracy Chapman’s Hard Luck Anthem The Rolling Stone (Accessed April 2023)

Call Me Fred (2012) The Story Of A Song: Get Up Stand Up – Call Me Fred Radio

Chaney. J (2019) The Unerring Power of ‘This Woman’s Work Vulture web-site (Accessed April 2023)

De Freita. S (2016) Renowned For Sound Single Review,lovers%20for%20ages%20to%20come. (accessed (Accessed April 2023)

Garza. M. (2021) Songs Of Protest: How the Cranberries Defied Irish Violence with Zombie Afterglow Publications

Kalia. A. (2018) We’re all competing For the Same Jobs : life in Britain Youngest City The Guardian Accessed April 2023

Levatin. J, Daniel (2008) This Is Your Brain On Music – The Science Of A Human Obsession. Atlantic Books
Peacock. T (2022) Zombie: The Story Behind The Cranberries Death Less Classic UDiscovermusic Publications

The Press Music Review – Top Five Songs – The Sex Pistols (2022) (Accessed April 2023)
Petradis. A. (2020) Bob Marley’s 30 Greatest Songs – Ranked. Guardian Publications

Reporter. P. (2016) Review Beyonce – Single Pulse Media (Accessed April 2023)

Robb. J. (2023) Stand Up For Your Rights: The Clash Louder Than War

Sullivan (2011) The Origin Of The Song: The Wailers ‘Get Up Stand Up’ Paste Magazine.

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