How Did Pop Music Speak Truth to Power in Thatcher’s Britain?
“The Fascist Groove Thing: A History of Thatcher's Britain in 21 Mixtapes”, a new book by Dr. Hugh Hodges, serves as a lyrical reconstruction of Britain under the leadership of Margaret Thatcher
A new book penned by Dr. Hugh Hodges, professor and chair of the Cultural Studies Department at Trent, is amplifying an era of music marked by dissenting youth voices and lyrics that served as ‘fists in the air’ of resistance during a defining era of British politics.
The Fascist Groove Thing lays out the political landscape of “Margaret Thatcher’s Britain” in the late 1970s and 1980s – an era shaped by conservativism and her leadership, using the urgent and still-relevant songs of bands like the Clash, the Specials, the Au Pairs, the Style Council, the Pet Shop Boys, and nearly 400 other bands and solo artists of the time.
Show how music makes meaning for its audience
Each chapter presents a mixtape (or “playlist”) with a tie to features of Thatcher’s Britain, followed by an exploration of how those songs recorded, commented on, and defied Thatcher and Thatcherism. The result is an alternative political history of the period, but the book is also a project steeped in personal and professional passion for Professor Hodges.
“This is the music I grew up with, so it is always something I've wanted to think about critically,” Prof. Hodges explains. “I wanted to write something about how music makes meaning in a way that is accessible to an audience who could go back, relive and understand that period, but also appeal to [a reader] who might not have the technical, theoretical background.”
Prof. Hodges started building the book’s playlists partly in response to recent, conservative-leaning histories of Britain in the 1970s and ‘80s. These histories have sought to rehabilitate Thatcher by downplaying the social damage caused by her policies and recasting her as a strong leader who saved the nation from the economic malaise of the 1970s. Some, like Netflix’s The Crown, have even tried to cast her as a plucky, forward-looking feminist icon.
“Some of the point of this project is ‘don’t forget’,” explains Prof. Hodges. “Focusing on what music had to say through this period is a way of talking about, how despite everything, it was possible to be optimistic and find joy and battle the greyness, the bleakness, the rain-soaked horror of the Thatcher era, with a medium that speaks joy even as it is speaking resistance.”
Keeping a record through pop music
In many ways this book treats vintage vinyl as a truly historic record of a time of extreme political change. Prof. Hodges hopes that the book captures the voice of an era, and complements his existing publications on literature and music including essays on Fela Kuti, Lord Kitchener, and Bob Marley.
“The musical record serves as a [historic record], and the way that popular music keeps a record is distinctive and unique,” he shares. “I’ve always worked with literature and music—written about Bob Marley and others—and I've been interested in the fact that popular music in Britain engaged with politics in a way that was kind of usual.”
A launch event for The Fascist Groove Thing: A History of Thatcher’s Britain in 21 Mixtapes will take place on Wednesday, March 1 at 7:00 p.m. at Bagnani Hall at Trent’s downtown Traill College.