In his 1988 song “Margaret on the Guillotine,” Morrissey wondered when British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, then in her final stretch as party leader, would make his “dream real” and...well...die.
Twenty-five years later, one can presume that the former Smiths frontman is experiencing a rare moment of good cheer. Because like many British musicians of the era, Morrissey was fond of excitedly presaging the Iron Lady’s demise. “The entire history of Margaret Thatcher is one of violence, oppression, and horror,” Morrissey once told Rolling Stone. “She is only one person and can be destroyed. I just pray there is a Sirhan Sirhan [RFK’s assassin] somewhere. It’s the only remedy for this country at the moment.” When in 1984 the Irish Republican Army exploded a massive bomb at a Conservative Party conference, killing five and disabling many others, he expressed his “sorrow” that “Thatcher escaped unscathed.” The British punk band Angelic Upstarts responded with a song cheering the Brighton attack (“killers unite / killers with the right!”).
Flip through the music magazines of the era—the NME, Melody Maker, even Smash Hits—and you’ll be astonished by the number of references to Thatcherism (do they even mention David Cameron these days?), with musicians organizing the unfortunately-named pressure group “Red Wedge,” organized by musician Billy Bragg and former Jam frontman Paul Weller, to oppose Thatcher’s rule.
Their politics were frequently confused and immature—and in Morrissey’s case, psychopathically radical—but the songs were often exceptionally good. So The Daily Beast has assembled the era’s best anti-Thatcher songs of the Thatcher decade, from the obvious (Elvis Costello’s “Tramp the Dirt Down”) to the obscure (The Pop Group’s “Justice”).
Morrissey: "Maggie on the Guillotine"
Crass: “Sheep Farming in the Falklands”
Paul McCartney: “All My Trials”
Elvis Costello: "Tramp the Dirt Down"
The Mekons: “Abernant 1984/1985”
Specials: "Maggie's Farm"
Billy Bragg: "Thatcherites"
Angelic Upstarts: "Brighton Bomb"
Robert Wyatt: “Shipbuilding”
The The: "Heartland”
The Pop Group: “Justice”