In 1990 Billy Bragg
released an album unlike his others, "The Internationale". The album, released by a collaboration between Elektra
record labels, is a collection of political songs from down the ages. It was produced by Grant Showbiz
and Billy's childhood friend Wiggy
. The recording took place in Kingston
The album is relatively short, with only seven tracks:
2.I dreamed I saw Phil Ochs Last Night
3.The Marching song of the covert battalions
6.The Red Flag
7.My Youngest Son Came Home Today
Billy Bragg is well known for his left-wing political views, and nowhere are they more clearly stated than on this album. Usually, he gives some album space to love songs (eg Greetings to the new brunette), but not on this album. Each song has been chosen for a reason.
THE INTERNATIONALE was originally written in 1871 by Eugene Pottier after the fall of the Paris Commune. In 1888, Pierre Degeyter composed the music. It has been a symbol of solidarity ever since, and was even sung by Chinese students in Tiananmen Square during the pro-democracy demonstrations of 1989. It is clear that Bragg also felt the significance of the rousing song. It was Pete Seeger who suggested to Billy that writing a new English translation of the French original would be a good idea, and the result is a breathtaking opening track which sets the pace of the rest of the album.
I DREAMED I SAW PHIL OCHS LAST NIGHT sees Bragg paying tribute to one of his heroes. Ochs, unlike his contemporary Bob Dylan "stayed true to the political tradition of Woody Guthrie" (Billy Bragg).The fact that the Bard of Barking sings this one a-capella means that the heavy sound of the previous song is lifted.
THE MARCHING SONG OF THE COVERT BATTALIONS is Bragg at his finest. He shows that his wit is as quick, and his turn of phrase as sharp, as any of the great writers he covers on The Internationale album.
BLAKE'S JERUSALEM may at first seem to sit uneasily in an album of left-wing anthems, but when we examine the lyrics, we can see where Bragg is coming from when he says "William Blake was a radical and a visionary".
NICARAGUA NICARAGUITA sees the Braggster singing in Spanish, and not doing as bad a job of it as you might expect! At the time of recording, Billy was deeply concerned by the problems Nicaragua was facing, and he recorded this tender song to show his solidarity with the people of that country.
THE RED FLAG is a classic. Interestingly, Billy chooses not to sing the usual version to the tune of "O Tannenbaum". Instead, he sings the old Jacobite air "The White Cockade". This album would not be complete without this essential.
MY YOUNGEST SON CAME HOME TODAY provides the mournful ending to the collection. It is also the most recent. Billy has said of the war in Northern Ireland that it is "the war we send our soldiers to fight in and then wonder why our cities get bombed".
Of course, this collection will not be to everyone's taste. However, Bragg's voice seems more mellow than usual, and the beauty of most of the songs cannot be denied. This album is an essential for any fan of Billy's music and any self-respecting political activist.