In the third instalment of my series on songs for each year of my life, we’ve reached 1982 (by way of 1999-2002, that is)…
According to the Sunday Times University Ranking, Lancaster University, my alma mater, donchaknow, is currently ninth in the country. So, as far as its status for boffin-ness goes, it’s doing fairly well for itself.
Of course, this particular seat of learning is no stranger to appear near to or at the top of the charts. During my time (1999-2002) it was regarded as the student suicide capital. This, I hope, was nothing to do with me being there.
It also found itself at the top of the charts for facilitating the most marriages between fellow alumni. At the time of writing there is no conclusive proof of a link between the suicide and marriage statistics.
Anyway. I digress. Lancaster University. In the top ten of bestness. Bravo.
Based on this information, one might be drawn to infer that students in this fine city would forever have their heads buried in thick, leather bound books from the 17th century, pondering the intricacies of Cumbrian basket weaving and its impact on the otter population of Bowland.
They may be doing that. But if my time at Lancaster University is anything to go by, current undergraduates are probably absorbing a great deal of pop culture, both in and out of their studies.
Take, for example, Philosophy. When taking an introductory module in that most ancient of subjects – the academic pursuit of Plato, Aristotle and everyone else from that Monty Python song, I remember our lecturer Vernon Pratt (no sniggering at the back, there) demonstrating key philosophical ideas by playing excerpts from the films War Games, Dark Star and Back to the Future to us.
In History, meanwhile, we felt there was hardly anything strange about tucking into a George Formby classic (Get Cracking).
Neither did we give a second thought to anything odd about watching a bewilderingly young Thora Herd deduce beastly Nazi shenanigans afoot when a supposedly British soldier gets in a right old Piccadilly over place names in Went the Day Well.
In Sociology, meanwhile, my girlfriend was subjected to a lecture in which a beer commercial featuring sheep was analysed to death for…no particular reason that I could understand.
But the reason I have gathered you all here today is because of Jon Cain’s politics lectures.
As, I suspect, you don’t already know, Jon Cain was my housemate – along with Ewan and Lyndon. Jon mainly survived on a diet of (microwaved) Shreddies sandwiches, occasionally venturing as far as to have something as outlandish as a jacket potato.
When not engaged in a one-man mission to keep Nestle’s nannas is permanent gainful employment, Jon studied History and Politics. And it was during one of his Politics lecturers that he was played ‘Know Your Rights’, by The Clash.
Needless to say, he reported back on his discovery of this important primary source with much glee and no little amount of excitement.
And rightly so.
‘Know Your Rights’ is, not to put too fine a point on it, a brilliant song. It comes from The Clash’s equivalent of Magical Mystery Tour – you know: a record featuring some right old belters that nevertheless gets completely overlooked.
Where Magical Mystery Tour has ‘Penny Lane’, ‘Strawberry Fields’ and ‘All You Need is Love’, The Clash’s Combat Rock has ‘Rock the Casbah’, ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go?’ and, of course, ‘Know Your Rights’.
The song drips with angry (if slightly sixth-former-ish) irony: “You have the right to free speech/as long as you’re not dumb enough to actually try it” is one of the rights (un)available to the listener.
Joe Strummer is on typically angry – possibly angriest – form with this. His lairy vocals dominate the song as the incessant offbeat rhythms bash and clatter beneath him with all the violence of a riot – white or otherwise.
In this post-truth world with President Wotsit in charge and everyone on my train reading 1984, the song sounds depressingly pertinent.
Hopefully one day we’ll be able to look at the song as a peculiar novelty of a bygone age. One day, but not just yet, I fancy.