11. Elvis Costello Being A Dick
It could’ve been a rock ‘n roll story. The nu-wave outsider giving the staid old guard the finger, as Costello imagined was happening in a Holiday Inn bar in Ohio in 1979, intent as he was on pissing off Stephen Stills’ band. Only he was drunk as an arsehole and decided the American acts most deserving of a dissing was Ray Charles and James Brown, who he dismissed as a ‘jive-arsed nigger’, and continued in that vein until Stills’ backing singer Bonnie Bramlett slapped him upside the head. The US press branded him a racist, there were death threats, Rock Against Racism picketed his concerts, and despite numerous anti-racist stints and endorsements from the likes of The Specials (he produced their debut album), people still remind him of what a dick he was that day.
10. Sid Vicious In That Swastika T-shirt
Ask any victim of ‘Paki bashing’ in the late 70s and they will spit at the memory of punks with as much venom as they would the NF skinhead. This misconception was largely down to the perpetually twatty Malcolm McLaren encouraging his Sex shop cronies to don swastikas to, like, shock, yeah, which, unsurprisingly, attracted violent racists to sign up to punk. Vivienne Westwood, who designed the t-shirts, still maintains it had nothing to do with racism. Asked if she regretted making them by Time magazine, she responded: ‘No, I don’t, because we were just saying to the older generation: We don’t accept your values or your taboos, and you’re all fascists.’ McLaren was Jewish, by the way, as was Nancy Spungen, but then Sid did stab her to death…
9. Joy Division’s Obsession With Nazi Regalia
The Nazi-era fonts and promotional posters, Bernard Sumner going by the name ‘Albrecht’ and hollering ‘you all forgot Rudolf Hess’ at gigs were all in the name of shock tactics, but were they actually racist? Ian Curtis’ wife Deborah certainly paints him as a violent right-wing extremist in her book Touching from a Distance: Ian Curtis and Joy Division. And their band was named after the section in concentration camps where Jewish women were holed up for the sexual pleasure of Nazi soldiers. Oh, and Ian Curtis voted for Thatcher.
8. In Fact, Any Reverence To The Nazi Era Is Never A Good Idea
Brian Jones and Keith Moon dressing up, the Nazi chic of Siouxsie Sioux and co, Bryan Ferry’s misguided art history commentary… banging on about how stylish the Nazis were will never win you friends. Although ultimately, it’s down to how much people hate you. Kula Shaker tried to reclaim the swastika as a sacred Hindu symbol, and when the NME hung them to dry by wilfully misunderstanding their point and reported that Kula Shaker swore by the swastika, we let them, because Kula Shaker were shit. Lemmy from Motorhead has a house full of wall-to-wall Nazi memorabilia. No one minds.
7. Oh, Bowie.
When David Bowie gets into a role, he really gets into it, which meant casting himself as a raving Nazi was always going to lead to trouble. His Thin White Duke character was also a raging cokehead, which led to some colourful interviews, saying things like ‘Britain is ready for a fascist leader… I think Britain could benefit from a fascist leader’ and telling Playboy magazine Hitler had the swagger of Mick Jagger. Bowie has since distanced himself from the Duke’s ramblings by blaming drug induced stupidity, while categorically denying the infamous Hitler salute in Victoria station incident. Do you think maybe he’s just waving in this picture? Hailing a taxi with a less bearded driver perhaps?
6. When NF Skinheads Decided They Were Into Actual Music
They disrupted gigs by Specials and The Clash for crying out loud, but the NF and the fuck-awful Oi! brigade became a permanent fixture at Madness gigs (who weren’t racist, of course, but Suggs used to be a roadie for Ian Donaldson of Skrewdriver, who features in the above video, we’d be grateful if someone can explain what the bloody hell is going on there). As well as the vaguely listenable Cockney Rejects and UK Subs, Oi adopted Sham 69 as their own, and even though Neo-Nazi skinheads storming their Middlesex Polytechnic gig to fight with anti-racist skinheads led to the band splitting up, rumours circulated that lead singer Jimmy Pursey’s racist past is what drew them there in the first place. In an interview with Joy Division, Bernard Sumner branded Pursey ‘an out-and-out racist’. But then Sumner named his band New Order, which doesn’t sound Nazi at all.
5. Chuck D Branding Elvis A Racist
It actually started in 1957, when Sepia – a white-run tabloid magazine writing what they thought black people wanted to read – carried a story How Negroes Feel About Elvis, which claimed someone had heard him say somewhere: ‘The only thing Negroes can do for me is shine my shoes and buy my records.’ Elvis’ friends Sammy Davies Jr, Muhammad Ali and James Brown were among many who dismissed this as bollocks, along with an investigation by Jet magazine, but years later, Public Enemy’s absolute assurance in Fight The Power, written for the racially explosive Do The Right Thing, incited a generation of hip-hop fans to dismiss The King as a racist. Chuck D has since retracted his views. He was right about motherfucking John Wayne, though.
4. So Yes, Black People Can Be Racist Too
There was a time when songs about racism by black people were all about how black people were marginalised and why can’t we get along of the Hot Chocolate Louie Louie variety. But then hip-hop happened. ‘Kill whitey,’ urged Menace Clan. ‘Kill the white people,’ explained Apache. ‘I like to fill them full of holes,’ admitted Brand Nubian. The rap sheet of racism is long and violent. They all justify their anti-white stance as a reaction to racism, spearheaded by Jazz hero Miles Davis, who blamed his ‘bitter and cynical’ attitude towards whites on being beaten by cops, admitting the loathing went all the way back: ‘About the first thing I can remember as a little boy was a white man running me down the street hollering, ‘Nigger! Nigger!” Justified? Arguably. Racist? Definitely.
3. Eric Clapton’s Love For Enoch Powell
If most musicians on this list can be accused for flirting with racism, many of them easily defended, you can go right ahead and call Clapton a total fucking racist. At a concert in Birmingham, Clapton screeched: ‘Enoch’s right, I think we should send them all back. Stop Britain from becoming a black colony.’ He later blamed the rant, which prompted the existence of Rock Against Racism, on booze (because everyone turns into a racist after a few drinks, huh?). Decades later, completely sober, here he is defending his remarks and giving Enoch Powell another thumbs up. And for anyone at the back muttering, Clapton loved the blues and what about his pals Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix, let’s let Clapton make it clear: ‘This is England, this is a white country, we don’t want any black wogs and coons living here. We need to make clear to them they are not welcome.’
2. The Killing Of Meredith Hunter
Seriously dodgy songs like Brown Sugar (legend has it Jagger originally penned it as ‘Brown Pussy’) and Some Girls certainly took objectifying black women to a new level, but the tongue-in-cheek became jaw-dropping with the fatal stabbing of the 18-year-old black kid who came to see them with his white girlfriend at the infamous Altamont Free Concert. Stones were blamed for plying pool queue wielding racist Hell’s Angels with free booze in exchange for playing bouncers, who set about beating the crap out of the audience. Meredith took issue with this by pulling out a gun, got beaten and stabbed to death right underneath the stage while belted out the sadistic Under My Thumb. Many music critics mark the concert, in 1969, as the day the peace and love of the 60s died, with rock concerts becoming largely white-only events throughout the decade that followed.
1. The Beatles Telling Pakistanis To Piss Off Back Home
You expect it from the royal family butt-kissing Paul McCartney, who kicked off the infamous bootleg of Get Back, dubbed the No Pakistanis version, with the mutter: ‘Don’t dig no Pakistanis taking all the people’s jobs.’ But Lennon, he with the peace and love and there’s a good guru, sings on this. Pastiche or not, that this was written only days after Enoch Powell’s notorious Rivers Of Blood speech means hardcore racists of the Stormfront ilk still hold The Beatles dear. Legend has it McCartney didn’t include the ‘council estate’ verse, variations of which are now part of folklore, because it wasn’t strong enough. (Lennon went on to insist Get Back was actually a dig at Yoko Ono, which doesn’t make it any less racist). We like to think there’s a lost bootleg out there somewhere George Harrison sings ‘piss off, piss off Macca you racist prick’.