George Orwell’s “1984” is one of the most widely-read and influential books in pop culture today, but perhaps nowhere has it held more sway than in our beloved punk scene. You’ll see it recommended in the liner notes of bands like Rise Against and Propagandhi and there’s almost no end to the number of punk acts with lyrics influenced by the famous novel. Below are just 10 punk songs that reference “1984”. Thanks George.
1. Reviver – “Winston Smith”
An extremely underrated hardcore band from Salt Lake (members went on to start Daytrader and Heartless Breakers), Reviver’s debut full-length Versificator has a song named after Nineteen Eighty-Four’s protagonist, Winston Smith. The chorus of the song is actually quoted from a song sung by someone in the book, to which Winston questions how one finds joy in menial tasks (the singer is doing laundry in the book). “They sye that time ‘eals all things/they sye you can always forget/but the smiles an’ the tears across the years/they twist my ‘eartstrings yet.” The last chorus in the Reviver song has additional lines between each chorus line, which is a call and response set up where Reviver vocalist Matt Mascarenas gives his take on the book. “But time has never cared for me/yet I live each day just like the last/correspond with my deepest fears/I’m not sure how much longer I can take it.”
2. Bad Religion – “Boot Stomping On A Human Face Forever”
This song title is a direct quote from the book. “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever.” The song parallels an occurrence in Orwell’s novel – one of fighting for change and revolution only to come up hopeless and empty, with things basically the same as before you started fighting.
3. Thrice – “Doublespeak”
While not per say a “punk” album, new Thrice is held just as dearly in the hearts of many who loved the band’s early material, when they were still skate punks learning how to scream and working out their love for thrash metal. “Doublespeak” is a play on the term “Doublethink” from the novel which speaks of holding two contradictory beliefs and giving no thought on how to reconcile them. Other parts of the lyrics seem to be reminiscing of the story Orwell wrote as well, for instance this line from the second verse: “I keep my toes on the party line/There’s nothing wrong dear, don’t think twice.”
4. The Offspring – “The Future Is Now”
One of the better songs on a not-so-great album, lyrically Dexter did some pretty cool stuff in this song. For one, the first Nineteen Eighty-Four reference is actually more of a reference to the Dead Kennedys song also listed in this article. “Flashback nineteen eighty-four/Now who’s knock-knocking at your door?” Holland sings, paying tribute to one of his favorite bands, who almost three decades earlier proclaimed “Now it’s 1984/Knock-knock at your front door.” While that reference is only by association, the chorus of the song seems like it could be definitely influenced by the ending of the book, then reformed to something more personal and core to the point of the song (spoiler alert). “Will you take what’s in my head?/And erase me when I’m dead?”)
5. Dead Kennedys – “California Uber Alles”
Who doesn’t like the Dead Kennedys? There’s only only one line that strictly alludes to Orwell’s book, and that line is simply “Now It Is 1984.” However, this line cleverly has a double meaning. California Uber Alles is about then California governor Jerry Brown, whose term as governor was over in 1983. The song, satirically written from Brown’s perspective, paints a picture of him becoming (or hoping to become) President in 1984 – signifying to the Dead Kennedys the end of freedom and the start of a world similar to the one in Orwell’s novel. Keep in mind this song was first released in 1979. This song is full of references to culture, time, literature, etc. that prove the Dead Kennedys were a bit more intelligent when it came to songwriting (and probably a bit more informed) than a lot of punk bands at that time.
6. Anti-Flag – “Welcome to 1984”
Of course Anti-Flag would write a song about Nineteen Eighty-Four. With a subtle mention of the “doublespeak” concept (although the lyrics use the term “double talk”) in the beginning, the song goes on to basically say the New Millennium looks more like the world in Orwell’s book than progress. Not really breaking any new ground here, but deserving of mention on this list nonetheless.
7. AFI – “Greater Than ‘84”
Yeah yeah, I agree – new AFI is NOT all that great. However, out of all the songs on their newest record, this is probably my favorite. The title and the chorus of the song are sort of a coded reference to the book. “The future’s here, It’s 1985 (and it feels like survival)/Can you read my mind?” While parts of the song are kind of cryptic (or at the least inspecific), it seems to be comparing the aftermath of a break up to living day-to-day in a broken world like the one Orwell painted in his novel. This is a great example of how music can be written in a way that leaves a listener deciding of the meaning.
8. The Clash – “1977”
At face value, this classic by the Clash may seem to be a bad fit for this list. Really where Strummer’s nod to Orwell comes in, however, is at the very end of the song. Mostly about how bad things were in the year it was written (which was, obviously, 1977), Strummer starts peeking into the future, year by year. “In 1977/sod the jubilee/in 1978/in 1979/stayed in bed” and etc. until the song abruptly stops with the lyrics “here come the police/in 1984,” signifying that the world Orwell wrote about, with a overly powerful police state, was not too far away.
9. NOFX – “Re-gaining Unconsciousness”
While a subtle reference, Fat Mike throws in a reference to Big Brother, the antagonistic dictator in Nineteen Eighty-Four who is the public face of the oppressive political Party in the book. Big Brother and the Party have just about everything in the fictional world of Orwell’s book monitored. Fat Mike uses the character of Big Brother as a representation of lack of privacy and government sticking their noses into more and more facets of normal life. “We used to worry ‘bout Big Brother/Now we got a Big Father and an even Bigger Mother.”
10. Lagwagon – “Lullaby”
Lullaby is clearly about people being apathetic to government action and their current state of affairs. As a way to show how apathetic and dumbed down Joey Cape believes people are getting, he pulls out a Big Brother reference. “Big Brother isn’t watching anymore/He knows we are distracted and absorbed.”
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