Billy Bragg – “Rich Men Earning North Of A Million”
For the past two weeks, the viral hit “Rich Men North Of Richmond” has been the center of a whole lot of online conversation. In the video, the previously-unknown Virginia musician who goes by the name Oliver Anthony sings about the depressing, enraging state of working-class life, and he put the blame on politicians and on people using welfare money to buy fudge rounds. The song, amplified by right-wing influencers, is projected to debut at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 today. If that happens, it’ll be the second right-wing culture-war country song to pull that feat off this summer, following Jason Aldean’s “Try That In A Small Town.” (UPDATE: “Rich Men North Of Richmond” did indeed debut at #1.) Stereogum’s Chris DeVille got into the strange pop-chart country boom in a column last week, and now Billy Bragg has come in with an answer song.
Billy Bragg, the great Socialist singer-songwriter, has been writing working-class folk-rock anthems for decades. Bragg, last seen on this site joining striking Starbucks workers on a Buffalo picket line, has shared his “Rich Men North Of Richmond” response “Rich Men Earning North Of A Million.” Flipping Oliver Anthony’s song structure, Bragg sings that the best way for working people to improve their situation is to form a union: “You’ll see where the problem really lies when the union comes around/ Rich men earning north of a million wanna keep the working folk down/ If you form a union, you’ll soon find that working people are all of one kind/ So we ain’t gonna punch down on those who need a bit of understanding and some solidarity.”
On his YouTube description of the song, Billy Bragg says:
Since I saw that clip of Oliver Anthony singing his song “Rich Men North of Richmond,” the ghost of Woody Guthrie has been whispering in my ear. “Help that guy out,” Woody keeps telling me. “Let him know there’s a way to deal with those problems he’s singing about.” So today I sat down and wrote this response to Mr. Anthony’s song, for people like him and people like you.
Listen to “Rich Men Earning North Of A Million” below.