1971 | Rock
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“I was born in a welfare state ruled by bureaucracy. -- Controlled by civil servants and people dressed in grey. -- Got no privacy got no liberty. -- 'Cause the twentieth century people took it all away from me.”
- Muswell Hillbillies was the band's first album for RCA Records.
- The album is named after the Muswell Hill area of North London, where Ray & Dave Davies grew up and formed the band in the early 60s.
- Multiple versions and edits of "20th Century Man" exist. The original full-length version, is 5:57, the 7" single version two minutes shorter, at about 3:57.
THE HOT TAKES
There's a bit of Tolkien here, isn't there? I'm looking at the beginning of the song when I say that. "This is the age of machinery; A mechanical nightmare; The wonderful world of technology; Napalm, hydrogen bombs, biological warfare." In The Lord of the Rings, one of the symbolic features you will find from start to finish is the sinister side of technological progress and machinery. The world of Men fight primarily with simple weapons; the Orcs, Uruk-hai, and other agents of Mordor have large-scale siege weapons. There are many ways to take the term "war machine," viewed in this context. It's not fair to say that technological progress is evil, but keeping the distinction between what is human and what is not is interesting, to say the very least. When you look at things like "napalm, hydrogen bombs," and "biological warfare," it's easy to see where Tolkien would draw such a line.
This great bluesy tune has a rather Tolkeinian view of the modern world. While I agree with a lot of the feelings of complication and ugliness that some technology can bring, I feel that on the whole technologies also make our existence much easier and give us the ability to care about spotted owls, and the impact of pollution on oceans, as well as, often the means to resolve those problems. It’s also very easy to romanticize the past as a simpler and more beautiful time, without actually considering that in say, Shakespears day, life was filled with hardships and someone like myself had a very high chance of being dead already from giving birth, or any other number of causes that I don’t have to worry about today. While I do understand the draw to living in a way that connects you more to say, where your food comes from, I still enjoy the fact that I live in a time where I have the choice to live as rusticly or as modern as I desire. That choice is a product of the modern world.
One of my favorite Kinks albums by a long stretch. While I see where Luke & Sherry went with this one I'm gonna get a little more contemporary with it. This 1971 album was mentioning a concern that has literally only gotten worse since the 70s and not by small margins. The core of the song is to beware of the trappings of modern life. The old "be careful lest the things you own begin to own you." Technology has brought us more freedom than any other time in human history. Both time and effort have been freed up in ways the robber barons couldn't dream of. We've been allowed so much time to spend more money on goods that the wealthy sell. More free time means more need for wealth to fill that time. We've also, however, created the most insidious ways for our overlords to spy on and control us. We hold devices that function as collars for every citizen. There's no need to chip us since we already carry the chip around of our own volition. I'm not looking to give up on modern life personally but I do hope that technology continues to keep one step ahead of those who would subjegate us.