Who's who in bleeding heart rock

As Bono and Bob Geldof press their case in the debt-relief campaign, Ed Caesar looks at nine artists whose political opinions have become as well-known as their song lyrics
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Billie Holiday, or Lady Day as Lester Young called her, was one of 17 children from a poor Virginia family. She found her calling listening to Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith while scrubbing floors in a brothel. She went on to become an internationally admired jazz legend


Who was she?: Billie Holiday, or Lady Day as Lester Young called her, was one of 17 children from a poor Virginia family. She found her calling listening to Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith while scrubbing floors in a brothel. She went on to become an internationally admired jazz legend

The day job: She was viciously exploited as a solo artist, receiving no royalties from any of the 200 recordings she made between 1933 and 1944. Able to make enough from her live performances to scrape by, she recorded such classics as "God Bless the Child" and "I Love You Porgy"

The cause: Holiday's "Strange Fruit", 1939, was a protest against the racist lynch-mobs of the Deep South. Columbia, who had produced all Holiday's records to date, would not touch it. Eventually a tiny label called Commodore put their neck on the line, and the song became an instant, incendiary classic

The comrades: Nina Simone and Aretha Franklin would pick up where Holiday left off, becoming politically engaged in the civil rights movement through their songs

The cause: "Strange Fruit" sold 10, 000 copies in its first week, and millions since. Q Magazine recently voted it one of the 10 songs that changed the world

The career: Holiday was paid $500 for her recording, a paltry sum for a record that had endangered her life in certain areas of America

Sincerity rating: Holiday knew she would be reviled and abused when she first performed "Strange Fruit". She sang it anyway


Who is he?: Bob Dylan burst onto the music scene as a waifish, curly-haired troubadour. His songs were the embodiment of the anti-establishment mood that swept America in the 1960s and he has continued to sing them ever since

The day job: Dylan came out of a folk tradition, but his songs appealed to huge numbers of the disaffected American youth. At the time he became involved in the civil rights movement in 1963, he was writing some of his most powerful material, exemplified by his album The Times They Are A-Changin'

The cause: Civil Rights in the 1960s: Dylan played at Martin Luther King's March rally in 1963. Farm Aid originated in comments Dylan made at Live Aid in 1985 when he said that something should be done for American farmers

The comrades: Joan Baez, Martin Luther King, and Joni Mitchell were fellow travellers on Dylan's road to civil rights in the 1960s, while Willie Nelson, Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen and John Mellencamp jumped on board for Farm Aid

The cause: Dylan's role was often unquantifiable. However, since the first concert in 1985, Farm Aid has raised $26m

The career: Much of his most memorable music is his most political, but even the most cynical could not call it a career ploy

Sincerity rating: Dylan was the voice of his generation


Who is she?: Joan Baez was the face of American hippie culture in the 1960s and 1970s. She sang at the 1959 Newport Folk Festival, made the cover of Time magazine at 18, dated Bob Dylan, sang at Woodstock, and partied with The Beatles

The day job: Baez was a huge folk star in the US after her spellbinding debut at Newport. However, her album sales were not always as remarkable as her activist energy

The cause: Peace. Baez fought for it throughout two crucial decades of American development. She was anti-war and pro-civil rights, and her disparate concerns reflected the widespread nature of the hippie movement

The comrades: Baez famously appeared at the same Washington rally where Martin Luther King gave his "I have a dream" speech, and King counted her as an ally - she often marched for civil rights in the South. Her anti-Vietnam stance was echoed by Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Country Joe and the Fish, and millions across America.

The cause: She reflected change rather than led it, but her personal intervention led to ex-President Jimmy Carter sending a fleet to help the Thai boat people

The career: The strain of carrying the fight was too much for her. She spent much of the 80s and 90s in therapy

Sincerity rating: Baez always mixed music and politics, and her career was built around the activist nature of her music


Who was he?: Before his death in 1980, John Lennon developed from being one quarter of the biggest band of all time to being a peace activist and an inspiration for a generation

The day job: As Lennon and Yoko Ono's political interests grew, The Beatles started to fall apart. Lennon's solo career would never match his involvement with the ensemble but outside of music, though, an aura around Lennon grew measurably after his exit from the band

The cause: Lennon protested against the war in Vietnam, and "the whole Nigeria-Biafra thing". He sent back his MBE, and held a honeymoon "Bed-In" with Ono in his Amsterdam hotel. "Give Peace a Chance" and "Imagine" have become international anthems for the peace movement

The comrades: Yoko Ono (right) was Lennon's co-conspirator and bedfellow in his newly-awoken desire to bring peace to all men (and women)

The cause: Lennon asked us to give peace a chance. We didn't, but "Imagine" is still popular globally

The career: Lennon became the ultimate counter-culture figure, but the less said about his collaborations with Ono the better

Sincerity rating: Sincere without taking himself too seriously


Who is he?: Bob Geldof was the lead singer of rumbunctious Irish rude boys The Boomtown Rats. He has since become a messianic figure with a conscience the world over, while his foul-mouthed rants against greed and injustice have made him the nearest thing Britain has to a charity bully

The day job: The Rats had a successful late 1970s - they were the first Irish band ever to have a British No 1 - but by 1984 they had hit rock bottom. Their singles bombed, and they were forced to start a hectic, no-budget university tour of 44 gigs in 48 days

The cause: Saint Bob saw a television news report from Ethiopia in the autumn of 1984. He decided to do something. You know the rest

The comrades: Everyone. Sting, U2, Phil Collins, Bob Dylan, Status Quo, Paul Weller, Spandau Ballet to name but a few. "I adore Bob Geldof", admitted Sting recently, "I would follow him anywhere."

The cause: "Do They Know It's Christmas?" and Live Aid were the two biggest charity events ever organised. Live Aid alone raised £150m to combat famine

The career: Despite Geldof's insistence that he wants to be a musician, he can still be coaxed into organising the odd global mutiny

Sincerity rating: While Geldof seems earnest enough, the same can not be said for every one of his bandwagon-jumping mates


Who is he?: Bono. It's not his real name. He's called Paul or Dennis or something very ordinary. But as Bono, he is wraparound royalty, one of the world's most instantly recognisable celebrities, and U2's husky-voiced charmer

The day job: U2 are the biggest band on the planet and they have been for most of their 25 years. Their recent offerings, All That You Can't Leave Behind and How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb have proved as popular as anything in their Achtung Baby heyday

The cause: It's probably quicker to list the causes Bono has not been involved with. From demanding justice for British crimes in Northern Ireland to being a prominent spokesman for HIV/AIDS, Drop the Debt, and any other charity with a wristband and a website, Bono is the face of celebrity charity involvement

The comrades: Any celebrity who has delved into any kind of charity work has probably come across Bono's bespectacled mug at some point. He has worked closely with Geldof on the Live Aid and Live8 projects, and counts his Data (Debt Aid Trade Africa) colleague Brad Pitt as a valuable celebrity acquisition

The cause: We didn't Drop the Debt, but still might. The important thing is we're talking about it

The career: U2 have always mixed music and politics, a package that has proved globally successful

Sincerity rating: Mortals marvel at how Bono manages to summon the energy to support so many causes - there must be some sincerity leakage


Who is he?: William Bragg was 19 when punk hit the nation's airwaves in 1977, and he immediately started his own band, Riff Raff. He then became a politically aware singer-songwriter with a particular concern for workers' rights. He has continued speaking out on socialist issues ever since

The day job: Bragg never made a significant impact on the charts with his own brand of earnest troubadouring (he made it into the top 20 only a handful of times), but at the height of Thatcherism, he was a significant voice for the left, and garnered a strong following

The cause: The miners' strike in 1984 and Red Wedge in 1987. His album, Brewing Up with Billy Bragg (1984) was a strident two-fingered salute to the Thatcher government. Red Wedge was a campaign to convince people to vote in the general election, and he travelled the country with his pro-Labour agenda

The comrades: New Order joined Bragg in a benefit gig for the miners in 1984, while Style Council, Madness, The Communards and The Smiths were co-performers at the Red Wedge concerts

The cause: The miners are all but gone and Thatcher won in 1987. Bragg speaks for a kind of socialism that has been dying from the moment he first sung about it

The career: Bragg's place as a uniquely British revolutionary has been on the wane for some time

Sincerity rating: He believes it all right. It's getting anyone else to believe it that's the problem


Who is he?: Sting first brought his falsetto charms to the world with The Police before launching a stratospheric solo career in the mid-1980s. Since becoming an A-lister, Sting has been using the teachings of tantra to save the rainforest, and other suitably worthy activities

The day job: By the time Sting established his credentials as a concerned celebrity in the late 1980s, he was already a massive solo artist, with a string of top 10 singles and a global profile

The cause: Anything with a South American feel. Saving the rainforests is a priority, but Sting has also spent time speaking out for oppressed Chilean workers, recording "They Dance Alone" by way of a statement

The comrades: Preserving the rainforests has not been the most popular of charity concerns of late, but nevertheless, Sting still has some prominent celebrity comrades,including Pierce Brosnan. Of those close to Sting, his wife, Trudie Styler, is a key ally, while Elton John has performed with him in Save the Rainforest concerts

The cause: The Rainforest Foundation has raised well over £20m, and is individually responsible for saving a piece of the rainforest the size of Belgium

The career: Sting has continued to flourish as an internationally acclaimed artist, but much of his success is unrelated to his rainforest work

Sincerity rating: A journalist once quipped "Sting discovered the plight of the rainforest from the window of his private jet" but his commitment cannot be doubted


Who are they?: An all-female country music group from Texas who formed in the early 1990s, and who emerged in their current form in 1995, the Dixie Chicks have had a love-hate relationship with their listening public and their record label alike

The day job: Their 2002 album, Home, won 4 Grammy Awards in 2003, and despite its "non-commercial" sound, sold over six million copies. Their biggest controversy arrived at the time of their greatest critical and commercial success

The cause: On March 5, 2003, Natalie Maines spoke out against the war in Iraq claiming the band "were ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas". They were taken off the air across America and fans were encouraged to crush their Dixie Chick CDs

The comrades: Bruce Springsteen, Michael Moore and Madonna came out fervently in support of the Chicks when the furore broke

The cause: Bush, who had hitherto been unaware of the Dixie Chicks, said the band were "free to speak their mind", and the US army remained in Iraq

The career: The band appeared on the cover of Entertainment Weekly magazine. It was, conveniently, the eve of their US tour

Sincerity rating: Maines meant what she said, but when the Chicks hit the fan, she tried to wriggle out of it, stating: "I apologise to President Bush"