Billy Bragg rewrites lyrics to Oliver Anthony’s viral ‘right-wing anthem’

Billy Bragg rewrites lyrics to Oliver Anthony’s viral ‘right-wing anthem’

Billy Bragg has released a musical response to country singer Oliver Anthony’s controversial hit, “Rich Men North of Richmond”.

Anthony’s track has amassed 30 million views on YouTube in 30 days, winning fans among prominent Republican figures Kari Lake and Marjorie Taylor Greene.

The lyrics to “Rich Men North of Richmond” involve a number of complaints about politicians, welfare recipients and taxes; however, critics have argued that they also perpetuate fatphobia and the “welfare queen” trope.

On YouTube on Monday (21 August), 65-year-old Bragg shared a reimagining of Anthony’s song entitled “Rich Men Earning North of a Million.”

“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,” Bragg says in his introduction. “‘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.”

Bragg’s lyrics put a pro-unionisation spin on Anthony’s track, which called out obese people “milking welfare”.

Anthony’s original first verse read: “I’ve been sellin’ my soul, workin’ all day / Overtime hours for bulls*** pay / So I can sit out here and waste my life away / Drag back home and drown my troubles away.”

Bragg’s rewrite runs: “If you’re selling your soul, working all day / Overtime hours for bulls*** pay / Nothing is gonna change if all you do is wish you could wake up and it not be true / Join a union/ Fight for better pay / You better join a union, brother / Organise today.”

On Anthony’s fatphobic message, Bragg took aim at the American healthcare system and the opioid epidemic: “If you’re struggling with your health and you’re putting on the pounds / Doctor gives you opioids to help you get around.

“Wouldn’t it be better for folks like you and me if medicine was subsidised and medicine was free? / Join a union.”

Bragg began his music career playing benefit concerts during the 1984 miners’ strike and has long been an ardent supporter of workers’ unions.

“The idea that ‘free speech’ is the be-all and end-all – that you can say whatever you want to say – is troublesome. You also need equality, you have to uphold the rights of other people. With accountability, you can disagree but not abuse,” he told The Independent’s Roisin O’Connor in an interview earlier this year.

In a lengthy post shared on Facebook last week, Anthony reacted to suddenly landing at the top of the music charts.

“People in the music industry give me blank stares when I brush off $8m offers,” he wrote. “I don’t want 6 tour buses, 15 tractor trailers and a jet. I don’t want to play stadium shows, I don’t want to be in the spotlight.”

In a comment piece for The Independent, Louis Chilton wrote: “There is an irony too in the fact that the ‘new world’ Anthony bemoans in the chorus of ‘Rich Men North of Richmond’ is entirely responsible for his overnight success: where else could he have surged to such swift popularity, but along the internet’s algorithmic rapids?

“Conservatives have celebrated his song as a call for unity, a work of blue-collar solidarity – but its sudden popularity is still rooted in the bitter factionalism that continues to rot American politics. It has become a hit not because of its lyrical grace or musical exceptionalism, but because of what it represents.”