“Help Save the Youth of America”: In 1988, Billy Bragg implored American fans to register & vote

By on July 4, 2018

We’ve reached July 4th on the calendar, our Independence Day, and so we thought we’d use this occasion to offer up another look at Night Flight’s “Take Off to Freedom!,” which originally aired on July 2, 1988, and you’ll now find streaming on Night Flight Plus.

At this point, after 530 days of the Trump administration’s horribly divisive policies, it feels like the message behind Billy Bragg’s “Help Save the Youth of America,” is more important than ever — to register and VOTE — so we’re going to take some time to explore the story behind Bragg’s video (featured in this episode) down below.


In November of 1987, Bragg traveled to the Soviet Union to play concerts in Estonia, as well as shows in Moscow and Leningrad, considered the rock capital of Russia.

Back then, when terms like “Perestroika” and “glasnost” were oft-repeated buzzwords, Bragg was the first British musician to make regular visits to the USSR, not only to perform but to observe and report back on what he saw while the Soviet Union, under the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev, which was undergoing extraordinary changes.

MTV presenter/ journalist Chris Salewicz and photographer Adrian Boot provided first-hand accounts of Bragg’s Moscow trip in their collaborative book, Billy Bragg: Midnights in Moscow, published by Omnibus Press.


Billy Bragg in Moscow, 1988 (photo by Adrian Boot)

Their book details how Bragg had been able to befriend Soviet musicians and observe local customs far better than participants on the more usual Russian rock tours.

Midnights in Moscow features excellent photographs of Bragg wearing an assortment of funny hats, walking through snow-covered Moscow streets, boarding trains, drinking vodka and hot chocolate (not together), and generally taking in the sights as any British tourist might have in late ’87.


Read more about Billy Bragg and “Help Save the Youth of America” below.


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Bragg also used his 1987 Russian trip as an opportunity to record a track for his six-track EP (subtitled “Live & Dubious”) which was made available in early ’88 in the U.S. only by his American label, Elektra Records.

The politically-charged songs — for what became his most overtly-political collection thus far — were recorded live in concert in Moscow, and also in London and Washington D.C.


The tracks included a cover of Scottish folk singer Dick Gaughan’s “Think Again” (which debunks the myth of the Soviets being warmongers); an acappella version of Bernice Johnson Reago’s “Chile Your Waters Run Red Through Soweto,” and live versions of Bragg’s “To Have and to Have Not,” “There Is Power in a Union,” and a re-written take on “Days Like These,” his “D.C.” version.

Bragg had written the EP’s title track, “Help Save the Youth of America,” as a funny but mocking plea to encourage young Americans to register and vote.


This is our favorite part, at the end of the song’s second verse:

“And the fate of the great United States,
Is entwined in the fate of us all,
And the incident at Chernobyl proves
The world we live in is very small,
And the cities of Europe have burned before,
And they may yet burn again,
And if they do I hope you understand,
That Washington will burn with them,
Omaha will burn with them,
Los Alamos will burn with them”

Bragg’s sobering warning in those last few lines is, we think, as prescient today as it was in the late ’80s, at a time when the world’s population were concerned over the fact that a nuclear war could have broken out over what was happening in Nicaragua (Los Alamos is the site of a large nuclear missile stockpile).

Bragg used the song to point out to the youth of America the importance in having a say in what happens in not only their own country, but also to get them to appreciate the rumbling effects the U.S. policies had on the rest of the world.


Bragg’s personal message on the back of the EP sleeve, meant to spark voter registration, arrived when American citizens were about a year away from the presidential election of November 8, 1988:

“Beloved listener, well may you ask, ‘Why is this limey whining on about our country, when, it’s nothing to do with him?’ I have no vote in your Presidential election yet its outcome will directly effect my future and the future of millions of other people around the world. Forgive me for putting this immense responsibility on your shoulders but I implore you to take part in the democratic process this year however imperfect it may be. Remember, when you elect a President, you are electing a President for all of us. Please be more careful this time.”

The EP also came with a Register to Vote pamphlet which encouraged his fans to contact their local elections office or local League of Women Voters for voter registration information.


Of course, the 1988 presidential election would see incumbent Vice President George H.W. Bush, the Republican nominee, defeating Democratic Governor Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts to become the next U.S. president, and that pretty much continued the horrible policies of two-term President Ronald Reagan, the man who coined the phrase “evil empire.”

Only about forty-percent of voting-age U.S. citizens even bothered to turn out out to the polls.

Watch Night Flight’s “Take Off to Freedom!” — which also features videos by Hulk Hogan, Megadeth, Robbie Robertson, and Aztec Two Step — on Night Flight Plus and please do enjoy your Fourth of July and for fuck’s sake, please VOTE BLUE in November 2018!


About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.