From my discernment there are two predominant topics that are touched upon in Society which strongly connect it to previous and latter songs on the basis of subject matter. The first, and most immediately noticeable, is a rejection of materialism and consumerism, as is made quite clear by the lyrics of the first verse:

“We have a greed with which we have agreed

and you think you have to want more than you need

until you have it all, you won’t be free”

A couple of things are being done here lyrically. The use of ‘we’ in signaling who is afflicted by the greed is generically inclusive, implicating anyone who is a member of our society that revolves around consumption. The second line is a clear reference to materialism, encapsulating the common conception of it as it functions culturally. Finally the last line makes the clear implication that subscribing to such a materialist culture in effect robs one of their individual freedom, as they lose it to their property.

The theme of rejecting material and mainstream culture is not an uncommon one at all, even in music made for the popular stage. For this lineage I worked backwards from the contemporary, first making a stop at alternative. Radiohead’s Dollars and Cents makes a very similar point opening with, “there are better things to talk about,” and informing the listener that they “don’t live in a business world.” Further, the song ends effectually chanting that dollars and cents will “crack your little souls.”

Nearly two decades prior Bob Marley and the Wailers provide a similar commentary in Stiff Necked Fools. Though this song is more spiritually oriented, it suggests that vanity and possessions complicate and corrupt the individual, depriving them of wisdom and enlightenment. What’s more is it promotes ‘simplicity’ as an alternative to this, much like Society:

“Destruction of the poor is in their poverty;

destruction of the soul is vanity,

so stiff necked fools, you think you are cool

to deny me for simplicity”

Well before that The Beatles make a far more scathing commentary of consumerist culture with Piggies. Highly satirical, the track draws an extended metaphor between members of business and society, and pigs. The use of this device not only shows the fab four’s disgust with society to this end, but also hints similarly to Society that materialism hampers one’s freedom and sense of individualism:

“In their styles with all their backing

they don’t care what goes on around

in their eyes there’s something lacking

what they need’s a damn good whacking”

The other lineage I feel is deserving of mention with regard to Society is that of abandoning ship, or of the individual journey. The song proposes in essence that one might be best served by leaving society altogether, so as not to be adversely affected by it. This is made apparent by the end of the second verse and chorus respectively, which amply imply leaving or escape as a solution:

“I think I need to find a bigger place

cause when you have more than you think, you need more space

Society, you’re a crazy breed

I hope you’re not lonely without me”

This theme is familiar to the likes of Eddie Vedder, but further, it is very common of the folk genre in general. An excellent example of this is That Lonesome Valley, an American gospel folk standard first recorded in 1927 by David Miller and later adapted by many folk icons such as the Carter Family, Woody Guthrie, and even Elvis Presley. As a gospel tune, the work is spiritual in origin, however the largely repeated motif is about a solitary journey one must take:

“You’ve got to walk that lonesome valley

well you gotta go by yourself

well there ain’t nobody else gonna go there for you

you gotta go there by yourself”

Another later and more popular example is Bob Dylan’s Restless Farewell, recorded in 1964. Dylan delivers several verses detailing scenarios with the common ending of the narrator departing alone, living transiently:

“So I’ll make my stand

and remain as I am

and bid farewell and not give a damn”

This solo escapism is a relatively popular trope largely employed in folk narratives and can be seen even in contemporary indie folk music. A conclusive element much the same as that of Dylan can be heard in Elliott Smith’s Let’s Get Lost. In part it’s a love story, another commonality with Dylan. Of equal importance, a repeated line comprises a majority of the lyrics and bears much the same meaning as in Restless Farewell:

“Well I don’t know where I’ll go now

and I don’t really care who follows me there

but I’ll burn every bridge that I cross

and find some beautiful place to get lost”

As can be seen from the respective lineages, Society is true to its heritage in meaning as much as it is stylistically. The folk genre is marginal by design and messages like this are the embodiment of its countercultural function. This, and giving consideration to artist authenticity regardless of genre, Society is a meaningful part of a number of lines of songs that are transcendental in their rejection of material wealth and mainstream culture.