Behind the Song Lyrics: “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” Twisted Sister

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

“We’re Not Gonna Take It” was a metal anthem for the downtrodden, and got its point across right from the start of the lyrics:

We’ve got the right to choose it
There ain’t no way we’ll lose it
This is our life, this is our song

We’ll fight the powers that be just
Don’t pick our destiny ’cause
You don’t know us, you don’t belong

Written by Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider for the band’s 1984 album Stay Hungry, the chorus came to Snider fairly quickly but took three more years to flesh out the song lyrics before its release.

“I wanted to write an anthem,” said Dee Snider in a 2018 interview. “I’m from the Alice Cooper school of ‘School’s Out,’ ‘I’m Eighteen’… and Alice was very big on these anthemic songs. So I wanted to write an anthem for the audience to raise their fists in the air in righteous anger.”

In the 1980s, the mutiny of heavy metal began, when many songs came under direct attack by the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC), led by Al Gore’s then-wife Tipper Gore. Already disturbed by lyrics in songs by artists like Madonna and Prince, the group quickly attacked the hard rock genre, which eventually led to the RIAA agreeing to put “Parental Advisory” stickers on albums with what was deemed “explicit” content.

The PMRC also released a list of “Filthy 15” songs, which the group said contained sexually explicit lyrics or descriptions of alcohol use and intoxication, and included Cyndi Lauper’s “She Bop,” Def Leppard’s “High ‘n’ Dry (Saturday Night),” and Sheena Easton’s “Sugar Walls.” Also on the list was Twisted Sister’s rock anthem.

On Sept. 19. 1985, Frank Zappa, John Denver, and Snider—donned ripped jeans and a cut-off shirt and his perfectly coifed mess of blonde curls—testified before the U.S. Senate in defense of their freedom of expression as artists and against censorship in music.

“The beauty of literature, poetry, and music is that they leave room for the audience to put its own imagination, experiences and dreams into the words,” said Snider in his testimony. “The examples I cited earlier showed clear evidence of Twisted Sister’s music being completely misinterpreted and unfairly judged by supposedly well-informed adults. We cannot allow this to continue.”

For nearly 40 years “We’re Not Gonna Take It” has been featured in film and television, including the 1986 films Gung Ho and Iron Eagle, Corky Romano and Max Keeble’s Big Move in 2001, and Ready Player One in 2018. The song was also used in the Broadway show Rock of Ages, and cover versions featured in the 2005 video games Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock and Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus in 2017.

Throughout the decades, “We’re Not Gonna Take It” has been reinterpreted by artists across genres, including Christian, Spanish, and punk. Weird “Al” Yankovic even included a polka parody of the song on his 1985 album Dare to Be Stupid.

Today, “We’re Not Gonna Take It” remains one of the heaviest metal songs of protest, and is still used by groups who need the perfect rallying cry. In 2018, teachers striking in Oklahoma and Arizona used the song, while demanding salary increases and more school funding.

Snider recently endorsed the use of the song as a battlecry in Ukraine, following the recent invasion of the country by Russia.

“I absolutely approve of Ukrainians using ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’ as their battle cry,” said Snider. “My grandfather was Ukrainian before it was swallowed up by the USSR after WW2. This can’t happen to these people again.”

We’re not gonna take it
Oh no, we ain’t gonna take it
We’re not gonna take it anymore

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