There’s Something Happening Here: 7 Classic Protest Songs to Inspire Change

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Unless you were hibernating with the bears during their extended winter slumber, you probably heard about last month’s massive Women’s March on Washington and other U.S. cities, as well as a plethora of spirited protests against President Trump’s Muslim ban. A widespread refusal to tolerate the status quo is growing by the day. Change is most definitely in the air. 

It is in that spirit that I’ve compiled a list of seven of the most important protest songs from the past few decades. I hope these songs move you and motivate you to speak out against the many injustices facing our sisters and brothers from around the world. 

7. “Sunday Bloody Sunday” – U2

In a decades long catalogue of epic political statements, “Sunday Bloody Sunday” might very well be U2’s most powerful protest. The song reveals the terror and desperation felt by an observer of the terrible day in Derry, Ireland when British troops fired on unarmed civil rights protesters. Their crime? They had simply gathered to bring awareness to what they described as the inhuman internment of anyone even remotely associated with the IRA. 

6. “Another Brick in the Wall” – Pink Floyd

Despite what many music fans think, Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” was not a protest song about the Berlin Wall. While it was eventually adopted as an anthem for the movement to end communism in Berlin, the song was actually about the rigid schooling and abusive teachers experienced by many students who attended England’s overly restrictive boarding schools. Singing about the welfare of children is definitely a cause I can get behind. 

5. “Fortunate Son” – Creedence Clearwater Revival

John Fogerty knew that which he spoke of in “Fortunate Son.” Having served in the Army Reserves, Fogerty witnessed firsthand the unfairness of America’s wealthier citizens being able to prevent their children from being shipped off to Vietnam. This is a powerful protest song that touches on socio-economic status and the injustice of the deep disparity between the rich and the poor in American society. The fact that “Fortunate Son” is still relevant today shows how in tune Fogerty was with the issues that consistently plague America.  

4. “Blowin’ in the Wind” – Bob Dylan

A song made famous by folk heroes Peter, Paul, and Mary, Bob Dylan’s 1962 hit “Blowin’ in the Wind” is perhaps the song most identified with a particular decade. Evidence of the song’s popularity is the fact that it’s been translated into more than a dozen languages, featured in numerous movies, and played live more than 1,000 times by Dylan. Dylan’s method of asking some of the deeper questions in life to get his message across is indicative of the wordsmith’s knack for tackling meaningful issues within a catchy tune. 

3. “For What It’s Worth” – Buffalo Springfield

Contrary to what most fans think, Stephen Stills did not write “For What It’s Worth” about America’s involvement in Vietnam. He wrote the song in 1966 to show support for a group of Los Angeles hippies who were engaged in a battle with the police over a pending curfew. The song immediately thrust Buffalo Springfield onto the national stage, thus launching the careers of Stills and Neil Young.

2. “Eve of Destruction” – Barry McGuire

By 1965, Bob Dylan was pretty much done writing protest songs. Barry McGuire was more than willing to fill the void left by Dylan. His cover of P.F. Sloan’s “Eve of Destruction” became a #1 hit. The reason for the song’s success was the tangible fear felt by many who fully expected a nuclear war to break out at any moment. With the Cold War in full effect and the tense Cuban Missile Crisis a very recent memory, McGuire’s apocalyptic “Eve of Destruction” touched a nerve in a way that other protests could only hope to. 

1. “Ohio” – Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young

Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s “Ohio” is perhaps the most poignantly powerful protest song of them all. Days after the Kent State massacre, Neil Young saw the disturbing photo of teenager Mary Ann Vecchio kneeling over the dead body of college student Jeffrey Miller. Ever the sensitive and tuned in young man, Young transferred his all-consuming anger and sorrow into “Ohio.” One day later, the entire band had recorded the song and the rest of the world was on the verge of hearing about the tragedy at Kent State. 

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