This is not the first time I have posted about protest songs and I doubt that it will be the last. If you’d like to read my last protest post click here. My good friend Nick Horslen switched me on to the excellent work that one.org do; In particular a superb recent piece providing an extensive playlist of protest songs which range from the classic to the obscure. There are also some very interesting cover versions included. Click here for the protest playlist
The protest song has been around for many years but for this post I’d like to focus on protest songs from the sixties onwards. The song in this genre that most people know is probably Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ In The Wind”. The song has been covered by many people and remains a standard for buskers all over the world. The lyrics are essentially a set of questions which I am sad to say are still pertinent today. I recently watched the U2 documentary film, ‘Rattle And Hum‘ and was reminded of how powerful the song “Sunday Bloody Sunday” is. There is a heartfelt speech from Bono during that version where he berates Irish terrorists. This was filmed on the day the IRA murdered 11 innocent people at a remembrance day service in the town of Enniskillen in 1987.
Whilst the early songs of the rock era, including Dylan, were rooted in folk music the fight for many causes has subsequently been taken up by almost every genre from rap to reggae and from soul to punk. I would like to focus on a few of my favourites in particular some that don’t get played too often and currently are not included in the one.org Agit 8 playlist. But before that I should mention two protest songs that I return to often; Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” and Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song”
I believe that Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, who wrote many classic Temptations songs for Motown were never recognised widely enough for their protest songs; The Temptations recorded “War” before Edwin Starr had a global hit with it. Whitfield and Strong also wrote “Ball Of Confusion” and “Take A Look Around”. But perhaps one of the bravest given when it was released was “Message From A Black Man” from their 1969 album ‘Puzzle People’
Many singer songwriters from Guthrie, Seeger and Dylan through to Neil Young, Billy Bragg and more recently Frank Turner have written and recorded some very strong protest songs. One of my favourites of that type is Jackson Browne‘s “Lives In The Balance”. In my opinion he was one of too few voices that were constantly critical of the Reagan regime in the 80s. This particular song focuses on America’s ongoing involvement in foreign wars which frankly they should not have been anywhere near!
My last song choice for this post is the very topical “Same Love” from Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. A slow hip hop style song about being gay. In my opinion this is one of the finest rap protest songs that has been released for some time. It also helps to prove that rap can handle gay issues. It is a long way removed from the Tom Robinson Band‘s late 70s gay anthem “Glad To Be Gay” but no less powerful. If any budding songwriters are reading this and you have a protest song you’d like me to air, you know where I am. I would also love to hear from you with your own protest song suggestions.