Poster Girl

Protest song

A protest song is a song which protests against perceived problems in society. These songs cover a wide variety of topics, and deal with issues and concerns ranging from personal and interpersonal to local and global matters. Every major movement in Western history has been accompanied by its own collection of protest songs, from slave emancipation to women's suffrage, the labor movement, civil rights, the anti-war movement, the feminist movement, the environmental movement, and many others. Over time, songs have come to protest more abstract, ethical issues, such as injustice, racial discrimination, the morality of war in general (as opposed to purely protesting individual wars), globalization, inflation, social inequalities, and incarceration. Such songs tend to become more popular during times of disruption among social groups. Phil Ochs summarised protest songs thus: "A protest song is a song that's so specific that you cannot mistake it for bullshit"

Some of the most internationally famous examples of protest songs come from the United States. They include "We Shall Overcome" (a song popular in the labor movement and later the Civil rights movement), Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind" and Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On". Many key figures world-wide have contributed to their own nations' traditions of protest music, such as Victor Jara in Latin America, Silvio Rodríguez in Cuba and Vuyisile Mini in anti-apartheid South Africa. Protest songs are generally associated with folk music, but more recently they have been produced in all genres of music.

Types of protest song

Sociologist R. Serge Denisoff defined the five primary goals of the protest-propaganda song as:
  1. pointing to some problem in society, usually in emotional terms;
  2. presenting a solution to that problem in terms of action and a desired goal;
  3. reinforcing the value structure of individuals involved with the movement;
  4. attempting to recruit individuals by arousing outside sympathy and support; and
  5. creating moral unity and uniqueness in its world view.

Denisoff goes on to define two sub-groups of protest songs: magnetic protest songs, which fulfill all five criteria, offering remedies to the situations they protest, such as "We Shall Overcome"; and rhetorical protest songs, which only fulfill part of the five primary goals by simply pointing out a problem, often from a more individual than social perspective, without offering a solution or generating some form of unity. Even though they do not fulfill all five goals, Denisoff argues for the inclusion of rhetorical songs in the protest-propaganda song canon due to their endeavors to change public opinion on current events or topics of debate. This type of song usually has a negative attitude towards a social condition and are most often sung in the first person singular in order to set the singer apart from the audience, or addresses the protested party directly as "you" in order to critically point a finger. In either case unity is not sought nor achieved. Examples include "Masters of War" by Bob Dylan and "What's Going On" by Marvin Gaye.

On a larger scale the two most prominent forms of protest songs are Civil Rights Songs (sometimes referred to as "Freedom Songs" ), which demand equality before the law in the magnetic protest-propaganda song format (although latter-day civil rights bands, such as Public Enemy, have moved increasingly towards a more rhetorical form of protest) with a strong sense of community unity and similitude, promoting the wisdom of the common man over the sophistication of the bureaucracy; and Anti-War songs, which the oppose a particular nation's decision to start or carry on an armed conflict, or which decry the notion of war in general and promote pacifism - anti-war songs, such as the aforementioned "Masters of War", are generally written in the rhetorical format. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.. said of the power of the magnetic protest song in the civil rights movement: "They invigorate the movement in a most significant way[...]these freedom songs serve to give unity to a movement.

North American protest songs

Eighteenth century

Prior to the American Revolutionary War, political songs appeared in the mid 1700s America in response to social injustices (such as the struggle between classes) and political issues (such as the opposing ideologies of the Whigs and Tories, and issues such as the stamp act). "American Taxation" written by Peter St. John and sung to the tune of "The British Grenadiers" was one such song which protested against "the cruel lords of Britain" who were "striving after our rights to take away, and rob us of our charter, in North America". "Come On, Brave Boys" (1734), "The American Hero" by Andrew Law, "Free America" by Dr. Joseph Warren, and "Liberty Song" by John Dickinson (1768) all equally potested against the British rule in America, and called for freedom. The earliest known American election campaign song was "God Save George Washington", issued in 1780 and sung to the tune of "God Save the King", a common practice as the majority of political songs at the time were based on already well known music and were often published with only the lyrics in newspapers and broadsides, and a "sung to the tune of" direction.

"Rights of Woman" (1795), sung to the tune of "God Save the King", written anonymously by "A Lady", and published in the Philadelphia Minerva, October 17, 1795, is one of the earliest American songs pointing out that rights apply equally to both sexes. The song contains many outspoken declarations of protest, and slogans such as "God save each Female's right", "Woman is free" and "Let woman have a share".

Nineteenth century

The nineteenth century saw a number of protest songs being written, for the most part, on three key issues: War, and the American Civil War in particular (such as "Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye" from Ireland, and its American variant, "When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again", among others); The abolition of slavery ("Song of the Abolitionist and "No More Auction Block for Me", among others) and women's suffrage, both for and against in both Britain and the U.S.

Perhaps the most famous voices of protest at the time - in America at least - were the Hutchinson Family Singers. From 1839, the Hutchinson Family Singers became well-known for their protest songs, especially songs supporting abolition. They sang at the White House for President John Tyler, and befriended Abraham Lincoln. Their subject matter most often touched on relevant social issues such as abolition, temperance, politics, war and women's suffrage. Much of their music focused on idealism, social reform, equal rights, moral improvement, community activism and patriotism.

The Hutchinsons' career spanned the major social and political events of the mid-19thcentury, including the Civil War. The Hutchinson Family Singers established an impressive musical legacy and are considered to be the forerunners of the great protest singers-songwriters and folk groups of the 1950s and 60s such as Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan, and are often referred to as America's first protest band.

A great number of Negro spirituals were sung as forms of protest by the enslaved African-American people both before and after the American Civil War. They called for freedom from oppression and slavery (as in, for example, "Oh, Freedom), and employed religious imagery to draw comparisons between their plight and the plight of the downtrodden in the bible (as in "Go Down Moses"). While these protest songs originated by enslaved African-Americans in the United States when Slavery was introduced to the European colonies in 1619, it was only after the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution by United States Secretary of State William Henry Seward on December 18, 1865 that the songs started to be collected. The two pioneering collections of Black Spirituals and protest songs were the 1872 book Jubilee Songs as Sung by the Jubilee Singers of Fisk University, by Thomas F. Steward, and a collection of "Black spirituals" which was published by Thomas Wentworth Higginson. The most famous song of protest of African-Americans is "Lift Every Voice and Sing", often referred to by the title "The Negro National Anthem". The song was originally written as a poem by James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938) and then set to music by his brother John Rosamond Johnson (1873-1954) in 1900 and performed in Jacksonville, Florida as part of a celebration of Lincoln's Birthday on February 12, 1900 by a choir of 500 schoolchildren at the segregated Stanton School, where James Weldon Johnson was principal. Singing this song quickly became a way for African Americans to demonstrate their patriotism and hope for the future. In calling for earth and heaven to "ring with the harmonies of Liberty," they could speak out subtly against racism and Jim Crow laws — and especially the huge number of lynchings accompanying the rise of the Ku Klux Klan at the turn of the century. In 1919, the NAACP adopted the song as "The Negro National Anthem." By the 1920s, copies of "Lift Every Voice and Sing" could be found in black churches across the country, often pasted into the hymnals.

The 19th century also boasts one of the first environmental protest songs ever written in the shape of "Woodman Spare That Tree!", which was extremely popular at the time. The words were taken from a poem by George Pope Morris which had been published in the New York Mirror, while the music was composed by Henry Russell. The conservation sentiments of the work can be seen in verses such as the 2nd, which reads:" That old familiar tree,/Whose glory and renown/Are spread o'er land and sea/And wouldst thou hack it down?/Woodman, forbear thy stroke!/Cut not its earth, bound ties;/Oh! spare that ag-ed oak/Now towering to the skies!"

Twentieth century

In the 20th century, the union movement, the Great Depression, the Civil Rights movement, and the war in Vietnam (see Vietnam War protests) all spawned protest songs.

1900- 1920; Labor Movement, Class Struggle, and The Great War

The vast majority of American protest music from the first half of the 20th century was based on the struggle for fair wages and working hours for the working class, and on the attempt to unionize the American workforce towards those ends. The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) was founded in Chicago in June 1905 at a convention of two hundred socialists, anarchists, and radical trade unionists from all over the United States who were opposed to the policies of the American Federation of Labor. From the start they used music as a powerful form of protest.

One of the most famous of these early 20th century "Wobblies" was Joe Hill, an IWW activist who traveled widely, organizing workers and writing and singing political songs. He coined the phrase "pie in the sky", which appeared in his most famous protest song "The Preacher and the Slave" (1911). The song calls for "Workingmen of all countries, unite/ Side by side we for freedom will fight/ When the world and its wealth we have gained/ To the grafters we'll sing this refrain." Other notable protest songs written by Hill include "The Tramp", "There Is Power in a Union", "Rebel Girl", and "Casey Jones--Union Scab".

Another one of the best-known songs of this period was "Bread and Roses" by James Oppenheim and Caroline Kolsaat, which was sung in protest en masse at a textile strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts during January-March 1912 (now often referred to as the "Bread and Roses strike") and has been subsequently taken up by protest movements throughout the 20th century.

The advent of The Great War (1914-1918) resulted in a great number of songs concerning the 20th's most popular recipient of protest: war; songs against the war in general, and specifically in America against the U.S.A.'s decision to enter the European war started to become widespread and popular. One of the most successful of these protest songs to capture the widespread American skepticism about joining in the European war was “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier,” (1915) by lyricist Alfred Bryan and composer Al Piantadosi.. Many of these war-time protest songs took the point of view of the family at home, worried about their father/husband fighting overseas. One such song of the period which dealt with the children who had been orphaned by the war was "War Babies"(1916) by James F. Hanley (music) and Ballard MacDonald (lyrics) which spoke to the need for taking care of orphans of war in an unusually frank and open manner. For a typical song written from a child's point-of-view see Jean Schwartz (music), Sam M. Lewis & Joe Young (lyrics) and their song "Hello Central! Give Me No Man's Land"(1918), in which a young boy tries to call his father in No Man's Land on the telephone (then a recent invention), unaware that he has been killed in combat..

1920s- 1930s;The Great Depression and Racial Discrimination

The 1920s and 30s also saw the continuing growth of the union and labor movements (the IWW claimed at its peak in 1923 some 100,000 members), as well as widespread poverty due to the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, which inspired musicians and singers to decry the harsh realities which they saw all around them. It was against this background that folk singer Aunt Molly Jackson was singing songs with striking Harlan coal miners in Kentucky in 1931, and writing protest songs such as "Hungry Ragged Blues" and "Poor Miner's Farewell", which depicted the struggle for social justice in a Depression-ravaged America. In New York City, Marc Blitzstein's opera/musical The Cradle Will Rock, a pro-union musical directed by Orson Welles, was produced in 1937. However, it proved to be so controversial that it was shut down for fear of social unrest. Undeterred, the IWW increasingly used music to protest working conditions in the United States and to recruit new members to their cause.

The 1920s and 30s also saw a marked rise in the number of songs which protested against racial discrimination, such as Louis Armstrong's "(What Did I Do to Be So) Black and Blue" (1929), and the anti-lynching song, "Strange Fruit" by Lewis Allan (which contains the lyrics "Southern trees bear strange fruit / Blood on the leaves and blood at the root / Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze"). It was also during this period that many African American blues singers were beginning to have their voices heard on a larger scale across America through their music, most of which protested the discrimination which they faced on a daily basis. Perhaps the most famous example of these 1930s blues protest songs is Leadbelly's "The Bourgeois Blues", in which he sings "The home of the Brave / The land of the Free / I don't wanna be mistreated by no bourgeoisie".

1940s- 1950s; The labor movement vs McCarthyism; Anti-Nuclear songs

The 1940s and 1950s saw the rise of music that continued to protest labor, race, and class issues. Protest songs continued to increase their profile over this period, and an increasing number of artists appeared who were to have an enduring influence on the protest music genre. However, the movement and its protest singers faced increasing opposition from McCarthyism. One of the most notable pro-union protest singers of the period was Woody Guthrie ("This Land Is Your Land", "Deportee", "Dust Bowl Blues", "Tom Joad"), whose guitar bore a sticker which read: "This Machine Kills Fascists". Guthrie had also been a member or the hugely influential labor-movement band The Almanac Singers, along with Millard Lampell, Lee Hays, and Pete Seeger. Politics and music were closely intertwined with the members' political beliefs, which were far-left and occasionally led to controversial associations with the Communist Party USA. Their first release, an album called Songs For John Doe, urged non-intervention in World War II. In fact, an article written in 2006 by an official of the American libertarian Cato Institute reported that in the early years of World War II, political opponents had referred to Seeger as "Stalin's Songbird". Their second album "Talking Union", was a collection of labor songs, many of which were intensely anti-Roosevelt owing to what Seeger considered the President's weak support of workers' rights.

A similarly influential folk music band who sang protest songs were The Weavers, of which future protest music leader Pete Seeger was a member. The Weavers were the first American band to court mainstream success while singing protest songs, and they were eventually to pay the price for it. While they specifically avoided recording the more controversial songs in their repertoire, and refrained from performing at controversial venues and events (for which the leftwing press derided them as having sold out their beliefs in exchange for popular success), they nevertheless came under political pressure as a result of their history of singing protest songs and folk songs favoring labor unions, as well as for the leftist political beliefs of the individuals in the group. Despite their caution they were placed under FBI surveillance and blacklisted by parts of the entertainment industry during the McCarthy era, from 1950. Right-wing and anti-Communist groups protested at their performances and harassed promoters. As a result of the blacklisting, the Weavers lost radio airplay and the group's popularity diminished rapidly. Decca Records eventually terminated their recording contract.

In the 1940s the strongest musical voice of protest from the African American community in America was Josh White, one of the first musicians to make a name for himself singing political blues. . White enjoyed a position of political privilege, especially as a black musician, as he established a long and close relationship with the family of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, and would become the closest African American confidant to the President of the United States. He made his first foray into protest music and political blues with his highly controversial Columbia Records album Joshua White & His Carolinians: Chain Gang, produced by John H. Hammond, which included the song "Trouble," which summarised the plight of many African Americans in its opening line of "Well, I always been in trouble, ‘cause I’m a black-skinned man." The album was the first race record ever forced upon the white radio stations and record stores in America's South and caused such a furor that it reached the desk of President Franklin Roosevelt. On December 20, 1940, White and the Golden Gate Quartet, sponsored by Eleanor Roosevelt, performed in a historic Washington, D.C. concert at the Library of Congress's Coolidge Auditorium to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which abolished slavery. In January 1941, Josh performed at the President's Inauguration, and two months later he released another highly controversial record album, Southern Exposure, which included six anti-segregationist songs with liner notes written by the celebrated and equally controversial African American writer Richard Wright, and whose sub-title was "An Album of Jim Crow Blues". Like the Chain Gang album, and with revelatory yet inflammatory songs such as "Uncle Sam Says", "Jim Crown Train", "Bad Housing Blues", Defense Factory Blues", "Southern Exposure", and "Hard Time Blues", it also was forced upon the southern white radio stations and record stores, caused outrage in the South and also was brought to the attention of President Roosevelt. However, instead of making White persona-non-grata in segregated America, it resulted in President Roosevelt asking White to become the first African American artist to give a White House Command Performance, in 1941.

After the Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6th and 9th 1945, many people the world over feared Nuclear warfare, and many protest songs were written against this new danger to planet. The most immediately successful of these post-war anti-nuclear protest songs was Vern Partlow's "Old Man Atom" (1945) (also known by the alternate titles "Atomic Talking Blues" and "Talking Atom"). The song treats its subject in comic-serious fashion, with a combination of black humour puns (such as "We hold these truths to be self-evident/All men may be cremated equal" or "I don't mean the Adam that Mother Eve mated/I mean that thing that science liberated") on serious statements on the choices to be made in the nuclear age ("The people of the world must pick out a thesis/"Peace in the world, or the world in pieces!""). Folk singer Sam Hinton recorded "Old Man Atom" in 1950 for ABC Eagle, a small California independent label. Influential New York disc jockey Martin Block played Hinton's record on his 'Make Believe Ballroom.' Overwhelming listener response prompted Columbia Records to acquire the rights for national distribution. From all indications, it promised to be one of the year's biggest novelty records. RCA Victor rush-released a cover version by the Sons of the Pioneers. Country singer Ozzie Waters recorded the song for Decca's Coral subsidiary. Fred Hellerman - then contracted to Decca as a member of the Weavers - recorded it for Jubilee under the pseudonym 'Bob Hill.' Bing Crosby was reportedly ready to record "Old Man Atom" for Decca when right-wing organizations began attacking Columbia and RCA Victor for releasing a song that reflected a Communist ideology. According to a New York Times report on September 1, 1950.

Those who protested against the song's issuance on records insisted that it parroted the Communist line on peace and reflected the propaganda for the Stockholm 'peace petition.' Mr. Partlow said yesterday, according to an Associated Press dispatch from Los Angeles, that his song was 'not part of the Stockholm or any other so-called peace offensive.' He added, 'It was written five years ago long before any of these peace offensives.'
Buckling under pressure, both Columbia and RCA Victor withdrew "Old Man Atom" from distribution.

Other anti-nuclear protest songs of the period include "Atom and Evil" (1946) by Golden Gate Quartet ("if Atom and Evil should ever be wed/Lord, then darn if all of us are going to be dead") and "Atomic Sermon" (1953) by Billy Hughes and his Rhythm Buckeroos

1960s; the Civil Rights Movement, The Vietnam War, and Peace and Revolution

The 1960s was a fertile era for the genre, especially with the rise of the Civil Rights movement, the ascendency of counterculture groups such as Hippies and the New Left, and the escalation of the War in Vietnam. The protest songs of the period differed from those of earlier leftist movements; which had been more oriented towards labor activism; adopting instead a broader definition of political activism commonly called social activism, which incorporated notions of equal rights and of promoting the concept of 'peace'. The music often included relatively simple instrumental accompaniment including acoustic guitar and harmonica.

One of the key figures of the 1960s protest movement was Bob Dylan, who produced a number of landmark protest songs such as "Blowin' in the Wind" (1962), "Masters of War" (1963), "Talking World War III Blues" (1963), and "The Times They Are A-Changin'" (1964). While Dylan is often thought of as a 'protest singer', most of his protest songs spring from a relatively short time-period in his career; Mike Marqusee writes:

The protest songs that made Dylan famous and with which he continues to be associated were written in a brief period of some 20 months – from January 1962 to November 1963. Influenced by American radical traditions (the Wobblies, the Popular Front of the thirties and forties, the Beat anarchists of the fifties) and above all by the political ferment touched off among young people by the civil rights and ban the bomb movements, he engaged in his songs with the terror of the nuclear arms race, with poverty, racism and prison, jingoism and war.
Dylan often sang against injustice, such as the murder of African American civil rights activist Medgar Evers in ‘Only A Pawn In their Game’ (1964), or the killing of the 51-year-old African American barmaid Hattie Carroll by the wealthy young tobacco farmer from Charles County, William Devereux "Billy" Zantzinger in 'The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll" (1964) (Zantzinger was only sentenced to six months in a county jail for the murder). Many of the injustices about which Dylan sang were not even based on race or civil rights issues, but rather everyday injustices and tragedies, such as the death of boxer Davey Moore in the ring ("Who Killed Davey Moore?" (1964) ), or the breakdown of farming and mining communities ("Ballad of Hollis Brown" (1963), "North Country Blues" (1963)). By 1963, Dylan and then-singing partner Joan Baez had become prominent in the civil rights movement, singing together at rallies including the March on Washington where Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous "I have a dream" speech., however Dylan is reported to have said: "“Think they’re listening?” Dylan asked, glancing towards the Capitol. “No, they ain’t listening at all.” Many of Dylan's songs of the period were to be adapted and appropriated by the 60s Civil Rights and counter-culture 'movements' rather than being specifically written for them, and by 1964 Dylan was attempting to extract himself from the movement, much to the chagrin of many of those who saw him as a voice of a generation. Indeed, many of Dylan's songs have been retrospectively aligned with issues which they in fact pre-date; while "Masters of War" (1963) clearly protests against governments who orchestrate war, it is often misconstrued as dealing directly with the Vietnam War. However the song was written at the beginning of 1963, when only a few hundred Green Berets were stationed in South Vietnam. The song only came to be re-appropriated as a comment on Vietnam in 1965, when US planes bombed North Vietnam for the first time, with lines such as “you that build the death planes” seeming particularly prophetic (in fact, unlike many of his contemporary 'protest singers', Dylan never mentioned Vietnam by name in any of his songs). Dylan is quoted as saying that the song "is supposed to be a pacifistic song against war. It's not an anti-war song. It's speaking against what Eisenhower was calling a military-industrial complex as he was making his exit from the presidency. That spirit was in the air, and I picked it up. Similarly ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’ (1963) is often perceived to deal with the Cuban missile crisis, however Dylan performed the song more than a month before John F. Kennedy's TV address to the nation (October 22, 1962) initiated the Cuban missile crisis. After this brief, but extremely fruitful, 20 month period of 'protest songs', Dylan decided to extract himself from the movement, changing his musical style from folk to a more rock-orientated sound, and writing increasingly abstract lyrics, which had more in common with poetry and biblical references than social injustices. As he explained to critic Nat Hentoff in mid-1964: “Me, I don’t want to write for people anymore - you know, be a spokesman. From now on, I want to write from inside me …I’m not part of no movement… I just can’t make it with any organisation…”. His next acknowledged 'protest song' would be "The Hurricane", written twelve years later in 1976.

Pete Seeger, formerly of the Almanac Singers and The Weavers, was a major influence on Dylan and his contemporaries, and continued to be a strong voice of protest in the 1960s, when he produced "Where Have All the Flowers Gone", and "Turn, Turn, Turn" (written during the 1950s but released on Seeger's 1962 album The Bitter and The Sweet). Seeger's song "If I Had a Hammer" had been written in 1949 in support of the progressive movement, but rose to Top Ten popularity in 1962 when covered by Peter, Paul and Mary), going on to become one of the major Civil Rights anthems of the American Civil Rights movement. "We Shall Overcome", Seeger's adaptation of an American gospel song, continues to be used to support issues from labor rights to peace movements. Seeger was one of the leading singers to protest against then-President Lyndon Johnson through song. Seeger first satirically attacked the president with his 1966 recording of Len Chandler's children's song, "Beans in My Ears". In addition to Chandler's original lyrics, Seeger sang that "Mrs. Jay's little son Alby" had "beans in his ears", which, as the lyrics imply, ensures that a person does not hear what is said to them. To those opposed to continuing the Vietnam War the phrase suggested that "Alby Jay", a loose pronunciation of Johnson's nickname "LBJ", did not listen to anti-war protests as he too had "beans in his ears". Seeger attracted wider attention in 1967 with his song "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy", about a captain — referred to in the lyrics as "the big fool" — who drowned while leading a platoon on maneuvers in Louisiana during World War II. In the face of arguments with the management of CBS about whether the song's political weight was in keeping with the usually light-hearted entertainment of the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, the final lines were "Every time I read the paper/those old feelings come on/We are waist deep in the Big Muddy and the big fool says to push on." And it was not seriously contested that much of the audience would grasp Seeger's allegorical casting of Johnson as the "big fool" and the Vietnam War the foreseeable danger. Although the performance was cut from the September 1967 show, after wide publicity, it was broadcast when Seeger appeared again on the Smothers' Brothers show in the following January.

Phil Ochs, one of the leading protest singers of the decade (or, as he preferred, a "topical singer"), performed at many political events, including anti-Vietnam War and civil rights rallies, student events, and organized labor events over the course of his career, in addition to many concert appearances at such venues as New York City's The Town Hall and Carnegie Hall. Politically, Ochs described himself as a "left social democrat" who turned into an "early revolutionary" after the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, which had a profound effect on his state of mind. Ochs summarised protest songs thus: "A protest song is a song that's so specific that you cannot mistake it for bullshit" Some of his best known protest songs include "Power and the Glory", "Draft Dodger Rag", "There But for Fortune", "Changes", "Crucifixion, "When I'm Gone", "Love Me I'm a Liberal", "Links on the Chain", "Ringing of Revolution", and "I Ain't Marching Anymore".Other notable voices of protest from the period included Joan Baez, Buffy Sainte-Marie (whose anti-war song "Universal Soldier" was later made famous by Donovan), and Tom Paxton ("Jimmy Newman" - about the story of a dying soldier, and "My Son John" - about a soldier who returns from war unable to describe what he's been through), among others. The first protest song to reach number one in the United States was P.F. Sloan's Eve of Destruction, performed by Barry McGuire in 1965..

The American civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s often used Negro spirituals as a source of protest, changing the religious lyrics to suit the political mood of the time. The use of religious music helped to emphasize the peaceful nature of the protest; it also proved easy to adapt, with many improvised call-and-response songs being created during marches and sit-ins. Some imprisoned protesters used their incarceration as an opportunity to write protest songs. These songs were carried across the country by Freedom Riders, and many of these became Civil Rights anthems. Many soul singers of the period, such as Sam Cooke ("A Change Is Gonna Come" (1965)), Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin ("Respect"), James Brown ("Say It Loud - I'm Black and I'm Proud"[1968]; "I Don’t Want Nobody to Give Me Nothing (Open Up the Door, I’ll Get It Myself) ” [1969]) and Nina Simone ("Mississippi Goddam" (1964), "To Be Young, Gifted and Black" (1970)) wrote and performed many protest songs which addressed the ever-increasing demand for equal rights for African Americans during the American civil rights movement. The predominantly white music scene of the time also produced a number of songs protesting racial discrimination, including Janis Ian's "Society's Child (Baby I've Been Thinking), (1966)" about an interracial romance forbidden by a girl's mother and frowned upon by her peers and teachers and a culture that classifies citizens by race. Steve Reich's 13-minute long "Come Out" (1966), which consists of manipulated recordings of a single spoken line given by an injured survivor of the Harlem Race Riots of 1964, protested police brutality against African Americans.

In the 1960s and early 1970s many protest songs were written and recorded condemning the War in Vietnam, most notably "Simple Song of Freedom" by Bobby Darin (1969), "The War Drags On" by Donovan (1965),"I Ain't Marching Anymore" by Phil Ochs (1965), "Lyndon Johnson Told The Nation" by Tom Paxton (1965), "Bring Them Home" by Pete Seeger (1966), "Requiem for the Masses" by The Association (1967), "Saigon Bride" by Joan Baez (1967), "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy" by Pete Seeger (1967), "Suppose They Give a War and No One Comes" by The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band(1967), "The "Fish" Cheer / I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-To-Die Rag" by Country Joe and the Fish (1968) "One Tin Soldier" by Original Caste (1969), "Volunteers" by Jefferson Airplane (1969), and "Fortunate Son" by Creedence Clearwater Revival (1969). Woody Guthrie's son Arlo Guthrie also wrote one of the decade's most famous protest songs in the form of the 18 minute long talking blues song "Alice's Restaurant Massacree", a bitingly satirical protest against the Vietnam War draft. As an extension of these concerns, artists started to protest the ever-increasing escalation of Nuclear weapons and threat of Nuclear warfare; as for example on Tom Lehrer's ""So Long, Mom (A Song for World War III)", "Who's Next?" (about Nuclear proliferation) and "Wernher von Braun from his 1965 collection of political satire songs That Was the Year That Was.

The 1960s also saw a number of successful protest songs from the opposite end of the spectrum; the political right which supported the war. Perhaps the most successful and famous of these was "Ballad of the Green Berets" (1966) by Barry Sadler, which was one of the very few songs of the era to cast the military in a positive light and yet become a major hit. Merle Haggard & the Strangers' “Okie from Muskogee” (1969), despite being strongly patriotic, was listed in PopMatters' July 2007 list of the top 65 protest songs because it is, as the webzine puts it,

in fact a protest against changing social mores, alternative lifestyles, and, well, protests[...] In a time when protest songs filled the airwaves, it is ironic that Haggard scored his biggest hit protesting the rise of a discontented culture.

1970s; The Vietnam War, Soul Music

The Kent State shootings of May 4 1970 amplified sentiment against the United States' invasion of Cambodia and the Vietnam War in general, and protest songs about The Vietnam War continued to grow in popularity and frequency. Anti-war songs such as Chicago's "It Better End Soon" (1970), "War" (1970) by Edwin Starr, "Ohio" (1970) by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young (about the May 4th Kent State shootings), and "Imagine" (1971) by John Lennon captured the spirit of the time. Another great influence on the anti-Vietnam war protest songs of the early seventies was the fact that this was the first generation where combat veterans were returning prior to the end of the war, and that even the veterans were protesting the war, as with the formation of the 'Vietnam Veterans Against the War' (VVAW). Graham Nash wrote his "Oh! Camil (The Winter Soldier)" (1973) to tell the story of one member of VVAW, Scott Camil. Other notable anti-war songs of the time included "Peace Train" by Cat Stevens (1971), "War Pigs" by Black Sabbath (1971), and Stevie Wonder's frank condemnation of Richard Nixon 's Vietnam policies in his 1974 song "You Haven't Done Nothin'." Protest singer and activist Joan Baez dedicated the entire B side of her album Where Are You Now, My Son? (1973) to recordings she had made of bombings while in Hanoi.

While war continued to dominate the protest songs of the early 70s, there were other issues addressed by bands of the time, such as Helen Reddy's feminist hit "I Am Woman" (1972), which became an anthem for the women’s liberation movement. Bob Dylan also made a brief return to protest music after some twelve years with "Hurricane" (1976), which protested the imprisonment of Rubin "Hurricane" Carter as a result of alleged acts of racism and profiling against Carter, which Dylan describes as leading to a false trial and conviction.

Soul music carried over into the early part of the 70s, in many ways taking over from folk music as one of the strongest voices of protest in American music, the most important of which being Marvin Gaye's seminal 1971 protest album "What's Going On", which included "Inner City Blues", "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)", and the title track. Another hugely influential protest album of the time was poet and musician Gil Scott-Heron's "Small Talk at 125th and Lenox", which contained the oft-referenced protest song "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised". The album's 15 tracks dealt with myriad themes, protesting the superficiality of television and mass consumerism, the hypocrisy of some would-be Black revolutionaries, white middle-class ignorance of the difficulties faced by inner-city residents, and fear of homosexuals.

1980s; Anti-Reagan protest songs, and The Birth of Rap

The Reagan administration was also coming in for its fair share of criticism, with many mainstream protest songs attacking his policies, such as Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A." (1984), and "Bonzo goes to Bitberg" by The Ramones. This sentiment was countered by songs like "God Bless The USA" by Lee Greenwood which was seen by many as a protest against protests against the Reagan Administration. Billy Joel's "Allentown" protested the development of the rust belt, and represented those coping with the demise of the American manufacturing industry. Reagan came under significant criticism for the Iran-Contra Affair, in which it was discovered that his administration was selling arms to the radical Islamic regime in Iran and using proceeds from the sales to illegally fund the Contras, a guerrilla/terrorist group in Nicaragua. A number of songs were written in protest of this scandal. "All She Wants to Do Is Dance," (1984) by Don Henley, protested against the U.S. involvement with the Contras in Nicaragua, while chastising Americans for only wanting to dance, while molotov cocktails, and sales of guns and drugs are going on around them, and while "the boys" (the CIA, NSA, etc.) are "makin' a buck or two". Other songs to protest America's role in the Iran-Contra affair include "The Big Stick," by Minutemen, "Nicaragua," by Bruce Cockburn, and "Please Forgive Us," by 10,000 Maniacs.

The 1980s also saw the rise of rap and hip-hop, and with it bands such as Grandmaster Flash ("The Message [1982]"), Boogie Down Productions ("Stop the Violence" [1988]),"N.W.A ("Fuck tha Police" [1988]) and Public Enemy ("Fight the Power" [1989], "911 (Is a Joke)" etc.) who vehemently protested the discrimination and poverty which the black community faced in America, in particular focusing on police discrimination. In 1988 The Stop the Violence Movement was formed by rapper KRS-One in response to violence in the hip hop and black communities. Comprised of some of the biggest stars in contemporary East Coast hip hop (including Public Enemy), the movement released a single, "Self Destruction", in 1989, with all proceeds going to the National Urban League.

Punk music continued to be a strong voice of protest in the 1980s, however it had for the most part, developed a heavier and more aggressive sound, as typified by Black Flag (whose debut album Damaged (1981) was described by the BBC as "essentially an album of electric protest songs[..., which] takes a swing at the insularities and shortcomings of the ‘me’ generation.), Dead Kennedys (whose sweeping criticism of America, "Stars and Stripes of Corruption" (1985), contains the lyric "Rednecks and bombs don't make us strong/ We loot the world, yet we can't even feed ourselves"), and Bad Religion; a tradition carried on in the following decades by punk revivalists like Anti-Flag and Rise Against. Of the few remaining old-school punks still recording in the late 80s, the most notable protest song is Patti Smith's 1988 recording "People Have the Power."

1990s; Hard-Rock Protest Bands, Women's Rights, and Protest Parodies

In 1990, singer Melba Moore released a modern rendition of the 1900 song "Lift Every Voice and Sing" - which had long been considered "The Negro National Anthem" and one of the 20th Centry's most powerful civil rights anthems - which she recorded along with others including R&B artists Anita Baker, Stephanie Mills, Dionne Warwick, Bobby Brown, Stevie Wonder, Jeffrey Osborne, and Howard Hewett; and gospel artists BeBe and CeCe Winans, Take 6, and The Clark Sisters. Partly because of the success of this recording, Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing was entered into the Congressional Record as the official African American National Hymn.

Rage Against the Machine, formed in 1991, has been one of the most popular 'social-commentary' bands of the last 20 years. A fusion of the musical styles and lyrical themes of punk, hip-hop, and thrash, Rage Against the Machine railed against corporate America ("No Shelter", "Bullet in the Head"), government oppression ("Killing in the Name"), and Imperialism ("Sleep Now in the Fire", "Bulls on Parade"). The band used its music as a vehicle for social activism, as lead singer Zack de la Rocha espoused: "Music has the power to cross borders, to break military sieges and to establish real dialogue".

The 90s also saw a huge movement of pro-women's rights protest songs from most musical genres. Ani DiFranco was at the forefront of this movement, protesting sexism, sexual abuse, homophobia, reproductive rights as well as racism, poverty, and war. Her "Lost Woman Song" (1990) concerns itself with the hot topic of abortion, and with DiFranco's assertion that a woman has a right to choose without being judged. Sonic Youth's "Swimsuit Issue" (1992) protested the way in which women are objectified and turned into a commodity by the media. The song, in which Kim Gordon lists off the names of every model featured in the 1992 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, was selected as one of PopMatters' 65 greatest protest songs of all time with the praise that "Sonic Youth reminds us that protest songs don’t have to include acoustic guitars and twee harmonica melodies stuck in 1965. They don’t even have to be about war.

For the most part the 1990s signaled a decline in the popularity of protest songs in the mainstream media and public consciousness - even resulting in some parodies of the genre. The 1992 film Bob Roberts is an example of protest music parody, in which the title character - played by American actor Tim Robbins - is a guitar-playing U.S. Senatorial candidate who writes and performs songs with a heavily reactionary tone.

Twenty-first century

The Iraq War and the Revival of the Protest Song

After the 90s the protest song found renewed popularity in the Western World after the turn of the century as a result of 9/11 in America, and the Afghanistan and Iraq wars in the Middle East, with America's president George W. Bush facing the majority of the criticism. Many famous protest singers of yesteryear, such as Neil Young, Patti Smith, Tom Waits, and Bruce Springsteen, have returned to the public eye with new protest songs for the new war. Young approached the theme with his song, "Let's Impeach the President" - a stinging rebuke against President George W. Bush and the War in Iraq - as well as Living With War, an album of anti-Bush and anti-War protest songs. Smith has written two new songs indicting American and Israeli foreign policy - "Qana", about the Israeli airstrike on the Lebanese village of Qana, and "Without Chains", about the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay.

R.E.M., who had been known for their politically charged material in the 1980s, also returned to increasingly political subject matter since the advent of the Iraq War. For example "Final Straw" (2003) is a politically-charged song, reminiscent in tone of "World Leader Pretend" on Green. The version on their Around the Sun album is a remix of the original , which was made available as a free download on March 25, 2003 from the band's website. The song was written as a protest of the U.S. government's actions in the Iraq War.

Tom Waits has also covered increasingly political subject matter since the advent of the Iraq war, with "The Day After Tomorrow". In this song Waits adopts the persona of a soldier writing home that he is disillusioned with war and is thankful to be leaving. The song does not mention the Iraq war specifically, and, as Tom Moon writes, "it could be the voice of a Civil War soldier singing a lonesome late-night dirge." Waits himself does describe the song as something of an "elliptical" protest song about the Iraqi invasion, however. Thom Jurek describes "The Day After Tomorrow" as "one of the most insightful and understated anti-war songs to have been written in decades. It contains not a hint of banality or sentiment in its folksy articulation. Waits' recent output has not only addressed the Iraqi war, as his "Road To Peace" deals explicitly with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Middle East in general.

Bruce Springsteen has also been vocal in his condemnation of the Bush government, among other issues of social commentary. In 2000 he released "American Skin (41 Shots)" about tensions between immigrants in America and the police force, and of the police shooting of Amadou Diallo in particular. For singing about this event, albeit without mentioning Diallo's name, Springsteen was denounced by the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association in New York who called for the song to be blacklisted and by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani amongst others. In the aftermath of 9/11 Springsteen released The Rising, which exhibited his reflections on the tragedy and America's reaction to it. In 2006 he released We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, a collection of 13 covers of protest songs made popular by Pete Seeger, which highlighted how these older protest songs remained relevant to the troubles of the modern America. An extended version of the album included the track "How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?" in which Springsteen actually rewrote the lyrics of the original to directly address the issue of Hurricane Katrina. His 2007 long-player, Magic, continues Springsteen's tradition of protest song-writing, with a number of songs which continue to question and attack America's role in the Iraqi war. "Last to Die", with its chorus of "Who'll be the last to die for a mistake.... Whose blood will spill, whose heart will break," is believed to have been inspired by Senator-to-be John Kerry's 1971 testimony to the US Senate, in which he asked "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?" "Gypsy Biker" deals with the homecoming of a US Soldier killed in action in Iraq, and Springsteen has said that "Livin' in the Future" references extraordinary rendition and illegal wiretapping. "Long Walk Home" is an account of the narrator's sense that those people living at home "he thought he knew, whose ideals he had something in common with, are like strangers." The recurring lyric "it’s gonna be a long walk home" is a response to the violation of "certain things", such as "what we'll do and what we won't", in spite of these codes having been (in the words of the narrator's father) "set in stone" by the characters' "flag flyin' over the courthouse."

Contemporary Protest Songs

Modern-day mainstream artists to have written protest songs on this subject include Pink with her appeal to Bush in "Dear Mr. President" (2006), Bright Eyes with "When the President Talks to God" (2005) (which was hailed by the influential Portland, Oregon, alternative paper Willamette Week as "this young century's most powerful protest song.), Dispatch's anti-war underground hit "The General", and Devendra Banhart's "Heard somebody Say" (2005) in which he sings "it's simple, we don't want to kill". In 2003 Lenny Kravitz recorded the protest song "We Want Peace" with Iraqi pop star Kadim Al Sahir, Palestinian strings musician Simon Shaheen and Lebanese percussionist Jamey Hadded. According to Kravitz the song "is about more than Iraq. It is about our role as people in the world and that we all should cherish freedom and peace." The Decemberists, while not normally known for writing political songs (or songs set in the present day, for that matter), contributed to the genre in 2005 with their understated but scathing song "16 Military Wives," which singer Colin Meloy described thus: "It's kind of a protest song, [...] My objective is to make sense of foreign policy decisions taken by the current Bush administration and showing how they resemble solipsistic bullying." Pearl Jam also included two anti-Bush songs ("World Wide Suicide", "Marker In The Sand") in their 2006 album Pearl Jam. Even the banking system can be the focus of a protest song as in "National Strike!", by Loren Dean, on

The hip-hop group The Beastie Boys had a number of protest songs on their 2004 release To the 5 Boroughs. Songs such as It Takes Time To Build and Right Right Now Now take particular aim at the Bush administration and its policies.

American avant-garde singer Bobby Conn wrote an album of anti-Bush songs with his 2001 collection The Homeland. Conn said of his art that "All the records that I've done are a critique of what's going on in contemporary America" , and he is an outspoken critic of the Bush regime. Conn has admitted that while he actively protests what he sees as the evils of American society, he is not always at ease with such a label for himself. "I’ve always done lots of social commentary that I believe in pretty strongly but I am very uncomfortable with the role of the artist as a meaningful social whole generation [is] a confused group of people with an ambivalent way of dealing with protest." . Discussing his most recent album King For a Day (2007), Conn said "it's political, but just in a contemporary culture kind of way[...] Two of the songs are about Tom Cruise, and I don't know if there's a more political statement than Tom Cruise. He kind of symbolizes a lot of what's going on in this country right now and how people are responding to it."

Bobb Conn on being a 'protest singer':

It’s great when Curtis Mayfield does it, but when Mick Jagger writes about being a street-fighting man, it just kind of makes you sick. Or the Beatles singing about revolution. They’re entertainers—it’s a pose, it’s bullshit. I’m more of a vaudevillian than I am a political commentator. I don’t think people should turn to music for their serious information. People should read the newspaper.
Arcade Fire's 2007 Neon Bible contains many oblique protests against the paranoia of a contemporary America 'under attack by terrorism'. The album also contains two more overtly political protest songs in the form of "Windowsill", in which Win Butler sings "I don't want to live in America no more", and "Intervention", which contains the line "Don't want to fight, don't want to die", and criticizes religious fanaticism in general. However the protest album to achieve the most mainstream success in the first decade of the 21st century has been Green Day's "American Idiot, which was awarded a Grammy for "Best Rock Album" in 2005, despite its strong criticism of current American foreign policy and George Bush. The title track from the album has been described by the band as their public statement in reaction to the confusing and warped scene that is American pop culture since 9/11.

In particular, rapper Eminem has encountered controversy over protest songs directed towards George W. Bush. Songs such as Mosh, White America, and We As Americans have either targeted Bush or the U.S. government in general. Eminem, in fact, registered to vote for the first time in 2004, just for the sake of voting Bush out of office, which would ultimately prove unsuccessful.

Outside of pop music, folk, punk and country music continue to follow their strong traditions of protest. Utah Philips, and David Rovics, among many other singers have continued the folk tradition of protest. In John Mayer's 2006 release CONTINUUM, the lead single " Waiting on the World to Change", Mayer is critical of the desensitizing of politics in youths. He goes on to say in "Belief", "What puts a hundred thousand children in the sand? Belief can. What puts the folded flag inside his mother's hand? Belief can." Folk singer Dar Williams's song "Empire" from her 2005 album My Better Self accuses the Bush administration of building a new empire based on the fear of terror, as well as protesting the administration's policy on torture: "We'll kill the terrorizers and a million of their races, but when our people torture you that's a few random cases." Lucy Kaplansky, who has also performed protest songs with Dar Williams in their side project Cry Cry Cry, has written many songs of protest since 9/11, including her tribute to that day - "Land of the Living" - however her most recognised protest song to date is "Line in the Sand", which includes the line : "Another bomb lights up the night of someone's vision of paradise but it's just a wasted sacrifice that fuels the hate on the other side." Tracy Grammer's song "Hey ho", from her 2005 album Flower of Avalon addresses how children are taught from a young age to play at war as soldiers with plastic guns, perpetuating the war machine: "Wave the flag and watch the news, tell us we can count on you. Mom and dad are marching too; children, step in line."

Punk rock still is a formidable force and constitutes a majority of the protest songs written today. Artists such as Anti-Flag, Bad Religion, NOFX, Rise Against, Authority Zero, to name just a few, are noted for their political activism in denouncing the Bush administration and the policies of the American government in general. The political campaign Punkvoter, which started the project Rock Against Bush, was kicked off with a collection of punk rock songs critical of President Bush called "Rock Against Bush, Vol. 1", and a sequel was released in 2004. Representatives from the punk community such as Fat Mike of NOFX, Henry Rollins (formerly of Black Flag), and Jello Biafra of The Dead Kennedys are noted for their continuing political activism.

While country music has offered the loudest voice in support of the war through artists such as Toby Keith's "Courtesy of the Red, White, & Blue (The Angry American)" (which Natalie Maines publicly criticized as "ignorant, and it makes country music sound ignorant.), Darryl Worley's "Have You Forgotten" and Charlie Daniels, many established country artists have released strongly critical anti-war songs. These include Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Emmylou Harris, the Dixie Chicks ("Not Ready to Make Nice" (2006)) and Nanci Griffith.


Some artists who are not traditionally right-leaning have questioned the validity of the recent spate of anti-war protest songs. Florida-based punk-folk band Against Me! released a song called White People For Peace that questions the effectiveness of people singing "protest songs in response to military aggression" when their governments simply ignore them.

More recently, Naomi Klein, the poster girl of the anti-globalisation movement, has attacked the replacement of grass-roots protest by celebrity-endorsed festivals or events, such as the Make Poverty History campaign; a trend which she calls the “Bono-isation” of protests against world poverty. She is quoted in The Times newspaper as attesting that "The Bono-isation of protest, particularly in the UK, has reduced discussion to a much safer terrain [...] there’s celebrities and then there’s spectators waving their bracelets. It’s less dangerous and less powerful [than grass roots street demonstrations].”

European protest songs

Protest songs from the U.K.

Early protest songs from the U.K.

Some sources claim that the oldest European protest song on record is "The Cutty Wren" from the English peasants' revolt of 1381 against feudal oppression. This attribution was first made by A.L. Lloyd in his 1944 book "The Singing Englishman," in which he infers that the song had originally been "a magical song, a totem song, which about this time[the time of the 1381 revolution] took a strong revolutionary meaning." However, some commentators argue that this reading of the song's meaning is unfounded.

Later examples include the 17th century ballad "Diggers' Song" (known also as "Levellers and Diggers") composed by Gerrard Winstanley. The ballad deals with land rights, inspired by the Diggers movement.

20th Century U.K. songs of protest

As their fame and critical appreciation increased in the late 1960s, The Beatles- and John Lennon in particular - became increasingly political in their subject matter, writing a number of the era's notable protest songs. Tariq Ali, a socialist and leader of the student movement in Britain, summarised the reason for this as: “The whole culture had been radicalized, [Lennon] was engaged with the world, and the world was changing him." Although The Beatles' first overtly political song was "Revolution" (1968), Lennon became increasingly determined to use his fame to spread a political message. When he and Yoko Ono married in 1969, they staged a weeklong “bed-in for peace” in the Amsterdam Hilton. The protest attracted world-wide media coverage. At the second "Bed-in" in Montreal, in June 1969, they recorded "Give Peace a Chance" in their hotel room. The song was sung by over half a million demonstrators in Washington, D.C. at the second Vietnam Moratorium Day, on 15 October 1969. In 1972 Lennon released his most politically charged collection of "protest songs" with the album Some Time In New York City. The album's lead single "Woman Is the Nigger of the World" (a phrase Ono had coined in the late 1960s), was intended to protest sexism and was met by a controversial reaction, and – as a consequence – little airplay and much banning. The Lennons went to great lengths (including a press conference attended by staff from Jet and Ebony magazines) to explain that the word "nigger" was being used in an allegorical sense and not as an affront to African-Americans. On he album Lennon also protests police brutality in general - and the Attica Prison riots of 9 September 1971 in particular - in "Attica State", the hardships of war-torn Northern Ireland in "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and "The Luck Of The Irish" and pay tribute to Angela Davis with, "Angela". Lennon performed at the "Free John Sinclair" concert in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on 10 December 1971. Sinclair was an antiwar activist and poet who was serving ten years in state prison for selling two joints of marijuana to an undercover cop. Lennon and Ono appeared on stage with Phil Ochs, Stevie Wonder and other musicians, plus antiwar radical Jerry Rubin and Bobby Seale of the Black Panthers. Lennon performed the song, "John Sinclair" (also from Lennon's "Some Time In New York City" album), calling on the authorities to "Let him be, set him free, let him be like you and me". Some 20,000 people attended the rally, and three days after the concert the State of Michigan released Sinclair from prison.

The 1970s also saw a number of U.K. songs protesting areas other than war, such as The Rolling Stones song against police brutality "Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)" (1973)

As the 1970s progressed, the louder, more aggressive Punk movement became the strongest voice of protest, particularly in the UK, featuring anti-war, anti-state, and anti-capitalist themes. The punk culture, in stark contrast with the 1960s' sense of power through union, concerned itself with individual freedom, often incorporating concepts of individualism, free thought and even anarchism. According to Search and Destroy founder V. Vale, "Punk was a total cultural revolt. It was a hardcore confrontation with the black side of history and culture, right-wing imagery, sexual taboos, a delving into it that had never been done before by any generation in such a thorough way. The most significant protest songs of the movement included "God Save the Queen" (1977) by the Sex Pistols, "If the Kids are United" by Sham 69, "Career Opportunities" (1977) (protesting the political and economic situation in England at the time, especially the lack of jobs available to the youth), and "White Riot" (1977) (about class economics and race issues) by The Clash, and "Right to Work" by Chelsea. See also Punk ideology.

War was still the prevalent theme of British protest songs of the 1980s - such as Kate Bush's "Army Dreamers" (1980), which deals with the traumas of a mother whose son dies while away at war. However, as the 1980s progressed, it was British prime minister Margaret Thatcher who came under the greatest degree of criticism from native protest singers, mostly for her strong stance against trade unions, and especially for her handling of the UK miners' strike (1984–1985). The leading voice of protest in Thatcherite Britain in the 1980s was Billy Bragg, whose style of protest song and grass-roots political activism was mostly reminiscent of those of Woody Guthrie, however with themes that were relevant to the contemporary Briton. He summarised his stance in "Between the Wars" (1985) in which he sings "I'll give my consent to any government who will not deny a man a living wage."

Britain's current involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan has also garnered criticism from native singers; including George Michael's anti-Tony Blair single "Shoot the Dog" (2002)- which criticised Blair's overly-friendly relationship with George Bush and support for the Iraq War- and the more recent example of Ian Brown and Sinéad O'Connor's "Illegal Attacks" (2007) ("So what the fuck is this UK/Gunning with this US of A/ in Iraq and Iran and in Afghanistan?/These are illegal attacks/So bring the soldiers back"). Ex-Smiths frontman Morrissey has also attacked both sides of the Atlantic with "America is Not the World" and "Irish Blood, English Heart" from his 2004 You Are the Quarry album.

Irish Rebel Songs

Irish rebel music is a sub genre of Irish folk music, played on typically Irish instruments (such as the Fiddle, tin whistle, Uilleann pipes, accordion, bodhrán etc.) and acoustic guitars. The lyrics deal with the fight for Irish freedom, people who were involved in liberation movements, Celtic unity, the persecution and violence during Northern Ireland's Troubles and the history of Ireland's numerous rebellions.

Among the many examples of the genre, some of the most famous are "A Nation Once Again", "Come out Ye Black and Tans", "Erin go Bragh", "The Fields of Athenry", "The Men Behind the Wire" and the Republic of Ireland's national Anthem "Amhrán na bhFiann" ("The Soldier's Song").Music of this genre has often courted controversy, and some of the more outwardly anti-British songs have been effectively banned from the airwaves in both England and the Republic of Ireland.

Paul McCartney also made a contribution to the genre with his 1972 single "Give Ireland Back to the Irish" which he wrote as a reaction to Bloody Sunday in Northern Ireland on January 30, 1972. The song also faced an all-out ban in the UK, and has never been re-released or appeared on any Paul McCartney or Wings best-ofs. His former colleague John Lennon wrote a song called Sunday Bloody Sunday in 1972 shortly after the massacre of Irish civil rights activists, this song differs from U2's 1983 version of Bloody Sunday in that it directly supports the Irish Republican cause and does not call for peace. The same year John Lennon also released two protest songs concerning the hardships of war-torn Northern Ireland in the form of "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and "The Luck Of The Irish," both from his 1972 album Some Time in New York City.

The Wolfe Tones have become legendary in Ireland for their contribution to the Irish rebel genre. The band has been recording since 1963 and has attracted worldwide fame and attention through their renditions of traditional Irish songs and originals, dealing with the former conflict in Northern Ireland. In 2002 the Wolfe Tone's version of A Nation Once Again, a nationalist song from the 19th century, was voted the greatest song in the world in a poll conducted by the BBC World Service

Christy Moore is another famous figure in Irish rebel music, and together with his original band Planxty he recorded traditional music during the 1970s. Following his departure from the band in 1975 he embarked on a solo career, lending his support to a wide variety of left-wing causes. Until 1987 the Provisional IRA was among the groups he supported, however this came to an end following the Enniskillen bombing. During his career he has sung about human rights in El Salvador, republican volunteers from the Spanish Civil War, South African anti-apartheid activist and martyr Steven Biko, the murdered Chilean singer, songwriter, poet, playwright and activist Victor Jara, the late Palestinian solidarity activist Rachel Corrie, not too mention numerous events of Irish history.

An Irish pop-rock band from Dublin, U2 broke with the rebel musical tradition when they wrote their song, Sunday Bloody Sunday in 1983. The song makes reference to two separate massacres in Irish history of civilians by British forces (Bloody Sunday (1920) and Bloody Sunday 1972), however unlike other songs dealing with those events, the lyrics call for peace as opposed to revenge.

The song Zombie by the Irish band, The Cranberries - written in 1994 in response to the Warrington Bomb Attacks of 1993 - protests the cycle of violence and retribution in Northern Ireland and the pain and suffering it has caused to both communities.

French socialist anthems

The Internationale (L'Internationale in French) is a famous socialist, anarchist, communist, and social-democratic anthem and one of the most widely recognized songs in the world.

The Internationale became the anthem of international socialism. Its original French refrain is C'est la lutte finale/ Groupons-nous et demain/ L'Internationale/ Sera le genre humain. (Freely translated: "This is the final struggle/ Let us join together and tomorrow/ The Internationale/ Will be the human race.") The Internationale has been translated into most of the world's languages. Traditionally it is sung with the hand raised in a clenched fist salute. The Internationale is sung not only by communists but also (in many countries) by socialists or social democrats. The Chinese version was also a rallying song of the students and workers at the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.

German protest music: The "Deutschpunk" movement

Ton Steine Scherben, one of the first and most influential German language rock bands of the 1970s and early 1980s, were well-known for the highly political lyrics of vocalist Rio Reiser. The band became a musical mouthpiece of new left movements, such as the squatting movement, during that time in Germany and their hometown of West Berlin in particular. Their lyrics were, at the beginning, anti-capitalist and anarchist, and the band had connections to the German Red Army Faction terrorists before the latter turned to violent crime and murder. Later songs were about more complex issues such as unemployment (Mole Hill Rockers) or homosexuality (Mama war so). They also contributed to two full-length concept album about homosexuality which were issued under the name Brühwarm (literally: boiling warm) in cooperation with a gay-revue group.

A dissatisfied German youth in the late 1970s and early 80s resulted in a strand of highly politicized new wave punk known as the "Deutschpunk" movement, which mostly concerned itself with politically radical left-wing lyrics, mostly influenced by the Cold War.Probably the most important Deutschpunk band was Slime from Hamburg, who were the first band whose LP was banned because of political topics. Their songs "Deutschland" ("Germany"), "Bullenschweine", "Polizei SA/SS", and the anti-imperialist "Yankees raus" ("Yankees out") were banned, some of them are still banned today, because they propagated the use of violence against the police or compared the police to the SA and SS of Nazi Germany. A 1983 protest song from Germany which gained considerable attention worldwide was "99 Luftballons" by Nena. The song protested the escalating rhetoric and strategic maneuvering between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Russian protest music

The most famous source of Russian protest music in the 20th century has come those known locally as bards. The term, (бард in Russian) came to be used in the Soviet Union in the early 1960s, and continues to be used in Russia today, to refer to singer-songwriters who wrote songs outside the Soviet establishment. Many of the most famous bards wrote numerous songs about war, particularly The Great Patriotic War (WWII). Bards had various reasons for writing and singing songs about war. Bulat Okudzhava, who actually fought in the war, used his sad and emotional style to illustrate the futility of war in songs such as "The Paper Soldier" ("Бумажный Солдат").

Many political songs were written by bards under Soviet rule, and the genre varied from acutely political, "anti-Soviet" songs - fitting perfectly under the infamous Article 58 - to witty satire in the best traditions of Aesop. Some of Bulat Okudzhava's songs provide examples of political songs written on these themes. Vladimir Vysotsky was perceived as a political song writer, but later he gradually made his way into the more mainstream culture. It was not so with Alexander Galich, who was forced to emigrate—owning a tape with his songs could mean a prison term in the USSR. Before emigration, he suffered from KGB persecution, as did another bard, Yuliy Kim. Others, like Evgeny Kliachkin and Aleksander Dolsky, maintained a balance between outright anti-Soviet and plain romantic material. Since most of the bards' songs were never permitted by Soviet censorship, most of them, however innocent, were considered to be anti-Soviet

Latin American protest songs

Chilean and Latin American protest music

While the protest song was enjoying its Golden Age in America in the 1960s, it also saw many detractors overseas who saw it as having been commercialized. Chilean singer-songwriter Victor Jara, who played a pivotal role in the folkloric renaissance that led to the Nueva Cancion Chilena [NCC] (New Chilean Song) movement which created a revolution in the popular music of his country, criticised the "commercialized" American ‘protest song phenomenon’ which had been imported into Chile. He criticized it thus:
The cultural invasion is like a leafy tree which prevents us from seeing our own sun, sky and stars. Therefore in order to be able to see the sky above our heads, our task is to cut this tree off at the roots. US imperialism understands very well the magic of communication through music and persists in filling our young people with all sorts of commercial tripe. With professional expertise they have taken certain measures: first, the commercialization of the so-called ‘protest music’; second, the creation of ‘idols’ of protest music who obey the same rules and suffer from the same constraints as the other idols of the consumer music industry – they last a little while and then disappear. Meanwhile they are useful in neutralizing the innate spirit of rebellion of young people. The term ‘protest song’ is no longer valid because it is ambiguous and has been misused. I prefer the term ‘revolutionary song’

Nueva canción (literally "new song" in Spanish) was a type of protest/social song in Latin American music which took root in South America, especially Chile and other Andean countries, and gained extreme popularity throughout Latin America. It combined traditional Latin American folk music idioms (played on the quena, zampoña, charango or cajón with guitar accompaniment) with some popular (esp. British) rock music, and was characterised by its progressive and often politicized lyrics. It is sometimes considered a precursor to rock en español. The lyrics are typically in Spanish, with some indigenous or local words mixed in.

Its lyrics characteristically revolve around about poverty, empowerment, the Unidad Popular, imperialism, democracy, human rights, and religion. There are some hundreds of songs with influences from British and American pop rock that was popular with college youths. The Chilean coup of 1973 impacted the genre's growth, as the musical movement was forced to go underground. During the days of the coup, Victor Jara, a well known singer/song-writer, was kidnapped, jailed, tortured and shot. Other groups, such as Inti-Illimani and Quilapayun found safety outside the country. The military government went as far as to ban many traditional Andean instruments, but as a testament to how far the country has come since then, the stadium where Victor Jara was murdered now bears his name.

Cuban and Puerto Rican protest music

A type of Cuban and Puerto Rican protest music, "Nueva trova," started in the mid-1960s when a movement in Cuban music emerged that combined traditional folk music idioms with progressive and often politicized lyrics. This movement of protest music came to be known as Nueva trova, and was somewhat similar to that of Nueva canción, however with the advantage of support from the Cuban government, as it promoted the Cuban Revolution. Though originally and still largely Cuban, nueva trova has become popular across Latin America, especially in Puerto Rico and Venezuela. The movements biggest stars included Cubans Silvio Rodríguez, Vicente Feliu, Noel Nicola and Pablo Milanés, as well as Puerto Ricans such as Roy Brown, Andrés Jiménez, Antonio Caban Vale and the group Haciendo Punto en Otro Son.

In both Cuba and Puerto Rico, the politicized lyrics of nueva trova were very often critical of the United States; Puerto Rican singers were especially critical of Vieques' continued use as a United States Navy training ground. The most recent topic of protest songs from the movement has been demanding sovereignty for Puerto Rico and adding their name and signature to the Latin American and Caribbean Congress's Proclamation for the Independence of Puerto Rico.

African protest songs

Algerian Raï protest music

Raï (رأي), which is the Arabic word for "opinion", is a form of folk music, originated in Oran, Algeria from Bedouin shepherds, mixed with Spanish, French, African and Arabic musical forms, which dates back to the 1930s and has been primarily evolved by women in the culture. Raï has been forbidden music in Algeria, to the point of one popular singer being assassinated, although since the 1980s it has enjoyed some considerable success. The song "Parisien Du Nord" by Cheb Mami is a recent example of how the genre has been used as form of protest, as the song was written as a protest against the racial tensions that sparked the 2005 French riots. According to Memi:
It is a song against racism, so I wanted to sing it with a North African who was born in France [...] Because of that and because of his talent, I chose K-Mel. In the song, we say, ‘In your eyes, I feel like foreigner.’ It’s like the kids who were born in France but they have Arab faces. They are French, and they should be considered French.”

South African anti-apartheid protest music

The majority of South African protest music of the 20th century concerned itself with apartheid, a system of legalized racial segregation in which blacks were stripped of their citizenship and rights from 1948 to 1994. As the apartheid regime forced Africans into townships and industrial centers, people sang about leaving their homes, the horror of the coal mines and the degradation of working as domestic servants. Examples of which include Benedict Wallet Vilakazi's "Meadowlands", the "Toyi-toyi" chant and "Bring Him Back Home" (1987) by Hugh Masekela, which became an anthem for the movement to free Nelson Mandela. Masekela's song "Soweto Blues", sung by his former wife, Miriam Makeba, is a blues/jazz piece that mourns the carnage of the Soweto riots in 1976. Basil Coetzee and Abdullah Ibrahim's "Mannenberg", became an unofficial soundtrack to the anti-apartheid resistance. "Madam, Please," the song of a maid angrily addressing her boss, includes the verse "Madam please/Before you laugh at your servant’s English/Try to speak to him in his Zulu language/Madam please/Before you complain your servant stinks/Try washing your clothes in a Soweto sink." Vuyisile Mini, the executed union organizer who’s considered the father of South African freedom songs, performed music for a militant struggle against the regime in songs such as "Watch Out Verwoerd". The 2002 documentary Amandla!: A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony depicted the struggles of black South Africans against the injustices of Apartheid through the use of music and protest songs. In more recent times protest music of the country has begun to target social issues, such as crime and the impact of AIDS.

A number of international singers also composed anti-apartheid protest songs, such as Peter Gabriel's "Biko" (1980), about Steve Biko, a noted black South African anti-apartheid activist. The song has also been covered by Cameroonian saxophonist and vibraphone player Manu Dibango.

Asian protest songs

Israeli protest music

Israel's protest music has often become associated with different political factions.

During the 1967 war, Naomi Shemer wrote Jerusalem of Gold, sung by Shuli Natan, about the recapturing of Jerusalem after 2000 years.. Later on that year A different point of view of this song was introduced by the folk singer Meir Ariel, who recorded an anti-war version of this song and named it "Jerusalem of Iron".

Gush Emunim supporters have taken a repertoire of old religious songs and invested them with political meaning. An example is the song "Utsu Etsu VeTufar" (They gave counsel but their counsel was violated). The song signifies the ultimate rightness of those steadfast in their beliefs, suggesting the rightness of Gush Emunim's struggle against anti-settlement policy by the government.

Minutes before Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was murdered at a political rally in November 1995, Israeli folk singer Miri Aloni sang the Israeli pop song Shir Lashalom (Song for Peace). This song, originally written in 1969 and banned at the time from Army Radio for its alleged subversiveness, has become one of the anthems of the Israeli peace camp.

During the Arab uprising known as the First Intifada, Israeli singer Si Heyman sang Yorim VeBokhim (Shoot and Weep), written by Shalom Hanoch, to protest Israeli policy in the territories. This song was also banned from the radio for a certain period of time on charges of subversiveness.

Pink Floyd's Another Brick in the Wall is used as a protest song by many opponents of Israel's barrier in the West Bank, which is now half finished. The lyrics have been adapted to: "We don't need no occupation. We don't need no racist wall."

Since the onset of the Oslo Process and, more recently, Israel's unilateral disengagement plan, protest songs became a major avenue for opposition activists to express sentiments that were otherwise excluded from the public debate by various mechanisms of censorship. Songs protesting these policies were written and performed by Israeli musicians, such as Ariel Zilber, Shalom Flisser, Aharon Razel, Eli Bar-Yahalom, Yuri Lipmanovich, Ari Ben-Yam, and many others.

Palestinian protest music

Palestinian music (موسيقى فلسطينية) deals with the conflict with Israel, the longing for peace, and the love of the Palestinian's land. A typical example of such a song is "Biladi, Biladi" (My Country, My Country), which has become the unofficial Palestinian national anthem.

Another example is the song "AlKuds (Jerusalem) our Land", with words by Sharif Sabri. The song, sung by Amar Diab from Port Said, Egypt, won first prize in 2003 in a contest in Egypt for video clips produced in the West Bank and Gaza. DAM is an Arabic hip-hop group, rapping in Arabic and Hebrew about the problems faced by Palestinians under occupation and calling for change. Kamilya Joubran's song "Ghareeba", a setting of a poem by Khalil Gibran, deals with a sense of isolation and loneliness felt by the Palestinian woman.

South Korean protest songs

In 2002 South Korean artist Yoon Min-suk wrote an anti-Bush and anti-US Foreign Policy song, in particular the US policy on his own peninsula, based on the song "Surfin' USA" entitled "Fucking USA" a vitriolic attack indeed. It became popular initially in South Korea but was inevitably released onto the internet and received massive amounts of attention from people sympathetic to his views all over the world.

Australian protest music

The main topics for protest music Australia include songs about Land rights, the Stolen Generation and other indigenous issues. Yothu Yindi, an Australian band with Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal members which tries to combine aspects of both musical cultures, have written many protest songs on exactly these topics, the most famous of which is "Treaty", found on their 1991 album Tribal Voice. Other Australian bands to have contributed towards their nation's tradition of protest music are Tiddas, Indigenous Australian singer-songwriter Kev Carmody (Australian Rolling Stone described his debut album Pillars of Society as "the best album ever released by an Aboriginal musician and arguably the best protest album ever made in Australia"), Archie Roach, Christine Anu and Neil Murray.

In addition to issues of a native interest, many Australian protest singers have sung songs about more universal themes, such as the futility of war. Perhaps the most famous Australian anti-war song is "And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda" (1972) by Eric Bogle, which describes the futility, gruesome reality and the destruction of war, while criticising those who seek to glorify it. The song concerns the account of a young Australian soldier on his maiming during the Battle of Gallipoli during the First World War, and the events described and the songs message have often been interpreted as paralleling the then current Vietnam War. More recently, Australian protest musicians have sung about topics such as underage drinking, drug use, war and suicide. One of the main proponents of these topics is the album 'Trouble in Paradise' by the Australian artist Weekend RevolutionariesSome other political Aussie musos are John Butler trio(Enviroment,Land Rights),Midnight Oil(Aboriginal rights, Enviroment, Nuclear power), Warumpri Band (Rasism, Aborginal rights),Powderfinger(Aboriginal death in custody,War),Xavier Rudd(Aboriginal Land rights,Rasism).


  • Fowke, Edith and Joe Glazer, Songs of Work and Protest (Dover Publications, Inc., 1973; New York)
  • John Greenway, American Folksongs of Protest (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1953; New York: A.S. Barnes, 1960).
  • Ronald D. Cohen & Dave Samuelson, liner notes for Songs for Political Action, Bear Family Records, BCD 15 720 JL, 1996.
  • Scaduto, Anthony Bob Dylan. Helter Skelter, 2001 reprint of 1972 original. ISBN 1-900924-23-4.

See also

External links


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