Top 10 Famous Protest Songs
Whenever there's something to fight for, there's something for musicians to sing about
Despite the risks of Covid-19, Americans are out marching for many different things. It could be about race, gender equality, LGBTQ, you name it. Whenever there's something to fight for, there's something for musicians to sing about. Their lyrics become their form of protest. So, in honor of those brave marches, I'll list ten famous protest songs that heroic Americans can get inspired from.
10. Nina Cried Power by Hozier (featuring Mavis Stapleton)
The Irish born singer wrote a song that "credits the legacy of protest." Hozier gave tribute to other protest singers of the past. He mentions some influential rebels such as John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Nina Simone (whom the song is named after), and Mavis Staples (who is featured in the song). The song teaches that "civil liberties were not given freely." You have to fight for your freedom, just like those in the past.
9. We The People By A Tribe Called Quest
A Tribe Called Quest is a hip-hop group that was first made famous in the nineties. After a decade long hiatus, they made a comeback with a politically charged anthem called "We The People." "We The People," mainly addressed racism in America, but also pointed out other issues like gender equality.
8. Revolution By The Beatles
The Beatles are not shy when it comes to offering love over war. "Revolution" is no exception. In a 1970 interview with Rolling Stones magazine, John Lennon said he wanted to give his views on revolution and the Vietnam War. The lyrics talk about changing the world in a peaceful method rather than a violent approach.
"Count me out if it’s for violence. Don’t expect me on the barricades unless it’s with flowers."-Lennon
7. Fight The Power By Public Enemy
The hit from 1989 made its debut in Spike Lee's film Do The Right Thing. Lee wanted an anthem that reflected the racial tension shown in the Oscar-nominated film. What we got was an anthem that sparked a revolution in hip hop. "Fight The Power" was inspired by an Isley Brothers' song with the same title. Public Enemy carried on the powerful fight for civil rights through music, just like others before them. Make sure to check out the 2020 remix!
6. Fortunate Son By Creedence Clearwater Revival
This rock ballad from the sixties is the most famous song to protest the Vietnam War. Lead singer, John Fogerty, belted out his distaste for rich politicians and senseless sacrifice of American soldiers. The war in Vietnam was not a popular one. Many citizens at the time did not support the war. So, it's ironic that "Fortunate Son" has been used as a patriotic, when it's quite the opposite.
5. Strange Fruit By Billie Holliday
"Strange Fruit" was originally a poem written by Jewish activist, Abel Meeropol. The poem was given to Billie Holliday, who was inspired to perform it as a song in nightclubs. This haunting piece tells the tragedy of lynching black people in the South. Billie didn't enjoy performing the song, but she felt that she had to.
“But I have to keep singing it, not only because people ask for it, but because 20 years after Pop died, the things that killed him are still happening in the South.”
4. Ohio By Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young
On May 4, 1970, a shooting occurred at Kent State University in Ohio. The National Guard gunned down four students who were protesting. This compelled Neil Young to write "Ohio" in response to the tragedy. The band recorded the song just eleven days after the incident.
3. The Revolution Will Not Be Televised By Gil Scott- Heron
Gil was a spoken word poet and musician. His jazzy and rhythmic spin on "The Revolution" caught a lot of attention in the seventies. The song was a commentary on civil rights and how it relates to the media. Gil also asks that we stop sitting on the couch and go fight for everyone's rights.
2. Blowin in the Wind By Bob Dylan
Though he doesn't consider himself a protester, Bob Dylan became known for protest songs. His folk music usually objects to racism and war. "Blowin' in the Wind" opposes both. Bob questions what it will take to rights these wrongs. Why do these bad things happen? But, he also offers hope when he says that "the answer is blowin' in the wind."
1. War By Edwin Star
This funky hit of the early seventies is outright hatred of war. Edwin Starr's message is clear while still using imaginative metaphors.
"It ain't nothing but a heartbreaker, friend only to the undertaker."
The song gives a strange mixed feeling of wanting to dance and wanting to raise a fist. It's powerful, upbeat, and will always tell it like it is. Like war itself, this tune can't be ignored.