“The thing the sixties did was to show us the possibilities and the responsibility that we all had. It wasn’t the answer. It just gave us a glimpse of the possibility.” What would John Lennon say of this decade? Of this generation? In caustic, beautiful verse, he would protest a deficit deeper and darker than all the money owed to China. He would protest a lack of protest.
The Urchins believe there are still responsibilities. Take a look back with us on our top 10 Protest songs of all time (not just the 60s!) Then? Who knows! The future is full of possibilities!
Revolution – Lennon/McCartney
In the early days, a reporter once asked our boys from Liverpool why they never wrote anti-war songs. Lennon responded, “All our songs are anti-war.” But, it wasn’t until Revolution that The Beatles openly sang of social changes, politics, and, well, revolution! Contrary to what the title suggests, John sang for inner-revolution, a change in our mindset, rather than open war. He later said, “Count me out if it’s for violence. Don’t expect me on the barricades unless it’s with flowers.”
War – Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong
Performed by Edwinn Starr, War is decidedly one of the most popular anti-war songs ever. Written at the height of the Vietnam War, Starr shouts the minds of thousands: “War! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing!” Where is the song now? On a post-9/11 ban list. Someone must think it’s good for something.
If I Had A Hammer – Peter, Paul and Mary
Originally released during the McCarthy Era by The Weavers without much success, If I Had A Hammer finally became an political anthem in the early 1960s when covered by Peter, Paul and Mary. With the folksy-pop sound so common and popular in the 60s, If I Had A Hammer calls for people to stop wishing for change and do something about it.
The Times They Are A-Changin’ – Bob Dylan
“Come writers and critics, who prophesize with your pen.” (Hey, that’s us!) A portrait of an entire decade, The Times They Are A-Changin’ is a call to a action and a (not so) veiled threat to those who opposed change: “Don’t stand in the doorway, don’t block up the hall, For he who gets hurt, Will be he who has stalled…” Bob is quintessential to the 1960s (don’t forget Blowin’ In The Wind), but perhaps his words should still be heeded today.
Get Up, Stand Up – Bob Marley
Regardless of whether or not Marley sang against Christianity in general or simply against the hypocrisy of the Church, Get Up, Stand Up is beautiful simply as a plea for people to recognize their rights and stand up for them!
Gimme Shelter – The Rolling Stones
Mick Jagger once said in Rolling Stone, “Well, it’s a very rough, very violent era. The Vietnam War. Violence on the screens, pillage and burning… That’s a kind of end-of-the-world song, really.” From the screams of female vocalist Merry Clayton to Richards’ grungy rhythm guitar, Gimme Shelter isn’t necessarily a plea for peace, but rather a cry against the insanity of war. The song ends with the lyric, “Love, sister, it’s just a kiss away.”
Changes – Tupac
Hip hop is so much more than music. It’s a movement, a way of life, and Tupac Shakur was a leader of that movement until he was murdered in 1996. After overcoming the struggles of a young black man growing up in East Harlem to become one of the most successful artists in the world, Tupac rapped about the reality he had come from, his message and story an inspiration to so many still facing those hardships. In Changes, Tupac discusses a myriad of injustices, but rather than merely griping, calls on people to take personal responsibility for the state of world and to be catalysts for change. While there’s still “war on the streets and war in the Middle East,” at least Pac can rest easy knowing change is coming, because now we’re ready to see a black president.
Strange Fruit – Billie Holiday
A poem published in 1936 by Abel Meeropel after the lynching of two black men was transformed by Billie Holiday into one of the first great protest songs. Billie approached numerous producers to record the song, but all refused fearing a backlash. Her performance and desire to sing Strange Fruit was so strong, that it was eventually recorded and has since moved countless audiences to tears.
What’s Goin’ On – Marvin Gaye
The social unrest of the Vietnam era in America was… just that. Unrest. Renaldo Benson of Motown’s The Four Tops wrote What’s Going On after witnessing the brutal treatment of anti-war protesters by the San Francisco police. Eventually and famously performed by Marvin Gaye, What’s Going On portrays a different side of culture change. Hate, brutality, and violence. Every protestor faces opposition. Is your cause worth it?
Ohio – Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young
The Kent State shooting of 1970 was a turning point in many Americans’ attitudes toward the Nixon Administration (before Watergate, of course.) Neil Young composed Ohio shortly after seeing photos of four dead students shot by the Ohio National Guard for peacefully protesting the invasion of Cambodia. Though not a call to action, Ohio is a wake-up call to all who chose to ignore the problems (read: powers) that be. Young asks of the heart breaking incident: “Why?” and “How many more?”
Don’t sit in the dark anymore! Flip the switch and turn on! There’s plenty of injustice to go around, so pick something and just sing! – Margaret