With the election of Donald Trump as the 45th President-Elect of the USA, commentators have remarked that perhaps this era will also see the return of the protest song, prevalent during the tenure of hardline conservative leaders like Ronald Reagan (USA) and Margaret Thatcher (UK) in the 1980s.
We present to you a bunch of songs that express social commentary and political observations that serve to raise public awareness of the issues it addresses.
MASTERS OF WAR – BOB DYLAN (1963)
The recent Nobel Prize winner is a pioneer of the protest song and especially in his very early years tackled thorny subjects such as racism, the generation gap and of course, war. Clearly addressing the military-industrial complex, Dylan did not mince his words – “And I hope that you die/And your death’ll come soon/I will follow your casket/In the pale afternoon/And I’ll watch while you’re lowered/Down to your deathbed/And I’ll stand over your grave/’Til I’m sure that you’re dead”.
REVOLUTION – THE BEATLES (1968)
Songwriter John Lennon got quite a bit of flak from the revolutionaries involved in street demonstrations of the time for this observational diatribe against what he felt was a waste of time i.e. he doubted if these demonstrations effected any real change.
“But if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao/You ain’t going to make it with anyone anyhow”
Although, to be fair he did change his tune in the 70s and became very politically involved to such an extent that he was monitored by the FBI!
STREET FIGHTING MAN – THE ROLLING STONES (1968)
In a similar vein to “Revolution”, the Stones felt the need to address the issue of demonstrations but like Lennon, Mick Jagger was rather ambivalent about the whole idea.
“Hey! think the time is right for a palace revolution, but where I live the game to play is compromise solution”.
Which did not endear the Stones to the revolutionaries either but as a statement of observation, the song works very well.
OHIO – CROSBY, STILLS, NASH & YOUNG (1970)
Written by Neil Young about the Kent State shootings, the lyrics lay blame for the “four dead in Ohio” squarely at then-President Richard Nixon.
WAR PIGS – BLACK SABBATH (1970)
Proto-metal pioneers Sabbath set the tone for many metal bands to come with this anti-war classic (e.g. Megadeth). Interestingly, for a band reputed to be satanic, the song addresses war as the ultimate evil, the Great Satan, so to speak. And this is summed up in the line, “generals gathered in the masses / just like witches at black masses”.
SEARCH AND DESTROY – THE STOOGES (1973)
Lead singer Iggy Pop said that the title was derived from a column heading in a Time article about the Vietnam War. The lyrics seem to written from the perspective of a soldier – “And I’m the world’s forgotten boy/The one who’s searchin’, searchin’ to destroy”. Intentional or not, it is a brilliant reflection of what the American soldier was experiencing during the Vietnam War.
… still there’s more …