I grew up in the turbulent times of the 1960s and 1970s. I can remember when Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr were assassinated. I remember the terrible massacre at My Lai in Vietnam. I remember the racism that was part of the fabric of the times that I grew up, the struggles of African Americans, Asians, Mexican Americans and other minorities to become part of our society and the struggles of women for equality and the emergence of the Gay rights movement. I guess that means I have just a bit of non-conformist radical in me. Oh well, could be worse.
That was a turbulent time and one of the key elements in it was the music. The music often provided an entry for people who might otherwise have not supported various people’s struggle for justice, equality and peace.
I am not going to go into a lot of detail about each song but each has a message. Some were not in your face protest songs, but they became anthems for various movements. While one does not have to agree with the message of the songs or evens the movements that they have come to represent it is hard not to deny their importance in the shaping of our country over the past 50 years.
One of the saddest songs of the era was Dion DiMucci’s Abraham, Martin and John http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KPdYViBu0is which was a ballad about the assassinations of Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr and John F Kennedy.
Barry McGuire’ Eve of Destruction http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ExH7h9Lk5HY was one of the most acclaimed and derided songs of the era. Released in 1965 it boldly attacked many injustices in society. After McGuire became a Born Again Christian he released a similar song called Don’t Blame God for the Sins of America http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y3HjUOxy-O8 is a haunting rock song that though written and released in 1974 that speaks truth even today.
Coven’s haunting One Tin Soldier http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_XoETkduqPs was the theme song for the film Billy Jack. It is a song that speaks of the greed that underlies so many wars and the terrible cost of those wars.
Paul Revere and the Raiders Cherokee Nation http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ojRQ15My7s spoke of the crimes committed against the Cherokee’s and other Native American tribes over the course of American history.
Helen Reddy’s hit I am Woman http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mmifO2sKT7g became the anthem of the Women’s rights movement.
Edwin Starr’s War What is it Good For? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=01-2pNCZiNk is a classic and blatant anti-Vietnam war protest song that reached number one on Billboard’s Hot 100 in 1969. It has endured and was placed on a list of inappropriate songs by the conservative talk radio conglomerate Clear Channel after the attacks of 9-11-2001.
Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tIekamBDiAw&list=PLE40E6F3D5BB9DC23&index=13 deals with the effects of the Vietnam War on Americans. Released in 1984 ten years after the end of the war and two years after the dedication of the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial Wall.
Bob Dylan’s Blowin in the Wind http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vWwgrjjIMXA though considered by many to be a protest song is more of an introspective and philosophical song dealing with questions of war, peace and freedom.
The folk trio of Peter Paul and Mary was deeply involved with much of the 1960s protest movement and their songs, particularly The Times they are a Changing http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1oU7M4OeSRM and If I Had a Hammer http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VaWl2lA7968 are legendary.
The Kingston Trio recorded Pete Seeger’s Where Have All the Flowers Gone? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uBtT9NfWtbE in 1961. Seeger had adapted it from a Cossack folk song which Seeger learned of when reading Mikhail Sholokhov novel And Quiet Flows the Don. It is considered one of the most influential political songs ever written and been recorded by many more artists over the years.
Isley Brothers Fight the Power http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_tLp3p4okmg which was release in 1975 was noted for its use of the word “bullshit” which was censored on the radio and its negative portrayal of authority figures in general.
Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods Billy Don’t Be a Hero http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H0lKmznjgfQ was also released by Paper Lace. In 1974, its anti-war message, couched in terms of the story of a Civil War soldier who leaves his fiancee to volunteer. The Heywood’s version hit number one in the US and Canada while the Paper Lace version hit number one in England, but never charted above number 96 on the US Hot 100.
Inspired by Dylan’s Blowing in the Wind the legendary Sam Cooke wrote and recorded A Change is Gonna Come http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NaNzxniXxYE Cooke was inspired to write the first draft following a sit-in protest in Durham North Carolina in 1963. The song was released following his death and was recorded and released later by Otis Redding.
Simon and Garfunkel Sound of Silence http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9hUy9ePyo6Q was written and recorded following the assassination of John F Kennedy.
Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Fortunate Son http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JBfjU3_XOaA released in 1969 was a protest song about the Vietnam War and criticism of the children of political and economic power brokers who avoided serving in the war. It was used in the movie Forrest Gump.
Janice Ian’s At Seventeen http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VMUz2TNMvL0 is a song about the ugly ducking’s, and the cruelty of adolescents, school popularity and the fears and anxieties of growing up.
Aretha Franklin’s Respect http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-o1Bg7yBxQo released in 1965 is considered a hallmark of the Feminist Movement.
Don McLean’s American Pie http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tr-BYVeCv6U is not really a protest song, but the poetry of the song which deals with the death of Buddy Holly in 1959 touches on a wide range of themes and issues of the 1960s and early 1970s.
The Hollies He Ain’t Heavy He’s My Brother http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C1KtScrqtbc is another one of those songs that isn’t a protest song, but does speak of responsibility for others.
Vicki Lawrence’s The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NaTH3a7u8kU talks of the injustice found in a small Georgia town when an innocent man is arrested, tried, convicted and executed for a murder that he did not commit and the revenge found by his sister.
The Byrds Turn, Turn, Turn http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q95iQJk-nq8 was adapted from the Bible, the Book of Ecclesiastes by Pete Seeger. Though Seeger recorded it the song became a major hit when recored and released by the Byrds. Though written as a folk song it is most often noted as a plea and prayer for peace.
And with that I wish you peace,