Get Up, Stand Up: Six Protest Songs That Haven't Lost Their Teeth
America was founded on the protest, and we've been fighting like hell ever since. From civil rights, voting rights and equal rights, America knows a thing or two about protesting. And lately, with unrest in Egypt, the protests in Austin over Texas' new abortion regulation, and people on both sides of the George Zimmerman verdict, protestors have once again caught the media's attention.
While some have a "love it or leave it" mentality, others prefer to exercise their right to kick up a little dust and make a ruckus. Of course, this wouldn't be America if it weren't by the people, for the people. It's the idea that our country was founded on, and it's not going anywhere.
So naturally, Rocks Off started thinking about some great protest songs. From past to present, music has been a way to show solidarity in large numbers, so we've compiled a list of six tracks that are perfect for any protest.
Bob Dylan, "Blowin' in the Wind" (1963) Inspired by Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan had a penchant for assembling poetic lyrics over thoughtful guitar parts, proving that sometimes a song is all you need to get people to think.
When he released "Blowin' in the Wind," Dylan was a 21-year-old man releasing his second album. With the Vietnam war, the JFK was assassination, Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech and women fighting for equality, "Blowin' in the Wind" gave a voice to a youth who had been told they weren't old enough to have one.
Sam Cooke, "A Change Is Gonna Come" (1964) While Bob Dylan was busy making ripples with "Blowin' in the Wind," Cooke and his band were being arrested for attempting to check into a "whites only" motel in Louisiana. With inspiration striking from both Dylan and his arrest, Cooke penned "A Change Is Gonna Come."
It was released in 1964, the same year Cooke was assassinated at a motel in Los Angeles. Even so, "A Change Is Gonna Come" went on to become an anthem for the Civil Rights Movement, and has been covered by everyone from Tina Turner and Otis Redding to Cold War Kids and Arcade Fire.
Gil Scott-Heron, "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" (1971) Not all protestors were turning to music about peace and love, which is why Gil Scott-Heron's "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" was such a standout track. With funky instrumentals, Scott-Heron lets the truth flow from his mouth, and tells his audience that if they want things to change, they've got to change their ways.
Scott-Heron preaches his ideals about how the system won't provide details about an uprising, because if they're refusing to let an uprising happen, people will get complacent and things will die down. It's a bold idea that has kept on fueling the flames of protests into the modern day.
Twisted Sister: "We're Not Gonna Take It" (1984) Twisted Sister lead singer Dee Snider spoke to the Senate in 1985 on behalf of hundreds of bands and recording artists after the Parents Music Resource Center targeted the band for the content of their music. Co-founded by Tipper Gore with the help of the Recording Industry Association of America, the committee created the infamous "Parental Advisory" labels.
It also labeled "We're Not Gonna Take It" the seventh most offensive songs on its "Filthy Fifteen" list, claiming it promoted "violence." In actuality, the song was meant to be an anthem for anyone fighting against "the man," which coincidentally turned out to be people like Tipper Gore and the PMRC.
Rage Against the Machine, "Take The Power Back" (1992) While Rage Against The Machine's "Killing In The Name" might be their most popular song, but "Take The Power Back" is a better protest song by leaps and bounds. Though some might argue, it's still just as catchy, fast-paced and thoughtful as the other tracks on their self-titled debut album.
And more importantly, "Take the Power Back" does more than point fingers. Instead, it gives the listener something to chew on while simultaneously delivering a message to, you guessed it, take the power back. It's a message that can be used with any protest in any part of the world, and for that, it's a great protest song.
Bright Eyes, "When The President Talks To God" (2005) "When The President Talks to God" follows the style of Woody Guthrie and vocal delivery of Bob Dylan, making Conor Oberst's B-side track simple but poignant. In just a few verses, it broaches subjects such as women's rights, farmers, oil money, the death penalty, job creation and war without feeling scattered.
Though the album art indicates that it was aimed at George W. Bush when it was released, the song is never direct, which leaves enough wiggle room for relevance nearly ten years and two elections later.
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