There’s something about a great protest song that can change the course of history. It unites people, gives them hope, and makes them feel powerful. From “We Shall Overcome” to “Fortunate Son,” here are ten protest songs that changed the world.
1. "We Shall Overcome" by Pete Seeger
Pete Seeger recorded the song in 1948 in response to his observations of the racial inequality in the United States. The song became a civil rights anthem and was sung by protesters during the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Selma to Montgomery marches. It's still sung today all over the world.
2. "The Times They Are A-Changin'" by Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan wrote and recorded this song in 1964. It was influenced by the Irish and Scottish ballads "Come All Ye Bold Highway Men" and "Come All Ye Tender Hearted Maidens." The song captured the spirit of the times and became an anthem for the civil rights and anti-war movements, and Dylan performed it at the 1963 March on Washington, when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech. The lyric, "Come mothers and fathers / Throughout the land / And don't criticize / What you can't understand," is particularly powerful.
3. "Blowin' in the Wind" by Bob Dylan
Written in 1962, "Blowin' in the Wind" is one of Bob Dylan's most famous songs. It's a protest song that asks questions about peace, war, and social injustice. The lyrics are powerful and timeless, and the melody is beautiful and haunting. It became an anthem for the civil rights movement and was covered by many artists, including Peter, Paul, and Mary, who had a hit with their version in 1963.
4. "I Ain't Marching Anymore" by Phil Ochs
Phil Ochs wrote "I Ain't Marching Anymore" in 1964 about the disillusionment of the civil rights movement. Ochs sings from the perspective of a protester who is tired of marching and protesting and doesn't see any real change happening. The song reflects the frustration that many people felt at the time.
5. "For What It's Worth" by Stephen Stills/Buffalo Springfield
"For What It's Worth" is a song written by Stephen Stills and performed by Buffalo Springfield. It was written in response to the Sunset Strip curfew riots. The song is about the power of protest and freedom of expression. Neil Young played the iconic guitar harmonics in the song's intro, creating a cinematic hook used in several popular films to capture the mood of the period immediately.
6. "Fortunate Son" by Creedence Clearwater Revival
"Fortunate Son" is a protest song against the Vietnam War. The song was written by John Fogerty and recorded by Creedence Clearwater Revival in 1969. It's a response to the privileged children of the political and military elite who were not being drafted into the Army and sent to Vietnam. The song is an anthem for the anti-war movement, and its lyrics are as relevant today as they were when the song was written.
7. "Ohio" by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
"Ohio" is a song written by Neil Young in response to the Kent State shootings. The song was recorded by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young in 1970. It's a moving song about the tragedy of the shootings and the need for change. The song's impact was immediate, and it helped to galvanize the anti-war movement.
8. "Beds Are Burning" by Midnight Oil
"Beds Are Burning" is a song by the Australian rock band Midnight Oil. The song was written in response to the Australian government's refusal to recognize the Aboriginal people's land rights. As a result, the song became an anthem for the Aboriginal rights movement because of its unmistakable message: it's time to give the Aboriginal people their land back.
9. "We Are the World" by USA for Africa
"We Are the World" is a song written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie and recorded by USA for Africa, a group of over 50 famous American and Canadian musicians. The song was written to raise awareness and money for the Ethiopian famine relief effort. The song was a huge success, and its message of compassion and humanity is still relevant today.
10. "Imagine" by John Lennon
"Imagine" is a song by John Lennon that was written in 1971. Lennon sings about a world without war, poverty, or religion, and the song is a plea for people to imagine a better future. It's a beautiful and idealistic song that has become an anthem for the anti-war movement.
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