Where Are All Of The Great New Political Protest Songs?

Lately I’ve been listening to my iPod playlist of protest songs.  It features a lot of music from Bob Dylan and Rage Against The Machine, of course, as well as some great songs like CSNY’s Ohio, Stevie Wonder’s Living For The City, Buffalo Springfield’s For What It’s Worth, Mercy, Mercy Me from Marvin Gaye, Bruce Springsteen’s Born In The U.S.A., Zombie from The Cranberries, Get Up, Stand Up from Bob Marley and the Wailers, John Lennon’s Working Class Hero, Neil Young’s Rockin’ In The Free WorldMy City Was Gone by The Pretenders, Capital G by Nine Inch Nails, The Temptations’ Masterpiece, and a whole lot more.  

rs-4997-rectangleIn all, there are more than 230 classic songs on the playlist, spanning multiple decades, all featuring great music and lyrics that pack a punch and convey a clear, pointed political message.  There are songs about important social and political topics of the day, like racism, the Vietnam War, oppression, the right to protest, poverty, ecology and the environment, urban renewal, the indoctrination of youth, and the mallification of America.  And listening to the songs got me to wondering:  where are the new, great political protest songs about our current era?

I guess just about everybody will agree on one thing about President Donald Trump:  a lot of people hate his guts and despise his policies.  He’s depicted as a racist, as a Nazi, as an imbecile, as a warmonger, as an oppressor, and as just about any other bad thing you can imagine.  It seems like President Trump offers very fertile territory for some great modern protest songs.  And don’t tell me that more time needs to pass — CSNY’s Ohio, about the National Guard’s shooting of students at Kent State University, was written, recorded, and released to the public in about two weeks, and the immediacy of the anguish about the unwarranted killings, which comes through in the song with raw, crackling power, is what makes it one of the greatest protest songs ever recorded.

So, are there any great new political protest songs about President Trump and his Twitter comments and his policies, and if not, why not?  Are they all rap or hip-hop songs, and just not reaching the ears of 60-year-olds?

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The Best American Band: Rage Against The Machine

Rage Against The Machine

Rage Against The Machine

I have a very soft spot for Rage Against The Machine. I especially enjoy heavier-sounding music, and RATM fills that bill very nicely indeed. Their songs sound particularly good at high volume, when you can really get into the melodic, stirring guitar licks, the terrific drumming, and the intense, urgent, quasi-rapping vocals. I first heard some of their songs on CD-101, and picked up The Battle of Los Angeles from the old Virgin Records store at Easton. It knocked me out then, and 10 years later it still does. I think it is an almost perfect album (if they still use that word anymore), filled with songs of stunning quality — like Testify, Sleep Now In The Fire, Born Of A Broken Man, Voice Of The Voiceless, and War Within A Breath, among many others. (Four years later, I still played the crap out of that CD when Russell and I went out west for the OSU National Championship game against the Miami Hurricanes. The Buckeyes were colossal underdogs, and War Within A Breath — with its great refrain that begins “Everything can change . . . on a New Year’s Day ” — became a kind of anthem of our trip.) After I concluded that Battle of Los Angeles was a timeless classic I went out and picked up their eponymous debut album, and was amazed to find that it was almost as good. I particularly like Killing In The Name because of the low-register guitar chords, but Bombtrack, Bullet In The Head, and Wake Up also are wonderful songs — and Township Rebellion is in a class of its own with the instruction: “Why stand on a silent platform? Fight the war . . . ” (edited because this is a family blog). If you have a hard day at work coming up, listening to that song will help to get you ready.

I also really like the pointedly political subjects of the songs on these CDs, even though I don’t agree with the underlying themes that the United States is a racist, class-obsessed, oppressive society, Why? Because I think it is terrific that RATM feels such passion about their views and has expressed those views so powerfully. In so doing, they helped to pull music out of the mindlessness of the 1980s into a more meaningful role in American society. Rock ‘n’ roll music in the ’60s and early ’70s was often highly political, at all points on the music spectrum, from folk (think Blowin’ in the Wind), to rock ‘n’roll (think Ohio), to R&B (think What’s Going On). At some point in the 1980s, it seemed, the political messages petered out. RATM deserves credit for helping to turn that around. and they’ve put their money where their mouths are by playing at political conventions and supporting many different causes.

I’ve got both Rage Against The Machine and The Battle Of Los Angeles, in their complete, unedited form, on the Ipod and listen to them often. RATM is a staple on the “political songs” playlist, and really provides a good kick in the butt after you’ve listened to a quieter political song, like Tom Dooley. There’s no question in my mind that they are part of the best American band mix.

Edited to add: Time to Vote for your choice for Best American Band!

Political Songs

Recently I’ve been listening to my “political songs” playlist on my Ipod. The only criterion for inclusion on the list is that the song has to have some kind of overt “political” message, as opposed to being about love, or cars, or some other song topic. I like the playlist because it has really good diversity of genres, artists, and even political viewpoints. The first 20 songs are as follows:

The Times They Are A-Changin’ — Bob Dylan
New Millenium Homes — Rage Against The Machine
What’s Going On — Marvin Gaye
Ohio — Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
Good People — Jack Johnson
Revolution — The Beatles
Capital G — Nine Inch Nails
Tom Dooley — Kingston Trio
Authority Song — John Mellencamp
It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine) — R.E.M.
Pride (In The Name Of Love) — U2
Working Class Hero — John Lennon
Born In The U.S.A. — Bruce Springsteen
Why Don’t You Get A Job — The Offspring
Redemption Day — Sheryl Crow
Uneasy Rider — The Charlie Daniels Band
Zombie — The Cranberries
American Anthem — Norah Jones
Things Goin’ On (Acoustic) — Lynyrd Skynyrd
For What It’s Worth — Buffalo Springfield

If you’ve never heard it, Uneasy Rider is an absolute classic: