Uneasy Rider

I was saddened to read about the recent death of Charlie Daniels, who was an iconic American musical figure.  In 1973, he recorded one of my favorite protest-type songs:  Uneasy Rider.  It’s still on my playlist, nearly 50 years later.  I’ve linked to a YouTube clip of the song, with lyrics, above.

Uneasy Rider tells the story of a long-haired hippie type who gets a flat tire while driving through Mississippi and interacts with locals who aren’t exactly enamored of his hair or the peace signs on his car.  It’s got a catchy, countrified tune, but the real reason it is so memorable is that it is light and funny.  Sometimes the best way to make your point is with humor, rather than heavy-handed and ponderous pontificating.  Uneasy Rider strikes that chord.  (There are other examples of early ’70s music that, like Uneasy Rider, managed to combine a good tune and deliver a message with some humor — like Cover of the Rolling Stone, by Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show, which deftly lampooned the pretensions and money earned by rock bands of that day.)

Unfortunately, we seem to have lost the ability to make a point with a light touch these days.  In my view, we could use more protest songs along the lines of Uneasy Rider.

Rest in peace, Charlie Daniels.

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?

Seemingly Passe Protest Songs

Signs, by the Five Man Electrical Band, is a great song,  First released in 1970, it tells the story of a young man who questions authority in the form of signs that want to exclude “long-haired freaky people” and trespassers.  The song’s refrain is:  “Sign, sign, everywhere a sign.  Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind.  Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?

I don’t know many people who are disturbed by signs these days, even though there undoubtedly are many more signs now than there were in 1970.  If the young man from Signs were around today, would he still be angry about signs, or would he be more concerned by other issues of liberty and freedom — like drones, or widespread video surveillance, or the wide-ranging governmental regulations of conduct that are far more prevalent than they were four decades ago?  Or, because the young man would be in his 60s, would he be focused more on terrorists and public safety issues, and be grateful that the widespread use of security cameras by private businesses helped authorities to promptly identify and apprehend suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing?

Protest issues come, and protest issues go.  The world is a different, more complicated place than it was when signs, and Signs, seemed so important.