"'To fan the flames of discontent.''"
— The motto of the Little Red Song Book since 1909.
A piece of music, normally written about a political subject and intended to drive home some message. Quite often Anvilicious
, not that there's anything wrong with that
. Since they are also used to educate people
, unite them in the cause
, and should be easy to learn, they are often prime candidates for a rousing Crowd Song
or an Audience Participation Song
Name a recording artist from between 1964 and 1978. Chances are he, she, or they have at least one protest song, and it's a folk song about the Vietnam War
. More recently, common subjects include racism (especially police brutality
, racism, and profiling, which has created its own subtrope, the Anti Police Song
), the Iraq War
, environmental issues
, and big governments controlling lives
. Lyrical Dissonance
often arises when a director fails to appreciate that a sufficiently-subtle protest song is not in fact the upbeat anthem he believes it to be. Or sometimes it's entirely intentional on the part of the writer.
This sort of music is at least Older Than Steam
, and may well be older still. Often prone to becoming Unintentional Period Pieces
Compare Hail To The Thief
, which can sound similar but is used to emphasize setting instead of make a direct political point.
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- "La Marseillaise" is probably the Ur Example for modern protest songs. Nowadays inverted, since it is the French National Anthem.
- There is an Urban Legend about when they announced at the Mexico City Theater that France had invaded Mexico at 1839, the audience, out of Patriotic Fervor, stand out to sing La Marseillaise. At that time, Mexico still didn’t have a National Anthem, and like the example below about chinese students at Tiananmen square in 1989 singing L'Internationale, the mexican audience felt La Marseillaise was a song about heroes fighting for Liberty, and they felt the song represented them better than The Empire France at that time.
- Later on, it was set to Russian lyrics, and became an iconic song of the early anti-Tzarist movement:
Arise, awake working class!
Charge the enemy hungry folk!
Cry out the vengeance of the people,
Forward, forward, forward, forward, forward!
- "L'Internationale" is another very famous and iconic example — probably the most translated protest song of all time (and one of the most translated songs ever). Reached the level of Zig-Zagging Trope when it was sung by the students at Tiananmen square in 1989. They protested the socialist-in-name government by singing the socialist protest song, but in part because this was the one song they all knew.
- C'est la lutte finale (This is the final battle)
Groupons-nous, et demain (Let each stand his place)
L'Internationale (The international working class)
Sera le genre humain (Shall be the human race)
- Two in Les Misérables, though they refer to the in-story society of early 19th century France: "Red and Black", and "Do You Hear the People Sing?" Both are awesome, and the latter was used in union protests recently.
- Older Than Radio: "The Battle Hymn of the Republic", first published in 1862, started out as an abolitionist protest song. In more recent years, it has been associated with Civil Rights in general.
- Older Than Steam: One very old example is "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God", the battle hymn of the Reformation. Notable in that it's not particularly anti-Catholic by itself — its status as a protest song is due to its popularity within the Reformation, and that having everyone in the church singing in the vulgar language was a clear break with the Catholic church.
- "Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye," a classic folk tune from Ireland from the early 19th century.
- Joe Hill, a Swedish immigrant to the USA, became a union organizer and wrote several songs about the labor movement, strikes, and social injustice. Most were written to popular tunes of the day, and some are still sung today.
- "Strange Fruit", performed most famously by Billie Holiday in 1939, is a protest song against the lynching of black people.
- "I'll See You In C-U-B-A" by Irving Berlin is about Prohibition.
- Clayton McMichen and "Prohibition Blues", written, unsurprisingly, during and about the Prohibition era:
Prohibition has killed more folks than Sherman ever seen
If they can't get whiskey they'll take to dope, cocaine or morphine
This ol' country sure ain't dry, and dry'll never be seen
Prohibition is just a scheme, a fine money-makin' machine
- "Joe Worker" from The Cradle Will Rock protests the injustices inflicted on the working class.
- Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land" was written as a critical response to Irving Berlin's 1938 hit "God Bless America", which Guthrie thought ignored a lot of the problems going on in the country. The song includes lyrics talking about bread lines and class warfare. Then the first three verses were included in a school song book, and it spread as a patriotic ballad as a stealth torpedo, which exploded when Pete Seeger sang all the verses, as Woody wrote them, at Barack Obama's inauguration concert in 2009.
- Many of Guthrie's songs fall under this category; occasionally, they are covered by modern artists (e.g. Old Crow Medicine Show, which covered Guthrie's 1940 "Union Maid" on their 2006 album Big Iron World).
- Big Bill Broonzy's "Black, Brown And White Blues", about the experiences of black war vets who came back home only to find they were still second-class citizens.
- Bob Dylan: Much of his early output: The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, The Times They Are A-Changin', Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde On Blonde.
- "The Universal Soldier" by Buffy-Sainte Marie, later made into a hit by Donovan.
- Parodied, in a protesting-the-protesters Take That move, as "The Universal Coward" by Jan Berry of Jan And Dean fame. (Dean Torrence objected and did not participate.)
- Also by Sainte-Marie, "Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee", covered by the Indigo Girls.
- The Beatles' "Revolution" from The White Album is an odd subversion: It was protesting against the protesters of the time, telling that they were no better than the opposition they were fighting against:
But if you want money for people with minds that hate,
All I can tell you is, brother, you'll have to wait.
- And in the album cut, John stayed deliberately ambiguous in his own position:
But when you talk about destruction,
Don't you know that you can count me out - in.
- The Beatles' "Taxman" from Revolver was a protest against the 95% taxes on the group's income in Britain. The lines "Let me tell you how it will be, it's one for you, nineteen for me" and "Should five percent appear too small, be glad that I don't take it all" weren't jokes or empty rhetoric. This was one of the reasons they started earning so much of their income in the United States, to be taxed at a lower rate.
- Piggies from The White Album, also by the Beatles could be counted as another protest song, lamenting the greed of the high class.
- Get Back from Let It Be, a protest song against the immigration restrictions in the United Kingdom.
- In a similar vein, The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again" is a parable about the revolution succeeding, only for its leaders to become as entrenched and corrupt as those they replaced.
- Another '60s subversion of protest songs (and protesters of all stripes) is Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth": "Singin' songs and a-carryin' signs. Mostly say hoo-ray for our side."
- "For What it's Worth" and Edwin Starr's "War" are both rather interesting cases of quasi-protest songs about unrelated local issues (unrest following a nightclub closure in the former's case, gang violence in the latter) that picked up an entirely different interpretation once they entered mainstream cultural canon.
- The Muppet Show reworked "For What It's Worth" into an anti-hunting song.
- An uncommon Dutch example, "Welterusten, meneer de president" (Sleep well, Mr. President), sung by Boudewijn de Groot, was a protest song written in the 60's opposing the war in Vietnam and Lyndon B. Johnson, the president of the US at the time.
- The sarcasm-laden song brings forward the question how President Johnson can sleep at night, while blood-covered soldiers stand guard far away, and "reassures" him not to worry about the mistaken bombardment and innocent casualties.
- If the rock musical Hair doesn't count, then no work of musical theatre does. (Three-Five-Zero-Zero, anyone?)
- Even The Monkees got into the act, though they had to sneak it in: their biggest hit, "Last Train to Clarksville", was about a soldier about to be shipped off to Vietnam, making plans to sneak off base to meet his fiancee at a No Tell Motel for one last fling because "I don't know if I'm ever coming home." Whether this was actually meant as a protest, or just a case of Lyrical Dissonance, seemed to depend on which of the bandmembers (or their songwriters) you ask.
- "Pleasant Valley Sunday" is a pretty straightforward slam against Stepford Suburbia.
- And then there's "Mommy and Daddy"... (It was reportedly Bowdlerized for the album The Monkees Present, and this version only appeared on the 1995 Rhino Records reissue.)
- "It's Good News Week", by '60s British group Hedgehoppers Anonymous.
- Produced by Jonathan King, who'd recorded one of these of his own in "Everyone's Gone to the Moon".
- Simon & Garfunkel with their cover of Ian Campbell's "The Sun is Burning".
- Boris Vians "Le Deserteur" written during the French war in Vietnam, and later sung in America by Joan Baez.
- Frank Zappa wrote a lot of protest songs against American poltics and society:
- The Fugs: One of the most politically militant rock groups ever. They were even shadowed by the F.B.I. Their albums The Fugs First Album and The Fugs Second Album are very critical of the American government and war politics.
- "America, Communicate with Me" by Ray Stevens (1970). It mentions the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King Jr. and pleas for tolerance, among other things.
- "Ohio", by Crosby, Stills, Nash (And Young), which was specifically about the Kent State shooting in 1970.
- Along with its B-side, "Find the Cost of Freedom".
- Crosby & Nash (sans Stills and Young) also recorded "To the Last Whale...", a Tear Jerker which depicts the last whale in the ocean being hunted and killed by whalers.
- "Wooden Ships", written in the very early CSN (no Y yet) days (And also originally recorded and released by Jefferson Airplane), is a protest against nuclear war. Not a very direct protest considering the (later) in-your-face "Ohio" mentioned above, but the line "silver people on the shoreline / let us be" is a reference to hazmat suits.
- John Hanlon wrote the song "Damn the Dam" in 1973 for a New Zealand Fibreglass radio advertisement to advertise "Pink Batts" home insulation, to express how installing insulation would save electricity and reduce the need to build more hydroelectric dams (85 percent of New Zealand's electricity at the time were generated by them). It was quickly adopted by the Save Manapouri Campaign as a protest song against the damming and raising of Lake Manapouri to increase water storage and the head of the recently-completed Manapouri hydroelectric power station, which was purpose-built to power the newly-opened Tiwai Point aluminium smelter.
- "Pacific Ocean Blues" by Dennis Wilson from Pacific Ocean Blue is essentially a protest song about the slaughter of sea animals.
The flagship of death is an old whaling trawler
The people are rising over whale killing crawlers
You gotta holler more
Wait a minute can't you see, you gotta let 'em be
Yeah, it's no wonder the Pacific Ocean is blue
- Black Sabbath had a lot of these on their early albums before their lyrics started becoming more and more cryptic: "Wicked World", "War Pigs" (from Paranoid), "Electric Funeral", "Hand of Doom" and "Children of the Grave" all come to mind.
- The song "Mau Mau" from Jefferson Starship's Blows Against the Empire is a classic anti-war protest song of the sort the Jefferson Airplane had done several times previously.
- "When The Levee Breaks" from Led Zeppelin IV as covered by Led Zeppelin, an apocalyptic blues-rock nightmare about the 1929 Mississippi floods and the resulting misery endured by the blacks (forced to work on the levees, abandoned once their properties were destroyed, attempting to leave to the Northern states to alleviate poverty).
- Wings' first single, "Give Ireland Back To The Irish". Three guesses as to what it's about.
- John Lennon wrote quite a few songs that pass for protest songs:
- "Bloody Sunday"
- "Give Peace a Chance"
- "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)"
- John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band: "Working Class Hero"
- Imagine," which doubles as a Religion Rant Song; the very first line is "Imagine there's no Heaven." Politically, it advocates Anarcho-Communism.
- Most of the songs on Some Time in New York City.
- "Another Brick In The Wall Part II" from The Wall by Pink Floyd is a protest against the education system in England.
- The Kinks' "Apeman" from Lola Versus Powerman And The Moneygoround, Part One.
- What's Going On by Marvin Gaye is an entire album full of protest songs.
- Nevermind The Bollocks Heres The Sex Pistols by The Sex Pistols is full of protest songs, but also emphasizes that the band is pretty vacant and doesn't care.
- Frank Zappa: Kept writing protest songs during this decade too.
- Peter Tosh:
- Bob Marley: Wrote protest songs for most of his career.
- Catch A Fire: Concrete Jungle, No More Trouble, Slave Driver, 400 Years.
- Burnin': Get Up, Stand Up, Burnin' And Lootin'.
- Natty Dread: Them Belly Full (But We Hungry), Rebel Music, Revolution.
- Rastaman Vibration: War, Rat Race, Who The Cap Fit
- Exodus: Guiltiness, The Heathen.
- Survival: An entire album full of protest songs.
- Uprising: Real Situation, Bad Card
- Stevie Wonder
- Fela Kuti: Most of the songs he wrote were protest songs, aimed at the Nigerian government. He often got in trouble for it too. One time the police raided his house and beat him black and blue, burning the place to the ground. Kuti's mother died in the incident.
- The song "Bangla Desh" by George Harrison. The lyrics are actually notably apolitical, but at the time it was written and performed, merely calling the country "Bangladesh" was a political act. The Pakistani government, which at the time most Western countries were allied with, insisted it be called East Pakistan (in fact the Nixon administration was selling arms to the Pakistani government, so the song was a direct contradiction of American foreign policy).
- The Revolution Will Not Be Televised by Gil Scott-Heron also had a lot of protest songs.
- Many of Midnight Oil's songs. Notable examples include "The Dead Heart", "Dreamworld", "Beds Are Burning", and "Blue Sky Mining." A lot of these concern the historic mistreatment of Australia's Aboriginal peoples, but have found an audience far from Down Under.
- "There Is No Depression In New Zealand" by New Zealand post-punk group Blam Blam Blam. The song was adopted as a popular anthem by opponents of the 1981 Springbok Tour in the country.
- In a similar vein, "Riot Squad" by The Newmatics was written about a police raid on a live music performance the year before, and also picked up by the anti-Tour movement.
- New Zealand reggae band Herbs recorded "French Letter" and "Nuclear Waste" in protest at French nuclear testing in the Pacific Ocean.
- The Men They Couldn't Hang's song "Ironmasters" was a protest song linking the Merthyr Rising in 1831 to contemporary mistreatment of the working class under the Thatcher regime.
- Nena's "99 Luftballoons".
- Though not as much as some other protest songs. Particularly considering that the inspiration came from an actual viewing of a mess of party balloons. At a concert.
- Steve Taylor tried his hand at this with "We Don't Need No Color Code," which was a protest against the racist policies of some Christian colleges and churches.
- Loudness began its career of Protest Songs in Heavy Metal in this era, with the two anti-nuclear War Is Hell songs Ashes In The Sky, and S.D.I. (the latter being named after UsefulNotes/RonaldReagan's Strategic Defense Initiative). They also had Crazy Doctor (protesting the Japanese mental health system with Godwin's Law!), The Lines Are Down, (an anti-rape pro-feminist song with the message that rapists deserve to die), and the War Is Hell album Soldier Of Fortune.
- Masaki Yamada also debuted Fire Fire with EZO, also an anti-nuclear war song.
- UB 40's early albums reflected the malaise of the times, particularly their own experiences with unemployment, and the crushed dreams of Martin Luther King.
- Metallica's sadly-underplayed "Disposable Heroes". The following album, ...And Justice for All, was described by Lars Ulrich as their "CNN years" - he and James would watch CNN, see what displeased them, and write a song about it.
- Nik Kershaw wrote several songs in the straightforward protest song style around common 80s themes: I Won't Let The Sun Go Down On Me (nuclear war), Cloak and Dagger (secretive, unaccountable government agencies controlling the fate of the planet), Roses (environmental impact of consumerism), Save the Whale (saving the whale). He also wrote several other songs which are not such straight examples but still have a strong element of "this thing is not a good thing" about them: Wouldn't It Be Good, Don Quixote, You Might (escapist fantasies causing people to lose sight of the real problems), Dark Glasses (what it is like to work for one of the agencies of Cloak and Dagger), Wide Boy (social shallowness and conspicuous consumption). This is not an exhaustive list.
- Frankie Goes To Hollywood's Two Tribes was one of the classic 80s anti-war songs. Its music video featured Ronald Reagan and Konstantin Chernenko fighting in a wrestling match.
- Men At Work's "It's a Mistake" was about the lingering Mutually Assured Destruction doctrine during the later years of the Cold War.
- Dead Kennedys are also notable protest song writers.
- The Message by Grand Master Flash And The Furious Five is a protest song too against life in the ghetto.
- Fear Of A Black Planet and It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back by Public Enemy.
- In China, Cui Jian's "Nothing to my Name", sung at Tiananmen Square, is ostensibly about an impoverished guy who can't win a girl's affections because he has no money. In fact, it was about how the Chinese people had no rights and whose demands for increased freedom were ignored by the government.
- Frank Zappa became more vocal again during the 1980s, criticizing the Ronald Reagan government, televangelists, the Moral Majority and the PMRC.
- A lot of songs by The Clash, especially on their album Sandinista
- Crass. No, really. Just about everything the band has ever written was a protest towards someone or something. For a small list of examples:
- Government: "Big A, Little A", "Do They Owe Us a Living?"
- Military/War: "Fight War, Not Wars", "Major General Dispair"
- Religion: "Sucks", "So What", "Reality Asylum"
- Marilyn Manson's concept albums, Portrait Of An American Family, Smells Like Children, Antichrist Superstar, Music/Mechanical Animals and Holy Wood (In The Shadow Of The Valley Of Death), are full of these, against society in general, and many parts of it, including conformity, religion, discrimination and the rock star culture.
- Silverchair's "Anthem For the Year 2000" dissed populist politician Pauline Hanson for her authoritarian stance on youth policy.
- Ice T's notorious Cop Killer song.
- Guns N' Roses, "Civil War".
- NWA has some examples: Fuck Tha Police from Straight Outta Compton is about racial profiling and Police Brutality.
- "Zombie" by The Cranberries, against the IRA.
- "Censorshit" by The Ramones, an angry response to the PMRC pushing for explicit content labeling on music albums, which specifically calls out Tipper Gore.
- "I Don't Give a Fuck" by Tupac Shakur, a song about rising anger at being treated like a second-class citizen.
- Loudness contributed several protest songs during the era. Among them were Slaughter House, which protested animal testing, Racing The Wind being a Rage Against the Heavens Religion Rant Song, Miles High and Dogshit which protested society in Japan and the US respectively, and MANY more.
- Voices from the Dead by Taiji Sawada is a War Is Hell antiwar song.
- hide's Oblaat is a scarily prophetic denunciation of Apathetic Citizens living in a total surveillance society, Damage and Bacteria are War Is Hell and antiwar (and the latter is Humans Are Bastards as well), Doubt is mocking politicians and leaders as no better than groupies and prostitutes, Sold Some Attitude is... well, protesting something (possibly hide's own addictions), and Easy Jesus is a Religion Rant Song.
- "The Gulf War Song" by Moxy Fruvous, although it ends up protesting political partisanship more than the war itself:
We got a call to write a song
About the War in the Gulf
But we shouldn't hurt anyone's feelings
- The Score by The Fugees has several protest songs against racism and gang violence.
2000s and beyond
- John Rich (of Big & Rich) had "Shuttin' Detroit Down", a protest against the 2008-09 automotive crisis and government bailouts.
- P!nk's song "Dear Mister President," which was aimed at George W. Bush. For some reason, it received no airtime in this country while Bush was in office, but was immensely popular overseas.
- Green Day's American Idiot, and "Holiday" and the title track in particular, were heavily critical of the George W. Bush government.
- "Mosh" by Eminem is critical of George W. Bush and the war in Iraq.
- Subversion: "Politics In Space" by Kate Miller-Heidke.
- "The 60's were fifty years ago, you know. Get over it."
- "16 Military Wives" by The Decemberists is transparently about the Iraq War, George W. Bush's bullying foreign policy, and celebrities who could barely come up with even the wishy-washiest of stances on the topic. The music video features a Model United Nations conference gone completely insane, with Colin Meloy (the lead singer) as the United States beating up on Luxembourg (multi-instrumentalist Chris Funk) before eventually Luxembourg leads a (musical) revolt, joined by Ireland (keyboardist Jenny Conlee). Like I said, wacky.
- The Apopalyptics' "Money on an Island" criticises the tax evasion practices of multi-national corporations.
- Lupe Fiasco's "Words I Never Said" is critical of The War on Terror, the American education system, mass media, Barack Obama, the Israel/Palestine conflict and even the banking crisis.
- Roy Zimmerman's "That Is The War On Terror" compares Al Qaeda to Popeye the Sailor. It Makes Sense in Context.
- "My TV" has such deep poetical significance that he has to sing it again and explain it. The TV is the Presidency, and the song is about the 2000 election.
- Old Crow Medicine Show has an interesting one: "Big Time In the Jungle" is a Vietnam protest song, but it was written in the early 2000s (released on 2004's O.C.M.S.). It was probably intended in part as a protest at the ongoing Iraq/Afghanistan thing, albeit perhaps more as a reminder of the horrors of war than an actual protest.
- That Wasn't Weed by multiple people on Kompoz, about the war on drugs.
- Tom Waits' "The Day After Tomorrow" from Real Gone (about the Iraq war specifically, but it could be war in general) and "Road to Peace" from Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards (about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and equally critical of both sides).
- Butch Walker's "Paid to Get Excited" is a protest song against Bush-era politics and societal mindset. He finds it a little embarrassing to sing now.
- Folk-rocker Dan Bern released a whole album of anti-Bush protest songs in 2004 entitled My Country II and an accompanying EP Anthems.
- "Long Live Egypt" and "Sout Al Horeya" probably make Egypt's 2011 Revolution the first one in history to have a Soft Rock soundtrack.
- A large portion of Darryl Worley's output: He had a massive hit in 2003 with "Have You Forgotten?", an anti-9/11 / pro-Iraq War song. He later returned to the politics well with "I Just Came Back from a War" in 2006 and "Keep the Change" (an anti-Obama song) in 2008.
- Douglas Hodge's 2005 album Cowley Road Songs addressed The War on Terror with the cheeky, march-tempo "Onward Christian Soldiers", sung from the perspective of a U.S. soldier in Iraq. As per usual President Bush gets mocked, but Hodge (who is British) doesn't spare then-Prime Minister Tony Blair any barbs for being an ally.
Multiple decades & Special cases
- A number of songs by Bob Dylan: "Blowin' in the Wind", "Masters of War", "Oxford Town", "The Times They Are A-Changin'", "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall", "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll", "With God on Our Side", "Hurricane", etc.
- While Dylan's "Girl of the North Country" is just a lost-love song with no political overtones, Pete Townshend's 1982 cover version turns it into a protest song by changing part of the final verse to imply that the song takes place After the End.
- And lest you think Dylan was just another hyper-serious protest singer, he also wrote some of the most hilarious protest songs ever written. Check out "Talkin' World War III Blues" or "Talkin' John Birch Paranoid Blues".
- "My Back Pages" was specifically written to disown his earnest protest singing past.
- "Southern Man", Neil Young's famous protest song against the mistreatment of blacks in the Deep South.
- How About his "Let's Impeach the President" from during the George W. Bush-years?
- "Rockin' in the Free World", which attracts a certain amount of Misaimed Fandom from people who don't listen past the chorus.
- Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama", meanwhile, was a counter-protest song written in response to "Southern Man" and "Alabama". It serves as an interesting example, because Young and the members of Lynyrd Skynyrd were actually good friends.
- Protest music is a staple of punk rock, and particularly of hardcore punk, to the extent that trying to build a comprehensive list of examples would be an exercise in futility. Such songs tend to be shorter, punchier, and noticeably less weepy than traditional protest songs, although they arguably lose some emotional impact in the transition; bands such as Propagandhi and the Dead Kennedys, among many others, have built their entire careers around this trope.
- This has come full-circle in the form of Folk Punk, artists such as Evan Greer or Ghost Mice, who strip down punk rock as far as possible, and end up sounding like early Bob Dylan or Phil Ochs.
- Pink Floyd:
- A number of songs on The Wall and The Final Cut have the unusual distinction of being protest songs about World War II, written 35 years after the war ended. More specifically, The Final Cut is a Concept Album about the teacher in The Wall, now the protagonist, and a World War II veteran, gasping in horror at images of The Falklands War unfolding in front of him on TV, and feeling disappointed that Margaret Thatcher had betrayed "the post-war dream" Britain promised to its people of working for peace and unity, rather than leading men to war. It also addresses his frustrations of holding back his memories of the war to those he loves, for fear of being misunderstood and rejected, and his anger at trying to teach the "little ingrates" in school about history and the futilities of war to deaf ears.
- "Us and Them" from Dark Side Of The Moon addresses popular attitudes towards war and suffering, and the album Animals is basically a long rant about popular culture, with some rather specific Take Thats in "Pigs".
- The Rolling Stones have tried their hand at a few of these:
- "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" from Out Of Their Heads has some protest-song elements, particularly in the first two verses (with their still-on-target jabs at the media and advertising worlds).
- "We Love You" (1965), was written as a homage to the band's fans who supported them after they were jailed for marihuana possession. It's a large Take That against the police.
- "Street Fightin' Man", from Beggars Banquet, was inspired by the 1968 student protests, but actually takes on a more cautionary position
But what can a poor boy do? Except for sing in a rock 'n' roll band
- "Salt of the Earth", also from Beggars Banquet can be seen as a semi-subversion, undercutting its paeans to the screwed-over working classes with an admission that "they don't look real to me" from Jagger's jet-setting rock star perspective.
- "Fingerprint File" from It's Only Rock 'N' Roll criticizes government monitoring and surveillance activity.
- "Hang Fire" from Tattoo You is a protest song agains the unemployment in Thatcherite Britain.
- "Undercover of the Night" from Undercover criticizes the political corruption in Central and South America in the 1980s.
- "Sweet Neo-Con" from A Bigger Bang is a criticism of the neo-conservatives within the American government and should be understood as protest against the George W. Bush administration.
- "Blinded By Rainbows" from Voodoo Lounge is a critique of war and terrorism, especially religiously motivated violence.
- Bruce Springsteen's "War" (which is actually a Covered Up version of an old Edwin Starr song).
- "The Alice's Restaurant Massacree" (sic) by Arlo Guthrie, an 18-minute-long talking blues ballad that many classic rock stations traditionally play in its entirety on Thanksgiving Day, is a song about dodging the draft. You know it is, because Guthrie says so about 7 minutes in. One of the big reasons it's still played on Thanksgiving, besides pure tradition, is to give DJs a chance to get some Thanksgiving food.
- His father, Woody Guthrie, also had his share of these, up to and including "This Land Is Your Land".
- Woody's guitar had a sign on it: "This Machine Kills Facists". And it's an odd commentary on the American Culture. "This Land Is Your Land" is sung by every kid in grade school, though they hardly ever get past the first verse and when they grow up it's dismissed as just a children's song. In reality it is subversive, powerful and even more relevant as an adult:
As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said "No Trespassing."
But on the other side it didn't say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.
In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?
Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me
- Just about everything Rage Against the Machine has ever written.
- Same goes for their forebears, Public Enemy.
- Tom Morello's solo career is 100% protest music as well, particularly his Dylan-esque folk rock outfit the Nightwatchman.
- Many songs by The Jam, including "Going Underground" and "Eton Rifles".
- Bryan Adams doesn't usually venture into this kind of territory. The one exception was "Don't Drop That Bomb On Me", the final track of 1991's Waking Up The Neighbours. Five years earlier, he refused to include his song, "Only The Strong Survive", on the Top Gun soundtrack because he felt the film glamourised war.
- The Korean song "Achim Isul", which was a common anthem during pro-democracy protests in South Korea in 1980. North Korea co-opted the song as a nationalist anthem in the mid-1990s, but eventually it made people start to question the government and the song was banned.
- John Fogerty's "Deja Vu All Over Again" is a protest song directed at the second Bush administration.
- John Cougar Mellencamp penned and performed a few of these over the years, including "Rain on the Scarecrow" (regarding the plight of small farms) and "To Washington" (a Take That to the 2000 elections and the subsequent Bush administration).
- U2: "Sunday Bloody Sunday" from Warabout The Troubles and Bloody Sunday in Derry; "Mothers of the Disappeared" about the Argentine Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo and the disappeared people after the 1976 coup; and "Bullet the Blue Sky" about U.S. intervention in El Salvador; "Silver and Gold" about South Africa and apartheid; "Miss Sarajevo" about Bosnia; and "Pride (In the Name of Love)" about the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. (among other things) to name a few.
- "Peace on Earth" is also about The Troubles even naming specific victims of a then-recent bombing. "Please" is a particularly harrowing song protesting false religious piety in the face of poverty/injustice. Then there's "Love and Peace or Else," "Crumbs From Your Table," the list goes on...
- Pete Seeger wrote a number of these, perhaps the most famous being "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?", which uses a Here We Go Again motif to comment on the futility of war.
- Malvina Reynolds' "Little Boxes", which satirizes suburban conformity and was famously covered by Pete Seeger. Tom Lehrer, apparently not a fan, once called it "the most sanctimonious song ever written".
- The majority of System of a Down's songs, and everything the members have released with their own bands. The only clear exceptions so far are their instrumentals (like Arto) and Bounce.
- Word of God (Malakian, the guitarist) says they have more non-political songs than political ones. This may be true, but a lot of their lyrics are open to numerous interpretations, and most of their well-known songs are among their most anvilicious.
- Randy Newman has quite a few, ranging from the subtle ("Rednecks") to the sarcastic ("Political Science", about nuking every other nation on the planet for dubious reasons, "A Few Words in Defense of Our Country," arguing that the US government isn't as bad as, say, the Roman Empire, or Hitler, Stalin) to the fairly direct ("Mr. President, Have Pity on the Working Man").
- Approximately half of Billy Bragg's music fits this trope (the other half is frequently-heartbreaking love songs.) He was even chosen, along with Wilco, by Woody Guthrie's daughter to set Guthrie's final lyrics to music.
- Marvin Gaye's later career swung back and forth, from protest songs ("What's Going On?", "Inner City Blues", "Mercy Mercy Me", from What's Going On) to the kind of music that probably got you conceived ("Let's Get It On", "Sexual Healing").
- Michael Jackson's "We've Had Enough" and "They Don't Care About Us" from HIStory: Past, Present And Future, Book I.
- Pretty much everything by Harry Chapin, with songs about poverty in the third world ("Shortest Story") about rich people and poor people ("Odd-Job Man"), and numerous other, although not actually the song "Basic Protest song" which instead picks apart the idea of protesting.
- Iron Maiden has "Holy Smoke" (on televangelists), "Be Quick Or Be Dead", "Face in the Sand", "Age of Innocence", "Two Minutes to Midnight" and their latest song, "El Dorado". Some of their historic battle-inspired songs which enter War Is Hell territory might count.
- The song "Stop the Dams" by Gorillaz is believed to be Damon Albarn's protest against the dams in Reykjavik, where he has a house. That said, the actual lyrical content seems to be about a myriad of different things. The title seems to be the one thing that really has anything to do with the "dams" in question, unless you want to think of everything as a metaphor.
- Also, the whole album Plastic Beach is about how we have to stop polluting and being wasteful.
- And "Dirty Harry" is a protest against George W. Bush and the war on terror.
- Lots and lots of Latin American singers - the movement was even called "Nueva Trova"(New Song) in Spanish speaking countries. It was inspired in Cuban singers and the whole bunch of dictators in the continent in the '50-'70: Pablo Milanes, Mercedes Sosa, Silvio Rodriguez, Leon Giecom Carlos Mejia Godoy are some os those singer
- Spanish Civil War song "Que la tortilla se vuelva" covered by many Latin American singers
- Also, many Brazilian singers during the dictatorship. Noticeably, a Chico Buarque song named "Apesar de Você" was subtle enough to go unnoticed through the censorship of the time.
- Bella Ciao, an Italian partisan song from WWII, sung by left-wing antifascists, has gone on to be used as a song of general protest, usually against governments, as seen in this video.
- "Eve of Destruction" by Barry McGuire.
- Answered with "Dawn of Correction" by The Spokesmen.
- "One Tin Soldier" by Original Caste, covered on the Billy Jack soundtrack by Coven.
- Many calypsos fit this trope; Lord Invader's "Rum and Coca-Cola", is a famous one with Misaimed Fandom.
- A lot of the Pet Shop Boys' 2006 album Fundamental consisted of songs with at least some political undercurrent; most directly, Integral was an outright protest against mandatory ID cards, as well as "I'm With Stupid," about the overly close relationship between Tony Blair and George W. Bush satirized as a gay love song. Other songs on the album dealt with the Iraq War and immigration.
- Country Joe And The Fish's "I-Think-I'm-Fixing-To-Die Rag" was about the Vietnam war. Famously featured in the film of Woodstock.
- Pretty much anything by Rise Against
- Especially Endgame, which is pretty much a Protest album.
- "20 Dollar Nose Bleed" by Fall Out Boy seems to be this. At least one verse is obviously anti-Bush:
It feels like 14 carats but no clarity
When I look at the man who would be king
The man who would be king goes to the
Desert the same war his dad rehearsed
Comes back with flags on coffins and says
We won, oh, we won
- Dream Theater's "Prophets of War". To drive the point home they add the pun-tastic chorus line "Are we prophet-ing from war?" and a spoken buzzword-filled bridge. Surprisingly enough, it's actually good.
- The satirist Tom Lehrer often expressed his hatred of this type of song, finally writing a parody called "The Folk Song Army":
The tunes don't have to be clever
And it just doesn't matter if you put a couple of extra syllables into a line
It sounds more ethnic if it ain't good English
And it don't even got to rhyme.... Excuse me, 'rhyne'.
- He might have been "expressing his hatred" in a tongue-in-cheek manner, since quite a few of his songs could be considered legit protest songs in their own right...
- "Send The Marines" (American foreign policy) and "Wernher Von Braun" (a Take That against the titular ex-Nazi rocket scientist who worked on the US Space Program).
- Almost everything by Phil Ochs, who once defined a protest song as "a song that's so specific that you cannot mistake it for bullshit". See "I Ain't Marchin' Anymore", "Outside of a Small Circle of Friends", etc.
- The Tom Lehrer parody above may be specifically aimed at Ochs, since one of the verses of the Lehrer includes the lines "Remember the war against Franco? That's the kind of war where each of us belongs! They might have won all the battles, but we had all the good songs!" and one of Ochs' less inspired songs begins "Do you remember Franco...?" He got more sophisticated later in his career.
- "M.T.A." by Jacqueline Steiner and Bess Lomax Hawes sounds like one of these, about a subway fare increase, but actually originated as a campaign song for Walter A. O'Brien, who couldn't afford radio advertisements but realized that he could hire folk singers to stand on a corner and play his song for much less. Later made famous by the Kingston Trio, replacing the politician's name with "George O'Brien" to avoid an association with the Progressive Party.
- Hawkwind's "Urban Guerilla" is a Stealth Parody of protest songs. Since almost nobody outside the band got the joke, it was quickly pulled from distribution.
- treble charger's last big hit before they disbanded, "Hundred Million", was a slightly weird protest song against the presidency of George W. Bush. Weird in that treble charger was a Canadian band, big at home but with almost no exposure in the States.
- "Another National Anthem" from Assassins.
- Leonard Bernstein's Mass is filled with these: "Half Of The People" (partly written by Paul Simon), "God Said" (a sarcastic parody of Genesis 1), "Non Credo," "World Without End" and "Dona Nobis Pacem" (which is definitely not a hymn).
- On the other hand, Mass is both an a shining example and a subversion; part of the wonder of this powerful opera is that it is a no hold barred commentary on the Roman Catholic church commentary that yes, showcases the stumblings of the church, but it also shows it at its very best.
- German punk-pop band Die Ärzte parodied this with Grotesksong, a near-classical protest song with only an acoustic guitar as instrumentation (at least in the first two verses). It is a protest song all right - against protest songs.
- Listening to it again, it may actually be a protest song against protest songs against protest songs...
- Several songs from Peter Tägtgren's Pain, especially on the last couple of albums. Examples include The Third Wave, Not Your Kind, and Feed Us'', which are about corruption, evangelicalism, and the medias coverage of celebrities, respectively.
- Richard Thompson's "Dad's Gonna Kill Me" is a protest song written from the perspective of a soldier in Iraq, and using actual soldier slang ("dad" for Baghdad, etc.)
- "Guns are the Tongues" averts this to some degree; while it takes place during The Troubles and is quite clearly on the side of "this was a very bad idea", it's mostly telling the related story of a twisted relationship.
- "Violet Hill" by Coldplay, and "Invisible Sun" by The Police, about the troubles in Ireland.
- Spoofed in The Simpsons episode "Last Exit to Springfield", when Lisa composes a protest song for the workers at Homer's power plant after Mr. Burns cons them out of their dental plan. It uses the style of Depression-era folk music.
- Later parodied in the Season 12 episode "Pokey Mom", where the prisoner that Marge befriends is described as being such a terrible person that "Bob Dylan wrote a song to keep him in prison!"
- "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song" by The Flaming Lips.
- "Wars" by Hurt. Take a wild guess at what it's protesting.
- "World Wide Suicide" and "Bu$hleaguer" by Pearl Jam
- "When the President Talks to God" by Bright Eyes
- Straightforwardly enough, "Protest Song" by Eric Himan, mostly about gay rights.
- Eiffel 65 - Too Much of Heaven
- Maroon 5's "Makes Me Wonder" is a bit less blatant than most, probably because it was first conceived strictly to be about failed relationships, but was shelved and then revisited for a later album, at which point lead singer/songwriter Adam Levine noticed that some of the lines could just as easily apply to the way Bush sent troops into Iraq under dubious pretenses and reworked the song to have a double meaning.
- "Child's Play" by TNT was written by singer Tony Harnell as a protest against nuclear weapons.
- At least 7 out of 10 songs by Irish trad band Wolfe Tones, and an even larger percentage by their gone-solo singer Derek Warfield.
- Also, "7 O' Clock News/Silent Night", which juxtaposes the peaceful Christmas carol with a series of downbeat newscasts relating to then-current events.
- Thin Lizzy, "Genocide (The Killing Of The Buffalo)"
- Bruce Cockburn has penned several good ones: "If I Had a Rocket Launcher", "The Trouble with Normal", "Call It Democracy", "If a Tree Falls".
- "Unfair" from Fiorello!, whose lyrics the picketing girls are instructed by Fiorello to sing in a "most unladylike voice."
- KMFDM's Hau Ruck album has several of these, including "Free Your Hate" and "New American Century". Also, "Search and Destroy" from Nihil.
- Let's not forget the entirity of WWIII as well as "Dogma" from Xtort and "Anarchy" from Symbols.
- Let's face it, every other KMFDM song is protesting something
- One song by Skinny Puppy is appropriately titled "Pro-Test". "Hit me in the streets!"
- The Nice's hard rock version of Leonard Bernstein's America was described by keyboard player/arranger Keith Emerson as "the world's only instrumental protest song".
- Linkin Park has three on their appropriately-titled album Minutes to Midnight: "Hands Held High", which is the obvious and explicit one about the war; "No More Sorrow", which is a somewhat subtler Take That to the Bush administration; and "The Little Things Give You Away", which is likewise clearly but not explicitly about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
- Quicksilver Messenger Service had "What About Me?" which even contained the line "And those of us who care enough/We have to do something."
- Several Mitch Benn songs, especially the ones on The Now Show. They're usually funny about it though.
- Most songs by Scottish folksinger Dick Gaughan. "A Different Kind of Love Song" is his response to someone who complained he only sang political songs.
- Mr B The Gentleman Rhymer humorously protests laws banning smoking in pubs in his song, "Let Me Smoke My Pipe!"
- Obscure Boston post-punk band Human Sexual Response only put out two albums...deliberately confrontational ones about sexual attitudes. Among their protest songs, "Dick and Jane", which takes Lyrical Dissonance to new heights; "Jackie Onassis", a pointed Take That to media manipulation and false celebrity; and the self-explantory "Butt F**k", which takes on added dimension when you find out three of the band's four lead singers were openly gay.
- French singer Renaud, when he was young, was very famous for that, even if his most famous songs today probably are Mistral Gagnant and Morgan de toi, two ballads written for his daughter Lola.
- A lot of people thought Russel Morris' Mind Screw "The Real Thing" was a protest song about The Vietnam War. According to Word of God, it was actually a whimsical musing about Coca-Cola's slogan.
- The Tragically Hip prefer non-obvious lyrics, but a number of their songs can be considered protest songs, such as "Vaccination Scar" (against Bush-era jingoism), "Gus The Polar Bear From Central Park" (about how the Bush presidency, in using fear as a political tool, was getting upset when people weren't afraid enough), and so on.
- Matthew Good likewise doesn't protest against specific things (he uses his blog for that), but many of his songs carry anti-war messages, such as "Black Helicopter" (with the eminently-quotable line "Only killers call killing progress"), "Silent Army In The Trees" (about how war veterans can be abandoned by their country when they return home broken and suffering from PTSD), and "If I Was A Tidal Wave" (talks about washing the world clean of the problems that afflict it, mostly man-made).
- He also has the song "Sort of a Protest Song", which isn't really against anything in particular, but can be applied to the general apathy modern people apply to third-world problems.
- The Zombies' "Butcher's Tale (Western Front 1914)": Despite being released during The Vietnam War, it was actually about a soldier fighting in World War I. Still, the overall message is "War Is Hell, and those that support wars generally do so because they don't know what it's like to be in one".
- A number of songs by Ewan MacColl, including against the death penalty ("Go Down Ye Murderers" and "Derek Bentley"), The Vietnam War ("Brother Did You Weep") and Apartheid ("Black and White").
- Parodied in Camper Van Beethoven's "Club Med Sucks", which uses the same kind of rhetoric as political Hardcore Punk songs of the time to describe a teenager's parents forcing him to going to Club Med instead of just letting him hang out on the beach on his own all summer ("I want no part of their death culture/I just wanna go to the beach"). Played more straight with "Might Makes Right", from the point of view of a disillusioned soldier.
- Papa Roach's "Getting Away With Murder" is about how corporations screw people over.
- "Gimme The Power" by the Mexican band Molotov, which is about how the corruption instigated by 70 years of continuous PRI governments screwed everyone up in Mexico. Followed up by another song called "Hit Me" a few years later, about how the 2000-2006 government was failing on delivering its promises, but also attacking the detractors, pointing out that six years would not fix 70 years of erred policies.
- Aly And AJ have a variety of this off their first album and one on their second: "Blush", "I Am One Of Them", "Sticks And Stones" and "Speak For Myself".
- Emilie Autumn has "Take The Pill" and "If I Burn". The entire "Opheliac" Concept Album could also be seen as this. Also, "Girls! Girls! Girls!" - in a satirical, Villain Song way.
- Delain's "Your Body is a Battleground" is very critical of the medical-industrial complex.
Parodies & lampshades in fiction:
- Eric Idle's "I Bet You They Won't Play This Song On The Radio" was a mockery of censorship practices at radio stations, which inserted comical sound effect bleeps in place of bad words. He also wrote The FCC Song, which, naturally, is a Take That directed toward the Federal Communications Commission, with the rest of the government thrown in for good measure.
- The topic was later taken up by Family Guy, via Peter's song "The Freakin' FCC".
- Hugh Laurie (in A Bit of Fry and Laurie) sang the protest song, "All We Gotta Do Is" in a whiny, Dylan-esque voice, and mentioned some serious issues everyone had to fix, but didn't actually give a solution to them:
It's so easy, to see
If only they'd listen, to you and me.
We got to (mumbling) as fast as we can
We got to (mumbling) every woman, every man
We got to (mumbling) time after time
We got to (mumbling) vodka and lime.
(Cue the harmonica solo.)
- He also sang a "very angry song" (though Fry wasn't sure it "qualifie[d] as a satire") about jars. Jars that get separated from their lids. The lyrics? "Where is the lid?" repeated over and again.
- Hugh Laurie loves this trope - another parody featured an American Country and Western singer with a very specific solution to the world's problems 'Kickin Ass'
- Infant Sorrow, the fictional band featured in the film Forgetting Sarah Marshall, recorded a similarly satirical piece entitled We Gotta Do Something;
I don't wanna see another child crying
I don't wanna see another dog dying in the streets
I don't wanna see another homeless person
Because that doesn't seem right to me
I mean, 'e's got a home, 'e's not got a home!
Why can't we all just get together in one great big home?
And if I was in government, i'd govern things a lot differently
'Cause it doesn't seem like a good way to government things
When there's so many poor people around.
- Animaniacs has Ol' Scratch sentence the Warners to whiny protest songs from the '60s:
Oh I hate the government
More than you hate me
The government took my goldfish
And unplugged my TV
- During the Greatest Hits and Song Styles games in Whose Line Is It Anyway?, the designated singers would usually default to Bob Dylan if 'protest songs' was suggested.
- Benny Hill included a reference to protest singers (among other things) in his 1965 song "What a World". As a bonus, he sings it in a parody Bob Dylan voice.
Now the folk singer came from America, to sing at the Albert Hall
He sang his songs of protest and fairer shares for all;
He sang how the poor were much too poor and the rich too rich by far
Then he drove back to his penthouse in his brand new Rolls-Royce car.
- Family Guy have done many, including the "Bag of Weed" song and the "Freakin' FCC".''
- SCTV had hardcore British punk band the Queen Haters on the "American Bandstand"-style "Mel's Rock Pile" to sing "I Hate the Bloody Queen", making no impression on the squarish North American audience.
- "Hosianna Rockefeller" from Happy End, a hymn sarcastically praising profiteering.
- "Think About It" by Flight of the Conchords is a parody of this trope, teaching us valuable lessons such as how sweatshops are bad... because they don't actually make sneakers cheaper; how people have become so uncaring.... that nobody stops to check if a headless man is dead. turns out he's dead.
- The Arrogant Worms' "vegetable rights" song "Carrot Juice is Murder."
- In "Over the Moon" from RENT, Maureen protests the impending eviction of the artists and homeless people from the 11th Street lot. It turns into an Audience Participation Song towards the end.
- One episode of Daria revolved around a teacher's strike, and Mr. O'Neill asks Trent Lane to help him and the other teachers write a protest song.
- "Shame, Shame, Shame" from Treme (about George W. Bush's handling of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, with a couple jabs at Barbara Bush for her comments about Katrina refugees).
- Boardwalk Empire has one sung by the Atlantic City Women's Temperance League towards the end of the first seasons fifth episode "Nights in Ballygran".
Stand up for prohibition
Ye patriots of the land
For ye who love your country
Against the drink should stand
Behold against this traffic
Your countries greatest foe
Let word and deed and ballot proclaim that drink must go.
- In The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, a discussion of Teleportation Sickness includes two anti-teleporting protest songs.