10 of the most influential protest songs

Published: Thursday, Aug. 14 2014 11:40 p.m. MDT

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Forty-five years ago this weekend, the Woodstock Music & Art Fair took place in New York. One former participant in Woodstock was quoted in USA Today as saying the festival "was a miracle. It was the real jelly. There was an energy prevalent at Woodstock, and if you surrendered to it, you didn't need to sleep much, you could do amazing things. It would move you." In honor of the Woodstock anniversary and the "real jelly" rebels who attended, compiled here are 10 protest songs that have been widely agreed to be some of the most influential in modern music.
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Midwest Mom
Soldiers Grove, WI

The DN writing a piece on protest songs? Well done.

Dissent scares people and they don't want to hear, especially when it's the young who are speaking out. I wonder how many good parents from those days turned off this music because of the protest culture and missed the message.

When we had the protests in Madison over the loss of collective bargaining rights, in early 2010, I took my young children with me to let them see what people do when their government shuts them out. It was a powerful experience for them in their right to free speech.

Unfortunately, many of my friends and relatives were shocked at my choice. My then 9 year-old daughter wrote a letter to our governor and eloquently sent her own protest when, a short time later, her beloved school librarian was laid off (within months of pension eligibility) so that they could hire a new, lower-paid librarian.

Whatever your political stripe, "teach your children well" by letting them know that there is still power in our freedom to speak out.

Merritt Island, Fl

One would think that after decades of protesting senseless wars we would learn. I guess we can not not be educated or we're just stupid to listen to the Chicken Hawks in DC.

Consider the outcome if every elected official and senior staffers must have their children and grandchildren, young men and women serve in the Combat Arms branches while the parent is in office. Should be interesting.

Goshen, UT

All we are saying is give peace a chance. Imagine is not here on this list or eve of destruction. Whats up with that>

Ernest T. Bass
Bountiful, UT

This is such an odd thing for the Dnews to publish. It's so much less regressive than most of what it publishes.

Eureka, UT

There are some great songs listed here, most were not played at Woodstock though. Still recognizing the value of protest songs is important. Songs that unite us to fight oppression or are used to identify us as a group that is being discriminated against, need to be sung. I think of the song Amazing Grace and how it was used to both unite a people and to fight slavery and then goes on to live in respectability after the battle was won.

Ogden, UT

One of my favorites, and one of the most beautiful -- Where Have All The Flowers Gone?

liberty or ...?
Ogden, UT

I know I am raining on everybodys parade here but I don't have much fondness for woodstock despite the fact that I am a fan and listen to most of the music from this era. I also know it might seem unfair to judge since I wasn't there but as an X generationer who deals with the nuclear winter fall out from this everyday I would like to point out a few things.
these are the people who called are vets babykillers and treated them like trash when they came home.
These were the people who undermined vietnam (by the way I also disagree with the war but we said we would protect the south vietnamese from the communists)and washed their hands when saigon fell and the north butchered the people.
These were the people who supported the weather undergrounds actions,and Jane Fondas betrayal of our POWS
The new morality (old immorality) has only produced broken homes and families, illigitemate births, rising poverty levels,and a societal decay mirroring the fall of 9 past civilizations.
bloated beuracracy and ever increasing debt and entitlemant mentality has ruined us financially fulfilling edmund burkes statements verbatem.

Understands Math
Lacey, WA

I'm a big fan of Nena in general and "99 Luftballons" in particular, but I think it's a stretch to call it a protest song. A song that is politically aware to be sure, and certainly a song that matched the Zeitgeist (I doubt if those born after 1980 will ever understand the constant underlying dread we all had that World War III could both start and end in a matter of minutes, taking all of civilization with it), but there's really not a lot of protest in the song.

Centerville, UT

@liberty or ...?

I was thinking the same thing. Love the music, but I think the people at Woodstock have an over-inflated sense of their own importance. The real significant event of 1969 was the Moon landing. I have a lot more respect for that achievement than for a bunch of people getting naked and high in a farmer's field.

Hockey Fan
Miles City, MT

@ Furry 1993

I'm with you: Where Have All the Flowers Gone? Great song!!

Midwest Mom
Soldiers Grove, WI

@liberty or ...? / A1994

So ... the civil rights movement doesn't come up on your radar?

Strange that you can give a nod to the atrocities of war and yet not see that wars of words (protests) can similarly have their bad actors.

liberty or ...?
Ogden, UT

@ Mid west mom.. First of all the Civil rights movement of 1962 predates the hippie movment which really did not take off until 64 that's why it is called the summer of 64.The Civil rights movement I believe was hijacked after MLK and JFK's deaths with LBJ's Great society which has ruined us financialy and created a victimization special interest political climate that most of our current politicians are still stuck in. Also what atrocities of war are you talking about? if you mean how the Communists in Korea of the 1950's invaded and butchered the south Koreans or the North Vietnamese butchering and expelling the south vietnamese I agree. Yes we had some atrocities of our own but what war doesn't? but I also refuse to armchair quarterback especially if I'm a draft card burning canada runaway. Or about how Kerry came back testifying from communist talking points about the atrocities of our soldiers(most of which were false). Ask the South Koreans in the 50s if they think the Americans were being war mongers or the east Germans in 1987 when Reagan broughtcollapse of the Berlin wall and Soviet Union down what's that about an arms race?

Ogden, UT

Good Article, and I agree it does not show songs which were directly from Woodstock. It did show songs that were influenced by Woodstock. Those times and era were about life and feeling, todays music is about money, sex, drugs, and falsehoods that get our kids into more trouble leaving their basic family fundamentals behind and teachings.
We as a nation as a family of being one world one nation one family have a human and personal family obligation and responsibility to bring our people together as one, and help humanity grow, and teach another to grow together as one.
It does not have to be a cynical sarcasm moment to deter or undermind this growth or its importance. although people can be their own person, they are still the same in many ways.
across borders, cultures, religions, peace and love can bring about understanding, and vice versa.

Centerville, UT

@Midwest Mom

Who said anything about 'giving a nod to war' or the Civil Rights movement. My argument is that the people who were at Woodstock think that they did something spectacular. They didn't. The fruits of their behavior and life style is a nation with a huge drug problem and broken families. You can protest a war without behaving like an animal. Sorry. I don't have respect for the Woodstock people.

Salt Lake City, UT

This is indeed an unexpected list for this paper to publish, given that it normally hews to a "don't rock the boat" line. Kudos for including a broad range of genres and time periods. I don't envy the task of narrowing a slate of good candidates down to ten, and any such list is bound to be subjective (especially on the questions of "protest" versus merely "politically aware" and degree of influence). There are many worthy songs that could have made the cut:

I Ain't Marching Any More (Phil Ochs)
Tom Lehrer's satires (We'll All Go Together when We Go, Pollution)
Malvina Reynolds (Little Boxes, Billy Boy)
Labor movement songs (Union Maid, Which Side Are You On?)
Other Civil Rights era songs (We Shall Overcome was not the only one)
Draft Dodger Rag
Masters of War (Dylan)
Alice's Restaurant (Arlo Guthrie)
Any of the many songs by Joe Hill (Long Haired Preacher, etc.)

Even The Association, amongst their breezy AM hits (Cherish, Along Comes Mary) recorded a moving antiwar tune (Requiem for the Masses).

Given that the list commemorates the 45th anniversary of Woodstock this week, a glaring omission is the one Country Joe performed there.

Salt Lake City, UT

The list gives a worthy nod to the 1980s with three of the ten songs, but that decade's resurgent political awareness in popular music (after the stagnant years of 1970s corporate rock) and the rise of New Wave, punk, rap, and reggae provided much fodder for protest movements. Besides "Free Nelson Mandela, "The anti-apartheid movement also spawned "(I Ain't Gonna Play) Sun City" and artists like Johnny Clegg and Paul Simon raised awareness of South African music. Reggae is full of protest (Marley's "Get Up, Stand Up," "3:00 Roadblock," Mutabaruka's "Outcry"). On a more positive spin of protest songs, the "Feed the World" and "Do They Know It's Christmas" projects fed drought-stricken Ethiopia and got a Boomtown Rat knighted. Rap, before it turned gangsta, was very political and protesty (e.g. Public Enemy's "911 Is a Joke"). And who can forget The Clash?

John Jackson
Sandy, UT

"One Tin Soldier" by the Original Caste. It could qualify as an anti-war song. Love it.

Eagle Mountain, UT

You missed perhaps the greatest of them all - For What it's Worth;)

Salt Lake City, UT

The songs on the list all seem to be supporting causes generally associated with liberal politics (civil rights, peace, anti-apartheid). That got me wondering where the conservative protest songs are. Granted, conservatism by definition supports the status quo and resists change and has little need to protest (Nixon's silent majority).

Did the Klansmen and Citizen's Councils have a musical counterpoint to the "Eyes on the Prize" of Freedom Summer? (I suppose maybe "Dixie.")

I doubt they were singing, but what tunes were in the minds of the Chicago police in 1968 and the guardsmen at Kent State? What heteronormative anthem did the Prop 8 campaigners sing? Is there a Sagebrush Rebellion songbook? After a hot day patrolling the Arizona border, what do the Minutemen sing around the campfire? Did Cliven Bundy's militia supporters unite behind a song? What do the Operation Rescue marchers chant? Is there an ethnomusicologist anywhere documenting this?

The best I can come up with is Haggard's "Okie from Muskogee," a reflection of the zeitgeist but hardly a rallying cry.

As for influential protest songs, don't overlook the output of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot, who have brought global attention to the oppressive Putin regime.

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