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.
"The 1969 protest song highlighted the hypocrisy of the privileged class, whose so-called patriotism cost others their lives," according to TIME. Some of the lyrics are as follows:
Yeah, some folks inherit star spangled eyes/Ooh, they send you down to war, Lord/And when you ask them, "How much should we give?"/Oh, they only answer, more, more, more, oh/It ain't me, it ain't me/I ain't no military son/It ain't me, it ain't me/I ain't no fortunate one
"'Free Nelson Mandela' did more than any work of art to make Mandela a global icon of resistance," according to Nina Rastogi of Slate. "Dammers (the lead singer and song writer) received letters of congratulation from the UN and ANC, and even though his South African record label begged not to be sent copies for fear of prosecution, the song spread organically among the black population."
Rastogi wrote that later in life Dammers performed it live for Mandela himself during a concert celebrating his release from prison.
"Ah yes," Rastogi quotes Mandela as saying when he was introduced to Dammers. "Very good."
"U2’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday” refers to the Jan. 30, 1972, massacre of Catholic civil rights demonstrators by British soldiers in Northern Ireland," wrote TIME, "but the song speaks volumes about conflicts in general."
"The band from Dublin has been singing the song for decades. Unfortunately for us, the lyrics 'There’s many lost, but tell me who has won?' are still as relevant as they ever were."
"Subtlety is not a requirement of protest songs," according to TIME, "and the message of Edwin Starr’s funky 1970 chart topper couldn’t be clearer: 'War! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing!'”
"One of its greatest merits is that it so simple," wrote Siegmal Siegel on the BBC website. "Over the decades, I have encountered this song - and the positive spirit that emanates from it - the world over. It ranks among the very few songs that are truly universal. Or, in a nutshell: Never before has so little given so much to so many."
"There was plenty going on in 1970s America, and Marvin Gaye’s soulful 'What’s Going On' tapped right into it," wrote TIME. "Inspired by tales of the Vietnam War brought back by his brother Frankie, Gaye wrote the lines, 'Brother, brother, brother/ There’s far too many of you dying.' The title track of his 1971 concept album offered its own prescription, proclaiming, 'War is not the answer, for only love can conquer hate.'”
"(99 Luftballoons) certainly gave me, as a young man, the idea to question what governments tell their people, and maybe it did for others too," wrote Clayton Dale on the BBC
website. "In the song, a war takes place, because people in power used the balloons as a sign of provocation to start a war. In the end, she finds a balloon, releases it into the air, and thinks of someone she has lost, or is missing, or someone she hasn't seen in a while. A modern example might be North and South Korea."
'We Shall Overcome' has been used in countless historical settings, according to Slate. "It was the most famous protest song in America" at the time of the 1963 march on Washington, and Martin Luther King Jr. himself said "There's something about that song that haunts you," according to Rastogi.
"Mourners sang it at the funeral for three of the four girls killed in the Birmingham, Alabama church bombing," Rastogi continued. "President Johnson cited it in his speech urging Congress to pass the 1965 Voting Rights Act. When Malcolm X questioned nonviolence, he said 'I don't believe we're going to overcome [by] singing.' ... After the song was overtaken by the battle cries of Black Power, it sung as far afield as South Africa and Eastern Europe, Northern Ireland and India. And at Obama's inaugural concert, the President paid homage to the song that had filled the Washington Mall 46 years earlier by promising, 'We will overcome what ails us now.'"
"Many people write songs calling for an unpopular leader to step down," according to Slate. "Very few get their wish within days."
Hamada Ben Amor, who calls himself El Général on stage, posted a rap video featuring himself furiously addressing Tunisian President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali.
Although Ben Amor was almost immediately arrested and held for a few days, President Ben Ali fled Tunisia to Saudi Arabia soon after Ben Amor's release, due to growing dissent in the country.
"Sam Cooke's A Change Is Gonna Come (1963) was influential during the civil rights movement," wrote Peter Wilding on the BBC website. The song, which describes a slow, inevitable change for the better, was meaningful "Particularly after Martin Luther King was killed. Some would say that it played a significant role in bringing white Americans to actively support the move towards equality."