It may seem wholly obvious to start a blog about protest songs with Rage Against The Machine, but I make no apologies.
However I’m resisting the more obvious temptations of ‘Killing In the Name’ (bizarrely a UK Christmas number one), ‘Bulls On Parade’ or ‘Bullet In The Head’. Instead I’ll kick us off with some revolutionary fervour, a personal favourite from The Battle of Los Angeles album: ‘Sleep Now In the Fire’. The song itself has a number of targets in its sights starting with Christopher Columbus – when it all started going wrong for the US – but it’s the way that the song fits with the video that makes it the perfect start to Protest Songs.
Exactly a decade before Occupy Wall Street, RATM decided to do precisely that. One of my favourite videos of all time…
Watching the video back just now I noticed this guy in the crowd at 1:04 in. Clearly not an RATM fan, but 18 years later he got his wish and God help us all.
Over to Ian for his first choice:
Thanks for letting me be part of this. The forthcoming list will have a generally (but not exclusively) Antipodean feel and encompass protest songs that that continue to resonate with me musically and lyrically today. The first song on my list is probably the earliest song I can recall with a clear political message. Released as I was just starting to develop my own taste in music, I have clear memories of it blasting out from the family radiogram in the 1970s. When my truly independent but not particularly feminist mother thought that Helen Reddy had nailed it with this tune, then you knew the protest movement was reaching a mass audience.
Helen Reddy – I Am Woman
Great to have Ian involved, and welcome to 10 days of protesting!
When the idea of Protest Songs came about, this guy was at the forefront of my thinking. I don’t profess to be an expert but I gather he was a bit of an angry young man back in the 1940’s and apparently was somewhat peeved about constantly hearing “God Bless America” as he went about his daily business. If Michael Eavis had started his little festival some 30 years earlier, I can imagine this guy headlining the Pyramid stage for the Sunday night slot…or maybe not! Covered by Bruce, which I’m sure is bound to excite a couple of the contributors to this blog – that’s the Springsteen variety, rather than Forsyth, of course!
Only one place to start in a Protest Songs list and that’s with the band that had protest and rebellion writ large in their DNA. Everything they did, everything they said mattered. If you’re sitting quietly in your Safe European (or Antipodean) home, we shall begin….
I love this theme! Starting off with “Mississippi Goddam,” which Nina Simone wrote in 1964 just after the Medgar Evers assassination and Birmingham church bomb murder of 4 little girls. The campy, show tune beat is quite a foil to her “not going to take it slow” message of equality now. Wikipedia says that the song was banned in several Southern states, ostensibly for using the word “goddam.”
Protest song … or just a statement of fact?!
I remember this artist stating that his 1989 album, ‘New York’ could have just as easily been called London or any other big world city because of all the common shared problems and protests …. and now, nearly 30 years later, of course, sadly the same old issues prevail.
This is also my favourite track from the album …. here’s ‘Strawman’