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Thread: Best Protest/Political Songs

  1. #1
    Senior Contributor Bigfella's Avatar
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    Best Protest/Political Songs

    OK folks, time to pony up with your favourite protest/political songs. While I would argue that entertainers rarely have opinons worth having, let alone broadcasting, there are exceptions. Think lateral people, this isn't just a contest for the best folk song (though there are some fine examples in that genre) or the most obviuos antiwar anthem. There a a lot of songs & a lot of topics. I'll kick off with a few classics & a few notes on each.

    Redemption Song has always been one of my favourite Bob Marley tracks. Simple, beautiful.

    I've also thrown in a wonderful Joe Strummer version. Two greats. Gone but never forgotten.

    Lifting material from a speech by pan-Africanist Marcus Garvey, calling for a second emanicipation from "mental slavery", "Redemption Song" is a simple call for awakening that is at once hopeful protest and heartbreaking resignation. The final line of the chorus, "All I ever had, redemption songs", reads like an epitaph for Marley's struggle.

    While the anthem of that struggle was "No Woman, No Cry", "Redemption Song" is the antidote. The narrator is powerless: "Old pirates, yes, they rob I/Sold I to the merchant ships/Minutes after they took I/From the bottomless pit". At the same time, he is divinely empowered: "We forward in this generation triumphantly".

    The idiomatic uses of "I" for "me" and "We forward" root the song in its Jamaican context, in the same way as the imperative "No Woman, No Cry". From this idiom, Marley had an ability to create honest protest songs such as "Get Up, Stand Up" that surpassed his own Rastafarian beliefs, and to reach beyond a strict identity:

    "My father was a white and my mother was black. Them call me half-caste or whatever. Me don't dip on nobody's side. Me don't dip on the black man's side nor the white man's side. Me dip on God's side, the one who create me and cause me to come from black and white."

    With two verses, a repeated chorus, and a simple chord progression, "Redemption Song" is a folk singalong from the reggae tradition. Written at the time of Marley's diagnosis with cancer, it evidences the increasingly religious nature of his songwriting on the 1980 album Uprising. The spiritual does not, however, overshadow the call to awaken against tyranny, and the message is the possibility of redemption, no matter how slim.






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    Senior Contributor Bigfella's Avatar
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    Shpbuilding - Elvis Costello

    Always loved this song, especially the trumpet work by Chet Baker.. Had no idea what it was about. The power of subtlety.


    "I wasn't being alarmist or trying to be morbid in any way," Elvis Costello would later say of his thought-provoking evocation of war and loss written during the Britain-Argentina Falklands conflict.

    "Shipbuilding" examines how the conflict could potentially revive the traditional ship-building areas going into decline in the UK, only for the sons of those areas to potentially be lost in those same ships as the war progresses: initial euphoria at news that they'll be reopening the shipyards will become sadness as the letters notifying the next of kin arrive.

    "Is it worth it?" the opening line asks, with workers anticipating the goods they will buy with new wages -- of course, the answer could not be clearer

    Last edited by Bigfella; 01 Jun 11, at 09:55.


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    Senior Contributor Bigfella's Avatar
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    And the band played Waltzing Matilda - Eric Bogle

    OK, this is an antiwar folk song, but a goodie. Bogle was a scotsman transplanted to Australia, where he became a major figure in the folk scene. One of the reasons I love this song is how well it evokes Australia & the Australian experience of WW1. This song was written at a time when the celebration of our military past was well out of fashion. it is a fine reflection on the horrors of war. I've also thrown in the fione Pogues interpretation - Shane does such fine work.








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    Senior Contributor Bigfella's Avatar
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    Blake's Jerusalem

    This might seem an odd one to some English folk, as it is seen as simply a partiotic anthem to accompany the waving of union flags. It is much, much more. William Blake was a political radical in his day, and the reference to 'dark satanic mills' should give pause to the ruling classes who sing it with such gusto. It is an incredibly beautiful song with the most remarkable lyrics.

    I've started off with a version by left wing performer Billy Bragg because you get the lyrics clearly. Th real way to hear this, however, is the second version. I get chills whenever I hear it.


    Starting life as a poem by the English printmaker, painter and poet William Blake, "Jerusalem" would be transformed over a century later when it was published in a patriotic anthology during the middle of the First World War.

    Amid flagging morale and mounting casualties, "Jerusalem" provided the affirmation that people badly needed of why the war was being fought. Such was its success that the poet laureate Robert Bridges asked Sir Hubert Parry to set it to music in 1916 and "Jerusalem" was reincarnated as the hymn known universally today.

    The "Jerusalem" described here is new: Blake, inspired by the apocryphal story of Jesus's visit to England, linked it to the concept of the Second Coming and Jesus's establishment of another Jerusalem, by now a metaphor for a world of peace. For a wartime audience, that better, peaceful world was clearly England.

    Another popular interpretation has focused on the industrial upheaval during the 19th century -- the nightmarish "dark Satanic mills" of Blake's imagination contrasting with the "pleasant pastures" where this new Jerusalem could be.

    But if Blake's message was once given urgency by the change the Industrial Revolution brought to Britain, his words have nevertheless proved enduringly popular: as a suffragette song, as the anthem of the England cricket team, and now sung by the audience every year at the end of the Last Night of the Proms in the Royal Albert Hall.




    Last edited by Bigfella; 01 Jun 11, at 10:11.


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    Barry McGuire - Eve of Destruction. Pretty self explanatory

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    Senior Contributor Bigfella's Avatar
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    Absolute classic BR.


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    Bigfella RE: The band played waltzing Matilda

    I reckon Slim Dustys version is better


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    One of my favorite bands, their album is coming out next month and is going to be one of the first albums I've bought in a very long time. I've been to 8 of their concerts in the past 5 months. They take Tracy Chapman's "Talkin' 'bout a Revolution" and interpret it based on the Arab Spring. Very enjoyable

    Shmemel - Talking About an Arab Revolution.

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  9. #9
    An t-aimiréal chléthúil Senior Contributor crooks's Avatar
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    Cool thread idea! Nice version of Tracy Chapman BR, the original is classic too.

    There's been loads of Irish political songs I like, Paul McCartney's 'Give Ireland back to the Irish' was always a favourite (when I was a kid we used to chant it at British squaddies, they hated it):



    U2 also did a great job with 'Sunday Bloody Sunday', powerful anti-war song:



    Wider afield, always find the Jefferson Airplane version of 'Wooden Ships' haunting, anti-nuke and anti-Vietnam:



    Springsteen's 'Born in the USA' has similar themes, friggin love it:



    My favourite 'finger at the boss' song, so bloody catchy! Workers Unite:



    The Dropkick Murphy's, emphasising everything that's awesome about Celtic rock:

    We're the first ones to starve, we're the first ones to die
    The first ones in line for that pie-in-the-sky
    And we're always the last when the cream is shared out
    For the worker is working when the fat cat's about :




    Phil Ochs (RIP) was a powerful anti-war activist who wrote many spiffy songs, 'Love me I'm a liberal' is a rather witty critique of 'latte liberals', who were essentially pro-war and hypocritical. The second was banned from airwaves during the Vietnam war - which he took as a compliment:



    Although it is not true that all conservatives are stupid people, it is true that most stupid people are conservative.
    - John Stuart Mill.

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    Here's another Phil Ochs favorite of mine:

    Phil Ochs - Draft Dodger Rag

    Meddle not in the affairs of dragons, for you are crunchy and taste good with ketchup.

    Abusing Yellow is meant to be a labor of love, not something you sell to the highest bidder.

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    STING - Russians

    In Europe and America, there's a growing feeling of hysteria
    Conditioned to respond to all the threats
    In the rhetorical speeches of the Soviets
    Mr. Krushchev said we will bury you
    I don't subscribe to this point of view
    It would be such an ignorant thing to do
    If the Russians love their children too

    How can I save my little boy from Oppenheimer's deadly toy
    There is no monopoly in common sense
    On either side of the political fence
    We share the same biology
    Regardless of ideology
    Believe me when I say to you
    I hope the Russians love their children too

    There is no historical precedent
    To put the words in the mouth of the President
    There's no such thing as a winnable war
    It's a lie that we don't believe anymore
    Mr. Reagan says we will protect you
    I don't subscribe to this point of view
    Believe me when I say to you
    I hope the Russians love their children too

    We share the same biology
    Regardless of ideology
    What might save us, me, and you
    Is that the Russians love their children too

    No such thing as a good tax - Churchill

    To make mistakes is human. To blame someone else for your mistake, is strategic.

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    Senior Contributor DOR's Avatar
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    Somebody has to bring up Country Joe MacDonald's "Fixin' to Die Rag"

    Yeah, come on all of you, big strong men,
    Uncle Sam needs your help again.
    He's got himself in a terrible jam
    Way down yonder in Vietnam
    So put down your books and pick up a gun,
    We're gonna have a whole lotta fun.

    And it's one, two, three,
    What are we fighting for?
    Don't ask me, I don't give a damn,
    Next stop is Vietnam!

    And it's five, six, seven,
    Open up the pearly gates,
    Well there ain't no time to wonder why,
    Whoopee! we're all gonna die.

    Well, come on generals, let's move fast;
    Your big chance has come at last.
    Gotta go out and get those reds 'cause
    The only good commie is the one who's dead
    And you know that peace can only be won
    When we've blown 'em all to kingdom come.

    And it's one, two, three,
    What are we fighting for?
    Don't ask me, I don't give a damn,
    Next stop is Vietnam!

    And it's five, six, seven,
    Open up the pearly gates,
    Well there ain't no time to wonder why
    Whoopee! we're all gonna die.

    Huh!
    Well, come on Wall Street, don't move slow,
    Why man, this is war's a-go-go-go.
    There's plenty good money to be made
    By supplying the Army with the tools of the trade,
    Just hope and pray that if they drop the bomb,
    They drop it on the Viet Cong.

    And it's one, two, three,
    What are we fighting for?
    Don't ask me, I don't give a damn,
    Next stop is Vietnam.
    And it's five, six, seven,
    Open up the pearly gates,
    Well there ain't no time to wonder why
    Whoopee! we're all gonna die.

    Well, come on mothers throughout the land,
    Pack your boys off to Vietnam.
    Come on fathers, don't hesitate,
    Send 'em off before it's too late.
    Be the first one on your block
    To have your boy come home in a box.

    And it's one, two, three
    What are we fighting for?
    Don't ask me, I don't give a damn,
    Next stop is Vietnam!

    And it's five, six, seven,
    Open up the pearly gates,
    Well there ain't no time to wonder why,
    Whoopee! we're all gonna die

  13. #13
    Senior Contributor Bigfella's Avatar
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    Beat me to it DOR. Was thinking about this just yesterday. I would argue that in the context of the times the 'Fish Cheer' was almost as political.




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  14. #14
    Senior Contributor Bigfella's Avatar
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    Some great selections here.

    BR, loved that version of 'talkin' 'bout revolution'. Very cool.

    Crooks, a nice mix of topics & artists. We could almost do a thread just based on political songs by Irishmen or about Ireland. Nice to see the Strawbs getting a run too. Very rousing.

    Doc, I have to admit that I always thought Sting's sentiments were a wee bit silly, but it is a nice song, not least because it got a bit of Prokofiev intl the charts.

    Inspired by BR, I think this counts as political (and it rocks):


    Last edited by Bigfella; 02 Jun 11, at 10:11.


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    Senior Contributor Bigfella's Avatar
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    More from Ireland

    This is another Eric Bogle classic, this time about Ireland. The song doesn't take sides, but simply reflects on the grief of a parent who has lost a son. Even shorn of its political content this song is a stark evocation of grief.

    I couldn't find a Bogle version, but Mary Black sounds better anyway. Apologies for the accompanying clip, it is Republican propaganda. Unfortunately it is the only clip with appropriate images for the song.




    I have posted this one before, but it is a truly stunning version of a much performed song about the 1916 uprising. Nice clip too.





    This one is proof that the Irish have long memories. A rollicking song about the hated Oliver Cromwell written & performed by perhaps the greates of modern Irish bands:





    And finally one about more recent injustices:




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