Friday, April 22, 2011

What's the Best Protest Song Ever?

Ten Protest Songs That Matter


by Peter Rothberg


The Blog


April 21, 2011


Dorian Lynskey's comprehensive new book, 33 Revolutions Per

Minute, details the history of the protest song in America

and around the world.


Defining a protest song as one that "addresses a political

issue in a way which aligns itself with the underdog,"

Lynskey starts his story with Billie Holiday's harrowing

1939 anti-lynching ballad, "Strange Fruit," and ably takes

us through the historic tunes that helped sustain and

promote the civil rights, labor and anti-Vietnam war

movements as well as non-American music from The Clash in

Britain, Victor Jara in Chile and Fela Kuti in Nigeria.


It's a bracing and informative survey, even if you're

familiar with the topic, and it sent me thinking and talking

to people about all-time favorite protest songs. A quick

poll of Nation staffers and friends of the magazine produced

an eclectic play list:


Nation Publisher Emeritus Victor Navasky offered "Peat Bog

Soldiers," one of Europe's best-known protest songs that

became a Republican anthem during the Spanish Civil War and

a symbol of fascist resistance during World War II.

Executive Editor Richard Kim cited Sinead O'Connor's "Black

Boys on Mopeds." Managing Editor Roane Carey undoubtedly

spoke for many when he insisted on Bob Dylan's classic "

Masters of War." Publicity Director Gennady Kolker

contributed John Lennon's "Gimme Some Truth." Blogger,

author and former Crawdaddy editor Greg Mitchell's tentative

short-list includes Sam Cooke's "Change Is Gonna Come,"

Woody Guthrie's "Vigilante Man," Steve Earle's "Jerusalem,"

Bruce Springsteen and Tom Morello's live version of "Ghost

of Tom Joad," Bob Dylan's "Chimes of Freedom", Louis

Armstrong's "Black and Blue," Leonard Cohen's "Democracy,"

Billy Bragg's version of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy and Neil

Young's "Shock and Awe."


Mother Jones Publisher Steve Katz wrote to say that Steve

Goodman's "My Name is Peggy Evans" is the song that's stuck

with him all these years. Free Speech TV's Don Rojas votes

for Bob Marley's "Redemption Song." Care2's Cindy Samuels

couldn't pick just one among vintage classics "Union Maid,"

"Bread and Roses," and "We Shall Overcome." GritTV's Sarah

Jaffe lauds Patti Smith's "Radio Baghdad" and the Dropkick

Murphys' version of "Which Side are You On."  Nation

Institute Investigative Editor Esther Kaplan counters with

what she argues is the "ultimate version of the song,"

featured in the film Harlan County USA and sung by Florence

Reece, who wrote the ballad during a coal mining strike in

the 1930s. Alternet's Washington, DC editor Adele Stan cites

the Isley Brothers' "Fight the Power" and Buffalo

Springfield's "For What It's Worth." TruthOut editor Jason

Leopold argues for Barry McGuire's version of PF Sloan's

"Eve of Destruction," and FAIR founder and Head of the Park

Media Center at Ithaca College Jeff Cohen named a too-often-

ignored 1970 song "What About Me?" from the San Francisco

band Quicksilver Messenger Service. "It has almost

everything -- environment, media criticism, class, youth

rebellion, repression, optimism."


Seriously picking a top-ten is an impossible task, but in

the interests of getting the conversation started, here are

my choices. The criteria includes musical quality as well as

topicality  and I tried to stray some from the totally

predictable. Hope you enjoy the videos!


1) Bob Marley's "Get Up, Stand Up"




2) Stiff Little Fingers' "Suspect Device"




3) Steel Pulse's "Ku Klux Klan"




4) Gil Scott-Heron's "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised"




5) Malvina Reynolds' "Little Boxes"




6) Phil Ochs' "I Ain't Marchin' Anymore"




7) Billy Bragg's "Waiting for the Great Leap Forward"




8) Bob Dylan's "Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll"




9) Aretha Franklin's "Respect"




10) Boogie Down Production's "Stop the Violence"




We also want to hear from Nation readers! Use this form to

tell us what you consider your all-time favorite protest

song. Please include a link to a video, if you have it, but

just tell us the name and artist if you don't. We'll be

publishing a survey of readers' choices next week.



Peter Rothberg, the Nation's Associate Publisher for

Special Projects, has been writing the Act Now blog covering

the world of activism since 2003. His previous positions

with The Nation  include publicity director, web editor,

special projects director and intern. A former contributor

to Air America radio's daily Nation Minute commentaries,

Rothberg is also a former speech-writer for civil rights

leader Julian Bond. A member of the Brooklyn Literary

Council and the board of Living Liberally, Rothberg lives in

Brooklyn, where he was born and raised.


2 comments: said...

New protest song hope comes in the dark, I like your comments about it regards Henk Mutsaers said...

Would you comment on my new protest song - Hope Comes In The Dark

Regards henk