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Top 10 Classic Protest Songs


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1) "We Shall Overcome" - Traditional/Adapted by Pete Seeger

This tune was originally a slave spiritual. It was picked up during labor strikes in the 1940s, when people changed the original lyric from "I ..." to "We shall overcome." The song was re-popularized in the 1960s by Pete Seeger. Pete learned the song from a woman named Zilphia Horton, who was a labor striker at the time. By the time Pete adapted it and taught it to others, it took on its own life as an anthem in the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

2) "This Land is Your Land" - Woody Guthrie

Woody Guthrie wrote this song in 1940, and it was originally called "God Blessed America For Me." But while recording it in 1944, he decided to change the last line of each verse to "This land was made for you and me." The song is a great tribute to the working class, and an editorial on the distribution of wealth and power in the America. It's a great call to protest, claiming this land belongs to us, and noone can take that away.

3) "Blowing in the Wind" - Bob Dylan

When Bob Dylan debuted this song at Gerdes Folk City, he announced to the crowd, "This here ain't no protest song or anything like that, 'cause I don't write no protest songs." But whether Bob likes it or not, this song became an anthem in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. The song asks a series of daring questions about the worth of a person. It has since been covered by folks from Stevie Wonder to Judy Collins.

4) "Give Peace a Chance" - John Lennon

At the end of his week-long "bed-in" in 1969 with his new wife Yoko Ono, John Lennon had recording equipment brought into the hotel room. There, along with Timothy Leary, members of the Canadian Radha Krishna Temple, and a roomful of others, John recorded this song. It was the height of the Vietnam war, and this song became an anthem of the peace movement that summer. It has lived on in its anthemic quality since then during peace movements all over the world.

5) "People Have the Power" - Patti Smith

Calling Patti Smith a folksinger would surely upset fans in both Folk music and Rock circles. But her anthem, "People Have the Power," is one of the most potent, lyrical, lovely protest songs I've ever heard. And it's certainly a big part of what has taken her work to legendary status. Recorded in 1988, "People Have the Power" serves as a reminder that, as she sings at the end of the song, "everything we dream can come to pass through our union."

6) "Get up, Stand up" - Bob Marley

With its catchy, repetitive chorus, this song is a shoe-in to be counted among the most timeless protest songs. It's the first track on Bob's "Burnin'" CD. Although it communicates a decisive rasta philosophy, the tune defies religious and political barriers, and communicates a universal message about the importance of standing up for your rights.

7) "If I Had a Hammer" - Pete Seeger

This is one of those songs that has seeped so far into the public consciousness that it's included in children's songbooks. It's a simple, easy song to remember. It so idealistic that people can't help but sing along.

8) "War" - Edwinn Starr

Originally recorded by the Temptations, this song was popularized in 1970 by Edwin Starr. The Vietnam war was at the height of its conflict, and the peace movement was gaining speed. The song talks about war in general, not specifically the one in Vietnam. The lyrics raise the question of whether there must be a better way to resolve conflict.

9) "I Ain't Marchin' Anymore" - Phil Ochs

Phil Ochs was one of the most prolific "protest song" writers on the scene in the 60s and 70s. This song takes the voice of a young soldier who is refusing to fight in any more wars, after having seen and participated in so many killings at war. It's a poetic look into the inside of the ugliness of war, and a staunch claim for Och's "War is Over" stance.

10) "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" - Pete Seeger

That Pete Seeger really knows how to write those protest songs. This is yet another classic by Woody's protege. The simple recurring lyrics make it completely sing-along-able. The story is of the cycle of war, beginning with young girls picking flowers that eventually end up on the graves of their dead soldier husbands. The recanting of "When will they ever learn" is so pretty and catchy that it gets sung at peace demonstrations even still.


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Got me on that one too, bazooka. I never realised it was a protest song. I thought he was leaving after a failed romance !


Good Topic Farin. Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan are the two Masters. I've always loved "Where Have All The Flowers Gone" for it's simplicity. It starts with young girls picking the flowers and ends with the flowers on the graves of the young men killed in battle.

I also like "With God On Our Side" written by Dylan. Try to catch Joan Baez's version of it - probably on You Tube. It roasts just about every country for justifying war because they believe they "have God on their side" ! The last verse says it all!

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  • 2 weeks later...

"Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier" dates from the 18th century and addresses the distress of those left behind.

"Waist Deep in the Big Muddy" by Pete Seeger. A naive/foolish commander nearly drowns his troops.

"I Feel Like I'm Fixin' to Die Rag" by "Country Joe" McDonald. A famous Vietnam-era protest song that began with: "Gimme an F!" :afro:

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i have to go with "i feel like i'm fixin'to die rag" great song

it has an unforgetable chorus:

and it's one, two, three,

what are we fightin' 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.

:help: :drummer: :rockon:

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  • 8 months later...

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