The Power of Protest Songs


Photo Courtesy of Rolling Stone.

This year’s presidential election has certainly brought about strong feelings, especially in music. Earlier this year, rappers YG and Nipsy Hussle released “FDT,” which stands for F*** Donald Trump, but politically charged songs are nothing new. For decades artists have shared their social and political opinion through their music and the likelihood that’ll it stop is unlikely. Here are 10 songs to remind you of just how powerful musical messages can be:

  1. Eve of Destruction – Barry McGuire

This anti-war song came out in 1965 during the Vietnam War, when the United States experienced war scares and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. In a very famous lyric from the song, McGuire sings, “You’re old enough to kill, but not for voting,” which refers to boys being old enough to fight wars at 18-years-old but not old enough to vote.

  1. Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud) – James Brown

The Godfather of soul released this anthem addressing the racial prejudices black people faced in America during the ‘60s.  Brown sings, “We’ve been ‘buked and we’ve been scorned/We’ve been treated bad, talked about as sure as you’re born.”  This song was an anthem for African-Americans, serving as a reminder of their value and that they should be proud of their identity as black.

  1. Big Yellow Taxi – Joni Mitchell

Joni Mitchell wrote this song to address environmental issues. The lyrics “they paved paradise, and put up a parking lot” were inspired by a trip Mitchell took to Hawaii. She took a taxi to her hotel and saw “beautiful green mountains” outside of her hotel room window, but the massive parking lot took away from the mountain’s beauty.

  1. Born in the U.S.A. – Bruce Springsteen

Many people hear this song’s upbeat tempo and think it’s about Springsteen’s pride in America, but it’s really about the troubles Vietnam veterans faced when they returned home from the war.

  1. F*** The Police – N.W.A.

These six men from Compton, California frightened so many people and angered law enforcement in 1988 with this song. The lyrics talks about police brutality and racial profiling, a reality that many black men in Los Angeles and around America faced daily. The song was so powerful it even prompted the FBI to send a letter to N.W.A.’s record label.

  1. Fight the Power – Public Enemy

This song incorporates many elements of black culture, including a James Brown sample, black church services, and symbols of the civil rights movement. With a lyricist like Chuck D and an incredible hype man in Flavor Flav, Public Enemy got away with calling out Elvis and John Wayne. They proclaimed, “Elvis was a hero to most,/but he never meant s*** to me/straight up racist that sucker was/simple and plain.”

  1. Killing in the Name – Rage Against the Machine

The beating of Rodney King and the subsequent LA Riots were the inspiration for this song. RATM brought attention to systematic racism and police brutality singing about how “some of those that work forces, are the same that burn crosses,” comparing the Los Angeles police force to the Ku Klux Klan.

  1. American Idiot – Green Day

The title refers to the state America was in after the reelection of George W. Bush in 2004. They sing, “Don’t want to be an American idiot/One nation controlled by the media/Information age of hysteria/It’s calling out to idiot America.” Billy Joe Armstrong called out Americans for allowing the media to control their thoughts and their understanding of the truth. Kind of ironic how this song came out 12 years ago and we continue look towards the media for all of our answers today….

  1. Mosh – Eminem (2004)

Eminem released “Mosh” right before the Presidential election in 2004 because he disagreed with the Bush Administration’s plans to continue with the War on Terror in the Middle East. The music video features a soldier coming home from war only to find that he has to go back.  

  1. The Charade – D’Angelo

After a very long, 14-year hiatus, D’Angelo finally released new music in 2014. “The charade” that D’Angelo is referring to is the idea that black people have received equality in America, but shows that is far from the truth by covering the killings of unarmed black men and continued racial profiling.