As I was driving home from work Friday afternoon, stuck in traffic due to road construction, I started browsing my iPod for something different to listen to, when I ran across a few songs passed on to me by my brother Willie. I listened to John Prine’s “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore” & James McMurtry’s “We Can’t Make It Here” which got me thinking about the state of the modern Protest Song. So I decided to do a little research & maybe even make a playlist of protest songs specifically targeting the war in Iraq, 9/11, or the current administration. Which raises a few questions; how to find reliable lists of such music & once I find them, will they even be listenable?
Time may have removed us from the days of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, John Lennon or even Woodie Guthrie, but have we really come very far? The main difference I see is not that artists aren’t making the music; it’s that radio isn’t playing them. “American Idiot” from Green Day & “Waiting on the World to Change” from John Mayer both got a lot of airplay, but Mayer’s song is weak to say the least as far as protest lyrics are concerned. I know some people believe that the Dixie Chicks’ “Not Ready to Make Nice” falls into that category, but I don’t think so. I see it more of a specific statement about the public thrashing they took as a result of Natalie’s outspoken words against the President, not general protest against the war.
Some artists have even released whole albums on the subject, with very little if any press. You could almost understand albums like the Cowboy Junkies’ “Early 21st Century Blues” or Keb’ Mo’s “Peace: Back By Popular Demand” flying under the radar. But even the usual suspects like Bruce Springsteen’s “We Shall Overcome” & Neil Young’s “Living with War” are hardly ever heard or seen, at least in this part of the country.
So here’s the list I have so far to check out. I’m sure there are more by artists that you would expect, like Patti Smith, Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris & Steve Earle, but so far they are unfamiliar to me. Any help in finding more of these songs would be greatly appreciated.
- Bright Eyes – “When The President Talks To God”
- Ani Difranco – “Self Evident”
- Tom Waits – “Day After Tomorrow”
- Pink – “Dear Mr. President”
- Pearl Jam – “World Wide Suicide” & “Marker In The Sand”
- Merle Haggard – “Rebuild America First”
- Nanci Griffith – “Big Blue Ball Of War”
- Ben Harper – “Black Rain” & “Gather ‘Round the Stone”
- John Prine – “Some Humans Ain’t Human”
- TV On The Radio – “Dry Drunk Emperor”
- John Mellencamp – “To Washington”
- Billy Bragg – “The Price of Oil”
- Decemberists – “16 Military Wives”
- Todd Snider – “Ballad of The Kingsmen”
- Dar Williams – “Empire”
- Lucy Kaplansky – “Line In the Sand”
- Lenny Kravitz – “We Want Peace”
- R.E.M. – “The Final Straw”
- Paula Cole – “My Hero, Mr. President”