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BWW Exclusive: THE 101 GREATEST PROTEST SONGS OF ALL TIME - with Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, John Lennon, Kendrick Lamar & More

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BWW Exclusive: THE 101 GREATEST PROTEST SONGS OF ALL TIME - with Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, John Lennon, Kendrick Lamar & More

"A protest song is a song that's so specific that you cannot mistake it for BS." --folk singer Phil Ochs

"Freedom songs serve to give unity to a movement." --Martin Luther King, Jr.

Black Lives Matter. The Women's movement. LGBTQ rights. The environment. Gun control. Immigration. The working class. Equality for all. Peace. A protest song holds a mirror up to society and forces us to confront the injustices of the world in order to create necessary change. Most of the songs on this list deal with some form of civil rights--allowing equal opportunity for all and crying foul when liberty is being compromised or thwarted.

Make no bones that many of the songs on this list swing leftward politically. But there are also those songs that lean more right-wing, such as Merle Haggard's entertaining "Okie from Muskogee." This may be the only list where you will find Haggard's anti-hippie country anthem side by side with "F**k the Police" by NWA.

Most of the songs deal head on with America's struggles of the past 80 or so years, though there are also songs from England ("God Save the Queen," "Ghost Town," "Glad to Be Gay"), Ireland ("Sunday Bloody Sunday") and Australia ("Bed Are Burning"). The earliest work comes from the 1930's--Billie Holiday's incomparable "Strange Fruit"--while plenty of the acts represent the last ten years of music. Bob Dylan can boast having the most songs on the list with seven (six solo, one by another artist); Pete Seeger has six (three solo, three by other artists); and John Lennon can be found five times (four solo, one with the Beatles). Marvin Gaye's on the list with three selections, while plenty of artists, including Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone (pictured), Phil Ochs, Kendrick Lamar, and Aretha Franklin, have two each.

I tried to get a broad range of songs represented, from classics to modern-day, from Motown to punk, from folk music of the 1950's to today's hip-hop. The best thing about a list like this is that there will be plenty of songs that you may have never heard of, or perhaps you've read about but never actually listened to. This is your chance to catch up. If you find a song unfamiliar, then please look it up on Spotify, iTunes or YouTube; the times are constantly a-changin' and you don't want to be left behind.

So, here's the list, counting down from #100 to #1. PLEASE NOTE: Some songs on the list are quite controversial in subject matter, so much so that they were at one time banned from the radio or TV airwaves. Some that are quoted below contain explicit language, although I put asterisks to help mask the more graphic terms. Also, the politics in some classic protest songs can be extreme, including essential songs against specific politicians and law enforcement that sometimes promote violent overthrow. Please understand that each song chosen reflects the artist's viewpoint and may or may not be my own. That said, enjoy!

THE 101 GREATEST PROTEST SONGS OF THE PAST 100 YEARS

101. "Eve of Destruction" by Barry McGuire [1965]

Written by P.F. Sloan, it's one of the first protest songs to reach #1 on the Billboard Hot-100. Full of end of the world gloom and doom and leftie sloganeering, some more right-wing media people dubbed it "fodder for communists." It's like every protest song rolled into one, covering all the bases--civil rights, anti-war, assassination allusions. It's an obvious over-the-top Dylan knock-off (including the strained vocals), but it does contain some killer lines: "Ah, you may leave here, for four days in space/But when your return, it's the same old place/The poundin' of the drums, the pride and disgrace/You can bury your dead, but don't leave a trace/Hate your next door neighbor, but don't forget to say grace..." It proved such a big hit that it spawned numerous copycats and answer songs: "The Dawn of Correction," "The Age of Corruption," "The Eve of Tomorrow," "The Day of Decision," and The Back Porch Majority's "The Song of Hope."

100. "Power to the People" by John Lennon [1971]

The title says it all. "Right on!"

99. "Requiem for the Masses" by the Association [1967]

It's difficult to believe that this anti-Vietnam War anthem was recorded by the same group behind such hits as "Cherish" and "Windy"; in fact, it's the flip-side of their beloved pop single, "Never My Love." It opens with "Requiem Aeternam," a mass for the dead that means "Grant Them Eternal Rest." It uses bullfighting as a metaphor for the Vietnam War: "At half mast, for the matadors/Who turned their backs to please the crowd/And all fell before the bull." It's analogous to the American soldiers in Vietnam who died in battle overseas but were not acknowledged by the own government. This beautiful song, with powerful choral voices and such sad lyrics, is unknown by many. That's why lists like this are so important; perhaps it will motivate you, whoever you are reading this, to check iTunes or YouTube and listen to this lost classic.

98. "For America" by Jackson Browne [1986]

97. "This Is America" by Childish Gambino [2018]

Two different views of America, from two different eras, by two artists of different races. Singer-songwriter Jackson Browne had been political in the past ("Doctor, My Eyes" coming immediately to mind), but he's never been more political than In "For America"--a biting cry of alarm during the Reagan Era. "I have prayed for America," he sings. "I was made for America/Her shining dream plays in my mind/By the rocket's red glare/A generation's blank stare/We better wake her up this time." Although many Americans would be "woke" over thirty years later, the Reagan Era seems rather quaint compared to the state of the world today, certainly as indicated in 2018's "This is America" by rapper Childish Gambino (aka Donald Glover). Mainly because, today, so many of the issues are no longer swept under the rug, hidden; they are directly facing us, overt, especially for the black community. Gambino's song tackles gun violence, mass shootings and racial discrimination in the United States. "You just a black man in this world," Gambino sings. "You just a barcode, ayy." Browne's a white man who put his finger to the wind in 1986 and didn't like what he saw; Gambino, a black man, didn't have to put his finger to the wind to tell us things were bad, worse than bad.

96. "Draft Dodger Rag" by Phil Ochs [1965]

95. "House Un-American Blues Activity Dream" by Richard Farina [1965]

Sometimes a dark sense of humor helps us get through troubled times; here are two comedic protest songs, so plucky in performance but acerbic in meaning. "Draft Dodger Rag" is the great Phil Ochs' jokey ode to avoiding military service. In it, he recites a litany of every reasons to avoid fighting in a conflict overseas: bad vision, asthma, flat feet, a spleen that's ruptured, back pain, college, a crippled aunt, and even an allusion to homosexuality. Not only did it bring a smile to protestors' faces, it became one of the anthems of the anti-war movement. The tragedy of "House Un-American Blues Activity Dream" is that its brilliant writer-singer, Richard Farina, would die so young in a motorcycle crash in 1966 (he hadn't yet reached 30). A writer with such promise (close friends with Thomas Pynchon, who dedicated Gravity's Rainbow to him), Farina created some of the more pointedly humorous protest numbers, like this one: "It was the red, white and blue making war on the poor/Blind mother justice, on a pile of manure." Like all artists who die too young, with Farina, the tragedy remains his unfinished catalogue, future works by him forever denied us.

94. "Society's Child (Baby I've Been Thinking)" by Janis Ian [1966]

Written by Janis Ian, who was just a young teenager at the time, this is a story of an interracial romance told from the white girl's point of view. In it, her mother shames her black boyfriend. "Now, I could understand your tears and your shame," the girl sings to him. "She called you 'Boy' instead of your name/When she wouldn't let you inside/When she turned and said, 'But honey, he's not our kind.'" The song is a plea for understanding in an unjust world: "Baby, I'm only a society's child/When we're older things may change/But for now this is the way they must remain." In 1966, when the song was first released, black and white people could not marry by law. A year later, on June 12, 1967, the landmark Supreme Court case of Loving v. Virginia struck down laws banning interracial marriage. It wasn't long after the ruling that Ian's song, "Society's Child," would finally hit its peak performance at #14 on the Billboard Hot-100.

93. "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll" by Bob Dylan [1964]

William "Billy" Zantzinger, a 6'2" wealthy white man with cane in hand, assaulted a black woman and mother of ten, Hattie Carroll, in a drunken rage in Baltimore. She died soon after. But Zantzinger was only convicted of manslaughter, not murder; the conviction occurred on August 28, 1963, the same day as Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech. Bob Dylan learned about the case on his way back to New York City from the March on Washington and wrote about the injustice soon after. It would become one of Dylan's very best. "And that the ladder of law has no top and no bottom," Dylan sings. "Stared at the person who killed for no reason/Who just happened to be feelin' that way without warnin'/And he spoke through his cloak, most deep and distinguished/And handed out strongly, for penalty and repentance/William Zantzinger with a six-month sentence...". And what did William "Billy" Zantzinger think of Dylan's song? Not much. He called it "a total lie" and said of Dylan, "I should have sued him and put him in jail." Zantzinger, all but forgotten, died in 2009 at the age of 69. Nobody remembers the killer's name while Hattie Carroll has been immortalized, thanks to the power of Dylan's song.

92. "Inner City Blues (Makes Me Wanna Holler)" by Marvin Gaye [1971]

91. "Living for the City" by Stevie Wonder [1973]

Motown didn't shy away from difficult subject matter, especially with two of their top artists, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder, coming into their own artistically and politically as the 1970's began. In the funky "Inner City Blues," Marvin Gaye bemoans the current state of urban living. He can't comprehend a world that pays so much for men to walk on the moon but leave sheer poverty on the streets of the city: "Rockets, moon shots/Spend it on the have-nots." He chronicles the unfair decay and sad state of life among city blacks, ending with lyrics that cut too close to the bone, especially these days: "Crime is increasing/Trigger happy policing/Panic is spreading/God knows where, where we're heading."

In "Living for the City," one of Motown's coolest Seventies singles, Stevie Wonder tackles the problems of systematic racism and urban struggle. A poor black man from "hard time" Mississippi needs to work, but employment "is like a haystack needle/'Cause where he lives they don't use colored people." He eventually heads to the city, where he "spends his life walkin' the streets of New York City/He's almost dead from breathin' in air pollution/He tried to vote but to him there's no solution." But things grow worse. The man is immediately framed for pushing drugs, convicted and sentenced to ten years in prison. Stevie ends the song with a dire warning for us all to hopefully heed: "If we don't change, the world will soon be over."

90. "Two Tribes" by Frankie Goes to Hollywood [1984]

89. "It's the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" by REM [1987]

88. "The Way It Is" by Bruce Hornsby and the Range [1986]

87. "Allentown" by Billy Joel [1982]

Four protest songs from the Reagan Era, a quartet of tunes that act as an Eighties time capsule. "Two Tribes" deals with the ridiculousness of nuclear war with happy-go-lyrics in an Apocalyptic setting, all to a continuous pounding bass line. It's a Cold War hoot. REM's "It's the End of the World as We Know It" presents a bullet-fast litany of various figures, from Lenny Bruce to Leonard Bernstein and critic Lester Bangs. Good as the lyrics are, the title may be the best in all of rock. "The Way It Is" spotlights racial division, the divide between wealth and poverty, and even alludes to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It's haunting as it shines a light on heartlessness and hopelessness that we decide to endure without ever changing: "Standing in line, marking time/Waiting for the welfare dime/'Cause they can't buy a job/The man in the silk suit hurries by/As he catches the poor old ladies' eyes/Just for fun he says, 'get a job...'" And Billy Joel's "Allentown" is a snapshot of an area in Pennsylvania where the steel mills are closing and the blue collar workers are losing their jobs. As the Allentown mayor said upon giving Billy Joel a key to the city: "It's a gritty song about a gritty city."

86. "Ghost Town" by the Specials

Sometimes a song comes around that becomes tied entirely to its time; who can think of "Ghost Town" by the Specials without also picturing the 1981 riots in England? The Specials, a British two-tone band, released this social commentary about the inner cities unemployment and violence just as 35 urban areas exploded in rioting in the UK. It's like they predicted it: "No job to be found in this country/Can't go on no more/The people getting angry..." No wonder the key British music magazines of the time--Melody Maker, NME and Sound--all chose this as UK's Single of the Year for 1981.

85. "Suppose They Give a War and No One Comes" by the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band [1967]

The title of this anti-Vietnam War anthem with a Tarantino guitar twang comes from a popular Sixties slogan that can be traced to a 1936 Carl Sandberg book of poems, called The People, Yes: "The little girl saw her first troop parade and asked/'What are those?'/ 'Soldiers.'/ 'What are soldiers?'/ 'They are for war. They fight and each tries to kill as many of the other side as he can.'/The girl held still and studied/'Do you know ... I know something?'/ 'Yes, what is it you know?'/ 'Sometime they'll give a war and nobody will come...'"

84. "The Sun is Burning" by Simon & Garfunkel [1964]

83. "Talking Atom (Old Man Atom)" by Pete Seeger [1948]

82. "King of the World" by Steely Dan [1973]

Nightmares of the atomic age--the end of the world with a mushroom cloud--comes to a head with these three numbers. "The Sun is Burning," an early Simon and Garfunkel song, features soft music hammered with frightening words: "Now the sun has disappeared/All is darkness, anger, pain and fear/Twisted, sightless wrecks of men/Go groping on their knees and cry in pain/And the sun has disappeared." Three years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we get Pete Seeger's "Talking Atom," a response to the fear of when and where the next atomic bomb will drop: "But the atom's international, in spite of hysteria/Flourishes in Utah, also Siberia/And whether you're white, black, red or brown/The question is this, when you boil it down: 'To be or not to be/That is the question. . .'" And Steely Dan's "King of the World" pictures a bleak future after a nuclear war, a post-Apocalyptic age. Imagine a pop Mad Max set in the Southwest: "No marigolds in the promised land/There's a hole in the ground/Where they used to grow/Any man left on the Rio Grande/Is the king of the world/As far as I know."

81. "I Am Woman" by Helen Reddy [1972]

80. "The Pill" by Loretta Lynn [1975]

Feminism hit the charts with these two songs on women's rights. Coinciding with the creation of Gloria Steinem's Ms. Magazine and a year before the Roe v. Wade decision, "I Am Woman," a #1 hit for Helen Reddy, became the women's liberation anthem that they had hoped for. Reddy sings, "I am woman, hear me roar/In numbers too big to ignore/And I know too much to go back an' pretend." When Reddy won the Grammy for her work, she thanked "'God...because She makes everything possible." Reddy's speech proved quite controversial, especially with Evangelical leaders, but Loretta Lynn's "The Pill" would prove even more controversial with them. The birth control pill, which first became available in 1960, was the centerpiece of this funny country song about a wife taking charge of her own reproductive choices after spawning too many children. Yes, it was controversial, even banned from several radio stations due to its contents, but it turned out to be her highest-charting pop hit in the states, landed at #5 on the country charts and even reached #1 in Canada.

79. "Long Walk to DC" by the Staple Singers [1968]

Written about the 1963 March on Washington, D.C., this is a gospelized, soulful Staple Singers staple of the Civil Right movement: "America we believe/Oh that you love us still/So people I'm gonna be under/To wipe away my tears..."

78. "Okie from Muskogee" by Merle Haggard [1969]

Not all protest songs come from the political left side of the aisle; here's one from the right, a red-neck anthem and antidote to the hippies and rebellious youthful war-protestors on the streets. Country artist Merle Haggard sings, "We don't smoke marijuana in Muskogee/We don't take our trips on LSD/We don't burn our draft cards down on Main Street/We like livin' right, and bein' free." Interestingly, parties from both the left and the right find something to enjoy in this song; right-wingers nod their heads in agreement with Haggard's anti-hippie diatribe while the lefties think it's a spot-on spoof. Hell, even the Grateful Dead recorded a version of it. It's a hard song not to like, no matter your political persuasion. "I'm proud to be an Okie from Muskogee," Haggard sings. "A place where even squares can have a ball/We still wave Old Glory down at the courthouse/And white lightnin's still the biggest thrill of all." Haggard had tapped into the Middle American distaste for the protestors on TV as well as the intellectual long-hairs and draft dodging college kids. With this proto-MAGA ode, he had become a spokesperson for Nixon's (and later Trump's) silent majority, citizens who had had enough. But their protests mostly occurred at the ballot box, not in the streets.

77. "F**k the Police" by NWA [1989]

"Right about now, N.W.A. court is in full effect/Judge Dre presiding/In the case of N.W.A. vs. the Police Department/Prosecuting attorneys are: MC Ren, Ice Cube/And Eazy mother**kin' E." So begins the most controversial song on this list, a song about police brutality that seems more pertinent today, in lieu of the recent killings of George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks. The title of this song has been chanted at various protests since. Designed like a court proceeding from hip-hop heaven, featuring Dr. Dre as the Judge and Ice Cube, MC Ren and Eazy-E as prosecutors, it follows the young men's case against what they deem a racist police force that is out of control. "F**k the Police" is actually filled with humor beyond the seriousness of the subject matter, but the heavy violence toward the men in blue described throughout it would prove too disquieting for middle class whites. An FBI agent even intervened after its release, writing NWA about 78 policemen slain in the line of duty in 1988 and that this song was "both discouraging and degrading to [the] brave, dedicated officers." The song, a favorite of the ACAB crowd, would never lose its sizzle; Tiki Taane from New Zealand was arrested for performing it less than a decade ago. Obviously radio stations were too timid to touch it. Only one station in the entire world dared to try--Triple J out of Australia. When news hit that ABC eventually banned the song from their airwaves, the Triple J staff went on strike and, in a strong f-you move, had "Express Yourself" by NWA on constant rotation, playing over and over 360 straight times. Thirty-one years after its release, the song still adds gasoline to the fiery situation of police brutality and racial profiling--a musical explosion designed to invoke passions that has not lost one iota of its initial power.

76. "God Save The Queen" by the Sex Pistols [1977]

"No future! No future! No future for you!" Like "F**k the Police," this is one of most controversial songs on the list and would be banned from the airwaves. Released during Queen Elizabeth II's Silver Jubilee in 1977, this compared the monarchy to a "fascist regime" and would be a cultural atomic blast of anarchy in the UK. Even more blistering than the words is John Rotten's scream-singing that would epitomize the punk rock movement. In 1977, I was a lad trapped in a Florida beach town, and I sat next to my grandmother watching a TV special on punk rock and, especially, the Sex Pistols. It was an incredible thing for me to behold, as they showed the British band singing "God Save the Queen," and their followers with black fingernails, dyed orange hair and safety pins in their cheeks. My grandmother kept exclaiming "Oh my!" throughout it, thoroughly disgusted by what she was seeing. Of course it would make her uneasy, it was designed to; it was highly unlikely she would like to join in and get her cheeks pierced. She thought these angry louts were worse than the hippies. But I loved every minute of it. I wanted to board a ship as a young teen and travel to the UK to be a part of the punk excitement. But, alas, I stayed home to my life of middle class conformity of good grades and football, everything the Pistols fought against. They kept screaming "No future!" but I knew that they were wrong. I knew then, at 14 years of age, that they were the future. And it was an exciting time to be alive.

75. "Americans" by Janelle Monae [2018]

74. "Transgender Dysphoria Blues" by Against Me! [2014]

73. "Don't Shoot" by Shea Diamond [2019]

72. "Glad to be Gay" by the Tom Robinson Band [1978]

71. "I Am What I Am" by Gloria Gaynor [1983]

On June 15th of this year, the Supreme Court handed the LGBTQ community a major victory with their ruling that federal law protects gay workers from discrimination. But not all gay people felt completely satisfied, pointing out that the ruling, good as it was, still didn't cover such important issues as housing and adoption. The fight obviously continues, and these five songs, all with LGBTQ themes, must be included in any list of great protest songs. Janelle Monae, who openly identifies as bisexual and pansexual, ended her brilliant Dirty Computer album with "Americans," a powerful call to uplift blacks, women and gay people: "Until women can get equal pay for equal work/This is not my America/Until same gender loving people can be who they are/This is not my America/Until black people can come home from a police stop/Without being shot in the head/This is not my America."

Against Me!'s "Transgender Dysphoria Blues" doesn't mince words when it comes to trans rights: "You've got no c**t in your strut/You've got no hips to shake/And you know it's obvious/But we can't choose how we're made."

Black trans artist Shea Diamond spent a decade in prison before transitioning. According to her website, "While incarcerated, I spent time talking to other like-minded women of trans experience about their stories. It was because of these women and the community I was a part of in prison where I really found my voice. I was locked up but my mind was free." Her brilliant song "Don't Shoot" directly mentions her incarceration: "Lock me up when I was nineteen/There goes my twenties and there goes my dreams/Put me on the yard and said sacrifice the queen/That's a lot for a teen/Cried so much when I was released/Kissed the grass under my feet/Modern slavery tried to get the best of me."

The Tom Robinson Band was way ahead of its time when he penned what would become Britain's gay national anthem, "Glad to Be Gay." Homosexual acts may have been legalized in England in 1967, but it was still hard to be gay a decade later: "I had a friend who was gentle and short," Robinson sings. "He was lonely one evening and went for a walk/Queer-bashers caught him and kicked in his teeth/He was only hospitalized for a week."

Jerry Herman wrote "I Am What I Am" as drag queen Albin's declaration of self worth and pride at the end of Act 1 in La Cage Aux Folles. Disco diva Gloria Gaynor turned it into a hit, a coming out plea, the closest thing America has to a gay anthem: "It's one life and there's no return and no deposit/One life so it's time to open up your closet/Life's not worth a damn till you can shout out/I am what I am!"

70. "Sunday Bloody Sunday" by U2 [1983]

The Bogside Massacre, better known as Bloody Sunday, occurred in 1972 during a peaceful protest march north of Derry, Northern Ireland, when British soldiers shot 26 unarmed Catholic civilians who were fleeing their oncoming assault, killing 14 of them. It's sort of their Kent State slaying, but with a higher death count. An investigation by the British government held soon after became nothing more than a whitewash, clearing the soldiers and the British government of wrongdoing. A 1998 investigation, made public twelve years later, found the killings "unjustified" and "unjustifiable," concluding that those shot posed no threat and threw no bombs, and that the soldiers lied to justify their rampage. U2's song about the massacre, "Sunday Bloody Sunday," backed by an intense military drumbeat, is certainly a dramatic opus about the horrors of that event, but it also acts as a prediction. Parts of it sounds like it could be about today, with "fake news," a country's brainwashed desensitization, and the sad fact that this can, and will, happen again: "And it's true we are immune/When fact is fiction and TV reality/And today the millions cry/We eat and drink while tomorrow they die."

69. "Idioteque" by Radiohead [2000]

One of the great songs about climate change, backed by a thrilling trance-like dance beat. "Ice age coming/Ice age coming/Let me hear both sides/Let me hear both sides..." The title comes from the melding of the words "idiot" and "discotheque," using a dance beat to tackle heavy subject matter, a world of idiots that makes Idiocracy look like a documentary.

68. "Immigrants (We Get the Job Done)" by K'naan, Snow the Product, Residente and Riz Ahmed [2016]

From the Hamilton Mix-Tape, comes this timely anthem inspired by a line from the song "Yorktown" that always wound up getting applause: "Immigrants--we get the job done!" The performers were hand-selected because, in keeping with the song's meaning, they come from all parts of the world. The number even became an MTV Video Music Award nominee and co-winner in the category of Best Fight Against the System.

67. "To the Teeth" by Ani DeFranco [1999]

66. "Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2" by Pink Floyd [1979]

Two of the great political songs on education, one about guns and school shootings, the other about the conformity machine that underscores learning. "To the Teeth" is Ani DeFranco's take on the Columbine shootings that happened in April of 1999: "And every year now like Christmas/Some boy gets the milk fed suburban blues/Reaches for the available arsenal/And saunters off to make the news." But Ani's target doesn't end with the school shooters; she goes on an attack to all gun manufacturers and those who pray to the National Rifle Association. Like most Americans, she's had enough: "Open fire on the NRA/And all the lies they told us along the way/Open fire on each weapons manufacturer/While he's giving head to some Republican senator/And if I hear one more time/About a fool's right to his tools of rage/I'm gonna take all my friends/And I'm going to move to Canada/And we're going to die of old age." Sadly, her words went unheard by the Powers That Be. The world hasn't improved in the past 21 years since her song's release; with the likes of Sandy Hook and Parkland, it's gotten so much worse.

Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2," the #1 hit from their album The Wall, figuratively shoots its middle finger at the rigidity and conformity of education: "We don't need no education/We don't need no thought control/No dark sarcasm in the classroom/Teachers leave them kids alone/Hey, teachers, leave them kids alone!" As a teacher, I play music for my school every morning before the first bell, but this is one song that, for obvious reasons, I won't play.

65. "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)" by Marvin Gaye [1971]

64. "Big Yellow Taxi" by Joni Mitchell [1970]

63. "Nature's Way" by Spirit [1969]

Protesting for a better environment, for the future of our kids, is fodder for some of the greatest protest anthems. In Marvin Gaye's Motown classic, "Mercy Mercy Me," the singer bemoans the current state of polluted air ("Where did all the blue skies go?/Poison is the wind that blows from the north and south and east"), tainted water ("Oil wasted on the ocean and upon our seas/Fish full of mercury"), and overpopulation ("What about this overcrowded land/How much more abuse from man can she stand?"). As for Joni Mitchell, you may not recognize her "Big Yellow Taxi" solely by its title, but if we called it "Paved Paradise and Put Up a Parking Lot," you would certainly know it. Mitchell is sad that man is ruining nature, and all of the natural wonders are being eclipsed by "progress." "Hey, farmer, farmer," she sings, "Put away the DDT now/Give me spots on my apples/But leave me the birds and the bees/Please/Don't it always seem to go/That you don't know what you've got/'Til it's gone..." Spirit's "Nature's Way" is one of the most hauntingly beautiful songs of the late 1960's. Spirit's lamentation focuses on the fate of the earth's bounty, that there's something definitely wrong with man's misuse of it, and if we don't look out, we'll lose it all: "It's nature's way of telling you, soon we'll freeze/It's nature's way of telling you, dying trees." The song ends with the band coughing, a similar end to an environmental lament called "Air" from the musical Hair.

62. "Bring the Boys Home" by Freda Payne [1971]

Payne, most famous for her song "Band of Gold," urges for an end of the Vietnam War and for the troops to be sent back home: "Fathers are pleading, lovers are all alone/Mothers are praying--send our sons back home/You marched them away--yes, you did--on ships and planes/To the senseless war, facing death in vain." It's a song with a message so powerful that it caused the US Command from the American Forces Network to ban it.

61. "(We Don't Need This) Fascist Groove Thang" by Heaven 17 [1981]

Denunciation of fascism to a synth-pop funky beat. It, too, would be banned by the BBC for potential libel against the new American President of the United States, Ronald Reagan.

60. "Beds Are Burning" by Midnight Oil [1987]

A rocking anthem with an infectious beat, a song against the Australian government's removal of the aborigines from their native lands: "The time has come/A fact's a fact/It belongs to them/Let's give it back." By the way, Yuendemu is mentioned in the song ("From Kintore East to Yuendemu"), and for you trivia buffs, it's an aboriginal community northwest of Alice Springs.

59. "Lyndon Johnson Told The Nation" by Tom Paxton [1965]

58. "Ronnie, Talk to Russia" by Prince [1981]

57. "FDT" by YG (featuring Nipsey Hustle) [2016]

Three intriguing takes on the Presidents of the United States from three incredibly diverse artists. "Lyndon Johnson Told the Nation" is Tom Paxton's fun-loving exploration of President' Johnson's two-faced Vietnam strategy: "Lyndon Johnson told the nation/Have no fear of escalation/I am trying everyone to please/Though it isn't really war/We're sending fifty thousand more/To help save Vietnam from the Vietnamese." The song proved so endurable that songwriter Paxton would change the title to "George W. Told the Nation" during the Iraq War of 2003. In the 1980's, President Ronald Reagan received the wrath of the Left, and Prince wrote the song "Ronnie, Talk to Russia" as a Cold War warning for us all: "Ronnie talk to Russia before it's too late/Before they blow up the world/Before they blow up the world/Don't ya blow up my world/Don't you blow up my world!" Did Reagan ever hear the song? Doubtful he was a fan of the Purple One, and his anti-USSR ("evil empire") rhetoric reached epic proportions in the mid-1980's. But then something odd did occur. Without knowing it, Reagan inadvertently took Prince's advice when, with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Perestroika (the great thaw) set in. Lastly of this group, YG featuring the late great Nipsey Hustle got in the Presidential hate sweepstakes with "FDT," his not-so-subtle rant against the current White House occupant. Written before the election of 2016, the song alludes to the Pulse shooting but otherwise carries some of the same issues that people currently have with the President: "You try'na get your votes up, you don't got class/Orlando was a tragedy, you react fast/And then made it 'bout you, to boost your campaign/It's goin' all bad if he wins this damn thing..."

56. "Ball of Confusion (That's What the World is Today)" by the Temptations [1970]

Written 50 years ago, but it's still so pertinent, this crazy world, as if it had been written a half hour ago.

55. "Black Man" by Stevie Wonder [1976]

54. "To Be Young, Gifted and Black" by Nina Simone [1969]

Two remarkable songs about black pride. In "Black Man," Stevie Wonder lists all of the contributions various people of color have had over the years. It ends with a teacher asking students various questions about people of all ethnicities, and the children enthusiastically shout out his or her name: Matthew Henson, a black man; Squanto, a red man; Sing Lee, a yellow man; Caesar Chavez, a brown man; Dr. Charles Drew, a black man; Sacagawea, a red woman; Hayakawa, a yellow man; Benjamin Banneker, a black man; Harriet Tubman, a black woman; and so on. It's 8 minutes, 31 seconds of Alamac-like information to a funky beat.

Nina Simone's "To Be Young, Gifted and Black" became one of the signature songs of the Civil Rights movement. She wrote it in honor of Lorraine Hansberry, playwright of A Raisin in the Sun who died at the age of 34. Simone even appeared on a famous episode of Sesame Street where she sang this song of pride: "Young, gifted and black/How I long to know the truth/There are times when I look back/And I am haunted by my youth/Oh but my joy of today/Is that we can all be proud to say/To be young, gifted and black/Is where it's at."

53. "The Man Comes Around" by Johnny Cash [2002]

52. "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" by Bob Dylan [1963]

The Apocalypse rears its head in these two harrowing tales. In Johnny Cash's "The Man Comes Around," it's like the Book of Revelation as a folk song, with terrifying End of the World imagery: "Hear the trumpets, hear the pipers/One hundred million angels singin'/Multitudes are marchin' to the big kettledrum/Voices callin', voices cryin'/Some are born and some are dyin'/It's alpha and omega's kingdom come." The song would prove so gooseflesh-worthy that it would be featured in the opening credits of 2004's Dawn of the Dead. The Dylan song, "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall," also deals with world-ending affairs, inspired by the Cuban Missile Crisis. He called the 6 minute, 53 second idiosyncratic, prophetic epic "a long funeral song." It comes across like a Bosch painting set to music. Don't miss Bryan Ferry's happy-go-lucky funk version of it from his album, These Foolish Things.

51. "Killing in the Name" by Rage Against the Machine [1992]

Systemic racism and police brutality take front seat in this fantastic rocker by Rage Against the Machine: "Some of those that hold office are the same that burn crosses/Some of those up in congress are the same that burn crosses." The uncensored version of "Killing in the Name" contains 17 mentions of f-word and was accidentally played on BBC Radio's Top-40 Countdown, inciting 138 complaints.

50. "The Unknown Soldier" by The Doors [1968]

Love him or loathe him, you have to admit Jim Morrison of The Doors could be an effective showman. Like here, in this intense, chilling anti-war number that builds into an imaginary celebration of the war being over. "Breakfast where the news is read," he sings, accompanied by the Doors' patented orgasmic organ. "Television, children fed/ Unborn living, living dead/ Bullets strike the helmet's head." The middle section of the song, with marching soldiers, staccato drumming, and finally a lone gunshot, probably provided enough realism to give any returning soldier PTSD.

49. "Save the Country" by Laura Nyro [1969]

Laura Nyro was a once-in-a-generation talent who influenced the entire field of female singer-songwriters of the early 1970's, including Joni Mitchell and Carole King. Most of her songs were made famous by others, especially the Fifth Dimension, but she had a unique voice of her own, part gospel, part tin pan alley, all heart. In her terrific 1969 album, New York Tendaberry, the standout song became "Save the Country," a plea for sanity, for soul, in the wake of the Robert Kennedy assassination. She even alludes to both John and Robert Kennedy in the song ("the two young brothers"): "Come on people!" she sings. "Sons and mothers/Keep the dream of the two young brothers/Gonna take that dream and ride that dove/We could build the dream with love..." So much optimism, spirit, a true life force, in a time of dreadful happenings. The Fifth Dimension would have a Top-40 hit with a robust rendition of the song, but I prefer Nyro's more heartfelt performance which begins with a stark piano and slowly builds into a full orchestration. Beautiful stuff. Interestingly, Kanye West would sample Nyro's version of "Save the Country" in his song "The Glory," the eleventh track on his 2007 album Graduation.

48. "Working Class Hero" by John Lennon [1970]

47. "Joe Hill" by Joan Baez [1969]

The subject of the "working man" would provide two of the strongest songs on this list. "Working Class Hero" is stark, not unlike Dylan's "Masters of War," just Lennon and his acoustic guitar. "I think it's a revolutionary song," he once said. "I think it's for the people like me who are working class, who are supposed to be processed into the middle classes, or into the machinery." It's a stinging indictment, pointed and without mercy. "Keep you doped with religion and sex and TV," he sings. "And you think you're so clever and classless and free/But you're still f**king peasants as far as I can see...".

The inspirational working class tale of "Joe Hill" was sung by Joan Baez in a standout performance during the Woodstock festival of 1969. It tells the true story of the murder of a union organizer, whose death would rouse workers: "'The copper bosses killed you, Joe/They shot you Joe' says I/'Takes more than guns to kill a man'/Says Joe 'I didn't die'/Says Joe 'I didn't die'/And standing there, as big as life/And smiling with his eyes/Says Joe 'What they can never kill/Went on to organize/Went on to organize...'"

46. "Get Together" by the Youngbloods [1967]

Not all protest songs are negative in content; some try to bring people together, to heal a nation, like this Sixties hippie anthem by the Youngbloods: "C'mon, people now/Smile on your brother/Everybody get together, gotta love one another right now!" After the election of 2016, at the school where I teach, the fans of the victor started high-fiving each other, while those who voted against him were aghast and depressed. I was in charge of play the morning music, and I chose this song. Several people thanked me, some of them telling me they broke down cried as they heard the song under the current reality. One interesting thought: What song will I have to play after the 2020 election this November? Depends on who wins...

45. "Rock the Casbah" by the Clash [1982]

Inspired by Iran's ban of Western music during the 1979 Islamic Revolution: "By order of the prophet/We ban that boogie sound/Degenerate the faithful/With that crazy Casbah sound." In the song, the king's (as opposed to reality's Ayatollah) censorship goes so far as to attack anyone who violates his rules with military jet fighters: "The king called up his jet fighters/He said you better earn your pay/Drop your bombs between the minarets/Down the Casbah way" As soon as the Shareef was chauffeured outta there/The jet pilots tuned to the cockpit radio blare/As soon as the Shareef was outta their hair/The jet pilots wailed...". Even though "the shareef don't like it," the pilots play the dreaded rock on their fighter radios, which causes the public to dance to the Western music and, yes, to rock the casbah, rock the casbah.

44. "Mississippi Goddam" by Nina Simone [1964]

Some of the 1960's most horrifying incidents provide the backdrop for this, Nina Simone's first protest song: "Picket lines/School boycotts/They try to say it's a communist plot/All I want is equality/For my sister, my brother, my people and me." The murder of Medgar Evans and the bombing of a church that killed four girls inspired Simone's outrage: "Alabama's got me so upset/Tennessee's made me lose my rest/And everybody knows about Mississippi goddam." The Southern states would ban the record due to the use of the word "goddam" in the title. But Simone had the honor of performing "Mississippi Goddam" in front of 10,000 marchers at the march from Selma to Montgomery.

43. "I Feel Like I'm Fixin' to Die Rag" by Country Joe and the Fish [1967]

Humor can throttle you more than overt seriousness. Case in point: "I Feel Like I'm Fixin' to Die Rag," which tackles the anti-Vietnam War sentiment with a thumb-on-your-nose humor: "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/Whoopie! We're all gonna die!" Funny as the song is, the last lines, about shipping sons off to Vietnam, are a figurative punch in the gut, especially when sung in an elbow-in-the-ribs jokey manner: "Come on fathers, don't hesitate/To send your sons off before it's too late/You can be the first ones on your block/To have your boy come home in a box."

42. "People Get Ready" by the Impressions [1965]

41. "The Times They Are A-Changin'" by Bob Dylan [1964]

Two anthems of the 1960's. "People Get Ready" has to be somewhere on the list. How can you neglect a song so powerful that Martin Luther King would use it before marches and even label it the unofficial anthem of the Civil Rights Movement? As for "The Times They Are A-Changin'," Bob Dylan purposely set out to make an anthem for what was already turning out to be a crazily frenzied decade. A month after Dylan recorded the song, John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and Dylan opened his concert with this very song the following night. It was the perfect synthesis of an artist and his time. Never before had a song been so married to its time and circumstance, a reflection of the whirlwind of a decade that was destined to get more and more insane as each year flew by. And yet, its words still sting with relevance these days, as Tracy Chapman's powerful version has proven.

40. "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy" by Pete Seeger [1967]

39. "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" by the Kingston Trio [1961]

Two amazing Pete Seeger compositions. In the searing anti-Vietnam War song, "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy," a captain orders his platoon in a practice patrol to continue wading through a river in Louisiana, 1942. He pushes the platoon forward until they are all up to their necks. All at once, the moon clouded over/We heard a gurgling cry/A few seconds later, the captain's helmet/Was all that floated by." The song would prove quite controversial. Seeger would tape his performance of it for the popular "Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour." But the CBS head honchos were miffed at the political content of Seeger's tune, and nixed it prior to the show's airing. This caused quite a stir, with calls of unwarranted censorship. CBS relented months later, and Seeger was able to finally perform his song on national TV, but all their initial efforts to stifle it accomplished was to immortalize it, to give it even more power.

As for "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" it would prove to be one of the more enduring protest songs, a softly sung anti-war anthem: "Where have all the soldiers gone?/Long time passing/Where have all the soldiers gone?/Long time ago/Where have all the soldiers gone?/Gone to graveyards every one/When will they ever learn?/When will they ever learn?" The song would prove sadly haunting, like a eulogy, and be performed by various acts, from Bobby Darin to the Four Seasons, from Olivia Newton-John to Green Day, the latter who used its essence for their 2004 song "Letterbomb."

38. "All My Trials" by Peter, Paul and Mary [1963]

"Hush little baby, don't you cry/You know your mama was born to die/All my trials, Lord, soon be over." This spiritual about a mother on her deathbed would become one of the Civil Rights anthems. It preaches that, though life is disheartening and difficult, the battle will soon be over and liberty and justice will prevail. There are many versions of "All My Trials" to contend with, but Peter, Paul and Mary's is by far the most haunting and somber.

37. "Rockin' in the Free World" by Neil Young [1989]

Although the lyrics originally bitingly allude to President George H. W. Bush's "thousand points of light" and ironic statement of a "kinder gentler nation," the Donald Trump campaign used it for his formal 2016 announcement to run for President. Young, however, supported Bernie Sanders and said that the Trump campaign did not have authorization to use his song. Since then, it's been played not just at Trump rallies, but most notably at Sanders' rallies as well. It's a great rocker, one of Youngs best, full of passion, anger and drive, so you can see why two very different campaigns desperately wanted it.

36. "Volunteers" by the Jefferson Airplane [1969]

35. "War" by Edwin Starr [1970]

Two anti-war anthems that never mention Vietnam, but we know better. "Volunteers" makes the case that marching protestors of the anti-war movement are the modern-day soldiers, "marching to the sea." "War," Edwin Starr's battle cry in the style of James Brown, starts with a rolling drum and then enters a zone of fury, becoming one of the top anti-war songs in history (it would hit #1 on the Hot-100 for three weeks): "War has caused unrest/Within the younger generation/Induction then destruction/Who wants to die, ah, war-huh, good god...What is it good for?/Absolutely nothing!" It's important that a black man sings this song, since so many black men, at an ungodly ratio (5% of the US population, but over 30% of soldiers at war), fought and died in Vietnam; it's the subject of Spike Lee's recent, highly recommended Da 5 Bloods, currently on Netflix, which uses Motown-but not this song--as part of its soundtrack. In an Interesting side note, "War" was on Clear Channel's No-Play list after the events of September 11, 2001; I wonder why...

34. "Hurricane" by Bob Dylan [1976]

Racism and profiling haunt this song, one of Dylan's best, about black middleweight boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, wrongly convicted of triple homicide in 1966. "Rubin Carter was falsely tried," Dylan sings. "The crime was murder 'one,' guess who testified?/Bello and Bradley and they both baldly lied/And the newspapers, they all went along for the ride." Thankfully, in 1985, almost a decade after Dylan's song, a judge ruled that the original trial was not fair and overturned the conviction. Carter became a free man after spending nearly twenty years in prison.

33. "Oh Freedom" by Odetta [1956]

32. "Freedom" by Beyonce (featuring Kendrick Lamar) [2016]

Two songs about freedom sung by two strong black women from two very different eras. Although first written and recorded as "Sweet Freedom" in the early 1930's, "Oh Freedom" became one of the key songs in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950's and 1960's, mainly due to Odetta's version of it in her Spiritual Trilogy. (Joan Baez performed it during the March on Washington in 1963.). Exactly sixty years after Odetta's song, Beyonce's similarly titled "Freedom," performed with Kendrick Lamar and with a powerful full production that is completely opposite Odetta's stark work, would be one of the standouts of her 2016 Lemonade album: "Freedom, Freedom/I can't move/Freedom, cut me loose/Singin', freedom! Freedom! Where areyou?/'Cause I need freedom, too."

31. "Handsome Johnny" by Richie Havens [1966]

30. "The Universal Soldier" by Buffy Sainte-Marie [1964]

29. "I Ain't Marching Anymore" by Phil Ochs [1965]

These three anti-war songs have a similar thread: A tour through the history of war, showcasing the sad loss of life for no good reason. In "Handsome Johnny," written by Richie Havens and Louis Gossett, Jr. (yes, that Louis Gossett, Jr., the Best Supporting Actor Oscar winner for An Officer and a Gentleman), we follow a typical soldier as he marches through battles like Concord, Gettysburg, Dunkirk, Korea, Vietnam and, in the end, the battle for Civil Rights in Birmingham. Hey, it's a long hard road," he sings. "It's a long hard road/It's a long hard road, hey, before we'll be free."

In Buffy Sainte-Marie's "The Universal Soldier," she doesn't use a single person, a one-size-fits-all being, to showcase her anti-war tale; she keeps it general, universal: "He's five feet two and he's six feet four/He fights with missiles and with spears/He's all of 31 and he's only 17/He's been a soldier for a thousand years/He's a Catholic, a Hindu, an atheist, a Jain/A Buddhist and a Baptist and a Jew/And he knows he shouldn't kill/And he knows he always will/Kill you for me, my friend, and me for you." She once said, "[The song's] about individual responsibility for war and how the old feudal thinking kills us all." Although Donovan's version would prove more accessible, I prefer Sainte-Marie's original authenticity.

It's a tragedy that Phil Ochs died so young (by suicide, in 1976); we've been denied his rabid opposition, his wondrous defiance in song. (For instance, it would be a wonder to see what he would have written in 2020 about the crazy times we currently endure.) Ochs wrote his brilliant "I Ain't Marching Anymore" in 1965, as the American escalation of the Vietnam War grew. The song is an indictment against all wars, starting with the battle of New Orleans, and continuing through Little Big Horn, the Civil War, World War I, World War II I (including an allusion to Hiroshima), and ending with the Cuban Missile Crisis. He sings, "It's always the old to lead us to the war/It's always the young to fall/Now look at all we've won with the saber and the gun/Tell me is it worth it all?" The song was a rally cry, usually performed live, but it didn't get much radio play; this was fine by Ochs, who once claimed, "the fact that you won't be hearing this song on the radio is more than enough justification for the writing of it." Ochs performed the song at various protest rallies, including during the violent protests outside of the Democratic National Convention of 1968, inspiring the burning of a myriad of draft cards. According to Ochs, it was the highlight of his career.

28. "Get Up, Stand Up" by Bob Marley & the Wailers [1973]

While touring Haiti, Marley was so moved by the poverty he witnessed that he wrote this, along with Peter Tosh, an anthem for survival, for being strong in the midst of tough times. It's like a reggae version of "Pick Yourself Up," but with a deeper meaning: "You can fool some people sometimes/But you can't fool all the people all the time/So now we see the light (What you gonna do?)/We gonna stand up for our rights! (Yeah, yeah, yeah!)." "Get Up, Stand Up" would be the last song Marley would ever perform on stage: September 23, 1980, nearly eight months before he would succumb to cancer.

27. "Dancing in the Streets" by Martha Reeves and the Vandellas [1964]

Some of you may be surprised that this is considered a civil rights anthem. Songwriter William "Mickey" Stevenson first thought of the song, the idea of dancing, when he saw people on the Detroit streets opening up fire hydrants and cooling themselves off, dancing in the streets. It would later be played by black activist H. Rap Brown while organizing demonstrations. So, it's both about partying and politics. But it's even more than that. It's a song of joy, of humanity, a song of celebration, of hope, all colors and creeds and nationalities coming together as one, dancing in the streets where we're all equal. We need this song in 2020; we need to heed its universal call now more than ever!

26. "Someday We'll All Be Free" by Donny Hathaway [1973]

What do you do about a song that was not originally intended to be a protest song? In 1973, Donny Hathaway was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, and Edward Howard wrote the lyrics of "Someday We'll All Be Free" about the mental anguish Hathaway was enduring, not black pride. The inclusion of a version of the song in Spike Lee's 1992 epic, Malcolm X, made audiences feel that the song was indeed a civil rights anthem, and that's how we listen to it today. The song is so powerful in its quiet grace, the presence of sheer pride, that whatever the true meaning behind its creation pales in comparison to listening to the empowering lyrics sung by the golden-throated Hathaway at the top of his talents. It's glorious, so heartfelt that Hathaway, who would commit suicide six years later, broke down crying when he first heard the playback.

25. "If I Had a Hammer" by Aretha Franklin [1965]

24. "This Land is Your Land" by Woody Guthrie [1940]

Two of the most iconic protest songs on the list. "If I Had a Hammer," co-written by Pete Seeger, would be one of the key freedom songs of the Civil Rights Movement: "I got a hammer/And I've got a bell/And I've got a song to sing/All over this land/It's the hammer of justice/It's the bell of freedom/It's the song about love between/My brothers and my sisters/All over this land...". "The Hammer Song," as it was once called, has been heavily covered by many artists, with Peter, Paul and Mary being the most prominent (having a #10 hit with it). Even Leonard Nimoy, a.k.a. Mr. Spock, recorded a version of it. But I prefer Aretha's lesser-known rendition, full of so much heart and soul. As for "The Land is Your Land," you can thank Irving Berlin and Kate Smith for that. Woody Guthrie would get so sick of hearing Kate Smith croon the forced patriotism of "God Bless America" that he sarcastically dubbed it "God Bless America and Me." That was going to be the original title of his new song. but it eventually evolved into the most famous folk tune of all time, "The Land is Your Land": "This land is your land, and this land is my land/From the California to the New York Island/From the Redwood Forest, to the Gulf stream waters/This land was made for you and me."

23. "What About Me?" by Quicksilver Messenger Service [1971]

If you don't know this one, then please, I implore you to seek it out, listen to it. (And make sure not to confuse it with the 1981 Moving Pictures song, which is completely different.) This is a true rocker, one of the most scalding, scathing, exciting protest songs ever written. It covers all topics, from destroying the environment, to getting shot for what you believe in. And I think there are times recently when we can all agree with the chorus: "And I feel like a stranger/In the land where I was born/And I live like an outlaw/An' I'm always on the run..." After a particular Presidential election did not go my way, I listened to only three songs over and over the day after, a day of mourning: Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On," "Someday We'll All Be Free" by Donny Hathaway, and this song, "What About Me?" I felt like a stranger in my own country that day, and by listening to these songs so intently, at least I knew I wasn't alone.

22. "Won't Get Fooled Again" by the Who [1971]

Clocking in at 8:36, this is certainly one of the longest songs on the list. And one of the most powerful. From 1971, one of the key years in rock (several songs on this list emerge from that year), the final number from Who's Next is what Pete Townshend claims is a scream of "defiance at those who feel any cause is better than no cause." It's a song of warning, where a revolution erupts and overthrows the leaders, but in the end the revolutionaries turn out to be no better than the previous regime: "Meet the new boss/Same as the old boss." "Revolution is not going to change anything in the long run," Townshend claims in his biography, "and people are going to get hurt." Lead singer Roger Daltry's throat-scratching scream near the end is one of the greatest, most piercing moments in all of rock.

21. "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" by Gil Scott-Heron [1971]

This would become one of the great Black Power anthems, a poetry slam of a song, a precursor to the hip-hop sound that would become a force less than a decade away. It's another time capsule number, with such of-the-period references like skag (heroin), Xerox, Richard Nixon, John Mitchell, Spiro Agnew, hog maws, Natalie Wood, Bullwinkle, Julia, Willie Mays, Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies, Hooterville, Search for Tomorrow, Glen Campbell, Hertz and the Rare Earth. Hearing Gil Scott-Heron now is a revelation; you can see where music will be going, and this is one of the early blueprints to the upcoming rap era.

20. "Born in the U.S.A." by Bruce Springsteen [1984]

People still misunderstand. They think "Born in the U.S.A." is a gung-ho flag-waving anthem on par with "God Bless America" and "You're a Grand Ole Flag." They don't realize it deals with the hardships of those Americans who risked their lives in Vietnam: "Got in a little hometown jam/So they put a rifle in my hand/Sent me off to a foreign land/To go and kill the yellow man." "Born in the U.S.A." focuses on the struggles of Vietnam vets and the hardships and alienation they faced getting back into the swing of everyday life. One person who misunderstood was President Ronald Reagan, running for re-election in 1984. When 73-year-old Reagan thought Springsteen was a Republican and mentioned him by name in a speech (even though Reagan obviously didn't know who Springsteen was), a reporter asked him what his favorite Springsteen song was. Staffers had to answer for him: "Born to Run." This led to a classic joke from late night host Johnny Carson: "If you believe that, I've got a couple of tickets to the Mondale-Ferraro inaugural ball I'd like to sell you." Springsteen was unhappy that his song, a rocking protest of growling frustration that salutes the veterans while negatively questioning the United States, was being hi-jacked by the right for all the wrong reasons. But journalist Brian Doherty put his finger on the button on why the song is easy for skewed interpretations: "When I hear those notes and that drumbeat, and the Boss' best arena-stentorian, shout-groan vocals come over the speakers, I feel like I'm hearing the national anthem."

19. "Give Peace a Chance" by John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band [1969]

Recorded during Lennon's famous Bed-In for Peace in Montreal, this quickly became a favorite anthem of the anti-Vietnam War movement. Aside from Lennon, the song included the likes of Yoko Ono, Allen Ginsburg, Tommy Smothers, Timothy Leary and Petula Clark singing the catchy refrain. It's a litany song, a time capsule of 1969: "Ev'rybody's talking 'bout/Bagism, Shagism, Dragism, Madism, Ragism, Tagism/This-ism, that-ism, is-m, is-m, is-m/All we are saying is give peace a chance..." It also would be the first Top 40 song to directly state the word "masturbation" in it. On October 15, 1969, during the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam, which took place in Washington, D.C., a half a million demonstrators sang it together. John would tell Rolling Stone magazine, "I wanted to write something that would take over 'We Shall Overcome.' I don't know why. The one they always sang, and I thought, 'Why doesn't somebody write something for the people now, that's what my job and our job is."

18. "All Along the Watchtower" by Jimi Hendrix [1968]

An Apocalyptic vision merges with Hendrix's guitar intensity in what must be deemed the greatest interpretation of a Bob Dylan song ever.

17. "Revolution" by the Beatles [1968]

Prepositions matter. And in the Beatles' overtly political "Revolution," they matter more than the music itself. John Lennon sings the word "out" here, in answer to the line, "But if you want destruction, don't you know that you can count me out." And such a statement mattered, especially at the time. In another version of the song on the White Album, he hedges his bets, however, and says both "in" and "out." This is the best version, a groundbreaker.

16. "For What It's Worth (Stop, Hey What's That Sound)" by the Buffalo Springfield [1966]

"I think it's time we stop, children, what's that sound/Everybody look what's going down." Stephen Stills wrote this in regards to Los Angeles police-versus-youth clashes, better known as the Sunset Strip Curfew Riots of November 1966. Since the Buffalo Springfield was the Whisky a Go Go's house band, Stills got to see these riots first hand, including the sight of Peter Fonda being handcuffed. But the original inspiration had nothing to do with Vietnam or war demonstrations. The irony is, "For What It's Worth" is considered perhaps the paramount anti-war song, and yet nobody ever realizes the truth...that it's about riots solely due to young people unhappy with a mandated curfew.

15. "Ohio" by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young [1970]

"Tin soldiers and Nixon's comin'/We're finally on our own/This summer I hear the drummin'/Four dead in Ohio." The horrific images in Life magazine of the Kent State dead, gunned down in cold blood by the National Guard, would inspire Neil Young to write this anthem of outrage, a powerful, painful ode to one of America's saddest days. CSNY recorded the song in just a few takes, with David Crosby crying at the finish of one of them, where you can hear him lament, "Four, why? Why did they die?" Considered by many the greatest classic rock protest song of all time.

14. "American Idiot" by Green Day [2004]

Lynyrd Skynyrd's bubba anthem, "That's How I Like It," can be thanked for giving Green Day's Billy Joe Armstrong the inspiration to write "American Idiot." "It was like, 'I'm proud to be a redneck,' and I was like, 'oh my God, why would you be proud of something like that?'" Armstrong told Q magazine. "This is exactly what I'm against." So, after hearing Lynyrd Skynyrd over the car radio, he wrote "American Idiot" as a call to arms against conformity and for individuality, the ability to think for oneself. The song would chastise the idiocy of biased cable news coverage and the Iraq War: "Don't wanna be an American idiot/Don't want a nation under the new mania/And can you hear the sound of hysteria?/The subliminal mind-f**k America." The members of Green Day didn't mince words. On Vh-1, when they were asked if anyone who voted for George W. Bush for President was an "American idiot," Armstrong answered quite frankly: "No, just a misinformed idiot."

13. "Fortunate Son" by Creedence Clearwater Revival [1969]

Think about it: If Dwight Eisenhower's grandson, David, didn't date (and later marry) Richard Nixon's daughter, Julie, we would never have had one of the greatest Vietnam War songs, "Fortunate Son." As John Fogerty claimed in his biography, aptly titled Fortunate Son: "You'd hear about the son of this senator or that congressman who was given a deferment from the military or a choice position in the military. They seemed privileged and whether they liked it or not, these people were symbolic in the sense that they weren't being touched by what their parents were doing. They weren't being affected like the rest of us." His song, a seething masterpiece of fury, would be both against the Vietnam War while also being in solidarity with the men fighting overseas: "Some folks inherit star spangled eyes/Ooh, they send you down to war, Lord/And when you ask them, "How much should we give?"/Ooh, they only answer "More! More! More!" yoh/It ain't me, it ain't me, I ain't no military son, son/It ain't me, it ain't me, I ain't no fortunate one, one." The song would become ubiquitous, almost a cliché, in any film set during the Vietnam War, from Forrest Gump to the 2004 Manchurian Candidate remake.

12. "Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season)" by the Byrds [1965]

One of the great peace anthems, an exquisite #1 song for the Byrds. Written by Pete Seeger with major help from the book of Ecclesiastes, where most of the lines can be found: "To everything (turn, turn, turn)/There is a season (turn, turn, turn)/And a time to every purpose, under heaven/A time to gain, a time to lose/A time to rend, a time to sew/A time for love, a time for hate/A time for peace, I swear it's not too late." Only the last six words are not from the original King James Bible.

11. "Alright" by Kendrick Lamar [2015]

Opening the song with lines from Alice Walker's The Color Purple ("All's my life, I had to fight"), Lamar with the help of Pharrell Williams created a hip-hop masterpiece, one of the 21st Century's finest protest songs. Since its inception in 2015, "Alright" has become the soundtrack of the Black Lives Matter movement, a modern-day Black National Anthem.

10. "Say It Loud-I'm Black and I'm Proud" by James Brown [1968]

It was four months after Martin Luther King's assassination when James Brown changed the life of Chuck D. The future Public Enemy member was eight years old when he first heard the black pride anthem, "Say It Loud-I'm Black and I'm Proud." In the documentary Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown, he says, "I remember defining myself as these American terms of negro to colored to black. Because of that one song, black was beautiful. It was the beginning of being beautiful." The first verse of the song gives a nod to the spiritual, "I've Been Buked": "We've been buked and we've been scorned/We've been treated bad, talked about as sure as you're born/But just as sure as it take two eyes to make a pair, huh!/Brother, we can't quit until we get our share." Brown thought many people misunderstood his most affirming song. "People called 'Black and Proud' militant and angry," he said, "maybe because of the line about dying on your feet instead of living on your knees. But really, if you listen to it, it sounds like a children's song. That's why I had children in it, so children who heard it could grow up feeling pride..." It worked; just ask Chuck D.

9. "Masters of War" by Bob Dylan [1963]

It all started with President Eisenhower's speech in January of 1961, his farewell address to the nation: "In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist." Dylan told USA Today regarding his Cold War epic, "'Masters of War'... is supposed to be a pacifistic song against war. It's not an anti-war song. It's speaking against what Eisenhower was calling a military-industrial complex as he was making his exit from the presidency." Dylan has never been more cutting: "Come you masters of war/You that build the big guns/You that build the death planes/You that hide behind walls." But he gets more contemptuous as the song goes on: "You've thrown the worst fear/That can ever be hurled/Fear to bring children/Into the world/For threatening my baby/Unborn and unnamed/You ain't worth the blood/That runs in your veins." But he gets even more barbed, more acid-tongued, and by the end he angrily wishes death upon his targets: "And I hope that you die/And your death will come soon/I'll follow your casket/By the pale afternoon." In 1990, when Dylan performed the song for the United States Military Academy, he smartly left out that last verse.

8. "Fight the Power" by Public Enemy [1989]

A vocal sample of Civil rights activist Thomas "TNT" Todd opens this anthem, a piercing, confrontational diatribe against the abuse of authority: "Yet our best trained, best educated, best equipped, best prepared troops refuse to fight. Matter of fact, it's safe to say that they would rather switch than fight." According to Spike Lee, who featured "Fight the Power" at the opening of his brilliant Do the Right Thing: "We knew ('Fight The Power') was coming out in the summer of 1989, and in the summertime, there's always one song in New York that, if it's a hit, you can hear everywhere: on the subway, cars, coming out of people's houses." Public Enemy's ferocious tour de force sampled many songs, including James Brown's "Hot Pants" and "Funky Drummer." Some of the lyrics caused a ton of controversy, such as calling out white American icons Elvis Presley and John Wayne: "Elvis was a hero to most/But he never meant sh*t to me you see/Straight up racist that sucker was/Simple and plain/Motherf**k him and John Wayne/'Cause I'm Black and I'm proud!" The song has become the anthem that Spike Lee wanted it to be; in fact, Time Out magazine put "Fight the Power" at #1 in their list of 100 Songs That Changed History.

7. "Blowin' in the Wind" by Bob Dylan [1963]

You want proof of genius: Bob Dylan wrote this song, arguably his most famous, in a mere ten minutes. But what does the title mean? When Dylan sings "The answer my friend is blowin' in the wind," does he mean the answer is obvious or does he mean it's obscure? Is it smack-you-in-the-face recognizable or completely intangible "[The answer] ain't in no book or movie or TV show or discussion group," Dylan wrote in Sing Out! "Man, it's in the wind - and it's blowing in the wind. Too many of these hip people are telling me where the answer is but oh I won't believe that. I still say it's in the wind and just like a restless piece of paper it's got to come down some..." The song, where th melody is based on the spiritual "No More Auction Block," has become so universal that versions of it appeared everywhere, from Marlene Dietrich, who recorded it in German under the title "Die Antwort weiß ganz allein der Wind," to Jim Nabors on Gomer Pyle, USMC, who sang it to a bunch of hippies.

6. "We Shall Overcome" by Pete Seeger [1950]

Even if it's not #1, this is certainly the most important song on the list, the ultimate civil rights anthem. It's sung in marches, rallies, its words easy for groups of non-singers to join in while arm in arm. Joan Baez sang it to over 300,000 people during the 1963 March on Washington, while Lyndon Johnson and Martin Luther King would quote it less than sparingly. And it hasn't lost any of its power. Starting with its first version, Charles Albert Tindley's "I'll Overcome Some Day" in 1900, the song would take on various incarnations. But the Pete Seeger rendition is the one that sticks to this day. "I changed it to 'We shall'," Seeger once wrote. "I think I liked a more open sound; 'We will' has alliteration to it, but 'We shall' opens the mouth wider; the 'i' in 'will' is not an easy vowel to sing well ...." Seeger would also add the verses "We'll walk hand in hand" and "The whole wide world around." The song has fallen out of copyright and into public domain, so it can be freely quoted and sung anytime, anywhere.

5. "Strange Fruit" by Billie Holiday [1939]

The song that would become the rallying cry of the Civil Rights movement was written by a white, Jewish, male schoolteacher and activist named Abel Meerpol from New York City. But it was made famous by Lady Day, the most important woman in jazz. After seeing the horrifying photographic image of two black Indiana men lynched "like strange fruit hanging from the tree"-an event gleefully witnessed by 5,000 white people--he wrote the lyrics. "I wrote 'Strange Fruit' because I hate lynching, I hate injustice, and I hate the people who perpetuate it." As the New York Post's Samuel Grafton wrote upon the song's release: "If the anger of the exploited ever mounts high enough in the South, it now has its Marseillaise."

4. "What's Going On" by Marvin Gaye [1971]

The seeds of this powerful protest anthem were planted in May of 1969, when the Four Tops' Renaldo "Obie" Benson, on a tour bus, witnessed the horrors of police brutality during the People's Park debacle at Berkeley University. Police were shooting pellets at protestors. Tear gas thrown. Screaming, mayhem, blood. A young man named James Rector killed. The world, as Benson saw it, had gone mad. He kept asking, "What's happening here?" And that question would morph into the title "What's Going On" (notice that the title has become a statement, no longer a question). As I write this, protesting continues daily in the streets; police brutality along with race stands once again at the forefront of the debate; and a new call to arms has come from a new generation who's had enough and wants to change the world. "What's Going On" is not a snapshot of the past; it's a living, breathing entity, a song still so pertinent to today's world, today's pain.

3. "Imagine" by John Lennon [1971]

I was eight years old when the song was first released, but didn't hear it until I was ten; it played during my sister's high school dance recital. The dancing was passable, but it's the song itself that caught my attention: slow, hypnotic, with a meaning deeper than I could comprehend at the time. The singer dares to imagine a life with no heaven, no countries, and no possessions. Years later I would connect with his lyrics, of course, which were about uniting humanity, trying to bring peace to a "brotherhood of man." In high school, 1980-1981, after our administration turned down "Dust in the Wind" by Kansas as our class song (they said it was too nihilistic), we wanted to choose "Imagine," mostly because John Lennon died during my senior year and we wished to honor him. In the end, "Imagine" was nixed for being too "communistic." So, instead of the brilliant John Lennon work, our graduating class chose "Old Days (Good Times I Remember)," Chicago's nostalgic ditty about Howdy Doody and the 1950's that, the title aside, had nothing to do with my generation. It proved that the kids my age (myself included) compromised way too easily. It was symbolic of surrender, of giving up any youthful integrity that we may have had. Nowadays, when I tell people the title of our official class song, I become red-faced with embarrassment. Just think how cool it would have been if we actually chose "Imagine," John Lennon's greatest work and the third greatest protest song of all time, as our class song.

2. "Respect" by Aretha Franklin [1967]

"R-E-S-P-E-C-T/Find out what it means to me/R-E-S-P-E-C-T/Take care of... TCB." No one sings like Aretha Franklin, and once the Queen of Soul got a hold of this from its original writer, Otis Redding, it became the anthem it deserves to be. Redding told Jerry Wexler: "This girl [Aretha] has taken that song from me. Ain't no longer my song. From now on, it belongs to her." Actually, it belongs to all of us. If there is one song that encompasses all angles of the civil rights struggle--black pride, the women's movement, gay rights--then this is it.

And now for the #1 greatest protest song...

1. "A Change Is Gonna Come" by Sam Cooke [1964]

Two weeks before "A Change Is Gonna Come" was scheduled to be released as a single, its singer, Sam Cooke, would be shot to death in an L.A. motel. The inspiration for the the creation of the greatest protest song of all time had stemmed from two events: 1) the first time Cooke heard Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind," and 2) his arrest for disturbing the peace after a Holiday Inn in Shreveport, Louisiana, refused to allow him and his band to have a room based on the color of their skin. The song would prove so powerful, even more powerful as the years go by, that in 2019, the mayor of Shreveport would formally apologize to Cooke's family 55 years after the Holiday Inn incident and give the singer a posthumous Key to the City. Cooke first performed the song on The Tonight Show on Friday, February 7, 1964, where he and his producers felt the performance was so strong that it would become a major musical moment. But that was not to be. The Beatles would famously appear on The Ed Sullivan Show the following Sunday night (February 9), and Cooke's performance would be forgotten and lost for the ages. But after his death later that year, it would take on new meaning and power. Through the decades its influence would grow greater and greater. If you walk into the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opened in 2016, you will see those words immortalized on the wall of the Contemplative Court: "A Change Is Gonna Come." Although the song deals with struggle, there's optimism in it, a feeling for a better tomorrow. Notice that Cooke doesn't sing that a change might come; he sings adamantly, positively, that a change is gonna come. I guess we're still waiting for it to get here.


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From This Author Peter Nason