The 10 Greatest Protest Songs

artist: Misc date: 05/03/2010 category: music news
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The 10 Greatest Protest Songs
To mark May Day on Monday a date synonymous with public demonstrations is counting down the greatest protest songs of all time. Below is the list of 10 anthems that rage against racism, war, society and, of course, the machine. 10. Creedence Clearwater Revival: "Fortunate Son" (Video) John Fogerty wrote the song in 1969 in protest at the Vietnam war and took inspiration from the partnership of David Eisenhower (the grandson of President Eisenhower) and Julie Nixon (the daughter of President Nixon). The premise is that, unlike the impoverished narrator of the song who is being conscripted, "fortunate son" David Eisenhower gets to miss Vietnam. Four decades later on his 2007 album "Revival", Fogerty penned the song "I Can't Take It No More" about the Iraq War in which he labels then President George W Bush as "a fortunate son." 09. Edwin Starr: "War" (Video) One of the most popular protest songs ever committed to plastic, the 1970 Motown smash hit is buoyed by the chorus "War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothin'!" and attacks the Vietnam War with general distaste and venom. Praised by that other great anti-war song writer John Lennon, the track shot straight to number one in the Billboard charts upon release and was duly adopted by the anti-Vietnam War movement in the early 1970s. 08. Buffalo Springfield: "For What It's Worth" (Video) One of two Stephen Stills entries on the list, while many musicians were embracing the hedonistic love of the sixties Stills was dealing with much grittier subject matter. Essentially an ode to the violence, social paranoia and brutalities of the Vietnam War, what differentiates "For What It's Worth" from the vast majority of other protest songs is it's overtly positive chorus - "stop killing, what's that sound? everyone look what's going down." If only the leaders of the world would pay notice. 07. Bob Dylan: "Blowin In The Wind" (Video) One of Dylan's many timeless protest songs, the 1963 anthem poses a series of questions about war, freedom and peace, yet never really answers them. The chorus' famous refrain of "The answer my friend, is blowing in the wind" is wholly ambiguous either implying the answer is all around and obvious or as intangible as the wind. The track becmae a soundtrack of the civil rights movement of the 1960s and testament to its enduring legacy has been covered by everyone from Elvis Presley to Dolly Parton. 06. U2: "Sunday Bloody Sunday" (Video) Opening with a military drumbeat, U2's highly political 1983 anthem soon turns into a heady protest at The Troubles in Northern Ireland - most notably the Bloody Sunday massacre in Derry in January 1972 when British soldiers opened fire on protesters, killing 14 and injuring 29 more. Composed by The Edge, arguably the most hard-hitting moment of the song comes when Bono proclaims "I won't heed the battle call". An earlier version of the track interestingly featured the line "Don't talk to me about the rights of the IRA, UDA", but this was later removed as the band did not want to directly reference political groups. 05. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young: "Ohio" (Video) The timeless song was written in response to the Kent State Shootings of May 4, 1970 when the Ohio National Guard opened fire college students protesting against the American invasion of Cambodia which President Nixon had announced five days earlier. Four were killed and one left paralysed. Just like its subject matter, "Ohio" is brutal lyrically, referring to "four dead in Ohio" throughout and opening with the line "Tin soldiers and Nixon coming." Named as the 385th greatest song of all time by Rolling Stone magazine, really it should have been higher. 04. Barry McGuire: "Eve Of Destruction" (Video) As the portentous title titillates, the song warns of an imminent apocalypse as it laments the ills of society. Almost Leonard Cohen-esque in the grave delivery, McGuire touches upon all of the political woes of the mid 1960s the Cold War, Vietnam, the nuclear arms race, inequality and civil rights. Inspired lines such as "You're old enough to kill, but not for votin'" make this easily one of the greatest protest songs of all time. 03. Plastic Ono Band: "Give Peace A Chance" (Video) The phrase "Give Peace A Chance" was originally said by John Lennon to a journalist in an interview during his famous "Bed-In" with Yoko Ono. He liked the line so much he eventually went on to write the song. The anti-war anthem then gained fame when it was sung by half a million demonstrators in Washington at the 1969 Vietnam Moratorium Day. Alongside Lennon's other protest anthems "Imagine", "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" and "Power To The People", "Give Peace A Chance" is a defining protest song. 02. Billie Holiday: "Strange Fruit" (Video) Abel Meeropol, a Jewish high school teacher from the Bronx, wrote the haunting song in response to the lynching of two black men Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith in August 1930. Condemning American racism and the lynching of blacks in Southern states, in her inimitable voice Holiday opens with the incredibly evocative lines: "Southern trees bear strange fruit, Blood on the leaves and blood at the root, Black body swinging in the Southern breeze, Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees." 01. Marvin Gaye: "What's Going On?" (Video) Not just the greatest protest song, Marvin Gaye's 1971 classic is one of the greatest songs ever written. Co-songwriter Obie Benson initially started writing "What's Going On?" after witnessing anti-war protesters being beaten by cops hence the "picket lines and picket signs, don't punish me with brutality" lyrics. However with Al Cleveland and Gaye's input it became an anthem meditating on the troubles of the world as a whole and, given the context of the release date, the Vietnam War. Gorgeous musically, Gaye sounds concerned with the bleak subject matter, yet somehow there is also a glimmer of hope in his voice. Considering the current world climate, "What's Going On?" is as relevant as ever today. Check out the full top 20 at
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