Ten Protest Songs That Matter
Dorian Lynskey’s comprehensive new book, 33 Revolutions Per Minute, details the history of the protest song in America and around the world.
Defining a protest song as one that “addresses a political issue in a way which aligns itself with the underdog,” Lynskey starts his story with Billie Holiday’s harrowing 1939 anti-lynching ballad, “Strange Fruit,” and ably takes us through the historic tunes that helped sustain and promote the civil rights, labor and anti-Vietnam war movements as well as non-American music from The Clash in Britain, Victor Jara in Chile and Fela Kuti in Nigeria.
It’s a bracing and informative survey, even if you’re familiar with the topic, and it sent me thinking and talking to people about all-time favorite protest songs. A quick poll of Nation staffers and friends of the magazine produced an eclectic play list:
Nation Publisher Emeritus Victor Navasky offered “Peat Bog Soldiers,” one of Europe’s best-known protest songs that became a Republican anthem during the Spanish Civil War and a symbol of fascist resistance during World War II. Executive Editor Richard Kim cited Sinead O’Connor’s “Black Boys on Mopeds.” Managing Editor Roane Carey undoubtedly spoke for many when he insisted on Bob Dylan’s classic ” Masters of War.” Publicity Director Gennady Kolker contributed John Lennon’s “Gimme Some Truth.” Blogger, author and former Crawdaddy editor Greg Mitchell‘s tentative short-list includes Sam Cooke’s “Change Is Gonna Come,” Woody Guthrie’s “Vigilante Man,” Steve Earle’s “Jerusalem,” Bruce Springsteen and Tom Morello’s live version of “Ghost of Tom Joad,” Bob Dylan’s “Chimes of Freedom”, Louis Armstrong’s “Black and Blue,” Leonard Cohen’s “Democracy,” Billy Bragg’s version of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy and Neil Young’s “Shock and Awe.” [click here to read the rest of the story and link to performances of 10 protest songs]