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The Times They Are A-Blowin' in the Wind: The Modern Protest Song

Updated on May 19, 2013
John Lennon performs "Give Peace a Chance" at a Montreal protest.
John Lennon performs "Give Peace a Chance" at a Montreal protest.

War: What Is It Good For?

During the late 1960's as the Vietnam War marched on, protest songs became very popular among the youth of America. These days, though there seems to be a tremendous amount of discontent with America's involvement in conflicts around the world especially among today's youth, the music of today does not seem to really reflect this discontent.The new millennium seems to a little lacking in this department.

The few protest singers there are, for the most part, do not seem to really break into the mainstream and the artists who are already popular seem hesitant to protest too loudly. But that is not to say that a few do not speak out including some very vocal exceptions such as Neil Young and Pearl Jam. Here I will cover a few of the more popular bands who have made their feelings known. For a good source of lesser known artists, check this list provided on Neil Young's website.


"The Home Front" by Drive-By Truckers

The Drive-By Truckers tend to write songs about everyday people in everyday situations doing everyday things in a basically everyday way, so it is not surprising that the band touches on war every now and then. On Brighter Than Creation's Dark, they included a song called "The Home Front" about a mother and child left at home while the man of the family went off to fight a war that they, like much of America, struggled to understand. Perhaps more subtle than a Dylan tune, but a powerful statement all the same.

Now they're saying on the flat screen
They ain't found a reason yet
We're all bogged down in a quagmire
And there ain't no end to it
No 9-11 or Uranium to pin the
    bullshit on
She's left standing on the home front
The two of them alone


"Black Rain" by Ozzy Osbourne

The title track from Ozzy's 2007 album Black Rain has the "War Pigs" singer once again blasting the devastation of war and questioning the sanity and reasoning behind it. Several songs on the album reflect similar themes including "The Almighty Dollar" and "Civilize the World".

What is the price of a bullet?
Another hole in the head
A flag draped over a coffin
Another soldier is dead
How many victims have fallen?
How many more have to die?
People dying in masses
Angel of death standing by


"What Are We Fighting For?" by Live

Live released Birds of Pray during the second Gulf War and were very open with their feelings on the subject of war waged in the name of God on the song "What Are We Fighting For?" Though I am not sure Live ever officially labeled themselves as a Christian band, it is widely accepted that the band was indeed made up of Christians and they seemed to take particular exception to God's name being in anyway associated with war.

The world got smaller
but the bombs got bigger
Holocaust on a hairpin trigger
Ain't no game so forget the score
What are we fighting for?


"Boom!" by System of a Down

System of a Down is one of the most outspoken bands on the rock music scene and have no qualms about letting everyone know of their distaste for war. "Boom!" is just one of several anti-war songs in the band's repertoire.

Four thousand hungry children
Leave us per hour from starvation
While billions are spent on bombs
Creating death showers


Every time you drop the bomb
You kill the god your child has born



"Worldwide Suicide" by Pearl Jam

Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder has said "Worldwide Suicide" was inspired by Pat Tillman who enlisted in the United States Army after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, leaving behind a promising professional football career. His death by friendly fire was at first covered up by the military, even going so far as to order Tillman's comrades to lie to the family at his funeral. Another Pearl Jam anti-war song "Marker in the Sand" was included on the same album.

Medals on a wooden mantle
Next to a handsome face
That the president took for granted
Writing checks that others pay
And in all the madness
Thought becomes numb and naive
So much to talk about and
Nothing for them to say


"We Want Peace" by Lenny Kravitz

Released only as a digital download, "We Want Peace" was Lenny's protest against the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the United States armed forces. Lenny also has performed the song with the popular Iraqi singer Kazem Al Saher. Lenny's hippie-esque peace and love vibe could probably in and of itself be considered a protest against war.

We're on the eve of destruction,
my friends
We are about to go to far
Politicians think that war is the way
But we know that love has the power


"Deja Vu (All Over Again)" by John Fogerty

In 2004, not to be outdone by the newer artists getting in on the protesting, John Fogerty released an album with this as the title track. Fogerty was formerly with Creedence Clearwater Revival, a band known for its numerous anti-war songs during the Vietnam era.

One by one I see the old
ghosts rising
Stumblin' 'cross Big Muddy
Where the light gets dim
Day after day another
mama's crying
She's lost her precious Child
To a war that has no end


"I Can't Take It No More" by John Fogerty

A couple of years later Fogerty again took a couple of jabs at the Bush administration with "Long Dar Night" and "I Can't Take It No More" on the album Revival. You kind of knew sooner or later Fogerty would have to reference at least one of his old Creedence tunes which he did with a mention the classic "Fortunate Son" in "I Can't Take It No More". Ah, sweet deja vu...

I bet you never saw the old
   school yard
I bet you never saw the national guard
Your daddy wrote a check and
   there you are
Another fortunate son

Speaking of Deja Vu...

Neil Young, formerly of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, a band that was also known for its protest songs and named their greatest hits album Deja Vu, released not a just a protest song but a protest album, Living With War, and dedicated part of his website to it. With songs like "Shock and Awe" and "Let's Impeach the President", there is little doubt Neil is still "Rockin' in the Free World". A longtime activist and an artist dedicated to promoting peace as well as making quality music, Neil Young is a legend in more ways than one. (Even if a Southern man don't need him around anyhow.)


"Day After Tomorrow" by Tom Waits

Tom Waits descirbes "Day After Tomorrow" as an "elliptical" protest against the war in Iraq. I am not sure what that means, but it is pretty obvious from the lyrics that Waits is anti-war. Or maybe just pro-peace. That can be a mighty fine line, especially when it has to be drawn in sand.

You can't deny the other side
Don't want to die anymore than
we do
What I'm trying to say is don't
they pray
To the same God that we do?
Tell me, how does God choose?
Whose prayers does he refuse?


"To Washington" by John Mellencamp

It would be hard to get more middle America than John Mellancamp. The blue collar rocker who started his career as John Cougar takes aim at the second Bush administration and its war policy in this straight forward track that puts it bluntly.

So a new man in the White House
With a familiar name
Said he had some fresh ideas
But it's worse now since he came
From Texas to Washington

And he wants to fight with many

And he says it's not for oil
He sent out the National Guard
To police the world
From Baghdad to Washington



"It Takes Time to Build" by The Beastie Boys

The Beastie Boys had never been known for their protest anthems unless you want to count that one song about fighting for your right to party, but on To the 5 Buroughs they included a couple including "T Takes Time to Build" which protested the destruction American forces were bringing to the Middle East under George W. Bush among other things.

Environmental destruction and
   the national dept
But plenty of dollars left in the
   fat war chest
What the real deal why you
   can't connect
Why you hating people that
   you never met
Didn't your mama teach you to
   show some respect?
Why not open your mind for a sec?


"American Idiot" by Green Day

Pop punk superstars Green Day had a lot to say on their album American Idiot and some of it probably offended a few people. But the concept album clearly found an audience, selling 14 million copies worldwide. The title track from the album takes on the media of the nation, suggesting they have a part to play in America's discovery of "a new kind of tension".

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

A New Kind of Tension?

Hmmmm...That sounds familiar...

Makes you wonder if maybe Green Day was listening to a little Cracker back in the early '90s. The band more or less broke into the mainstream with "Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now)". It was sort of an anti-protest song asking for a new Frank Sinatra instead of a new protest singer, but maybe more than just Green Day were paying attention. After all, ten years later, we finally got that "new kind of tension" with the arrival of the War on Terror.

'Cause what the world needs now
    is a new kind of tension
'Cause the old one just bores me
    to death
'Cause what the world needs now
    is another folk singer
Like I need a hole in my head


"Now You've Got Something To Die For" by Lamb of God

Arlo Guthrie said, "If you want to end war and stuff you got to sing loud." I don't know if he was talking about lamb of God or if Lamb of God even took Arlo's advice, but one thing is for sure -- the heavy metallers definitely sing loud. Will they or any of the other protest singers make a difference? Well, I guess the best way to get an idea is to ask ourselves, did Dylan? Did Lennon? Did Arlo or Joan? Or how about Mr. Fogerty the first time around? I would like to think they did, but then you have to ask why is it deja vu all over again?

Send the children to the fire
Sons and daughters stack the pyre
Stoke the flame of the empire
Live to lie another day
Face of hypocrisy
Raping democracy
We count the days


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    • profile image


      8 years ago

      great idea for a hub! peace and love!


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