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Songs of Protest, Revolution & Change in America

Updated on April 11, 2018

Change: in the air, on the air [udpated with two protest videos from 2018]

From the 1950s through today, there have been times of major social upheaval in the United States, when the political climate was ripe for change. This has occurred repeatedly in the USA, especially during the race riots and segregation of the 50's and 60's, the protests over the Vietnam War era of the 60's and early 70's, and, here in 2018, the movement to end gun violence in America after the Stoneman-Douglas High School shootings on Valentines Day, 2018, and then the subsequent "March For Our Lives" nationwide protest in over 200 American cities on March 26, 2018.

The term "change" was not created by Barack Obama just for his election campaign in 2008, it was simply used again, when the times called for it. There have been many moments when citizens were pleading for change throughout the nation's history, and a number of those moments were turned into songs which became very well-known, and a way to put into music the thoughts and anger of millions.

In the 60s & 70s: Protest songs on the radio

At first, AM "top 40" or "popular" music stations in the late 50's and early to mid 60's found a segment of their song choices which more and more included songs with subtle references to problems in America.

By the mid to late 60's with the explosion of FM "underground" music stations, recording artists found themselves with a very viable platform on which not-so-subtle, quite frank and direct songs left no question as to the subject matter and the reason for the protest. And, since successful popular music always reflects the mood of society, artists had no problem finding plenty of ways to get their protest points across.

Below are some protest song videos. Below the videos is a brief list of just some of the music which inspired and motivated young people to take up social concerns and political activism.

2018 UPDATE: Now included in this blog are not only 6 music videos from popular artists during the massive protest era of the 60's and early 70s, but also 2 more music videos from the nationwide protests in 2018, related to the concerns over gun control in America.

"Eve of Destruction" by Barry McGuire, created during the Vietnam War (1965). NOTE: when done, hit your back/return button to get back to this page.

"War" - Edwin Starr (1970)

"What's Goin' On" - Marvin Gaye (1971)

"Yes We Can" - Will.I.Am (2008)

"Shine", broadcast live worldwide, written/performed by students at Stoneman-Douglas High School, Parkland, FL, 1 week after 17 people were shot and killed 2/14

During "March For Our Lives" nationwide protest on March 26, 2018, Lin-Manuel Miranda & Ben Platt perform "Found Tonight", outside the US Capitol, Washington

Just SOME of the many songs linked to protest & change movements in the USA:  

A Change Is Gonna Come - Sam Cooke

Blowin' In The Wind - Peter, Paul & Mary

Masters of War - Bob Dylan

Turn, Turn, Turn - The Byrds

The Times They Are A-Changin' - Bob Dylan

Waist Deep In The Big Muddy - Pete Seeger

Draft Dodger Rag - Phil Ochs

I'd Love To Change The World - Ten Years After

Society's Child - Janis Ian

Revolution - The Beatles

Simple Song Of Freedom - Bobby Darin

Alice's Restaurant Massacree - Arlo Guthrie

Peace Train - Cat Stevens

You Haven't Done Nothin' - Stevie Wonder

What's Goin' On - Marvin Gaye

Mercy, Mercy Me - Marvin Gaye

Get Together - The Youngbloods

Yes We Can - Will I. Am

Shine - Students of Marjory Stoneman-Douglas High School

Found Tonight - Lin-Manuel Miranda & Ben Platt


To really appreciate the impact and power the above protest songs had on people of their generation, examine the LYRICS of the songs. Yes, there was clearly a meaning to their messages, and looking at the lyrics will show you the specific focus of that singer's protest.

Of course, there are hundreds of other protest songs, but for this assignment, choose from the well-known ones above and do the following:

1. PICK 3 PROTEST SONGS: Select any three of the above song titles, links or videos from those above, and submit the lyrics (and year) of that song, along with your brief analysis of what ACTION that song is trying to create in the listener. To do this, you'll need to know in what year the song was released and what the political issues were at that time, which led to that song being created.

Indicate the chorus and verses in each song to which you provide lyrics. Use YouTube to find videos of the songs not provided here. NOTE: If you find your own links, make sure you are watching the actual perfomer and not some kid in their garage lyp-syncing the lyrics (that occurs sometimes with YouTube videos). Provide specific phrases from the song lyrics to prove your points.

2. WHAT HAPPENED IN OHIO? Use the song "Ohio", by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and by examining the lyrics, uncover the major news event that is sung about in the song.

You will have to do a bit of digging and research to investigate this story that became a song. But, it will be worth your time. Here is a link to the song by CSN&Y, performed 4 years after the event.

Tell me, in your own words, how this song may have helped draw attention to the aftermath of the event. Include in your response the answers to these questions: There are four guys in this band: David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash & Neil Young. Which one of them wrote this song? Was the song biased? Who is it favoring? Who is it against? Who are the people and events and places they mention in the song? When did this event happen, and when...and why? Who is the woman mentioned repeatedly in the song only as "her"?

Make your response to this question (#2 above) at least one page, single spaced, 12-point type, in a Word document. Thanks.


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    • profile image

      amiesian 6 years ago

      Uprising. muse

    • profile image

      Daura 7 years ago

      Here's my picks for songs about revolution and protest...

      Yell Fire! Michael Franti and Spearhead

      Killing in the Name of - Rage against the Machine

      Get Up Stand Up - Bob Marley

      One Bright Day - Ziggy Marley

      Sunday Bloody Sunday - U2

      Talking about a revolution - Tracy Chapman

      Raining revolution - Arrested Development

      Seven Nation Army - The White Stripes

      We Shall Overcome - Pete Seeger