Protest Song

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"You have to admire people who sing these songs. It takes a certain amount of courage to get up in a coffee house or a college auditorium and come out in favor of the things that everybody else in the audience is against, like peace and justice and brotherhood and so on..."

A piece of music, normally written about a political subject and intended to drive home some message. Will inevitably be Anvilicious, not that there's anything wrong with that. Since they are also used to educate people, unite them in the cause, and should be easy to learn, they are often prime candidates for a rousing Crowd Song or an Audience Participation Song.

Name a recording artist from between 1964 and 1978; chances are he, she, or they have at least one protest song, and it's a folk song about the Vietnam War. More recently, common subjects include racism (especially police racism and profiling), the Iraq War, corruption, censorship, environmental issues, and big governments controlling lives. Lyrical Dissonance often arises when a director or a political candidate fails to appreciate that a sufficiently-subtle protest song is not in fact the upbeat anthem he believes it to be.[1]

This sort of music is at least Older Than Steam, and may well be older still.

Compare Hail to the Thief, which can sound similar but is used to emphasize setting instead of make a direct political point.

Examples of Protest Song include:

Played Straight[edit | hide | hide all]

  • La Marseillaise is probably the Ur Example for modern protest songs. Nowadays inverted, since it is the French National Anthem.
  • "L'Internationale" is another very famous and iconic example—probably the most translated protest song of all time (and one of the most translated songs ever). Reached the level of Zig-Zagging Trope when it was sung by the students at Tiananmen square in 1989. They protested the socialist-in-name government by singing the socialist protest song, but in part because this was the one song they all knew.
    • C'est la lutte finale (This is the final battle) Groupons-nous, et demain (Let each stand his place) L'Internationale (The international working class) Sera le genre humain (Shall be the human race)
  • Two in Les Misérables, though they refer to the in-story society of early 20th century France; Red and Black, and Do You Hear the People Sing? Both are awesome, and the latter was used in union protests recently.
  • Older Than Steam: One very old example is "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God", the battle hymn of the Reformation. Notable in that it's not particularly anti-Catholic by itself—its status as a protest song is due to its popularity within the Reformation, and that having everyone in the church singing in the vulgar language was a clear break with the Catholic church.
  • A number of songs by Bob Dylan: "Blowin' in the Wind", "Masters of War", "Oxford Town", "The Times They Are A-Changin'", "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall", "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll", "With God on Our Side", "Hurricane", etc.
    • While Dylan's "Girl of the North Country" is just a lost-love song with no political overtones, Pete Townshend's 1982 cover version turns it into a protest song by changing part of the final verse to imply that the song takes place After the End.
    • And lest you think Dylan was just another hyper-serious protest singer, he also wrote some of the most hilarious protest songs ever written. Check out "Talkin' WWIII Blues" or "Talkin' John Birch Paranoid Blues".
      • "My Back Pages" was specifically written to disown his earnest protest singing past.
  • "The Universal Soldier" by Buffy Sainte-Marie, later made into a hit by Donovan.
    • Parodied, in a protesting-the-protesters Take That move, as "The Universal Coward" by Jan Berry of Jan and Dean fame. (Dean Torrence objected and did not participate.) "The Universal Coward" is almost unknown in the early-21st century, while "The Universal Soldier" is still being covered.
    • Also by Sainte-Marie, "Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee", covered by the Indigo Girls.
  • "Eve of Destruction" by Barry McGuire.
    • Answered with "Dawn of Correction" by The Spokesmen.
  • "One Tin Soldier" by Original Caste, covered on the Billy Jack soundtrack by Coven.
  • "Ohio", by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, which was specifically about the Kent State shooting in 1970.
    • Along with its B-side, "Find the Cost of Freedom".
    • Crosby & Nash (sans Stills and Young) also recorded "To the Last Whale...", a Tear Jerker which depicts the last whale in the ocean being hunted and killed by whalers.
    • "Wooden Ships", written in the very early CSN (no Y yet) days, is a protest against nuclear war. Not a very direct protest considering the (later) in-your-face "Ohio" mentioned above, but the line "silver people on the shoreline / let us be" is a reference to hazmat suits.
  • "Southern Man", Neil Young's famous protest song against the mistreatment of blacks in the Deep South.
    • "Alabama"
    • How About his "Let's Impeach the President" from during the George W. Bush-years?
    • "Rockin' in the Free World", which attracts a certain amount of Misaimed Fandom from people who don't listen past the chorus.
    • Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama", meanwhile, was a counter-protest song written in response to "Southern Man" and "Alabama". It serves as an interesting example, because Young and the members of Lynyrd Skynyrd were actually good friends.
  • "Strange Fruit", performed most famously by Billie Holiday in 1939, is a protest song against the lynching of black people.
  • A lot of the Pet Shop Boys' 2006 album Fundamental consisted of songs with at least some political undercurrent; most directly, Integral was an outright protest against mandatory ID cards, as well as "I'm With Stupid," about the overly close relationship between Tony Blair and George W. Bush satirized as a gay love song. Other songs on the album dealt with the Iraq War and immigration.
  • "When the Levee Breaks" as covered by Led Zeppelin, an apocalyptic blues-rock nightmare about the 1929 Mississippi floods and the resulting misery endured by the blacks (forced to work on the levees, abandoned once their properties were destroyed, attempting to leave to the Northern states to alleviate poverty).
    • Aside from that remake, the members of Led Zeppelin have never been vocal about their political views.
  • Pete Seeger wrote a number of these, perhaps the most famous being "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?", which uses a Here We Go Again motif to comment on the futility of war.
  • Malvina Reynolds' "Little Boxes", which satirizes suburban conformity and was famously covered by Pete Seeger. Tom Lehrer, apparently not a fan, once called it "the most sanctimonious song ever written".
  • "|The Alice's Restaurant Massacree" (sic) by Arlo Guthrie, an 18-minute-long talking blues ballad that many classic rock stations traditionally play in its entirety on Thanksgiving Day, is a song about the draft. You know it is, because Guthrie says so about 7 minutes in. One of the big reasons it's still played on Thanksgiving, besides pure tradition, is to give DJs a chance to get some Thanksgiving food.
  • His father, Woody Guthrie, also had his share of these, up to and including "This Land Is Your Land".
    • Woody's guitar had a sign on it: "This Machine Kills Facists". And it's an odd commentary on the American Culture. "This Land Is Your Land" is sung by every kid in grade school, though they hardly ever get past the first verse and when we grow up it's dismissed as just a children's song. It was only as an adult that this troper realized just how subversive, how powerful and how it is even more relevant today:

As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said "No Trespassing."
But on the other side it didn't say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me

  • Country Joe And The Fish's "I-Think-I'm-Fixing-To-Die Rag" was about the Vietnam war. Famously featured in the film of Woodstock.
  • "It's Good News Week", by '60s British group Hedgehoppers Anonymous.
    • Produced by Jonathan King, who'd recorded one of these of his own in "Everyone's Gone to the Moon".
  • Ice T's notorious Cop Killer song.
  • Black Sabbath had a lot of these on their early albums before their lyrics started becoming more and more cryptic: "Wicked World", "War Pigs", "Electric Funeral", "Hand of Doom" and "Children of the Grave" all come to mind.
  • Pretty much anything by Rise Against
  • "20 Dollar Nose Bleed" by Fall Out Boy seems to be this. At least one verse is obviously anti-Bush:

It feels like 14 carats but no clarity
When I look at the man who would be king
The man who would be king goes to the
Desert the same war his dad rehearsed
Comes back with flags on coffins and says
We won, oh, we won

  • Nena's "99 Luftballoons".
    • Though not as much as some other protest songs. Particularly considering that the inspiration came from an actual viewing of a mess of party balloons. At a concert.
  • Just about everything Rage Against the Machine has ever written.
    • Same goes for their forebears, Public Enemy.
    • Tom Morello's solo career is 100% protest music as well, particularly his Dylan-esque folk rock outfit the Nightwatchman.
  • The majority of System of a Down's songs, and everything the members have released with their own bands. The only clear exceptions so far are their instrumentals (like Arto) and Bounce.
    • Word of God (Malakian, the guitarist) says they have more non-political songs than political ones. This may be true, but a lot of their lyrics are open to numerous interpretations, and most of their well-known songs are among their most Anvilicious.
  • John Fogerty's "Deja Vu All Over Again" is a protest song directed at the second Bush administration.
    • Much earlier, of course, Fogerty penned "Fortunate Son" for Creedence Clearwater Revival. "Fortunate Son" was a working-class protest song against the Vietnam War, but today most people probably know it from Wrangler's reprehensible ad that makes it sound like jingoistic propaganda by only using the first couple lines of the first verse, which were intended ironically.
  • If the rock musical Hair doesn't count, then no work of musical theatre does. (Three-Five-Zero-Zero, anyone?)
  • John Lennon wrote quite a few songs that pass for protest songs:
    • "Give Peace a Chance"
    • "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)"
    • "Working Class Hero"
    • "Imagine," which doubles as a Religion Rant Song; the very first line is "Imagine there's no Heaven." Politically, it advocates Communism.
    • Most of the songs on Some Time in New York City.
  • The Beatles' "Revolution" is an odd subversion: It was protesting against the protesters of the time, telling that they were no better than the opposition they were fighting against:

But if you want money for people with minds that hate,
All I can tell you is, brother, you'll have to wait.

    • And in the album cut, John stayed deliberately ambiguous in his own position:

But when you talk about destruction,
Don't you know that you can count me out - in.

    • The song was actually a reference to the Cultural Revolution in China ("But if you go carrying pictures of chairman Mao, You ain't going to make it with anyone anyhow"), not the protests in the Western World. This makes it more of a straight up protest song.
      • Not exactly, it was referencing the May '68 protests in France (which almost overthrew the government) in which some of the protesters held up images of Chairman Mao. This song was part of White Album, written and released 1968. So it was more him saying Mao and the Red Guards' Cultural Revolution were not any kind of model for them to follow I guess.
  • In a similar vein, The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again" is a parable about the revolution succeeding, only for its leaders to become as entrenched and corrupt as those they replaced.
  • Another '60s subversion of protest songs (and protesters of all stripes) is Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth": "Singin' songs and a-carryin' signs. Mostly say hoo-ray for our side."
    • "For What it's Worth" and Edwin Starr's "War" are both rather interesting cases of quasi-protest songs about unrelated local issues (unrest following a nightclub closure in the former's case, gang violence in the latter) that picked up an entirely different interpretation once they entered mainstream cultural canon.
  • Dream Theater's "Prophets of War". To drive the point home they add the pun-tastic chorus line "Are we prophet-ing from war?" and a spoken buzzword-filled bridge. Surprisingly enough, it's actually good.
  • Tom Waits' "The Day After Tomorrow" (about the Iraq war specifically, but it could be war in general) and "Road to Peace" (about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and equally critical of both sides).
  • As quoted above, the satirist Tom Lehrer often expressed his hatred of this type of song, finally writing a parody called "The Folk Song Army":

The tunes don't have to be clever
And it just doesn't matter if you put a couple of extra syllables into a line
It sounds more ethnic if it ain't good English
And it don't even got to rhyme.... Excuse me, 'rhyne'.

    • He might have been "expressing his hatred" in a tongue-in-cheek manner, since quite a few of his songs could be considered legit protest songs in their own right...
      • "Send The Marines" (American foreign policy) and "Wernher Von Braun" (a Take That against the titular ex-Nazi rocket scientist who worked on the US Space Program).
  • Almost everything by Phil Ochs, who once defined a protest song as "a song that's so specific that you cannot mistake it for bullshit". See "I Ain't Marchin' Anymore", "Outside of a Small Circle of Friends", etc.
    • The Tom Lehrer parody above may be specifically aimed at Ochs, since one of the verses of the Lehrer includes the lines "Remember the war against Franco? That's the kind of war where each of us belongs! They might have won all the battles, but we had all the good songs!" and one of Ochs' less inspired songs begins "Do you remember Franco...?" He got more sophisticated later in his career.
  • Pink Floyd:
    • A number of songs on The Wall and The Final Cut have the unusual distinction of being protest songs about World War II, written 35 years after the war ended. More specifically, The Wall is a Concept Album about the teacher in The Wall, now the protagonist, and a World War Two veteran, gasping in horror at images of The Falklands War unfolding in front of him on TV, and feeling disappointed that Margaret Thatcher had betrayed "the post-war dream" Britain promised to its people of working for peace and unity, rather than leading men to war. It also addresses his frustrations of holding back his memories of the war to those he loves, for fear of being misunderstood and rejected, and his anger at trying to teach the "little ingrates" in school about history and the futilities of war to deaf ears.
    • "Us and Them" addresses popular attitudes towards war and suffering, and the album Animals is basically a long rant about popular culture, with some rather specific Take Thats in "Pigs".
  • "M.T.A." by Jacqueline Steiner and Bess Lomax Hawes sounds like one of these, about a subway fare increase, but actually originated as a campaign song for Walter A. O'Brien, who couldn't afford radio advertisements but realized that he could hire folk singers to stand on a corner and play his song for much less. Later made famous by the Kingston Trio, replacing the politician's name with "George O'Brien" to avoid an association with the Progressive Party.
  • Roy Zimmerman's "That Is The War On Terror" compares Al Qaeda to Popeye the Sailor. It Makes Sense in Context.
    • "My TV" has such deep poetical significance that he has to sing it again and explain it. The TV is the Presidency, and the song is about the 2000 election.
  • Hawkwind's "Urban Guerilla" is a Stealth Parody of protest songs. Since almost nobody outside the band got the joke, it was quickly pulled from distribution.
  • treble charger's last big hit before they disbanded, "Hundred Million", was a slightly weird protest song against the presidency of George W. Bush. Weird in that treble charger was a Canadian band, big at home but with almost no exposure in the States.
  • "Another National Anthem" from Assassins.
  • Leonard Bernstein's Mass is filled with these: "Half Of The People" (partly written by Paul Simon), "God Said" (a sarcastic parody of Genesis 1), "Non Credo," "World Without End" and "Dona Nobis Pacem" (which is definitely not a hymn).
    • On the other hand, Mass is both an a shining example and a subversion; part of the wonder of this powerful opera is that it is a no hold barred commentary on the Roman Catholic church commentary that yes, showcases the stumblings of the church, but it also shows it at its very best.
  • German punk-pop band Die Ärzte parodied this with Grotesksong, a near-classical protest song with only an acoustic guitar as instrumentation (at least in the first two verses). It is a protest song all right - against protest songs.
    • Listening to it again, it may actually be a protest song against protest songs against protest songs...
  • "Zombie" by The Cranberries, against the IRA.
  • Several songs from Peter Tägtgren's Pain, especially on the last couple of albums. Examples include The Third Wave, Not Your Kind, and Feed Us, which are about corruption, evangelicalism, and the medias coverage of celebrities, respectively.
  • Metallica's sadly-underplayed "Disposable Heroes". The following album, ...And Justice for All, was described by Lars Ulrich as their "CNN years" - he and James would watch CNN, see what displeased them, and write a song about it.
  • Marvin Gaye's later career swung back and forth, from protest songs ("What's Going On",[2] "Inner City Blues", "Mercy Mercy Me") to the kind of music that probably got you conceived ("Let's Get It On", "Sexual Healing").
  • Protest music is a staple of Punk Rock, and particularly of hardcore punk, to the extent that trying to build a comprehensive list of examples would be an exercise in futility. Such songs tend to be shorter, punchier, and noticeably less weepy than traditional protest songs, although they arguably lose some emotional impact in the transition; bands such as Propagandhi and the Dead Kennedys, among many others, have built their entire careers around this trope.
    • This has come full-circle in the form of Folk Punk, artists such as Evan Greer or Ghost Mice, who strip down punk rock as far as possible, and end up sounding like early Bob Dylan or Phil Ochs.
  • Richard Thompson's "Dad's Gonna Kill Me" is a protest song written from the perspective of a soldier in Iraq, and using actual soldier slang ("dad" for Baghdad, etc.)
    • "Guns are the Tongues" averts this to some degree; while it takes place during The Troubles and is quite clearly on the side of "this was a very bad idea", it's mostly telling the related story of a twisted relationship.
  • "Violet Hill" by Coldplay, and "Invisible Sun" by The Police, about the troubles in Ireland.
  • Most of Billy Bragg's music fits this trope.
  • Spoofed in The Simpsons episode "Last Exit to Springfield", when Lisa composes a protest song for the workers at Homer's power plant after Mr. Burns cons them out of their dental plan. It uses the style of Depression-era folk music.
  • John Rich's "Shuttin' Detroit Down". One of the few Love It or Hate It songs among fans of country.
  • P!nk's song "Dear Mister President" (which was aimed at Bush, not the current president). For some reason, it received no airtime in this country while Bush was in office, but was immensely popular overseas.
  • U2: "Sunday Bloody Sunday" about The Troubles and Bloody Sunday in Derry; "Mothers of the Disappeared" and "Bullet the Blue Sky" about U.S. intervention in El Salvador; "Silver and Gold" about South Africa and apartheid; "Miss Sarajevo" about Bosnia; and "Pride (In the Name of Love)" about the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. (among other things) to name a few.
    • "Mothers of the Disappeared" is actually about the Argentine Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo and the people who disappeared after the 1976 coup.
    • "Peace on Earth" is also about the Troubles even naming specific victims of a then-recent bombing. "Please" is a particularly harrowing song protesting false religious piety in the face of poverty/injustice. Then there's "Love and Peace or Else," "Crumbs From Your Table," the list goes on...
  • "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song" by The Flaming Lips
  • Wings' first single, "Give Ireland Back To The Irish". Three guesses as to what it's about.
  • Or "Bloody Sunday" by John Lennon, at the same time...
  • Even The Monkees got into the act, though they had to sneak it in: their biggest hit, "Last Train to Clarksville", was about a soldier about to be shipped off to Vietnam, making plans to sneak off base to meet his fiancee at a No-Tell Motel for one last fling because "I don't know if I'm ever coming home." Whether this was actually meant as a protest, or just a case of Lyrical Dissonance, seemed to depend on which of the bandmembers (or their songwriters) you ask.
    • "Pleasant Valley Sunday" is a pretty straightforward slam against Stepford Suburbia.
    • And then there's "Mommy and Daddy"... (It was reportedly Bowdlerized for the album The Monkees Present, and this version only appeared on the 1995 Rhino Records reissue.)
  • Michael Jackson's "We've Had Enough" and "They Don't Care About Us"
  • "Wars" by Hurt. Take a wild guess at what it's protesting.
  • "World Wide Suicide" and "Bu$hleaguer" by Pearl Jam
  • "When the President Talks to God" by Bright Eyes
  • Boris Vians "Le Deserteur" written during the French war in Vietnam, and later sung in America by Joan Baez.
  • The song "Bangla Desh" by George Harrison. The lyrics are actually notably apolitical, but at the time it was written and performed, merely calling the country "Bangladesh" was a political act. The Pakistani government, which at the time most Western countries were allied with, insisted it be called East Pakistan (in fact the Nixon administration was selling arms to the Pakistani government, so the song was a direct contradiction of American foreign policy).
    • Not that the British George Harrison would care about American foreign policy in that way.
  • Straightforwardly enough, "Protest Song" by Eric Himan, mostly about gay rights.
  • "16 Military Wives" by The Decemberists is fairly transparently about the Iraq War, George W. Bush's bully-like foreign policy, and celebrities who could barely come up with even the wishy-washiest of stances on the topic. The music video features a Model United Nations conference gone completely insane, with Colin Meloy (the lead singer) as the United States beating up on Luxembourg (multi-instrumentalist Chris Funk) before eventually Luxembourg leads a (musical) revolt, joined by Ireland (keyboardist Jenny Conlee). Like I said, wacky.
  • Eiffel 65 - Too Much of Heaven
  • Subversion: "Politics In Space" by Kate Miller-Heidke.
    • "The 60's were fifty years ago, you know. Get over it."
  • Green Day's American Idiot, and "Holiday" and the title track in particular, were heavily critical of the George W. Bush government.
  • "Mosh" by Eminem is critical of George W. Bush and the war in Iraq.
  • Maroon 5's "Makes Me Wonder" is a bit less blatant than most, probably because it was first conceived strictly to be about failed relationships, but was shelved and then revisited for a later album, at which point lead singer/songwriter Adam Levine noticed that some of the lines could just as easily apply to the way Bush sent troops into Iraq under dubious pretenses and reworked the song to have a double meaning.
  • "Child's Play" by TNT was written by singer Tony Harnell as a protest against nuclear weapons.
  • Pretty much everything by Harry Chapin, with songs about poverty in the third world ("Shortest Story") about rich people and poor people ("Odd-Job Man"), and numerous other, although not actually the song "Basic Protest song" which instead picks apart the idea of protesting.
  • At least 7 out of 10 songs by Irish trad band Wolfe Tones, and an even larger percentage by their gone-solo singer Derek Warfield.
  • Guns N' Roses, "Civil War".
  • Iron Maiden has "Holy Smoke" (on televangelists), "Be Quick Or Be Dead", "Face in the Sand", "Age of Innocence", "Two Minutes to Midnight" and their latest song, "El Dorado". Some of their historic battle-inspired songs which enter War Is Hell territory might count.
  • The Kinks' "Apeman"
  • Simon and Garfunkel with their cover of Ian Campbell's "The Sun is Burning".
    • Also, "7 O' Clock News/Silent Night", which juxtaposes the peaceful Christmas carol with a series of downbeat newscasts relating to then-current events.
  • Thin Lizzy, "Genocide (The Killing Of The Buffalo)"
  • Bruce Springsteen's "War" (which is actually a Covered Up version of an old Edwin Starr song).
    • Also "Born in the U.S.A.", though many people fail to recognize it as one.
    • Several of his albums are essentially made of these, especially The Ghost of Tom Joad.
  • The Rolling Stones have tried their hand at a few of these: "Undercover of the Night", "High Wire", "Sweet Neo-Con".
    • "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" has some protest-song elements, particularly in the first two verses (with their still-on-target jabs at the media and advertising worlds).
  • Bruce Cockburn has penned several good ones: "If I Had a Rocket Launcher", "The Trouble with Normal", "Call It Democracy", "If a Tree Falls".
  • Butch Walker's "Paid to Get Excited" is a protest song against Bush-era politics and societal mindset. He finds it a little embarrassing to sing now.
    • Folk-rocker Dan Bern released a whole album of anti-Bush protest songs in 2004 entitled My Country II and an accompanying EP Anthems.
  • "Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye," a classic folk tune from Ireland from the early 19th century.
  • Clayton McMichen and "Prohibition Blues", written, unsurprisingly, during and about the Prohibition era:

Prohibition has killed more folks than Sherman ever seen
If they can't get whiskey they'll take to dope, cocaine or morphine
This ol' country sure ain't dry, and dry'll never be seen
Prohibition is just a scheme, a fine money-makin' machine

  • "Unfair" from the musical Fiorello!
  • The song "Stop the Dams" by Gorillaz is believed to be Damon Albarn's protest against the dams in Reykjavik, where he has a house. That said, the actual lyrical content seems to be about a myriad of different things. The title seems to be the one thing that really has anything to do with the "dams" in question, unless you want to think of everything as a metaphor.
    • Also, the whole album Plastic Beach is about how we have to stop polluting and being wasteful.
    • And "Dirty Harry" is a protest against George W. Bush and the war on terror.
  • KMFDM's Hau Ruck album has several of these, including "Free Your Hate" and "New American Century".
  • One song by Skinny Puppy is appropriately titled "Pro-Test". "Hit me in the streets!"
  • The Nice's hard rock version of Leonard Bernstein's America was described by keyboard player/arranger Keith Emerson as "the world's only instrumental protest song".
  • Lots and lots of Latin American singers during The Sixties. The movement was even called "Nueva Trova"(New Song) in some Spanish speaking countries. It was inspired in Cuban singers and the whole bunch of dictators in the continent in the '50-'70: Pablo Milanes, Mercedes Sosa, Silvio Rodriguez, Leon Gieco and Carlos Mejia Godoy are some of those singers.
  • Spanish Civil War song "Que la tortilla se vuelva", covered by many Latin American singers
  • Also, many Brazilian singers during the dictatorship. Noticeably, a Chico Buarque song named "Apesar de Você" ("In spite of you") was subtle enough to go unnoticed through the censorship of the time. (once the dictatorship noticed what the song was really about, they ended banning him for years)
  • Linkin Park has three on their appropriately-titled album Minutes to Midnight: "Hands Held High", which is the boringly obvious and explicit one about the war; "No More Sorrow", which is a somewhat subtler Take That to the Bush administration; and "The Little Things Give You Away", which is likewise clearly but not explicitly about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
  • Quicksilver Messenger Service had "What About Me?" which even contained the line "And those of us who care enough/We have to do something."
  • Several Mitch Benn songs, especially the ones on The Now Show. They're usually funny about it though.
  • Most songs by Scottish folksinger Dick Gaughan. "A Different Kind of Love Song" is his response to someone who complained he only sang political songs.
  • "Long Live Egypt" and "Sout Al Horeya" probably make Egypt's 2011 Revolution the first one in history to have a Soft Rock soundtrack.
  • Mr. B The Gentleman Rhymer humorously protests laws banning smoking in pubs in his song, "Let Me Smoke My Pipe!"
  • "The Gulf War Song" by Moxy Fruvous, although it ends up protesting political partisanship more than the war itself:

We got a call to write a song
About the War in the Gulf
But we shouldn't hurt anyone's feelings

  • "Strange Fruit", a song about lynching. The most famous version was sung by Billie Holiday.
  • Obscure Boston post-punk band Human Sexual Response only put out one album...a deliberately confrontational one about sexual attitudes. Among their protest songs, "Dick and Jane", which takes Lyrical Dissonance to new heights; "Jackie Onassis", a pointed Take That to media manipulation and false celebrity; and the self-explantory "Butt F**k", which takes on added dimension when you find out the band's lead singer was openly gay.
  • French singer Renaud, when he was young, was very famous for that, even if his most famous songs today probably are Mistral Gagnant and Morgan de toi, two ballads written for his daughter Lola.
  • Many of Midnight Oil's songs.
  • A lot of people thought Russel Morris' Mind Screw "The Real Thing" was a protest song about The Vietnam War. According to Word of God, it was actually a whimsical musing about Coca-Cola's slogan.
  • The Tragically Hip prefer non-obvious lyrics, but a number of their songs can be considered protest songs, such as "Vaccination Scar" (against Bush-era jingoism), "Gus The Polar Bear From Central Park" (about how the Bush presidency, in using fear as a political tool, was getting upset when people weren't afraid enough), and so on.
  • Matthew Good likewise doesn't protest against specific things (he uses his blog for that), but many of his songs carry anti-war messages, such as "Black Helicopter" (with the eminently-quotable line "Only killers call killing progress"), "Silent Army In The Trees" (about how war veterans can be abandoned by their country when they return home broken and suffering from PTSD), and "If I Was A Tidal Wave" (talks about washing the world clean of the problems that afflict it, mostly man-made).
    • He also has the song "Sort of a Protest Song", which isn't really against anything in particular, but can be applied to the general apathy modern people apply to third-world problems.
  • Many songs by The Jam, including Going Underground and Eton Rifles.
  • Bryan Adams doesn't usually venture into this kind of territory. The one exception was Don't Drop That Bomb On Me, the final track of 1991's Waking Up The Neighbours. Five years earlier, he refused to include his song, Only The Strong Survive, on the Top Gun soundtrack because he felt it glamourised war.
  • The Zombies' "Butcher's Tale (Western Front 1914)": Despite being released during the Vietnam War, it was actually about a soldier fighting in World War I. Still, the overall message is "being in a war is a terrible experience, and those that support wars generally do so because they don't know what it's like to be in one".
  • Randy Newman has quite a few, ranging from the subtle ("Rednecks") to the sarcastic ("Political Science", about nuking every other nation on the planet for dubious reasons) to the fairly direct ("Mr. President, Have Pity on the Working Man").
  • "There Is No Depression In New Zealand" by New Zealand post-punk group Blam Blam Blam. The song was adopted as a popular anthem by opponents of the 1981 Springbok Tour in the country.
  • A number of songs by Ewan MacColl, including against the death penalty (Go Down Ye Murderers and Derek Bentley), Vietnam (Brother Did You Weep) and Apartheid (Black and White)
  • Parodied in Camper Van Beethoven's "Club Med Sucks", which uses the same kind of rhetoric as political Hardcore Punk songs of the time to describe a teenager's parents forcing him to going to Club Med instead of just letting him hang out on the beach on his own all summer ("I want no part of their death culture / I just wanna go to the beach"). Played more straight with "Might Makes Right", from the point of view of a disillusioned soldier.
  • "American Woman", by The Guess Who:

I don't need your war machines
I don't need your ghetto scenes

  • An uncommon Dutch example, "Welterusten, meneer de president" (Sleep well, Mr. President), sung by Boudewijn de Groot, was a protest song written in the 60's opposing the war in Vietnam and Lyndon B. Johnson, the president of the US at the time.
    • The sarcasm-laden song brings forward the question how President Johnson can sleep at night, while blood-covered soldiers stand guard far away, and "reassures" him not to worry about the mistaken bombardment and innocent casualties.
  • N.W.A. has some examples
    • Fuck Tha Police is about racial profiling and police brutality
  • Within Gaita Zuliana, there is a whole sub-genre titled "Gaita de Protesta" that is filled with songs in this vein. Due to the amount of frequency of those, there is the half joke that every year it will be a goverment-censored gaita.
    • The most famous and emblematic gaita song, "La Grey Zuliana" (as composed and sung by the late Ricardo Aguirre), is about how Maracaibo and Zulia state in general are deliberately ignored by the Venezuelan government despite being the state where most oil is produced, and that their only resource left is pray to their patron Our Lady of Chiquinquirá.
    • Barrio Obrero de Cabimas has produced so many of these they are usually typecasted as a "protesta" group.

Parodies and Lampshades in Fiction[edit | hide]

  • Eric Idle's "I Bet You They Won't Play This Song On The Radio" was a mockery of censorship practices at radio stations, which inserted comical sound effect bleeps in place of bad words. He also wrote The FCC Song, which, naturally, is a Take That directed toward the Federal Communications Commission, with the rest of the government thrown in for good measure.
    • The topic was later taken up by Family Guy, via Peter's song "The Freakin' FCC".
  • Hugh Laurie (in A Bit of Fry and Laurie) sang the protest song, "All We Gotta Do Is" in a whiny, Dylan-esque voice, and mentioned some serious issues everyone had to fix, but didn't actually give a solution to them:

It's so easy, to see
If only they'd listen, to you and me.
We got to (mumbling) as fast as we can
We got to (mumbling) every woman, every man
We got to (mumbling) time after time
We got to (mumbling) vodka and lime.
(Cue the harmonica solo.)

    • He also sang a "very angry song" (though Fry wasn't sure it "qualifie[d] as a satire") about jars. Jars that get separated from their lids. The lyrics? "Where is the lid?" repeated over and again.
      • Hugh Laurie loves this trope - another parody featured an American Country and Western singer with a very specific solution to the world's problems 'Kickin Ass'
  • Infant Sorrow, the fictional band featured in the film Forgetting Sarah Marshall, recorded a similarly satirical piece entitled We Gotta Do Something;

I don't wanna see another child crying
I don't wanna see another dog dying in the streets
I don't wanna see another homeless person
Because that doesn't seem right to me
I mean, 'e's got a home, 'e's not got a home!
Why can't we all just get together in one great big home?
And if I was in government, i'd govern things a lot differently
'Cause it doesn't seem like a good way to government things
When there's so many poor people around.

Oh I hate the government
More than you hate me
The government took my goldfish
And unplugged my TV

  • During the Greatest Hits and Song Styles games in Whose Line Is It Anyway?, the designated singers would usually default to Bob Dylan if 'protest songs' was suggested.

"This country needs fixin' / And we hate Richard Nixon..."

  • Benny Hill included a reference to protest singers (among other things) in his 1965 song "What a World". As a bonus, he sings it in a parody Bob Dylan voice.

Now the folk singer came from America, to sing at the Albert Hall
He sang his songs of protest and fairer shares for all;
He sang how the poor were much too poor and the rich too rich by far
Then he drove back to his penthouse in his brand new Rolls-Royce car.

  • Family Guy have done many, including the "Bag of Weed" song and the "Freakin' FCC".
    • Considering the fact the songs where meant to get the view of Seth Mc Farland out, albeit with an exaggerated message, YMMV as to whether these are parodies or actual protest songs.
  • SCTV had hardcore British punk band the Queen Haters on the "American Bandstand"-style "Mel's Rock Pile" to sing "I Hate the Bloody Queen", making no impression on the squarish North American audience.
  • "Hosianna Rockefeller" from Happy End, a hymn sarcastically praising profiteering.
  • "Think About It" by Flight of the Conchords is a parody of this trope, teaching us valuable lessons such as how sweatshops are bad... because they don't actually make sneakers cheaper; how people have become so uncaring.... that nobody stops to check if a headless man is dead. turns out he's dead.
  • The Arrogant Worms' "vegetable rights" song "Carrot Juice is Murder."

  1. For example, John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign used John Mellencamp's song "Pink Houses", completely missing the point that Mellencamp was protesting against the things that McCain stood for.
  2. No question mark - Marvin Gaye is telling us what's going on, not asking us.