In my former online home, I had a little weekly feature called “Five for Friday.” The basic concept was — of course — shamelessly swiped from elsewhere. I’d post a list of five songs under some loose category and ask others to respond with their own quintet that fit. In response to what felt like it was about the millionth straight week of astonishing transgressions against the fundamentals of the republic, I raid that old feature for a list of tunes written and delivered in a fine later of indignation.This was first posted in 2006, so some callousness of the part of the administration of Bush II surely inspired the topic.
I’ve limited this post to my own five songs, but some of the best contributions came from those who joined in down in the comments section. Visit the original entry to discover insights and wit far greater than my own. I also went ahead and built a YouTube playlist with everyone’s picks. Why not? It’ll make fine soundtrack for the next march, which is sure to spring to life any minute.
Five Great Protest Songs
1. Billy Bragg, “Help Save the Youth of America.” I remember a Rolling Stone review of a Billy Bragg concert from 1988 that quoted part of his stage patter as (something like) “Sorry if I’m a little hoarse tonight. I spent the whole day screaming ‘Asshole!’ at people with Bush bumper stickers.” My how times stagnate. This is just Bragg and an acoustic guitar played like it’s a weapon. Woody would be proud. “A nation with their freezers full/Are dancing in their seats/While outside another nation/Are sleeping in the streets.”
2. Jackson Browne, “Lives in the Balance.” While we’re on the subject of commentary from the 1980s that inexplicably doesn’t go out of style:
You might ask what it takes to remember
When you know that you’ve seen it before
Where a government lies to a people
And a country is drifting to war
And there’s a shadow on the faces
Of the men who send the guns
To the wars that are fought in places
Where their business interest runs
3. Sleater-Kinney, “Combat Rock.” I’m certain I’ve brought up this song before, a fierce refutation of the smothering culture of conformity that was orchestrated after September 11th:
Our country’s marching to the beat now
And we must learn to step in time
Where is the questioning where is the protest song?
Since when is skepticism un-American?
Dissent’s not treason but they talk like it’s the same
Those who disagree are afraid to show their face
Let’s break out our old machines now
It sure is good to see them run again
And all propelled by a typically crunching Sleater-Kinney guitar attack. This would be a better world if Sleater-Kinney had the record sales figures of, say, U2.
4. Public Enemy, “Fight the Power.” Back before it was all about the Benjamins (Flavor Flav’s bling was a five dollar clock on a rope), PE made sure it was all about the angry cries against the establishment. There was a time when that powers that be were actually scared of rap music, not just in that rock’n’roll-leads-to-juvenile-deliquency way, but as a real threat, the opening musketfire of the new revolution. When rappers become more preoccuppied with misogyny and extolling the virtues of capitalism, the fatcats stopped worrying. Hmm, interesting.
5. Ani Difranco, “Face Up and Sing.” An eloquent challenge to those who are complacent with simply buying the politicized albums: “Some chick says ‘Thank you for saying all the things I never do.’/I say, ‘You know the thanks I get is take all this shit for you.’/It’s nice that you listen, it’d be nicer if you joined in/As long as you play their game, girl, you’re never gonna win.”