Protestapalooza

The other day as I was kicking my Pumas off for yet another adventure through the airport security line (ah the life of a traveling feminist), I realized that Peter Yarrow, famed singer of Peter, Paul, and Mary, was a few grumpy people ahead of me in line. I added it to my growing list of weird and wonderful airport encounters (I also found myself sockless with Chuck Schumer lately). In any case, it got me thinking about the contemporary state of “protest music,” and then GOOD (HI ANN!) ran this piece on Public Domain Protest Songs and, this week, The Nation published this list of reader’s favorite protest songs. Doesn’t it just seem like I am supposed to write a post on protest music?

So what makes a song bonafide “protest music?” I’m sure music critics much more cultured than I would have something to say about this, but I’m thinking about it less from a musical standpoint and more from an emotional standpoint. What makes you feel like fighting back, standing up for justice, taking to the streets, or taking a chance on hope?

Some songs get me going because the lyrics speak directly to the pathetic status quo, hypocrisy, and the need for justice. Songs like Brother Ali’s “Uncle Sam Goddamn” (lyrics after the jump):

But some songs get me riled up, less from a lyrical, cerebral place, and more from a feeling creeping up my spine kinda way. Songs like Dead Prez’ “Fake Records” (lyrics after the jump, nonetheless). Obviously there are some radical messages here, but it strikes me on more of a visceral level. It also make me feel immediately transported back to my college days, which tells you how old I’m gettin’:

I’m obviously impartial to hip hop for my protest fix, but my Facebook friends offered up a range of other suggestions: “Killing in the Name” by Rage Against the Machine, “Draft Dodger Rag” by Phil Ochs, “Fight The Power” or “Can’t Truss It” by Public Enemy, “Mississippi Goddamn” by Nina Simone, “Vietnam” by Jimmy Cliff, “Ohio” by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, “Handsome Johnny” by Richie Havens, “One By One” by Emma’s Revolution, “Strangefruit” by Billie Holiday, “A Change is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke, “Roll Me Through The Gates Of Hell” by Mischief Brew, “Changes” by Tupac, “Get Up” by The Coup, “The Point of No Return” by Immortal Technique, “Zombie” by Fela, “Whose Side are You On Now” by Ani Difranco, “Dyke March” by Le Tigre, “Nomads Revolt” by Mischief Brew etc. (And now you also see why I love my friends so much.)

What do you listen to when you need to get inspired for activism? What do you listen to in order to reconnect with your anger or feel empowered to take action?

Lyrics to “Uncle Sam Goddamn“:

Ah,
The name of this song is uncle sam goddamn
It’s a show tune but the show ain’t been written for it yet.
We’re gonna see if tony Jerome and the band
can maybe work this shit out for me
And straighten me out right quick
I like it so far man

Yeah

Come on, let’s go

Welcome to the united snakes
Land of the thief, home of the slave
Grand imperial guard where
the dollar is sacred and proud

Let’s do this shit for real, come on now

Smoke and mirrors, stripes and stars
Stollen for the cross in the name of God
Bloodshed, genocide, rape and fraud
Written to the pages of the law, good lord

The cold continent latch key child
Ran away one day and started acting foul
King of where the wild things are, daddy’s proud
Cause the roman empire done passed it down

Imported and tortured the work force
They never healed the wounds or shook the curse off
Now the grown up Goliath nation
Holdin open auditions for the part of David, can you feel?

Nothing can save you, you question the rain
You get rushed in and chained up
fists raised but I must be insane
Cause I can’t figure a single goddamn way to change it

Welcome to the united snakes
Land of the thief, home of the slave
Grant imperial guard where the dollar is sacred and power is God

Welcome to the united snakes
Land of the thief, home of the slave
Grant imperial guard where the dollar is sacred and power is God

All must bow to the fat and lazy
The fuck you obey me and
why do they hate me, who me?
Only two generations away from
the Worlds most despicable slavery trade

Pioneered so many ways to degrade a human being
That it can’t be changed to this day
Legacy so ingrained in the way that we think
We don’t only need chains to be slaves

Lord it’s a shameful display
The overseers even got raped along the way
Cause the children can’t escape from the pain
And they’re born with the pores
and this hatred in their veins

Try and separate a man from his soul
You’ll only strengthen him and lose your own
Well shoot that fucker if he walk near the throne
Remind him that this is my home (now i’m gone)

Welcome to the united snakes
Land of the thief, home of the slave
Grant imperial guard where the dollar is sacred and power is god

Welcome to the united snakes
Land of the thief, home of the slave
Grant imperial guard where the dollar is sacred

Hold up, gimme one right here, hold up

You don’t give money to the bums
On the corner with a sign, bleeding from their gums
Talking much, you don’t support a crackhead
What you think happens to the money from yo’ taxes

Shit the governments an addict
With a billion dollar a week kill brown people habit
And even if you ain’t on the front line
When the master yell crunch time you right back at it

You ain’t look at how you hustling backwards
And the end of the year add up what they subtracted
3 outta twelve months your salary
Paid for that madness, man that’s sadness

What’s left get a big ass plasma
To see where they made Dan Rather point the damn camera
Only approved questions get answered
Now stand your ass up for that national anthem

Welcome to the united snakes
Land of the thief, home of the slave
Grant imperial guard where the dollar is sacred and power is God

Welcome to the united snakes
Land of the thief, home of the slave
Grant imperial guard where the dollar is sacred and power is God

[instrumental break]

Custom made, the consumer news

Keep saying we’re free
But we’re all just blue (x3)

Custom made, the consumer news
Keep saying we’re free
But we’re all just blue

Ah,
The name of this song is uncle sam goddamn
It’s a show tune but the show ain’t been written for it yet.
We’re gonna see if tony Jerome and the band
can maybe work this shit out for me
And straighten me out right quick
I like it so far man

Yeah

Come on, let’s go

Welcome to the united snakes
Land of the thief, home of the slave
Grand imperial guard where
the dollar is sacred and proud

Let’s do this shit for real, come on now

Smoke and mirrors, stripes and stars
Stollen for the cross in the name of God
Bloodshed, genocide, rape and fraud
Written to the pages of the law, good lord

The cold continent latch key child
Ran away one day and started acting foul
King of where the wild things are, daddy’s proud
Cause the roman empire done passed it down

Imported and tortured the work force
They never healed the wounds or shook the curse off
Now the grown up Goliath nation
Holdin open auditions for the part of David, can you feel?

Nothing can save you, you question the rain
You get rushed in and chained up
fists raised but I must be insane
Cause I can’t figure a single goddamn way to change it

Welcome to the united snakes
Land of the thief, home of the slave
Grant imperial guard where the dollar is sacred and power is God

Welcome to the united snakes
Land of the thief, home of the slave
Grant imperial guard where the dollar is sacred and power is God

All must bow to the fat and lazy
The fuck you obey me and
why do they hate me, who me?
Only two generations away from
the Worlds most despicable slavery trade

Pioneered so many ways to degrade a human being
That it can’t be changed to this day
Legacy so ingrained in the way that we think
We don’t only need chains to be slaves

Lord it’s a shameful display
The overseers even got raped along the way
Cause the children can’t escape from the pain
And they’re born with the pores
and this hatred in their veins

Try and separate a man from his soul
You’ll only strengthen him and lose your own
Well shoot that fucker if he walk near the throne
Remind him that this is my home (now i’m gone)

Welcome to the united snakes
Land of the thief, home of the slave
Grant imperial guard where the dollar is sacred and power is god

Welcome to the united snakes
Land of the thief, home of the slave
Grant imperial guard where the dollar is sacred

Hold up, gimme one right here, hold up

You don’t give money to the bums
On the corner with a sign, bleeding from their gums
Talking much, you don’t support a crackhead
What you think happens to the money from yo’ taxes

Shit the governments an addict
With a billion dollar a week kill brown people habit
And even if you ain’t on the front line
When the master yell crunch time you right back at it

You ain’t look at how you hustling backwards
And the end of the year add up what they subtracted
3 outta twelve months your salary
Paid for that madness, man that’s sadness

What’s left get a big ass plasma
To see where they made Dan Rather point the damn camera
Only approved questions get answered
Now stand your ass up for that national anthem

Welcome to the united snakes
Land of the thief, home of the slave
Grant imperial guard where the dollar is sacred and power is God

Welcome to the united snakes
Land of the thief, home of the slave
Grant imperial guard where the dollar is sacred and power is God

[instrumental break]

Custom made, the consumer news

Keep saying we’re free
But we’re all just blue (x3)

Custom made, the consumer news
Keep saying we’re free
But we’re all just blue

Lyrics to “Fake Records”:

Fake, fake records

Uh, uh, uh, 1, 2, 1, 2
Uh, uh, 1, 2, 1, 2, uh, uh
All my dogs

It’s bigger than hip hop, hip hop, hip hop, hip
It’s bigger than hip hop, hip hop, hip hop, hip hop

Uh, one thing ’bout music
When it hit you feel no pain
White folks says it controls your brain
I know better than that
That’s game and we ready for that
Two soldiers head of the pack
Matter of fact who got the gat?
And where my army at?
Rather attack than not react
Back the beats it don’t reflect
On how many records get sold
On sex, drugs, and rock and roll
Whether your project’s put on hold
In the real world
These just people with ideas
They just like me and you
When the smoke and camera disappear
Again the real world (world)
It’s bigger than all these fake ass records
When poor folks got the millions
And my woman’s disrespected
If you check 1,2,
My word of advice to you is just relax
Just do what you got to do
If that don’t work then kick the facts
If you a fighter, rider, lighter, flame ignitor, crowd exciter
Or you wanna just get high
Then just say it
But then if you a liar-liar, pants on fire
Wolf-cry agent with a wire
I’m gon’ know it when I play it

It’s bigger than hip hop, hip hop, hip hop, hip
It’s bigger than hip hop, hip hop, hip hop, hip hop

Uh, who shot Biggie Smalls
If we don’t get them
They gonna get us all
I’m down for runnin’ up on them
Crackers in they city hall
We ride for y’all
All my dogs stay real
Nigga don’t think these record deals
Gonna feed your seeds
And pay your bills because they not
MC’s get a little bit of love and think they hot
Talkin’ ’bout how much money they got
Nigga all y’all records sound the same
I sick of that fake thug, R & B
Rap scenario all day on the radio
Same scenes in the video, monotonous material
Y’all don’t here me though
These record labels slang our tapes like dope
You can be next in line, and signed
And still be writing rhymes and broke
You would rather have a Lexus or justice
A dream or some substance
A Beamer, a necklace or freedom
Still a nigga like me don’t playa’ hate
I just stay awake
This real hip-hop, and it don’t stop
‘Til we get the po-po off the block
They call it

Hip hop, hip hop, hip hop, hip
It’s bigger than hip hop, hip hop, hip hop, hip
It’s bigger than hip hop, hip hop, hip hop, hip
It’s bigger than hip hop, hip hop, hip hop

DP’s got that crazy shit we keep it crunk up
John Blaze’d and shit what

Uh, DP’s got that crazy shit we keep it crunk up
John Blaze’d and shit

Uh, DP’s got that crazy shit we keep it crunk up
John Blaze’d and shit

1, 2, 1, 2

Uh, DP’s got that crazy shit we keep it crunk up
John Blaze’d and shit

Uh, DP’s got that crazy shit we keep it crunk up

They call it

Fake, fake, fake records

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12 Comments

  1. Posted May 5, 2011 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

    Linkin Park’s “Hands Held High.”

    My brother had a book he would hold with pride.
    A little red cover with a broken spine.
    On the back he hand-wrote a quote inside:
    When the rich wage war, it’s the poor who die.

  2. Posted May 5, 2011 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    That’s quite a song. On a different note, I heard Joan Jett’s cover of “Androgynous” from The Replacements yesterday and felt pretty inspired. You can see a version on YouTube that shows her reading the song as a picture book to a bunch of rapt elementary school kids.

  3. Posted May 5, 2011 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    Pretty much anything by Nneka – but “Heartbeat”, “The Uncomfortable Truth” and “Africans” are all amazing.

    Pharaohe Monch is superb – “Book of Judges” blows the cobs away or his cover of “Enter the Terrordome”

    Neil Young’s “Southern Man”

    Gojira – The whole of the “From Mars to Sirius” album (Not for the faint of ear mind)

  4. Posted May 5, 2011 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    “Instant Karma!”- John Lennon

  5. Posted May 5, 2011 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    The Dropkick Murphys have some great pro-Worker/Union anthems, including “Worker’s Song” and “Take ‘em Down” in addition to a badass cover of the classic “Which Side are You On?”

  6. Posted May 5, 2011 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    I am SO glad you included Ani DiFranco! As for me, about half of her material inspires me to activism. Also, “Whose Side Are You On Now” is a tweak on an old Pete Seeger Union song, “Which Side Are You On”. Good shit.

  7. Posted May 5, 2011 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

    Sleater-Kinney’s “Combat Rock”

  8. Posted May 5, 2011 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

    nice list of protest music so far!

    chuck ragan’s great at writing melodic folk-y kind of tunes and it works well with a protest-y message attached to it. see: “for broken ears”, “for goodness sake”, “get ‘em all home”. he’s just an all-around awesome artist when it comes to crafting inspirational, uplifting tunes. same goes for the work he did in his (legendary) punk band, hot water music.

    and speaking of uplifting melodic punk, latterman knew how to do it best too. feminism/addressing sexism in punk was one of their big concerns, shame they broke up, but they left behind three solid albums. and most of the members went on to form dozens of other bands, carrying on the message in latterman.

    anyway, that’s some of the stuff that keeps me going!

  9. Posted May 5, 2011 at 11:45 pm | Permalink

    I’m a major fan of political/protest music, so I was thrilled to see this post!
    The protest song that hits me the hardest is Antje Duvekot’s song “Christian Boys”, which she wrote about the Bush administration’s hypocrisy. I first heard this song when she played at a local music club in 2006, and it moved me to tears.

    Here’s a sample of the lyrics:
    “How does the poor man on the bench become a criminal
    While the rich man on the Hill hails to the thieves?
    How does pride equate to justice, until the flag becomes a gun?
    How will the sun set down, after the war is won?

    Oh and Momma, aren’t you proud?
    Oh he plays with such big toys
    And he thinks it’s all a game
    Your little virtuous, Christan boy”

    Here’s a link to a youtube video of her performing it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-MQS2_z0Tuc

  10. Posted May 6, 2011 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    “There but for Fortune” and “Cops of the World” by Phil Ochs… a whole lot by Gil Scott Heron, but a few would be “Winter in America,” “South Carolina” and “Liberation Song”… “Inner City Blues,” “Mercy Mercy Me” and “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye… Janelle Monae’s “Mr President”… There’s so much by Nina Simone, but “Work Song,” “Backlash Blues,” and “Revolution” stand out… “Evil That Men Do” and more by Queen Latifah… “Beware Verwoerd,” “Bahleli Bonke” and “Pata Pata” and, well, everything by Miriam Makeba… “Wake Up Everybody” by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes… lots of stuff by Wale Oyejide… “Heven Tonite,” “Ride the Fence,” “20,000 Gun Salute” and more by the Coup (and check out Street Sweeper Social Club, too)… um, everything by Fela Kuti… plenty by Joan Baez, too, “the Ballad of Sacco and Vanzetti” and more…

    Gosh… there’s so darned much… but I guess I’m supposed to do work sometimes…

  11. Posted May 6, 2011 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    I grew up on Phil Ochs. He could produce anti-war protest like “I ain’t a’marching anymore,” “One more parade” and “The Marines Have Landed on the Shores of Santo Domingo” yet honor the people who serve with “Men Behind the Guns,” “Pleasures of the Harbor” and “The Thresher.” He attacked with a vengeance (I doubt Mississippi would ever let him cross their borders after “Here’s to the State of Mississippi” but he gave Woody Guthie’s “This Land is Your Land” a run for the money with “Power and the Glory.” He opposed the death penalty with “The Iron Lady” and poked male swagger in international affairs with “We’re the Cops of the World.” He wrote with poignancy in “There but for fortune” and expressed love in poetry in “Changes.” He also put Noyes’ “The Highwayman” to music as well as Poe’s “The Bells.”

    It seems like I can always find a song of Phil’s to apply to social outrages, but I wish he had stayed around to produce more work. We need songwriters who can put causes in poetry and music.

  12. Posted May 7, 2011 at 1:57 am | Permalink

    Caitlyn,
    I think Ochs’s death is another example of why Hope was mixed up with all those messed up things in Pandora’s box. He really hoped and worked hard toward a brighter future – and when he saw how the very movement he was a part of (cough, Outside of a Small Circle of Friends) got perverted by the distance of privilege, it was too much to take.
    I think some of the best people to have walked this earth were really never meant for such a messed up place…

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