Featured: Top of Home Page

PopMatters Picks: Say It Loud! 65 Great Protest Songs

There's no time like the present for protest music. PopMatters has scoured the musical spectrum for the best examples of the protest song form, including anthems of great popularity and obscurity alike.

Edited by Zeth Lundy / Produced by Zeth Lundy and Sarah Zupko

Most songs are written for one of two reasons: love or protest. At its fundamental level, self-expression in music is all about raising awareness, the subject of which fluctuates between beauty and outrage -- two kinds of passion that rouse people to song in equal measure.

The protest song is not simply an idealist's sing-along custom-made for populous sit-ins and social demonstrations; human protest is waged at every level of our existence, in private and in public, and transcends the picket line to include battles for gender rights, racial equality, and freedom from the tyranny of self-righteous authority figures. The very best protest songs are those that touch upon universal themes that can be reapplied to a multitude of struggles from decade to decade, whether or not they were originally written in response to a specific event.

It makes sense that music -- pop music, in particular, the readymade stuff of the masses -- is used as a fundamental tool of dissent. Music speaks for us as individuals and groups, in eminently hummable phrases and cathartic dominion; its audience connects with its populist means of chorus and refrain; and its immediacy, its need to relay a message in mere minutes, is a most urgent sympathizer. Protest music's tipping point in popular culture came in the 1960s, when songwriters like Bob Dylan redirected pop music's focus to relevant real-time crises, such as the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War. It has continued to be a vital method of expression for years since, lending voice to fights for basic human rights and campaigns of logic against hollow governmental agencies, most notably during the tumultuous tenure of the latest Bush Administration and its ongoing quagmire in Iraq.

This isn't to say that protest songs are surefire ways to make a difference, because honestly, there's very little a three-minute ditty can do to rid the world of all its evils. In fact, you could even say that putting one's faith in a protest song is an act of futility or absurdity, and you'd probably be right. Still, we shouldn't be stopped from dissenting, from stating truths or challenging wrongs, because if you don't take a stand for something then you'll be defined by anything. PopMatters has scoured the musical spectrum for the best examples of the protest song form, including anthems of great popularity and obscurity alike. May they inspire you to stand up and be heard in the midst of whatever dark hour you find yourself in.

-- Zeth Lundy

Music


Books


Film


Recent
Books

90 Years on 'Olivia' Remains a Classic of Lesbian Literature

It's good that we have our happy LGBTQ stories today, but it's also important to appreciate and understand the daunting depths of feeling that a love repressed can produce. In Dorothy Strachey's case, it produced the masterful Olivia.

Music

Indie Rocker Alpha Cat Presents 'Live at Vox Pop' (album stream)

A raw live set from Brooklyn in the summer of 2005 found Alpha Cat returning to the stage after personal tumult. Sales benefit organizations seeking to end discrimination toward those seeking help with mental health issues.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

A Lesson from the Avengers for Our Time of COVID-19

Whereas the heroes in Avengers: Endgame stew for five years, our grief has barely taken us to the after-credit sequence. Someone page Captain Marvel, please.

Music

Between the Grooves of Nirvana's 'Nevermind'

Our writers undertake a track-by-track analysis of the most celebrated album of the 1990s: Nirvana's Nevermind. From the surprise hit that brought grunge to the masses, to the hidden cacophonous noise-fest that may not even be on your copy of the record, it's all here.

Music

Deeper Graves Arrives via 'Open Roads' (album stream)

Chrome Waves, ex-Nachtmystium man Jeff Wilson offers up solo debut, Open Roads, featuring dark and remarkable sounds in tune with Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus.

Featured: Top of Home Page

The 50 Best Albums of 2020 So Far

Even in the coronavirus-shortened record release schedule of 2020, the year has offered a mountainous feast of sublime music. The 50 best albums of 2020 so far are an eclectic and increasingly "woke" bunch.

Books

First Tragedy, Then Farce, Then What?

Riffing off Marx's riff on Hegel on history, art historian and critic Hal Foster contemplates political culture and cultural politics in the age of Donald Trump in What Comes After Farce?

Reviews

HAIM Create Their Best Album with 'Women in Music Pt. III'

On Women in Music Pt. III, HAIM are done pretending and ready to be themselves. By learning to embrace the power in their weakest points, the group have created their best work to date.

Music

Amnesia Scanner's 'Tearless' Aesthetically Maps the Failing Anthropocene

Amnesia Scanner's Tearless aesthetically maps the failing Anthropocene through its globally connected features and experimental mesh of deconstructed club, reggaeton, and metalcore.

Music

How Lasting Is the Legacy of the Live 8 Charity Concert?

A voyage to the bottom of a T-shirt drawer prompts a look back at a major event in the history of celebrity charity concerts, 2005's Live 8, Philadelphia.

Music

Jessie Ware Embraces Her Club Culture Roots on Rapturous 'What's Your Pleasure?'

British diva Jessie Ware cooks up a glittery collection of hedonistic disco tracks and delivers one of the year's best records with What's Your Pleasure.

Music

Paul Weller Dazzles with the Psychedelic and Soulful 'On Sunset'

Paul Weller's On Sunset continues his recent streak of experimental yet tuneful masterworks. More than 40 years into his musical career, Weller sounds as fresh and inspired as ever.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.