“War! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing.” These are the words of Barrett Strong in opposition to the Vietnam War. Musicians protested American involvement in that conflict through protest songs akin to this one. Music has long been used to express feelings about life and politics. Protest music rallies people to a cause with a battle cry and gives a voice to the broken, the beaten and the damned. People from all backgrounds and causes have made their voices heard through the powerful messages behind their music. Here are some famous examples of American protest music through the decades.
Willy and the Poorboys, “Fortunate Son” (1969)
It ain't me, it ain't me, I ain't no senator's son, son
It ain't me, it ain't me; I ain't no fortunate one, no.
On March 8, 1965, 3,500 United States Marines came ashore at Da Nang as the first wave of U.S. combat troops into South Vietnam. Anti-war protests broke out across the country and artists made their voices heard. “Fortunate Son” makes directs reference to the drafting of young men and raised the point that no “fortunate sons” were being sent to war, often due to their wealth or government connections.
Michael Jackson, “We Are The World” (1985)
We are the world. We are the children. We are the ones who make a brighter day, so let’s start giving.
Oh, I’m sorry, do I need to elaborate? Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie wrote “We Are the World” to raise money to support several African nations as they endured a famine. The charity single sold over 20 million copies. The song’s message resonates even today.
Green Day, “Holiday” (2004)
Sieg heil to the president gasman! Bombs away is your punishment!
While much of Green Day’s discography qualifies as protest music, their message was most clear on their album American Idiot (2004). Specifically, the song “Holiday,” shines a rage-filled light upon the Bush administration set to some killer bass. The song pays special attention to Bush with the lyrics. There are references to Bush’s war-mongering approach towards governance and his family's connections to petroleum companies, implying the war was being fought for monetary gain. The Bush administration is arguably characterized by its militaristic approach to foreign affairs, most notably in its fixation on possible nuclear arms in Iraq. “Bombs away is your punishment” can be interpreted as another reference to the brutality and fear-mongering of his administration.
Music is the ultimate form of self-expression. Using their music, artists can reach out to people worldwide. Protest music does just that in an attempt to raise awareness for causes ranging all over the ideological spectrum. In a time of growing tensions, we must look back upon the great artists who used their voice to empower millions. A legendary man once wrote a song about that very thing. A song that shines a light on -isms, -ists, him, her, us, them, everyone. A song that gives the world a simple instruction. Give Peace A Chance- John Lennon.