May 2023 Music Mix: Protest Songs

A new post I’m going to try to do once a month is a post of some favorite songs of mine related to a specific topic. The result will be a playlist about an hour long on a particular topic. I came up with the idea when I was driving around Vermont this past weekend.

This month’s theme is protest songs. It was actually what spurred the idea because rock music has always been political, yet I see people complaining day in and day out that it’s “gotten too political.” No, it’s not any different than it’s always been – you are the one who has changed. In fact, I’d say there are fewer political songs now than when I was a teenager.

All of my playlists will start with a song by Bruce Springsteen. He’s been the soundtrack to my life more than anyone else. In this case, American Skin (41 Shots) was written about the police shooting death of Amadou Diallo in New York in 1999.

Biko by Peter Gabriel came out in 1980. It was inspired by the death of anti-apartheid protester Steven Biko in police custody.

Sunday Bloody Sunday by U2 was written in response to the fighting in Ireland. It seems like ancient history now when the Protestants and Catholics were fighting in a divided Ireland. The British Army opened fire on protesters in Derry in 1972 which resulted in 13 deaths and further empowered the IRA. Bono wrote the song not as a protest, but as a plea for peace.


Two Tribes by Frankie Goes to Hollywood was released at a time when Cold War tensions were high. I can remember at the time thinking quite often about a nuclear weapon being dropped on New York City, where I lived at the time.

Beds are Burning by Midnight Oil was released in 1987 about the plight of the Aboriginal people in Australia.

Free Nelson Mandela by The Specials was once named one of the top anti-apartheid songs. It was written after musician Jerry Dammers attended his first anti-apartheid concert.

What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye is from the album of the same name, written after band member Obie Benson witnessed police brutality at an anti-war protest in Berkeley, California.

Ohio by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young was written following the deaths of four students at Kent State University on May 4, 1970.

Know Your Rights by The Clash speaks to the idea of human rights but shows how in our modern society those rights are couched in ways those in authority can find to deny them.

Fight the Power by Public Enemy was written specifically for the Spike Lee movie Do The Right Thing. It was a time of racial tensions in New York City following the Howard Beach incident.

Sun City was written by Steven Van Zandt in protest of apartheid and the artists who were playing at the South African resort city. The resort city had been developed by trying to partition itself off from the rest of South Africa and not be held to that country’s laws. The black population that had lived there was forcibly relocated and black artists were considered “temporarily white” to be able to perform there.

For the complete playlist on Youtube, you can go to

1 reply »

  1. You are right rock music, as well as other forms of music, have always been political, more or less. Thinking that it has become too political I guess is a sign of getting old. Everything was always better before.

Leave a Reply