By Leslye Joy Allen Historian, Educator, Theatre and Jazz Advocate & Consultant, Ph.D. Candidate
Copyright © 2013 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.
One of the fun things about teaching history is not only helping young people discover new ideas, but also having them help you, the instructor, re-discover some of those ideas. One of the things we did as a class this semester was revisit some of the music of the early 1960s up to 1980 that had socially conscious and/or protest lyrics. Many of the songs on the following list were songs that I personally remembered and contributed. Yet, many of the songs were discovered by several of my students, along with a few suggestions by a few friends. My students and I had a good laugh about how some people upload music to YouTube in violation of copyright law. Yet, we all agreed that when one video or recording of a song was removed, another video would take its place. So, if any of the hyperlinks below have become inactive, I can only encourage you to do a quick search for the title of the song and/or artist.
My musical repertoire dates back to before Ragtime, thanks to my late birth to parents who were much older than the average age for first-time parents, and who were late born babies themselves. I was tempted to create a mammoth song list that touched on every possible social or political concern for the last hundred years. This list is hardly comprehensive or even representative of all the music that I know of that can be counted as having lyrical content that speaks about some social or political issue. Yet, it remains a great list when one considers that the music represented here is much, much older than the majority of my history students and that these songs still have relevance and meaning. Also, a comprehensive list would be too long to be useful. The idea of this assignment was to get students to look up and listen to music and access other art forms and discover that all of these art forms are important cultural markers which help tell so many stories and contribute to the history of any given era.
Many of my students have commented that too much of the music today seems empty of meaningful content. I agree. So, below is the list in date, rather than alphabetical, order. I hope you enjoy what my students discovered; and I hope you will make your own lists of songs of social consciousness and protest and then introduce those songs, musicians, songwriters, and messages to some young person that you know. You may even learn something new in the process. Peace.
(1962) “The Death of Emmitt Till” by Bob Dylan: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RVKTx9YlKls
(1963) “Masters of War” by Bob Dylan: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mvr72uTd7kc
(early 1960s**) “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Round” by Sweet Honey in the Rock: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c5Z1trynEHs (**Many singers have sung “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Round.” It remains a Traditional Negro Folk Song, adapted by the SNCC Freedom Singers, who began singing it at rallies in the early 1960s. Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon, who founded the vocal group “Sweet Honey in the Rock” was an original member of the Freedom Singers. The version above is a more recent version that she and the members of Sweet Honey in the Rock recorded for a PBS Series titled “Soundtrack for a Revolution.”)
(1963**) “Cotton Fields” by Odetta: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tXQDgqXnaT8 (**Odetta recorded this song live with Lawrence Mohr in 1954. Yet, she released this studio-recorded version in 1963)
(1964) “Mississippi, Goddamn” by Nina Simone: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fVQjGGJVSXc
(1965) “I Ain’t Marching Anymore” by Phil Ochs: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gv1KEF8Uw2k
(1965) “Draft Dodger Rag” by Phil Ochs: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tFFOUkipI4U (This song has some very humorous lyrics. It quickly became one of the anthems of the Anti-Vietnam Movement).
(1965) “People Get Ready” by The Impressions (featuring Curtis Mayﬁeld): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l04yM7-BWbg
(1966) “Love Me, I’m A Liberal” by Phil Ochs: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u52Oz-54VYw
(1967) “We’re a Winner (Movin’ on Up)” by The Impressions (featuring Curtis Mayﬁeld): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uLMRzDFMvEo
(1968) “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud” by James Brown: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j0A_N-wmiMo
(1968) “Why? (The King of Love is Dead)” by Nina Simone: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wh6R0BRzjW4
(1968) “Revolution” by The Beatles: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u2LKMogdjm8
(1969) “Freedom” by Richie Havens: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rynxqdNMry4
(1969) “Choice of Colors” by The Impressions (featuring Curtis Mayﬁeld): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SNV1Y01xNk8
(1970) “Young, Gifted and Black” by Nina Simone: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PEMOxRxcJpo
(1970) “War” by Edwin Starr: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dQHUAJTZqF0
(1970) “Ball of Confusion” by The Temptations: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JWtIvoub6XU
(1970) “If There’s Hell Below, We’re All Gonna Go” by Curtis Mayfield: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l2cTc7DofrA&list=PL1AE86EA721372D55
(1970) “Heaven Help Us All” by Stevie Wonder : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_gOLnLz9KjY
(1971) “Bring the Boys Home” by Freda Payne: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=–fFhunuUJM
(1971) “People Make the World Go Round” by The Stylistics: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8EDUBOGTVv0 (One of my students was amazed by the remarkably high falsetto voice of the lead singer. His name is Russell Thompkins.)
(1971) “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Hollar)” by Marvin Gaye: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X1uelY2SGmw
(1971) “What’s Going On?” by Marvin Gaye: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H-kA3UtBj4M
(1971) “Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology)” by Marvin Gaye: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EMuWmU1iNJo
(1972) “King Heroin” by James Brown: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NoLrrnXiRCk
(1972) “I’m Just Another Soldier” by The Staple Singers: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BdoPI3fjwMI
(1972) “I’ll Take You There” by The Staple Singers: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xO0Q3192Jrs
(1973) “We Were all Wounded at Wounded Knee” by Redbone: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2VB2LdOU6vo (This song was only released in Europe in 1973. It was released much later in the USA on a compilation. Redbone was the only Native American Soul/Pop group to have a hit record during the 1970s. That hit song was released in 1974 and titled “Come and Get Your Love.”)
(1973) “I Can’t Write Left-Handed” by Bill Withers: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l6qhfY-aLnk (This song was recorded live at Carnegie Hall in 1972 and released in 1973 on the album Bill Withers at Carnegie Hall.)
(1973) “Someday We’ll All Be Free” by Donny Hathaway: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mDHmhBjl70o
(1973) “Fish Ain’t Bitin’” Lamont Dozier: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DXnv71BRXU0
(1973) “If You’re Ready” by The Staple Singers: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HanwLunJau0
(1975) “I Am Woman” by Helen Reddy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zu4xpDuf84A
(1975) “Wake Up Everybody” by Harold Melvin & the Bluenotes (featuring Teddy Pendergrass on lead vocals): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-TDfPgd3Kyc
(1977) “A Real Mother For Ya'” by Johnny Guitar Watson: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IdTgyyUcAYQ
(1980) “At Peace With Woman” by The Jones Girls: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hGa8dK9GILk
Leslye Joy Allen is a perpetual and proud supporter of the good work of Clean Green Nation. Visit the website to learn more about it: Gregory at Clean Green Nation!
I love this list! I can’t wait to share it with the kids. Btw my December boy used to go around singing “I’m Black and I’m Proud” at the top of his lungs everywhere we went when he was about 2 and his sister was 4. We have the book “How Sweet the Sound: African American Songs for Children “, and I made a playlist of all the songs because the book was such a hit. I would always get a giggle, especially when people would figure out what he was singing . It’s still a hit at our house. Thanks for posting!