Ms. Allen’s U. S. History 2110: Songs of Social Consciousness and Protest, 1960s to 1980

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:

(1963) “Masters of War” by Bob Dylan:

(early 1960s**) “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Round” by Sweet Honey in the Rock:  (**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: (**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:

(1965) “I Ain’t Marching Anymore” by Phil Ochs:

(1965) “Draft Dodger Rag” by Phil Ochs: (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):

(1966) “Love Me, I’m A Liberal” by Phil Ochs:

(1967) “We’re a Winner (Movin’ on Up)” by The Impressions (featuring Curtis Mayfield):

(1968) “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud” by James Brown:

(1968) “Why? (The King of Love is Dead)” by Nina Simone:

(1968) “Revolution” by The Beatles:

(1969) “Freedom” by Richie Havens:

(1969) “Choice of Colors” by The Impressions (featuring Curtis Mayfield):

(1970) “Young, Gifted and Black” by Nina Simone: 

(1970) “War” by Edwin Starr:

(1970) “Ball of Confusion” by The Temptations: 

(1970) “If There’s Hell Below, We’re All Gonna Go” by Curtis Mayfield:

(1970) “Heaven Help Us All” by Stevie Wonder :

(1971) “Bring the Boys Home” by Freda Payne:–fFhunuUJM

(1971) “People Make the World Go Round” by The Stylistics:  (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:

(1971) “What’s Going On?” by Marvin Gaye:

(1971) “Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology)” by Marvin Gaye:

(1972) “King Heroin” by James Brown:

(1972) “I’m Just Another Soldier” by The Staple Singers:

(1972) “I’ll Take You There” by The Staple Singers:

(1973) “We Were all Wounded at Wounded Knee” by Redbone:  (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: (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:

(1973) “Fish Ain’t Bitin’” Lamont Dozier:

(1973) “If You’re Ready” by The Staple Singers:

(1975) “I Am Woman” by Helen Reddy:

(1975) “Wake Up Everybody” by Harold Melvin & the Bluenotes (featuring Teddy Pendergrass on lead vocals):

(1977) “A Real Mother For Ya'” by Johnny Guitar Watson:

(1980) “At Peace With Woman” by The Jones Girls:

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!

Copyright © 2013 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.
Creative Commons License This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.  Any partial or total reference to this blog, or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author.

Mercy, Mercy Me: Black, Clean, and Green!

by Leslye Joy Allen

Historian, Educator, Theatre and Jazz Advocate & Consultant, Doctoral Student

Copyright © 2012 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

I am sure there is someone who saw the title of this blog and instantly thought of the late Marvin Gaye’s environmental anthem from 1971, “Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology).”  Well, this is not exactly about Marvin Gaye.  Yet, music can trigger an entire series of memories.  Music is as much a cultural and historical marker of the times in which we live and have lived through as anything else.  However, I arrived at this title and this blog via a beautiful and talented woman named Freda Payne.  If you recognize that name, then you probably remember her anti-Vietnam era song “Bring the Boys Home.”  Freda sang “Bring the Boys Home” with a sense of urgency and longing that none of us who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s will ever forget.  It is ironic, but no accident that Freda’s anti-war anthem and Marvin Gaye’s song bemoaning our poisoning of the environment were released in the same year.  For those of you who are unfamiliar, you can do a quick Google or YouTube search and find all the information, beautiful music and pointed messages you need.  Yet, this blog is not exactly about music.

Not long ago, I received a sweet and thoughtful message from Freda Payne, along with a request from her to tell folks about her son Gregory who is a partner with Clean Green Nation.  Before I could even visit the website, I heard Freda’s song in my head, then I heard Marvin Gaye.  These were songs from my childhood and adolescence.  As the music played in my head, I looked up Clean Green Nation on the Internet.  It specializes in environmentally sound and clean energy for your home, your business, and even your farm.  I smiled as I clicked on one section of the website after another because one of the first things that struck me about the website was the same thing that struck me about Freda’s request.—Her request, like the website itself, was filled with a deep understanding about this nation’s need to reduce its dependence on foreign oil, and the need to reduce greenhouse gases so that everyone can breathe cleaner air.  She is also a proud mother.  Her son Gregory is one of a growing number of young Black Americans committed to this admirable and much needed goal.

I visited what has to be one of the very best websites and businesses for selling, installing, promoting, and explaining clean energy.  The best part about what Gregory and Clean Green Nation are doing is that there is some item or service available there for every budget.  Solar panels and wind turbines are available for homes and businesses.  For under $20.00, you can purchase a variable flow showerhead that saves water; another nifty gadget that helps you to time and shorten your showers is available for $2.99.  Importantly, Clean Green Nation has one of the best Learning Centers that I have ever seen.  In clear language, visitors to the site find out exactly how solar and wind energy work.  They learn about radiant barriers that keep heat out of a house in the summer and hold more heat in during the winter.  A range of services and products are offered that will simultaneously save the customer money and help clean up the environment at the same time—I cannot stress the importance of these factors when it comes to marketing anything affiliated with that word “environment” to Black and other communities of color.  There was a time when I would go to rallies and lectures about the environment and I could count the number of Black folks (including myself) in attendance on one hand.

The first time I told someone I was an environmentalist was over fifteen years ago.  The man looked at me strangely, as I stood there with my cloth shopping bags.  I went into one of my quick talks about how we should use “these bags” instead of the petroleum based plastic bags many stores continue to use.  Once, I even got a manager at a local grocery store to start recycling these same petroleum based bags.  However, for a long time there seemed to be a kind of disconnect about the whole concept of cleaning up the environment in many Black communities; and that is a shame because WE Black folks, and other peoples of color, are usually the first to suffer from environmental toxicity.  It is no accident that toxic waste dumps are often located near or in poor communities, particularly poor Black communities.  Yet, regardless of race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status, WE all bear responsibility and have the capacity to contribute to the fight to clean up the environment.  I say this so that those folks who read this, who happen to be White or members of some other ethnic group, do not feel left out.  My message in this blog, however, is deliberately directed at Black people because information about the environment has not always reached or been directed toward Black communities.  This is where Clean Green Nation comes in.

While Gregory services the West Coast and West Hollywood specifically, anyone can order products and services from his website.  Even more important, anyone can learn more about how to lower utility bills and help the environment!  It is just that simple. I must add something important here: Gregory was not born when his mother sang that song that showed the human and personal costs to us as we lost one young man after another in the Vietnam War.  The song was so potent that U. S. Armed Forces Radio banned it from its airwaves.  Gregory was not born when Marvin Gaye sang a song with lyrics filled with sadness over the way we all had poisoned our natural environment.  The tragedy is that both of these songs are still relevant some forty plus years later because the problems we were dealing with in 1971 are still with us today.  I remember it well.  Future generations do not so much need new songs as they need new songs with different themes.  Now when I was a kid, James Brown taught us to chant, “Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud.”  Today I ask you to support a committed young man who drives a hybrid in a town that often prides itself on glamour; a young man trying to make an honest living and help clean up the planet at the same time.  Say it with me now, “Let’s Be Black, Clean and Green.”

Copyright © 2012 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

Leslye Joy Allen is proud to support Clean Green Nation.  Visit the website to learn more about it: Gregory at Clean Green Nation!

Creative Commons License This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.  Any partial or total reference to this blog, or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author.