Monday, July 22, 2013

Protest Songs - Gone But Not Forgotten ?

Protest/political songs are fast becoming things of the past. A recent piece by Madeline Ostrander at Common Dreams: Dar Williams: Why the Music of Protest Is Still Worth Defending: "We can’t change the world if we can’t even sing together—a star folk singer on what happens if political music dies...." The essay brings up this topic once again.

Commenter Michael Leone hit the nail on the head for me:
As the author said, its not as simple as "political" music being dead. For one thing, the industry intentionally tried to KILL all political music. If you read commentaries and memoirs of some of the more mainstream acts, who at least had a reasonable conscience, whenever they tried to do something political there was pressure from the labels, if not the producers themselves. People like Eddie Vedder or take Springsteen, even though he's not very politically literate at least has his heart in the right place, have had to insert political commentary through "the back door" and it either pisses off the powers or they misunderstand it "BORN IN THE USA" YEAH!!!

Then there's the Billy Braggs of the music world, good, honest stuff, but mostly marginalized by the industry (though not completely, I mean, there's also the fact that people like what they like.) Most would like to remain relevant and get their stuff out to as many people as possible and that means walking a fine line in the climate the past 30 years............I could go on about this for hours, but it really comes down to corporate power and has nothing to do with the last few generations of artists. There are as many engaged, decent and even radical people writing and playing music as ever, its just that the corporations now have more power and more of a free hand to crush what they don't like than they did..............
An article from April this year by Luis Rivas was also relevant: Political music was once mainstream, so what happened?

Peaking in the ’60s and ’70s, protest music, music based on social justice, a call to change, a righteous condemnation of the Vietnam War, a ballad in support of Nelson Mandela and against the apartheid government of South Africa, songs about overcoming racism, sexism, division—all this, all of it, was here in the U.S. And it was mainstream. It wasn’t some underground movement where DJ’s were rounded up and arrested for broadcasting subversive verse. Or a marginalized style of music that only appealed to a handful of people.

No, we’re talking about top 40 hits. Music that, even currently, is still listened to, their records are still being purchased (or downloaded as pirated mp3s). No, we’re talking about The Mammas and the Poppas, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, The Byrds, Phil Ochs, John Lennon, The Beatles, Pete Seeger, The Doors and a list long enough to bring any contemporary musician to his or her knees in shame and embarrassment.

So what happened? How did the Billboard top 40 of 1967—and well into the 70s, really — go from featuring groups that were known for their social commentary songs, such as The Beatles, the Mamas and the Poppas (three times), the Doors (twice) and Buffalo Springfield to the Billboard top 100 of 2012 including Nicki Minaj, Rihanna, One Direction, Drake and something called a Justin Bieber......
I've long found this issue disappointing too. Three of my posts from 2007 on the topic prove it:
Why So Subtle (August 2007).
Music In the News - Venus/Saturn. (Sept 2007).
John Fogerty's Revival (Oct 2007).

Once more, from the comment quoted above:
" really comes down to corporate power and has nothing to do with the last few generations of artists. There are as many engaged, decent and even radical people writing and playing music as ever, its just that the corporations now have more power and more of a free hand to crush what they don't like than they did."
Yet another way the people of the USA are being controlled and manipulated!

A reminder:

For What It's Worth written by Stephen Stills, performed by Buffalo Springfield and released as a single in January 1967:

And, from Pink Floyd: On the Turning Away written by David Gilmour and Anthony Moore, from Pink Floyd's 1987 album, A Momentary Lapse of Reason. Read the lovely lyrics HERE.


♥ Sonny ♥ said...

In every way since the early 70's we've become and now are controlled by the "me me me" generation/generations:) and it gets worse by the day. so music about entitlements would not be very entertaining and would fall on the deaf ears of all the "ME" folks..

The "WE" mentality of the 60's is long gone and its doubtful it will ever return.

I saw an interesting blog title this morning.. It was a photo of an african american soldier in afganistan.. it said" If this black man died today, no one including the president- the congress- the news media, would know his Name- nor would they care.. There would be no cries in the street of " that could have been ME"

just wanted to pass that on as the truth of it should be heard round the world and I have not the ability to make people HEAR.

mike said...

Many are quick to bash corporations and the media for their nefarious actions against the public. I can only partially agree with that. Most corporations and media outlets totally understand what sells and what the mainstream wants...or they're outta business.

The mainstream that speaks the loudest today just happens to be the conservative right (equals Christian). That subgroup has targeted just about anything that smells liberal, anti-Christian, or non-family values-ish. It's a powerful group and it usually has the GOP behind it. The GOP knows what side their bread is buttered.

Kraft salad dressings came under fire from One Million Moms regarding a semi-nude man at a picnic advertisement that doesn't show anything one wouldn't see at a swimming pool. Here's a pic of the horrid FILTH:

I recall the popular group, The Dixie Chicks, making anti-Bush remarks. The public sentiment at that time was distinctly pro-Bush and on with the war against weapons of mass destruction. The Dixie Chicks were ostracized and denigrated for their patriotism.
"DALLAS, Texas (Reuters) -- There are a lot worse things in country music than your wife leaving you or your dog dying. There's stations not playing your music because you done gone and said some things against the president."

I think that protest songs are alive and well, just not enjoyed by the one-half of the USA that is the conservative right. If the protest song distinctly says anti-Obama, anti-abortion, anti-family values, anti-gay, etc, then the conservative right is willing to listen and support the music. Also, I'm older and not into most music of the younger set, so a lot of contemporary music enjoyed by the young that could contain protest lyrics is missed by me.

Here's an interesting listing of popular protest songs compiled by USA Today, circa 2006:

"Where Is the Love" by The Black Eyed Peas, first two stanzas:

"What's wrong with the world, mama
People livin' like they ain't got no mamas
I think the whole world addicted to the drama
Only attracted to things that'll bring you trauma
Overseas, yeah, we try to stop terrorism
But we still got terrorists here livin'
In the USA, the big CIA
The Bloods and The Crips and the KKK
But if you only have love for your own race
Then you only leave space to discriminate
And to discriminate only generates hate
And when you hate then you're bound to get irate, yeah
Madness is what you demonstrate
And that's exactly how anger works and operates
Man, you gotta have love just to set it straight
Take control of your mind and meditate
Let your soul gravitate to the love, y'all, y'all

People killin', people dyin'
Children hurt and you hear them cryin'
Can you practice what you preach
And would you turn the other cheek"

mike (again) said...

Oooops, should have said PRO-family values:

"If the protest song distinctly says anti-Obama, anti-abortion, PRO-family values, anti-gay, etc, then the conservative right is willing to listen and support the music."

Twilight said...

Sonny ~ "me-me-me": Yes, there's that! It's likely another big component of why protest songs don't catch on as they used to - even if they are being composed.

I take your point about a soldier dying in Afghanistan - whereas the Prez was quick to point out that Trayvon Martin could've been him, years ago, he seldom mentions that a black soldier killed in one of his phoney wars could've been him....or an innocent brown-skinned child under one of his horrendous drones!!!! GRRRRR!

Twilight said...

mike ~~ I feel like doing a bit of corporation bashing today. They need it! They've taken over.

I agree that there is, indeed, a heavy influence of conservatism/capitalism/GOP and all the trappings that come with them involved here. Democrats haven't done much to wrest power back though.

Sorry. I will not defend Democrats, they do not deserve it.
weak-kneed paid-off bunch of hypocrites (with only a handful of exceptions).

I realise, as did the writers of the two articles from which I quoted, that there ARE some protest songs out there, but kept well in the background.

The point is, that in the 1960s and 70s, such songs were allowed to rise to the tops of the charts, to become anthems, and they are still remembered and played today, decades later - they weren't relegated to the background and to minority specialised audiences back then.

To sum up the blame or "evidence":
as Sonny said - there's the me-me-me attitude, more prevalent now;
as you said, there's the GOP influence with all it entails, including,
as I believe, powerful corporate influence.

Thanks for the extra information.

DC said...

for some reason this song popped to mind after reading your post....I always found this "protest" song kind of haunting.
Do you remember this one?

Twilight said...

DC ~ I had never heard that one before, it's lovely - as you say, haunting! Thanks for introducing me to it. :-)