by Brett Parsons and Audra Keresztesy
Everyone loves music. It’s great to listen to while you study, while you exercise, or even just while you’re relaxing. But have you ever really listened closely to the lyrics of some of your favorite classics? Music, especially in the last 50 years, has been a popular way to have an opinion and make your voice heard. Radio and streaming modems like Spotify and Pandora all help circulate a message in a comfortable way. So next time you’re rocking out in your car, take a minute at the next red light and try to hear the words a little louder. Here are some of our favorites!
Kendrick Lamar: Alright
Kendrick Lamar is an amazing rapper, (Obama said he would beat out Drake in a rap battle because of his lyrics) his lyrics and presentation make him so amazing. Everyone should check out his Grammys performance, it’s a tribute to Trevon Martin. His most famous lyric “We gonna’ be alright” has become an anthem for protestors celebrating black pride.
Common feat. John Legend: Glory
“Glory” was written for Selma, a film chronicling the Civil Rights era. This song is filled with emotion and power and about standing up for civil rights.
“That’s why Rosa sat on the bus/That’s why we walk through Ferguson with our hands up/When it go down, we woman and man up/They say ‘Stay Down’ and we stand up.”
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis feat. Jamila Woods: White Privilege II
First of all before anything can be said about this song: Jamila Woods CAME TO HB. She was here last year with Sara Kay! Macklemore reckoned with some difficult questions, marching with protestors in response to the acquittal of Darren Wilson, the officer who shot and killed Michael Brown. Macklemore reflected upon his white-male privilege in an extremely powerful song.
About the song he has said: “injustice affects all of us, whether we know it or not, whether we acknowledge it or not.”
“You speak about equality, but do you really mean it?/Are you marching for freedom, or when it’s convenient?”
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis: Same Love
Another amazing Macklemore song. This song means a lot to me personally and has brought me to tears numerous times. It talks about gay rights and a little bit on how that relates to religion (Christianity), listening to this song really makes you think. I honestly can’t even pick out a key lyric so here are three of them:
“The same fight that led people to walkouts and sit ins. It’s human rights for everybody there is no difference!”
“When everyone else is more comfortable remaining voiceless. Rather than fighting for humans that have had their rights stolen. I might not be the same, but that’s not important. No freedom ‘till we’re equal, damn right I support it”
This song was written before gay marriage was legalized and this line is about the legalization of marriage.
“A certificate on paper isn’t gonna solve it all. But it’s a damn good place to start”
Prince feat. Eryn Allen Kane: Baltimore
Prince, the beloved pop artist who unfortunately died this year, breaking the hearts of men and women, old and young, is iconic for his voice and stage presence. He was deeply affected by the death of Freddie Gray, who died of spinal cord injury while in police custody. His death caused uprisings in Baltimore in 2015 and Prince responded with lyrics.
“Are we gonna see another bloody day? We’re tired of cryin’ and people dyin’ Let’s take all the guns away.”
Bruce Springsteen: Born in the USA
Springsteen is yet another amazing artist. This is the title track on one of his most popular albums. President Reagan famously used the song incorrectly, he said “America’s future rests in a thousand dreams inside your hearts. It rests in the message of hope in songs so many young Americans admire: New Jersey’s own Bruce Springsteen.” When in fact the song was actually critiquing the Vietnam war and the way veterans were treated.
“Got in a little hometown jam
So they put a rifle in my hand
Sent me off to a foreign land
To go and kill the yellow man
Come back home to the refinery
Hiring man said “son if it was up to me”
Went down to see my V.A. man
He said “son, don’t you understand”
Bob Dylan: Blowin’ in the Wind
Bob Dylan is famous for his protest songs, many of them were anthems for the civil rights era. This year he won the Nobel prize for literature because his lyrics are that amazing. One of his most famous songs and one of my personal favorites: Blowin’ in the Wind.
“How many times can a cannonball fly before they’re forever banned?”
Black Sabbath: War Pigs
Ozzy Osbourne’s unique voice may not be everyone’s cup of tea as far as listening goes, but the message behind Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” is worth hearing. “War Pigs” was released in 1970 in the midst of the Vietnam War. The lyrics are all about sticking it to “the man” otherwise known as the government, largely because of the draft.
“Politicians hide themselves away
They only started the war
Why should they go out to fight?
They leave that role to the poor”
Ohio: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
The song written about our own home state directly addresses the unfortunate events that unfolded at Kent State University on May 4th, 1970 when four college students were shot and killed by the Ohio National Guard. Again, this song points the blame at the government and suggests that a country who is shooting its own people at home can’t possibly be doing much to protect those fighting overseas.
“Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,
We’re finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drumming,
Four dead in Ohio.”
The King of Pop contributed greatly to the world of protest songs, whether it was environmental destruction, racism, or war. Some of his most notable songs of activism include:
Did you ever stop to notice
All the blood we’ve shed before?
Did you ever stop to notice
This crying Earth, these weeping shores?
We’ve Had Enough
“We’re innocently standing by
Watching people lose their lives
It seems as if we have no voice
It’s time for us to make a choice”
Black or White
“And I told about equality
And it’s true
Either you’re wrong or you’re right
But if you’re thinkin’ about my baby
It don’t matter if you’re black or white”
Guns n’ Roses: Civil War
Although a war-themed piece of music, “Civil War” (written in 1991) was actually inspired by band member Duff McKagan’s childhood experience at a peace march for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968 when McKagan was only four years old. The lyrics are applicable to any violence that our country has seen and participated in and challenges people to think for themselves and not just take the information they’re given as the whole story.
“Look at the shoes you’re filling
Look at the blood we’re spilling
Look at the world we’re killing
The way we’ve always done before
Look in the doubt we’ve wallowed
Look at the leaders we’ve followed
Look at the lies we’ve swallowed
And I don’t want to hear no more”