Whether released during the Vietnam War era or addressing issues facing humanity today, protest songs are a great way to feel connected to social and political movements. Here are some of the best songs to listen to when you head to the polls this Election Day.
“Ohio—Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young
The Kent State Massacre occurred in May 1970 when four college students were killed by the Ohio National Guard while protesting the invasion of Cambodia during the Vietnam War. ‘Ohio’ came to fruition just days after the tragedy, after Neil Young saw what is now a Pulitzer Prize winner photograph 14 years old Mary Ann Vecchio kneeling over the corpse Jeffrey Miller.
Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young recorded the song, and within weeks of the tragedy it was playing on radio stations across America. The song echoes growing negative feelings about the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War, and strikes followed who not only protested the war, but the Kent State massacre.
“if i can dream– Elvis Presley
Two months after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., “If I Can Dream” was written for the late Presley”’68 Comeback Special.” Knowing of Presley’s adoration of King and his grief over his death, lyricist Walter Earl Brown wrote lyrics reminiscent of the famous “I have a dream“word.
The production of “’68 Comeback Special” and “If I Can Dream” was recently covered in Baz Luhrmannit is biopic about the rockstar.
“Born in USA– Bruce Springsteen
Although many have mistaken the song’s catchy chorus for a nationalist anthem – including the former president Ronald Reagan – Springsteen’s 1984 hit actually details the alienation of vietnam veterans upon their return from the war.
More 1.8 million men were drafted in the Vietnam War, and many of those who returned felt completely isolated from the country they had fought for. “Born in the USA” validates this idea through lyrics that detail the story of a veteran who cannot find work or help from the US government, who turned a blind eye to many veterans after the war.
“This is America—Childish Gambino
Childish Gambino – aka Donald Glover — released “This Is America” in 2018, while hosting a episode of Saturday Night Live. The song addresses police brutality, gun violence, and mass shootings in the United States, and how racism plays a role in each of these issues.
Through lyrics such as “it’s a celly, it’s a tool”, Gambino is probably referring to Philando Castilewhose death was broadcast live after being shot by a police officer.
The music video – which was ranked 10 on Billboard listing of the best music videos of the 21st century — has its own credentials. When Gambino shoots a church choir in the music video, it is believed to be referring to the 2015 Charleston Church Shooting.
“The pill-Loretta Lynn
Following the recent death of the coal miner daughter, Loretta Lynn’s controversial song from 1975 has returned to the limelight. “The Pill” details the freedoms and choices available to women after the invention of birth control in 1960. Due to its subject matter, some country radio stations refused to play the song.
“The Pill” alludes to Lynn’s personal life – she had six children with husband Oliver Lynn. Shortly after the song’s release, Lynn said that if she had had access to birth control when she had children, she would have taken it “like popcorn.”