Protesting can come in all varieties of disapproval—from refusing to eat vegetables to demanding that basic human rights are met and wars are ended. This year may have cast itself, globally, as a year of protest: Egyptians in Tahrir Square, the Libyan revolution, Yemeni uprising, and now cities across the country participating in Occupy Wall Street. People are getting fed up, and they’re doing something about it. Here are five artists who have expressed their discontent through song.
“For What It’s Worth” – Buffalo Springfield
Although it seems like “For What It’s Worth” is an anti-war song, its actual premise is based on a clash between the police and teenagers over a curfew implementation on Sunset Strip in Los Angeles. Written by Stephen Stills and released in 1967, the timing, audience and encompassing theme of youth versus the police were the right combination for it to become a popularized protest song. With the lyrics, “There’s battle lines bein’ drawn/Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong/Young people speakin’ their minds/Gettin’ so much resistance from behind,” it’s easy to see how it could relate to the protesting of the Vietnam War.
“Get Up, Stand Up” – Bob Marley and The Wailers
Co-written in 1973 by Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, “Get Up, Stand Up” speaks more about religion than politics, although it seems to be a shoe-in for nearly any protest soundtrack. Encouraging Rastafarians to hold on to their beliefs and not fall victim to the obtrusive Christian church, Marley sings, “Preacher man, don’t tell me/Heaven is under the earth/I know you don’t know/What life is really worth.” Since the song does such a good job of rallying the troops, it’s often viewed as an archetypal protest song, especially with the encouraging chorus: “Get up, stand up: stand up for your rights! Get up, stand up: don’t give up the fight!”
“Sunday, Blood Sunday” – U2
In what is said to be one of U2’s most political songs, “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” is relevant, gruesome and troubling. The lyrics are inspired by Bloody Sunday—on Jan. 20, 1972, in Derry, Northern Ireland, the British army shot and killed 13 unarmed Irish civil rights protesters and bystanders, and wounded 17. “Sunday, Bloody Sunday,” is the opening track on U2’s 1983 album War. Although the song is focused on a specific event and political issue, it calls for peace and an end to the violence: “And the battle’s just begun/There’s many lost, but tell me who has won?/The trenches dug within our hearts/And mothers, children, brothers, sisters/Torn apart.”
“God Save the Queen” – The Sex Pistols
Sometimes protest can be in the form of satire. In 1977, English punk band The Sex Pistols charged the British monarchy and Queen Elizabeth II with their song, “God Save the Queen,” which is also the title of the United Kingdom’s national anthem. Intended to express discontent with the treatment of the working class by the monarchy, the band uses phrases such as “fascist regime” and “no future” to show their discontent. They also sang, “God save the queen/’Cause tourists are money/And our figurehead/Is not what she seems.” Despite its controversial subject matter, the reached No. 1 on the United Kingdom NME Chart and No. 2 on the BBC’s UK Top 40 Singles Chart.
“Minority” – Green Day
Not every protest song has to be about politics or religion. In this 2000 single from Green Day’s sixth studio album, Warning, Billie Joe Armstrong reminds us of the importance of being an individual and standing up for one’s beliefs, even if it means opposing authority or drifting away from the evangelical Christian-centered Moral Majority. Not that anyone would ever accuse Armstrong of being a conformist, he stresses that it’s OK to be different from everyone else—a minority. He drives his point even further with the lyrics: “Stepped out of the line/Like a sheep runs from the herd/Marching out of time/To my own beat now/The only way I know.”