The Ten Most Effective American Protest Songs

Categories: List-O-Rama

bruce-springsteen-born-in-the-usa-6.jpg
This one doesn't make the cut, unfortunately.
It's Fourth of July weekend, and in the haze of the heat, barbecue, domestic beer, and red-white-and-blue buntings, it's easy to get caught up in ranting-chanting, "USA! USA! USA!"

The founding fathers and a lot of musicians might not agree with that. Even Thomas Jefferson was a fan of government protest to keep society fresh and clean: "The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions, that I wish it to be always kept alive. It will often be exercised when wrong, but better so than not to be exercised at all. I like a little rebellion now and then."

These artists not only agree, but have made rebellion and protest a part of their musical careers.

10. Rage Against the Machine, "Sleep Now the Fire"
Face it, everything Rage Against the Machine has ever done has been about rebellion and protest. Pick a song out of a hat -- let's go with that time they prevented the New York Stock Exchange from opening while they took over the entrance to make a video -- and a point -- with "Sleep Now in the Fire," directed by Michael Moore.

9. Dixie Chicks, "Not Ready to Make Nice"
Boy, those girls sure pissed off a lot of people when lead singer Natalie Maines told a London audience she was ashamed to be from the same state as then-president George W. Bush on the eve of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Apparently, some Americans think that dissent is worthy of album-burnings and death threats. The band remained unapologetic and struck back with their next album in 2006.

8. Bruce Springsteen, "American Skin" (41 Shots)"
Bruce is America's favorite son! He recorded that patriotic "Born in the U.S.A." song!

Well, no. Anyone who's listened to the lyrics knows that's a song about America treating its war veterans like shit. Not that people can be faulted for this; even Ronald Regan misinterpreted the song's message when he tried to co-opt it during his 1984 presidential campaign -- until Springsteen told him to quit it.

There's no misinterpreting this song Springsteen and the E. Street Band debuted on July 4, 2000, in Atlanta, followed by a show in New York City where the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association called for a boycott of the show. The song depicts the 1999 killing of Amadou Diallo by NYC cops. The unarmed Guinean immigrant was shot 41 times by four NYC plainclothes police who ordered him to stop because they mistook him for a serial rapist. The shooting occurred when Diallo reached for his wallet.

7. Public Enemy, "Fight the Power"
Released in 1989 when racial tensions were exploding, spurred by violence against blacks in Brooklyn's Bensonhurst neighborhood. Public Enemy called for people to stand up to abuses of power and made digs at sacred icons of white culture.

6. Johnny Cash, "The Man in Black"
Who's more American than Johnny Cash? Make no mistake -- Cash was pissed off about the treatment of fellow Americans beaten by the system: the poor, prisoners, the elderly, addicted and soliders in Vietnam. He wore black as a reminder of injustice.


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27 comments
Jwebb
Jwebb

All along the watchtower by Dylan/Hendrix? Fortunate Son by CCC? I think both of those have to make any list like this.

Aubrey
Aubrey

Great picks Robin!

Courtney Gypsy Biernat
Courtney Gypsy Biernat

Did everybody get tired of Country Joe and the Fish? When I was in high school, we'd sing the 'Fixin' to Die Rag' as "way down yonder in Afghanistan" instead of "Vietnam"... same sh*t, different decade.

Courtney Gypsy Biernat
Courtney Gypsy Biernat

I really think that if you were to choose a Dylan song off that album, With God On Our Side would be more appropriate.

Matt
Matt

You forgot Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Fortunate Son". I'll forgive you this time.

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