Where Have All The Protest Songs Gone?

The late 1960s and early 1970s were a tumultuous, revolutionary time period in the history of our country and the popular music of the time reflected it. Artists like Bob Dylan, The Beatles, The Byrds, CSNY, Buffalo Springfield, CCR and more released songs that spoke about the cultural and political uprisings and changes happening around us; songs that were not only popular at the time, but which have endured through the years.

The past 10 years have been a tumultuous, revolutionary time period in our history and you would be hard-pressed to come up with an argument that today’s pop music has significantly addressed these issues at all.

The 60s dealt largely with the Vietnam war and major changes brought about in civil rights, women's rights, the protest movement, and individuality. These thoughts and feelings were reflected in songs like Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come," CCR's "Run Through the Jungle," CSNY's "Ohio," Neil Young's "Southern Man," and Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are A-Changin'," just to name a few.

How many songs and artists can you name that sing about 9/11, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or the economic downturn? I know that John Mellencamp and Bruce Springsteen have released material on the subject, and most are familiar with Alan Jackson's "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)." The Dixie Chicks won praise and awards for their song "Not Ready to Make Nice" about the backlash of speaking out against George W. Bush and the political divisions in the country. And you even have largely ignorant and forgettable work like Toby Keith's "Courtesy of the Red, White, & Blue (The Angry American)." But to be honest, none of these artists are really topping the charts - either anymore, or at least at the moment.

One year after Barack Obama was inaugurated the country was embroiled in two wars, the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, and political divisions more bitter than anything in recent memory. The Billboard top 10, however, featured such songs as Lady Gaga's "Just Dance," Beyonce's "Single Ladies," Kanye's "Heartless," and Britney's "Womanizer," among others of the kind. And I don't mean to in any way diminish the quality or success of such recordings, but I am moved to ask this question: where have all the protest songs gone? Where have all the socially conscious song gone? Is it simply because over the past 40 years the industry has becoming more greedy and only wants work with the potential to sell the most rather than sends a message (something that has always been a concern but which I feel is worse now)? Could you imagine a song with the subject matter of CSNY's "Ohio" being played on today's "hit" radio? Or even Bruce Hornsby's "The Way It Is?"

Please let me know what you think.

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    © STEVE SCHULTZ