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Idol Chatter

bono_idol.jpgThe lead feature going out to America Online’s millions of subscribers this weekend named the Top Twenty Protest Songs of All-Time, from spinner.com’s “The Hit List.”
I thought it was a decent start, but the list lacked some that are my favorites just for the music, and others that are my favorites for the message in the lyrics. Spinner’s list included Bob Marley railing against oppression in “Get Up, Stand Up,” from 1973, “Minority” from Green Day in 2000, Public Emeny’s “Fight the Power,” and Bob Dylan’s “Maggie’s Farm” from 1965, in which he established his independence even from the folk movement which begat his popularity.
I agree with Spinner’s naming of Marvin Gaye’s manifesto against social injustice (1971’s “What’s Goin’ On?”) as top of the list, and the high placing of Edwin Starr’s “War,” though most of us today are more familiar with Bruce Springsteen’s version. But there were notable exceptions.


Most obvious to me were U2’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” and at least seven or eight R.E.M. songs. Sting’s “Fragile,” especially the 2001 version, also comes to mind. Several other great ones were not included, (by my estimation), like Midnight Oil’s “Beds are Burning,” CSNY’s “Ohio,” and Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall.” Three lesser-known songs that I think are all-timers in the protest genre are Peter Gabriel’s “Biko,” John Mellencamp’s “Rain on the Scarecrow,” and Bruce Cockburn’s “If I had a Rocket-Launcher.” No Dave Matthews songs made the list either, perhaps because his message is usually muted and subtle enough to get overlooked.
Either way, it got me thinking that there are not enough protest songs made in today’s pop world. I don’t think it’s because musicians don’t care, as much as I think the increased market opportunities of the i-world, internet, downloads, and so on has made it even more risky than ever for newer bands and upstart singers to make protest songs, let alone spend promotional capital on them. It takes deep faith to express that faith in words, and even deeper faith to let it intrude upon one’s living. So let’s celebrate the history of courageous acts who dared to put their thoughts into words.
Last note: Some protest songs are obvious, but not as much about social issues. Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle” still stands strong as a protest against the mixed priorities of suburbanites, while The Beatle’s “The Tax-man” could be the Republicans’ anthem in any election year. I’m sure there are more that have made your list. Let us know what they are!

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