With the November elections just around the corner, the spirit of revolution is in the air. If you’re looking for songs to rock out to while you help create change, look no further. “Rock for the Revolution” might just be the perfect playlist to listen to while filling out your 2020 ballot.
“Talkin’ Bout a Revolution” by Tracy Chapman
It’s only fitting that the playlist begins with this powerful ballad by accomplished musician and human rights activist Tracy Chapman. The four-time Grammy winner emerged as an emblem of protest rock music in the ’90s. With lyrics such as “Poor people gonna rise up/ And get their share/ Poor people gonna rise up/ And take what’s theirs” sung in Chapman’s unique and powerful voice, this particular number comes alive to fan the vibrant flames of revolution.
“Anthem” by Greta Van Fleet
An essential song on the band’s 2018 album, Anthem of the Peaceful Army, “Anthem” is Greta Van Fleet’s attempt to unite a broken and polarized world through the power of music. A gargantuan task, but if any voice could do it, it would be the voice of lead singer Josh Kiszka. Rebirthing ’70s-style rock, Greta Van Fleet has a nostalgic sound but remains relevant by singing about contemporary political issues. This is the band’s musical plea to open your mind, free yourself from disagreements and unite with others.
“Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival
A Vietnam War-era classic, “Fortunate Son” is a protest song against the war and political establishments. Some have interpreted the song to be about wealthy elites who start wars and then draft the poor to fight in them. Frontman John Fogerty was born in Berkeley in 1945 and grew up in the Bay Area. He has remained adamant about protest and patriotism being not mutually exclusive.
“Sunday Bloody Sunday” by U2
U2 wrote this song about the Troubles in Ireland: a violent conflict between Catholic nationalists and Protestant unionists. Although it was originally centered on the Sunday in 1972 when British troops shot 26 unarmed Irish civil rights protesters, it has become a tribute song for any lives lost to revolution. U2 immortalized the song through countless live performances, most notably during a 1987 concert in Denver, Colorado when frontman Bono delivered an impassioned monologue condemning senseless violence.
“For What It’s Worth” by Buffalo Springfield
One of the most notorious protest songs of the Vietnam War-era, “For What It’s Worth” was inspired by the youth-led Sunset Strip curfew protests in Hollywood in the ’60s. It has come to represent young people’s capacity to let their voices be heard through mass protest.
“Drive” by R.E.M.
One of the lesser-known musical numbers on this list, “Drive” attempts to urge the youth to defy rigid laws of society. R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe’s hauntingly dreamlike vocals are fitting for the delivery of lyrics such as “Hey, kids, where are you?/ Nobody tells you what to do, baby.” This alternative rock song celebrates the power of young people to start a revolution and, maybe more importantly, to simply be themselves.
“Born to Fight” by Tracy Chapman
Another Tracy Chapman masterpiece, “Born to Fight” cements Chapman’s legacy as a musician who so beautifully combined her passions with her art. As a Black lesbian, Chapman’s advocacy for human rights and social justice was deeply personal. Her armor might have been cracked at times by a cruel world, but these cracks allow her inner light to radiate outward, gifting the world with songs that demand change.
“Silver and Gold” by U2
Bono wrote this as an anti-apartheid song originally for the Artists Against Apartheid protest group founded in 1985. The lyrics have been interpreted as critiquing Western powers, who seem to care more for “silver and gold” than for peace.
“Imagine” by John Lennon
In this classic song, John Lennon asks us to imagine a world with no borders, no religion, no greed and no war. “Imagine” suggests ideas that were controversial for their time — ideas that would later compel a man to murder him. But Lennon’s vision, in which all people look past differences in religion or economic status to live together as one, lives on, even if it has yet to be realized.
“Watching Over” by Greta Van Fleet
Quite possibly one of the best songs ever written explicitly about climate change in my opinion, “Watching Over” is futuristic and bold. It might be indicative of a rising trend of musicians speaking out about the environment. The Kiszka brothers are in their early 20s, and like many of us at a similar age, they feel the urgency to confront climate change every day. The song boasts the powerful lyrics, “With the water rising/ And the air so thin/ Still the children smiling/ Can we see no sin?” Greta Van Fleet may have produced the anthem of climate action.
“Big Yellow Taxi” by Joni Mitchell
Canadian Joni Mitchell wrote this song in 1970, speaking out against destruction of the natural world. Catchy and lighthearted lyrics such as “Hey farmer, farmer, put away the DDT now,” sung in Mitchell’s distinguishable voice, make for an unforgettable song. Counting Crows, a band with origins in Berkeley, produced a popular cover of “Big Yellow Taxi” in 2002.
“The Times They Are A-Changin’ ” by Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan intended this to be a song of purpose when he wrote it in 1964. The song speaks of the Civil Rights Movement protests but was repurposed for Vietnam peace protests and subsequent movements ever since.
“A Change is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke
Sam Cooke, a musician and civil rights activist born in 1931, wrote this ballad to declare his optimism that change would come, even if the change seemed far away. It is said that he wrote this song in response to being turned away by a “whites only” establishment in Louisiana. The song remains timeless, even after Cooke’s untimely death in 1964.
“Revolution” by The Beatles
A catchy song by The Beatles centered on peaceful revolution and anti-war sentiment seems to be a fitting finale for this playlist. If it is true, as the song goes, that “we all want to change the world,” then we should all vote this November.
Contact Sarah Siegel at [email protected].