10 Classic Songs About Equality & Freedom
A Call To Action
For the past few months, people have taken to the streets to protest against racism and police brutality – following the killing of 46-year-old African-American George Floyd. But this has been happening for decades with several musicians using their platform to demand for justice and equality. Sadly though, songs released in the ’60s still ring true and remain relevant today.
10. U2 – “One”
The song can be interpreted in various ways – even the band members have different opinions about what it’s about. Bono explained, “‘One’ is not about oneness, it’s about difference. It is not the old hippie idea of ‘Let’s all live together.’ It is a much more punk rock concept. It’s anti-romantic: ‘We are one, but we’re not the same. We get to carry each other.’ It’s a reminder that we have no choice. I’m still disappointed when people hear the chorus line as ‘we’ve got to’ rather than ‘we get to carry each other.'” The Edge added, “‘Get to’ is the key. ‘Got to’ would be too obvious and platitudinous. ‘Get to’ suggests it is our privilege to carry one another. It puts everything in perspective and introduces the idea of grace.”
9. Joan Baez – “Birmingham Sunday”
Richard Fariña wrote it after the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing on Sunday, September 15, 1963. Four members of the Ku Klux Klan planted dynamite under the steps of the church. The explosion killed four girls and wounded over a dozen others. Martin Luther King Jr. called it as “one of the most vicious and tragic crimes ever perpetrated against humanity”. Prior to the bombing, Birmingham was already known for being racially segregated.
8. Rage Against the Machine – “Killing in the Name”
Released in 1992 as the band’s debut single, the song alludes to the US police force being a white supremacist organization just like the Ku Klux Klan. Protesters in Portland chanted this to police officers a few months ago and when Tom Morello found it, he wrote on Twitter: “Well that’s what it’s for!”
7. John Lennon – “Imagine”
This John Lennon masterpiece is more than just an anthem for peace. He urges listeners to imagine a utopian society where people aren’t divided or segregated by religion or even nationality. Yoko Ono explained the lyrical content as “just what John believed: that we are all one country, one world, one people.”
6. Creedence Clearwater Revival – “Fortunate Son”
After its release in 1969, it became anti-war movement anthem. Written at the height of the Vietnam War, John Fogerty explained: “The song speaks more to the unfairness of class than war itself. It’s the old saying about rich men making war and poor men having to fight them.”
When President Donald Trump used the song during his campaign rally in Michigan last month, Fogerty responded with: “It’s a song I could’ve written now. So I find it confusing, I would say, that that the president has chosen to use my song for his political rallies, when in fact it seems like he is probably the fortunate son.”
5. James Brown – “Say it Loud, I’m Black and Proud”
The title says it all. James Brown sings “I say we won’t quit movin’ until we get what we deserve / We’ve been buked and we’ve been scourned / We’ve been treated bad, talked about as sure as you’re born.” The Godfather of Soul was a progenitor of funk music and he used his songs for his political and social activism. “Say it Loud, I’m Black and Proud” became one of his most popular and enduring hits.
4. Marvin Gaye – “What’s Going On”
Speaking of songs that remain as relevant as ever, “What’s Going On” was inspired by a police brutality and violent incident witnessed by one of the songwriters – Renaldo “Obie” Benson. It was at an anti-war protest which would be later known as “Bloody Thursday”. Benson recalled what pushed him to write the timeless track, “‘What is happening here?’ One question led to another. Why are they sending kids so far away from their families overseas? Why are they attacking their own children in the streets?”
3. Aretha Franklin – “Respect”
This feminist and civil rights anthem made such a powerful impact that it can still be felt today. It was originally by Otis Redding but Aretha Franklin reworked it and even changed the lyrics to reflect a strong woman who’s demanding respect from a man. She wrote in her biography, “So many people identified with and related to ‘Respect’. It was the need of a nation, the need of the average man and woman in the street, the businessman, the mother, the fireman, the teacher — everyone wanted respect. It was also one of the battle cries of the civil rights movement. The song took on monumental significance.”
2. Sam Cooke – “A Change Is Gonna Come”
Sam Cooke drew inspiration from various events that happened to him particularly when he and members of his group were turned away from the whites-only Holiday Inn North in Louisiana. As they left and moved to another motel, they were arrested by the police for disturbing the peace. Another thing that inspired Cooke to write this was after hearing Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” .
1. Bob Dylan – “The Times They Are A’ Changin”
Bob Dylan has been calling for justice, equality, and freedom even during the early years of his career. He’s released a couple of protest songs like “Blowin’ in the Wind” which inspired other musicians to use their music in calling for change. “The Times They Are A’ Changin” was written by Dylan because he wanted an anthem for change. He said, “This was definitely a song with a purpose. It was influenced of course by the Irish and Scottish ballads …’Come All Ye Bold Highway Men’, ‘Come All Ye Tender Hearted Maidens’. I wanted to write a big song, with short concise verses that piled up on each other in a hypnotic way. The civil rights movement and the folk music movement were pretty close for a while and allied together at that time.”