Does anyone do good protest music anymore?

I had the news on the radio at work this morning and there was some fellow babbling on about reinstituting the draft. At the same time I had the CDP on and Simon and Garfunkel were doing a Dylan protest song. This set my mind to wondering... but I don't remember what I was wondering about.

In the 60's and even early 70's there were lots of talented people protesting. Dylan and S&G are a couple of the obvious suspects but people like Gordon Lightfoot, Arlo Guthrie, Joan Baez and Barry McGuire added a lot to that period.

With this reactionary fearmongering about the draft is there any chance that a new crop of 'protest' singers will emerge, or has the good stuff already been done, and if so, who did it?
But hey guys, I mean U2 is a bit lame compared to their first three albums, no?


The one, only and very bold BAD RELIGION has been around FOR YEARS and Greg Graffin's lyrics are front and center!

Pick any recording and you'll get protest alright.

MUSE - Absolution
Rage Against the Machine - anything by them
Ani DiFranco rocks. Dan Bern, his early stuff is reminiscent of Dylan. Check him out.
C'mon bonno is more worried about how his sunglasses look than politics, he is a sell-out, and a less than talented one at that!
If protest music is supposed to speak to the people most affected (by a draft, or an increase in military activity, in this instance) then Eminem's "Mosh" indeed reached them. It hit #1, in fact. If we of their parents' generation don't like what's being said, it's working perfectly.

Our culture these days is not exactly cohesive when it comes to protesting any cause. We don't seem to want to listen much to anyone who questions. Just my take, of course.
The question that is posed made me reflect back to the thread on the Dixie Chicks and their reaction to the war and Dubya's false statements on the war. There were people in this community that were ready to burn them at the stake as well as destroy all their music. Now having said that, how far would a good protest song go? Nationalism can be very scary.
I echo the votes for Rage Against the Machine ( just check out any of the live DVD performances!)
and of course, Ani Di Franco too!
Springsteen. He writes protest songs all the time. "Born in the USA" was a protest song about Vietnam , but everybody thought that it was a patriotic song. Reagan even used it as a campaign song until Springsteen made him stop using it. "41 Shots" is a protest song dealing with the police shooting of that poor guy with his wallet in his hand. The song got the name because the police shot the guy 41 times. "Galveston Bay" is a song about the terrible treatment of the Vietnamese fishermen that settled in Galveston after they were forced to flee Vietnam for helping the USA during the war. On his newest album "Devils and Dust" the title song is about a soldier comimg home from Iraq. He wrote a great song about a Vietnam vet who was a tunnel rat in "Shut out the Light". The vet came home afraid of the dark. He also writes protests against the conditions of the poor and hopeless. "My hometown" is a protest against the harshness of Reaganism and big business. I don't know of a more active protest song writer. He even received boxes of broken records and CDs from conservatives because he campaigned for Kerry last year. Jim
Whoops, correct that last suggestion: it's John McCutcheon (my nominee for best candidate to fill Pete Seeger's shoes) when the time comes. On second thought John McGlaughlin's guitar playing could inspire a listener to go out and change the world.

How about that old tune, "Da Speakers Hit Me In Da head, Da Turkey Stole My Wallet?"

As noted above Rage Against the Machine was 100% protest material, it's a real shame they broke up (Audioslave is not even close to what RATM was). I woulda loved to have seen RATM live *sigh*

Although I can't tolerate most rap music it should be considered protest material, rallying against inner-city issues such as poverty, gang warfare, etc. There's also the infamous "cross-over" bands e.g. Limp Bizkit (but it's easy to doubt their sincerity). Oh, Green Day's American Idiot takes a stance albeit it their issues seem to be primarily with GWB.

In my mind the big difference between protest music in the 60's and the stuff that has come out since is primarily in how it's delivered. The 1960's was peace & end the war, for the most part delivered in a folk song meant to appeal to your intellect and compassion. Bruce Cockburn kick-started a new generation of protests with more in-your-face lyrics ("Call it Democracy", "If I Had a Rocket Launcher", "People See Through You", "The Trouble With Normal", etc...) but added a little harder edge to the tunes. If you get a chance read Cockburn's lyrics, he's a brilliant song writer. Midnight Oil followed a similar vein, Peter Garrett was very much in tune with world issues and made a point of speaking his mind. Treatment of Aboriginals, corporations abusing the land for profit, superpowers acting as the world's conscience... Midnight Oil covered it all. In fact Peter is now "walking the walk" as a member of Parliament in Australia, doing his part to effect change. Midnight Oil was an awesome band live, gonna miss Pete and his antics.

To sum it all up protest tunes have been delivered a LOT more forecfully in the last 20 years than ever before (and cover a wider range of issues), there's a lot of anger out there folks.
Sweet Honey and the Rock. a female a cappella group. They're not afraid to sing about the social and political injustices that exist in today's society. And for us audiophiles, the recording quality is excellent.
I second the Steve Earle recommendation. His latest, "The Revolution Starts Now" is great stuff and right on target.
Try the new song by James McMurtry, "We Can't Make It Here Anymore." You can download it for free at
greg brown, lucy kaplansky, john prine, phil ochs, rickie lee jones, patti smith, pete seeger, david wilcox, k.d. lang, bruce cockburn, spearhead, the pouges, ramblin' jack elliott, charlie musselwhite, bruce hornsby, neil young, maria muldaur, stephen stills, emmy lou harris, nanci griffith, gillian welch, guy clark..... and many more.
There is nothing to protest anymore now that the GOP has the whole US of A in its arms and that the US of A has the whole world in its arms. Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!

Just for his way of looking at the world and singing about it I think Tom Waits qualifies. It may be a bit too hermetic for some, but it is protest and acceptance all in one.
The most historically significant protest singer of all time is Pete Seeger. He has been doing it since the 40's. As a target of Senator Joseph McCarthy's communist-hunting House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950's, he has risked more than all who have followed him for the right of us all to sing out and to speak up. Having devoted his whole life to progressive, populist causes, I guess the only reason that he is not more active now is due to his advanced age. Certainly, there is a lot to sing about now.

Others who have been important are Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Odetta, Miriam Makeba, Tom Lehrer and Nina Simone.
I guess it seems to me that in previous protest music was more inclusive (as if that was a good thing) and less off putting...

I just have a hard time with a guy like Bruce Springsteen who has more money than the government telling me how bad everything is in the world. The same is true of all those multi-millionaries like U2, Ani DiFranco, Radiohead, or Rage Against the Machine. I can't take whiney millionaries seriously.

The people who made a mark on the genre were anything but rich. Pete Seeger was mentioned. He suffered for his art, so to speak. S&G and Dylan were some of the first to get the big payoff from protesting, but I don't think that was their goal. I think others jumped on the bandwagon when they realized they could get rich protesting whatever came up.

That's why I asked if anyone was still doing good protest music.
Ss Nate, are you saying that it can't be good if it achieves commercial success? The music biz has changed alot over the past 50 years.
I'm surprised nobody has mentioned Peter, Paul, and Mary. Beginning in 1962 and up until December 2004, when Mary Travers was diagnosed with leukemia, the group's music spoke to various social issues, political causes, in addition to pot smoking dragons.
In my mind, the last group to really do "protest music" well was CSNY. No one has been able to match the outrage expressed in a song like "Ohio," or the sad resignation of "Find the Cost of Freedom."

I'm with Nrchy on this one. Barbra Streisand compaigning for more money for the poor (which I am not totally against) while at the same time having $4,000 of fresh flowers delivered to her house weekly. Someone needs to teach some of these people the story of the widow's mite from the Bible.
And actually most of what Dylan has done in his career is not really protest music--even according to him. He has primarily done story songs and love songs.

I don't see how a band (e.g. Rage Against the Machine) can be faulted because their music/message was embraced by millions of people. Are they insincere they became popular in the process, and should they refuse the money cuz they would "appear" to be sell-outs? If no one buys the record then they must be genuine? Read the lyrics, and pick up a video of the band playing live, sure as hell doesn't look like good corporate citizens cashing in to me (and I'm a cynic by nature). Lot of anger and for the right reasons, this ain't no boy band with cute moves. This applies to many other bands, their commercial acceptance has nothing to do with their convictions.

Are you mad at Rage Against the Machine because they work for a big record company? Or at Ani DiFranco because she started her own in protest? You can't have it both ways, my man!

In the end, I don't think you are listening very carefully to any of this music. Do you really think Simon and Garfunkel wrote protest music? Great stuff, and it speaks to a certain teen and twenty-something angst, but nothing's being protested.

The reason you think "protest music" is all done by millionaires (I'm not sure you should be putting DiFranco in the millionaire category, btw) seems to be that you are only listening to "big acts". Dig a little deeper and listen to the suggestions given above.

I love Pete Seeger (the Weavers were the first recorded music I remember hearing as a kid). As a straight-ahead folkie, though, he's by self-definition not a musical innovator. People like U2, Bruce Cockburn, Rage Against the Machine, and Public Enemy have pushed musical as well as political boundaries.

Let's hope people will continue to see fit to put whatever moves them into music.

- Eric
Ehart I don't care about the record companies as they relate to this thread. So I guess I can have it both ways because that isn't the issue. I mentioned those acts because they were mentioned earlier in the thread. I have no use for either Rage Against the Machine or Ani DeFranco, not because of the subject matter, but because I don't like their music. That isn't a denouncement or an endoresment, it's just a personal thing...

Do you not consider S&Gs He Was MY Brother; Scarburough Fair/Canticle; or A Simple Desultory Phillipic to be protest music. Not everything they did was protest, but some of it is, and they were held in esteem by the movement (Such as it was).

Drubin my point was there are people who achieve success because they do what comes naturally and then there are people who succeed because they ride the wave. Success doesn't prove or disprove a persons motivation. There are people who protest because they know it will sell and there are people who protest because it is who they are, that's not the same thing. Pete Seeger accomplished succees regardless of what he sold because he related the point he was trying to make. Whether a person likes what he has to say or not, they cannot fault him for being genuine.
Bob Dylan, the man most often associated with protest music (although the majority of his music is not protest) once said that if you can't write about anything else, you can always write a protest song.
It must be extremely difficult to resist the effects of money (greed) in the music industry. Look at groups such as Jefferson Airplane or Steve Miller from the 60s bay area. Their music was sincere when they were at their artistic peak. Shortly after Blonde on Blonde Dylan was asked why his music had lost the bitterness of his early days. His response, "it's hard to be a bitter millionaire," pretty much says it all.
Timrhu I would suspect Dylan suckered you with that line the same way he did with the press.
He had a lot more money when he wrote George Wallace and Hurricane.

You asked if there was any protest music out there. Lots of examples were given. You said you don't like protest music by millionaires. Well, some of examples of that have also been given. Now we just need to find some protest music that appeals to you musically....

- Eric
Springsprint paints portraits of difficult situations that people - often blue collar people - face. For example, "41 shots" is not so much a protest against police actions as it is a portrait of the delicate situation that both the police and poor minorities in urban areas find themselves in. "Born in the USA" is a portrait of a returning vet. Etc.

I find Springsteens work FAR more compelling than any of the so called "protest" singers. Perhaps it's because he help me remember the difficulties that regular folk face, in employment, finances, romance, or just finding their place in the world. Sometimes I relate, big time, while others I'm just reminded to be grateful for what I do have.

Sprinsteens paints a colorful portrait of such situations ("57 channels and nothin' on!") and then he (usually) stays out of the way of any direct political implications.

And his fast rock and roll stuff is great for getting my feet moving on the treadmill!

As for Kerry, I still can't get over the vision of Michael Moore sitting in the front row at the Democratic convention; a vision as tragic (IMHO) as any ever conjured up by Springsteen.

If you listen to the lyrics of many a FM-played song you will find lots of messages. It is often hidden the the song. I suppose that Peter, Paul and Mary were correct in 'I did rock and roll' when they said "The radio won't play it unless you lay it between the lines".
A Perfect Circle has at least a few on "Thirteen Steps". "Pet" is obviously dedicated to dubya.