The best protest music transcends time and is always relevant. Today, we need it more than ever.
This morning, Donald Trump authorized a drone strike at Baghdad International Airport that killed Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, Iran's top security and intelligence commander.
Since this action, which The New York Times described as a "serious escalation," the United States has been preparing for potential retaliation.
This event feels like a turning point in the midst of endless conflict between the United States and Iran, a flashpoint that has everyone waiting with bated breath. It's impossible to say at this point whether the strike will merely mark a continuation of previous conflicts or if it will launch a full-blown World War III, but for fear of the latter, some people have been turning to age-old mechanisms of coping with war and fighting for peace: anti-war protest songs.
The history of American war protests is intertwined with music. From Bob Dylan to Bob Marley, from Joan Baez to Jimi Hendrix, anti-war protests of the 1960s marked a glorious ascendance of protest songs, but many of them had their roots in the past, either in gospel or blues or from somewhere else, some undercurrent of defiance.
Many of the greatest protest songs are applicable across movements, accessing a core of anger and solidarity, and that's what each of these songs does. War has never ended; it's only moved and shifted. These songs remind us that the struggle is an age-old one.
- Masters of War — Bob Dylan
Very few artists are as synonymous with protest music as Bob Dylan, and "Masters of War" is one of the most damning songs of all of his work. It was written in 1963 as a protest against the nuclear arms buildup of the early 60s, and it's ultimately a treatise against the military industrial complex and all the forces that profit off the deaths of others. "You hide in your mansion / while the young people's blood / flows out of their bodies and is buried in the mud," he sings, one of the most searing lines in protest music.
Bob Dylan - Masters of War (Audio) www.youtube.com
2. War Pigs — Black Sabbath
Black Sabbath's vehement, sprawling f*ck you-ballad to everyone making money off war. The song was the opening track on the album Paranoid, and its original title was "Walpurgis," which references April 30th, a traditional feast day sometimes referred to as the "witch's Sabbath," a holiday with roots in the 8th century. It was released as a protest to Vietnam and the draft but has endured as an anthem to rage at the futility of pointless war.
BLACK SABBATH - "War Pigs" (Live Video) www.youtube.com
3. Redemption Song — Bob Marley
Few voices captured the fear of war and spun it into something like hope as well as Bob Marley. "Redemption Song" is timeless and of its time. With lyrics inspired by Pan-Africanist speaker Marcus Garvey, it speaks to a very specific and universal feeling. It's the last song on Marley's last album, written in 1979 when he was already suffering from cancer, and the stripped-down acoustic version is a mix of pain and faith.
Bob Marley - Redemption Song (from the legend album, with lyrics) www.youtube.com
4. Zombie — The Cranberries
"Zombie" is so catchy that it's easy to forget what it's about, but it was written about the casualties that occurred during the 1993 IRA bombing in Warrington, England as part of the ongoing war between England and Ireland. Dolores O'Riordan wrote the song in 1993, and its release—along with a music video that showed children playing war games and clips of British soldiers—resulted in a ban from the BBC; the video later garnered over a billion views and the song became a protest anthem.
The Cranberries - Zombie (Official Music Video) www.youtube.com
5. Jimi Hendrix — All Along the Watchtower
This cryptic song was written by Bob Dylan, but even Dylan began covering Jimi Hendrix's version when it came out in 1968. The song might be about Vietnam, Armageddon, or the crises of meaning that these kinds of events open up, but its true power is in the sound and the power of Hendrix's guitar skills, perfectionism, and ability to distill centuries of oppression into sound.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience - All Along The Watchtower (Audio) www.youtube.com
6. People Have the Power — Patti Smith
Patti Smith just turned 73, but her song "People Have the Power" is timeless and still resonates just like it did when it was released in 1988. Inspired by the radical spirit of the 1960s, it has since been used in protests everywhere from Greece to Palestine.
Patti Smith - People Have The Power www.youtube.com
7. We Shall Overcome
This song is likely descended from a gospel hymn by Reverend Charles Albert Tindley, who wrote the original version in 1900. The first version of the song as it is today was sung by Lucille Simmons, who was leading a cigar worker's strike in 1945. It was popularized by artists like Pete Seeger and became a seminal song of the Civil Rights Movement when it was performed by Guy Carawan. Then it was used by folk singers like Joan Baez at rallies and concerts of the 1960s. The song's mutability and applicability to so many movements reveal more about what all these movements have in common than anything else—a desire for freedom, equality, and peace, and a faith in the people's ability to get there.
We Shall Overcome www.youtube.com
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11 years ago, on July 10th, 2009, Colombian singer Shakira released the first single off her third studio album.
"She Wolf" is a synth-pop banger built on a B minor progression. It was, in many ways, an insane song, born out of the singer's own frustration and ennui.
Though the music was composed by John Hill and Sam Endicott, lead singer of post-punk band The Bravery, the lyrics were all Shakira's own. "[Shakira] contacted him (Hill), asking if he had any stuff," said Endicott. "We never had her in mind. We just made the thing independently of her, and then she liked it a lot, and she sang over it. She used some of the melodies we put in there and then wrote these crazy lyrics about being a werewolf. And that's how it happened."
Shakira - She Wolf www.youtube.com
Remembering a singular talent.
Jimi Hendrix would've turned 77 years old today.
During his short 27 years on earth, he changed the fabric of music forever, leaving behind a body of work that would leave an indelible impression on millions.
Hendrix was born in Seattle, Washington, and began playing the guitar at 15. At 16, he received his first acoustic guitar from his father—an acoustic Supro Ozark—and from there, the young prodigy started performing with his first band, called the Rocking Kings.
He kept playing throughout his time in the army, and after being discharged, he started playing as a session musician. Initially gaining traction in Greenwich Village, he eventually formed the Jimi Hendrix Experience with drummer Mitch Mitchell and bass player Noel Redding.
The group's first single, "Hey Joe," came out in 1967, and soon after, the infamous "Purple Haze" was released. Hendrix established himself as a legend with "Wild Thing," and then Electric Ladyland. In 1968 he started his own studio in New York City, Electric Lady Studios. In 1969, he split skulls with his blistering Woodstock rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner," a version that embodied a deep-rooted rage at America and its violent heart.
The Life and Career of Jimi Hendrix www.youtube.com
Jimi Hendrix The Star Spangled Banner American Anthem Live at Woodstock 1969 www.youtube.com
Hendrix died in 1970, but his legacy is eternal. Described by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as "the greatest instrumentalist in the history of rock music" and widely renowned as the world's greatest guitar player ever, he's notorious for his innovative fusion of blues, funk, and psychedelia, blending tradition with visionary use of pedals and various technologies.
What exactly made Hendrix's music so exceptional? In terms of technique, he was endlessly inventive and relied on an ever-expanding wheelhouse of signature skills. For music theory buffs, Hendrix used a chord called the Dominant 7#9 chord. Often called the Hendrix chord, it's notorious for its expressive tension. Hendrix also typically tuned his guitar a semitone below concert pitch, enabling him to perform intense bends (a technique that involves bending a string to change the note, which creates Hendrix's signature wailing guitar tone).
What Makes Jimi Hendrix Such a Good Guitarist www.youtube.com
But Hendrix's extraordinary technical and musical skills were made transcendent by some unnameable factor, something that had less to do with technique and more with an ability to tap into the energy at the core of music and life.
Regarding Hendrix's cover of his song "All Along the Watchtower," Bob Dylan said, "It overwhelmed me, really. He had such talent, he could find things inside a song and vigorously develop them."
The Jimi Hendrix Experience - All Along The Watchtower (Audio) www.youtube.com
Guitarist John Frusciante perhaps touched on what made Hendrix so truly great when he said, "He's bending sound, taking care of music in every dimension. Where most people think of it in two dimensions, he's thinking of it in four."
Jimi Hendrix - Solo Little Wing www.youtube.com
The Jimi Hendrix Experience - Hey Joe (Audio) www.youtube.com
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