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The Playlist Special: Top Artists Pick Their Personal Top 10

John Mellencamp: Protest Songs

"Political songs are songs by the people," says Mellencamp. "I think it was Jefferson who said that if the people do not seriously question the government every 20 years, then democracy is no longer working. That's why protest songs exist."

 

 

 

 

 

Listen: John Mellencamp's Top Protest Songs

  • 1.
    "Vigilante Man" | Woody Guthrie, 1940

    He was writing about the corruptness of people who were supposed to be peacekeepers, dominating the migrant workers and beating them into submission. The strong preying on the weak. Sound familiar?

  • 2.
    "Strange Fruit" | Billie Holiday, 1939

    The label wouldn't even put it out – they felt a song about lynching was so inflammatory. She may have expressed it poetically, but the message was loud and clear.

  • 3.
    "The Times They Are A-Changin'" | Bob Dylan, 1964

    Bob always said he wasn't a protest singer, but of course he was. This is the obvious one, but he's got hundreds: "Hattie Carroll" and "Masters of War," on and on. He took what Woody Guthrie did and brought it to another level.

  • 4.
    "Give Peace a Chance" | John Lennon, 1969

    With Lennon, the message was always so direct. It takes a lot of talent and a lot of courage to do that.

  • 5.
    "Front Line" | Stevie Wonder, 1982

    This is an amazing song about the Vietnam War, and it was played to death.

  • 6.
    "What's Going On" | Marvin Gaye, 1971

    Another Vietnam song. It's astonishing, almost unbelievable, that white America actually heard these two.

  • 7.
    "Compared To What" | Les McCann and Eddie Harris, 1969

    That's a motherfucker. The first time I heard it, 100 years ago, I thought, "How great, being able to speak to a culture about race and equality."

  • 8.
    "Ohio" | Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, 1970

    Neil wrote this right after the Kent State shootings, and in weeks he had it on the radio. Sometimes you just need to report the news, and that's protest enough.

  • 9.
    "Folsom Prison Blues" | Johnny Cash, 1955

    A protest song of incarceration and lack of rehabilitation in the prison system at the time – which is even worse today.

  • 10.
    "Get Up, Stand Up" | The Wailers, 1973

    With Bob Marley, it wasn't only protest songs, but pop records that spoke to millions.

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