Earth Day: 15 Pro-Environment Songs from Beach Boys, John Denver, Celine Dion – Rolling Stone
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Earth Day: 15 Pro-Environment Songs

From the Beach Boys to will.i.am and Celine Dion, here’s an unusual selection of Earth Day tunes dedicated to Mother Nature

The 15 Corniest Pro-Environment Songs

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Faced with the deteriorating condition of our planet, people react in various ways. Some donate to charity, some sift trash along the highway. A select few pen well-meaning – but cheesy – songs. From the Beach Boys to will.i.am and Celine Dion, here are 15 odes to Mama Earth.

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8

Counting Crows and Vanessa Carlton, ‘Big Yellow Taxi’

Joni Mitchell's disgusted take on urban sprawl has been covered thoroughly since its 1970 inception, including admirable turns from Bob Dylan, Green Day and Tracy Chapman. But this cover, featured on the soundtrack to the 2002 Sandra Bullock/Hugh Grant flick Two Weeks Notice, doesn't quite share the same heat. Crows singer Adam Duritz opts for full, bawling emote, while Carlton's supporting ooh-ahhs sounds as chipper as a prom queen's. Also, the video's scenes of them strolling around a shuttered amusement park at Coney Island seems to mix some metaphors, at best.

 

 

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7

John Denver, ‘Sunshine on My Shoulders’

Denver wrote scores of pro-environment pop songs in his career, and was a recognizable spokesman for conservation ecology; the last song he wrote before his death in 1997 was called “Yellowstone, Coming Home.” This finger-picked ballad to temperate days went to Number One on the Billboard charts in 1974. It also includes the mushy line “sunshine almost always makes me high,” which has united generations of college students in their snickering.

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6

Miley Cyrus, ‘Wake Up America’

On her second album, 2008's Breakout, Cyrus delivers an impassioned, nakedly Auto-tuned missive of sustainability to the Facebook generation – and, like much of her teen fanbase fixated on Farmville, she hasn't bothered to crack a newspaper about the topic. "Everything I read is global warming, going green/I don't know what all this means," she chirps happily over a handful of power chords. Not the most dynamic contribution to the conversation, but who knows: one more song positioning all the ecological blame Stateside, and maybe we'll finally sign the Kyoto Protocol.

 

 

 

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5

Celine Dion, ‘Skies of L.A.’

Her heart will go on, but her lungs are full of smog. Canada's biggest Nineties export doesn't know if "tomorrow has a day" and piano keys are tinkling delicately: all is about par in the Dion universe, but this 1997 track is a pretty sleepy charge against air pollution. Then again, if she truly "can't see the sun through the sky from here," the clouds of exhaust have either gotten exponentially worse in Hollywood, or it is nighttime.

 

 

 

 

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4

Dave Matthews Band, ‘Proudest Monkey’

Jam-band kingpin Dave Matthews can write with surprising tenacity… but only when he wants to. This isn't one of those times. As barbed as "Don't Drink the Water" is with its snarling stanzas on manifest destiny, "Proudest Monkey" (on 1996's Crash) is the cheesy inverse: a Pixar-ready tale of a little primate that makes his way to the big city, only to miss the quiet, simple ecosystem he left behind. Heavy lies the song that attempts to bring solemnity to the phrase "monkey see, monkey do," as this repeatedly does. Most egregiously, Matthews misses an opportunity to describe the hilarious people-clothes the monkey must've worn while in the cosmopolitan jungle.

 

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3

Julian Lennon, ‘Saltwater’

John Lennon's firstborn takes a soppy turn on this 1991 single, crooning about the destruction of nature and how it makes him cry like John Boehner watching a Hallmark ad. "Saltwater wells in my eyes," Lennon sighs through a catalogue of eco-grievances: the razing of the forests, the hole in the ozone layer. He weeps at the drop a hat – literally, because that hat might crush a flower – over lilting keys strongly reminiscent of the wintry Mellotron intro of Pops's "Strawberry Fields Forever." (Highbrow note: Lennon also seems to cop from the Italian opera Tosca, insisting, "I have lived for love/but now that's not enough.")

 

 

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2

James Taylor, ‘Gaia’

Rippling strings, soprano sax, featherweight harmonies: James Taylor will see your mawkishness and raise it. Singing in 1997 of a mass exodus from New York City in search of greener pastures, Taylor compares a bus to a “foolish school of fish on wheels” and turns “helpless and speechless and breathless” once he’s perched on a mountain. Then he prays for trees and fish. (Again with the fish!)

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1

Yes, ‘Don’t Kill The Whale’

Once upon the 1970s, the Save the Whales movement was a massive, unavoidable mainstream cause. British prog-rockers Yes capitalized on it with 1978’s Tormato, which includes a languid, disco-inflected rant against those who are “killing our last heaven beast.” Their lyrics are uniformly and hilariously overwrought, but the finest couplet has to be, “In the wake of our new age to stand for the frail/Don’t kill the whale.” In a time when Brit punk was at its ferocious apex, Yes’s tinny keys and imploding imagery was decidedly… not punk.

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