Seven of the Most Popular Protest Songs of the 1960s
How Many Protests?
In the 1960s, there were countless protests, mostly centering around the Vietnam War. It was the era of the Hippies; the time when San Francisco became a magnet and mecca for the protest and free love movement.
In 1967, it was the “The Summer of Love;” and 2 years later, of the famous Woodstock gathering and concert; the Haight-Ashbury; the era of San Francisco's Fillmore Auditorium with its concerts by the likes of Janis Joplin; The Grateful Dead; Jefferson Airplane; Joan Baez, and many others.
It was the time of my teenage years; I was a senior in high school in 1965, yet, having been raised in a very over-protected way, I was blissfully unaware of any of this; I learned about it some years after, when it had passed into history, however recent.
My awareness of this general social atmosphere came through songs played on the radio. Some were written by the artists; many were revived songs of far earlier times, even coming from the gospel movement, in at least one case. Here, then, are my favorites, in no particular order.
1) Michael, Row the Boat Ashore
This is one of the songs I am aware of that was a revival of an old gospel tune. But, it somehow fit into the mood of the times. I recall this one so well, because I actually won a copy on a radio contest. That was a first for me!
The program was called, “Name It and Claim It.” They would give the phone number, start the song, and the first person to get through with the correct name of the song, and the name of the artist or group, was sent a 45rpm recording of that tune. (We are talking of the old vinyl records, here, not CDs or any other of our modern music devices!)
I was so excited, but then so disappointed, to find that the record had been cracked in transit. However, the little adapter gizmo that allowed 45rpm records to be played on a standard spindle, held it together well enough to allow playing it, even though that caused a little hiccup on each revolution.
This is the Version That Was My Prize
2) Where Have All the Flowers Gone?
This song has always been one of my favorites; probably because I can actually sing it, without it going outside my vocal range.
But the poetic imagery is also very poignant, and fitting of the times; indeed, it is fitting in any era in which there is a war happening. Sadly, that's pretty much all the time on this planet, if we humans can never learn to get along.
This version is covered by the Kingston Trio, another popular group of that era. It was originally written by Pete Seger.
Cover By The Kingston Trio
3) If I Had a Hammer
This was originally written in 1949, and is an example of another revived song of older origins. Written by Pete Seger and Lee Hays, it became better known when performed by Peter, Paul, and Mary.
The Seekers Perform This Song
4) Blowing In The Wind
Another song made popular by the Peter, Paul, and Mary group, it is an emotional song (at least, that's my take), about the answers and solutions to the world's problems being patently obvious, if only people would just stop, think, and listen to each other.
Lyrics by Bob Dylan.
Peter, Paul, and Mary
5) We Shall Overcome
Ah, yes, someday! Arranged and revised by Pete Seger, from a much earlier gospel song, this was sung both at protests over the unpopular war, (when is war ever popular??), and at civil rights marches.
Covered by Joan Baez, this is one that often, as she has done in this rendition, offered the opportunity for audience participation.
6) I Am Woman
Hear me roar! This Helen Reddy classic was more about the women's movement than any of the other protest songs, but it still fits under a protest: a protest against the inequality between men and women, and the mistreatment of women by society at large.
Performed By the Original Artist
7) Turn, Turn, Turn
Yet another of Pete Seger's hits, this one strikes a chord of peace, and patience; everything in its own time. It came from verses in the Christian Bible, which makes it fit in with the revivals of the old gospel songs that were re-purposed for the era.
The group known as "The Byrds" performed my preferred version of this tune.
Turn, Turn, Turn (To Everything There is a Season)
So, How Many Protest Songs?
There were oh, so many, many more; it would take a serious research project to catalog all of them. The ones I've grouped here fall more into the “please, let us have peace” category of mellow ballads.
There is another entire segment of songs that feature a much more aggressive, militant stance of making their complaints and protests, but that style of music never appealed much to me. That music is much harsher, often dissonant, with the vocals more yelled than sung, and not altogether pleasing to my ears.
There was one 'mellow ballad' type that I was able to sing, but never all the way through: it made me cry every time. It was more about perpetuating the culture of war, and sending new generations into battle. That song was obviously the opposite of a protest song, so I've not included a sample for this list. I'm talking about "The Ballad of the Green Berets." It made me feel very conflicted as well, because I do like the melody, but not the message.
This concludes my presentation of the protest songs I liked, and still do. Most of them are now in my personal collection, so I can listen to them whenever I like.
And yes, there is still war happening, and these songs are as relevant as ever.
© 2018 Liz Elias