Seven of the Most Popular Protest Songs of the 1960s

Updated on March 19, 2018
DzyMsLizzy profile image

Though not a performer, Liz is interested in historic songs of the modern era, as well as classical; 60s through some 80s; and country.

A Vietnam War protest march through San Francisco in 1967. These songs accompanied many of these marches and protests, particularly at the march's end gathering spot.
A Vietnam War protest march through San Francisco in 1967. These songs accompanied many of these marches and protests, particularly at the march's end gathering spot. | Source

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.

Joan Baez

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.

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Liz Elias


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    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 6 days ago from Oakley, CA

      Hi Audrey!

      I'm glad you liked these selections. I know there are a scad more, but these are the ones with which I am most familiar.

      I like to sing some of them, but I am still singing pretty much only when I am alone. ... LOL

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 7 days ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      I can relate to each of these songs. If I wasn't performing these pieces, I was teaching them to vocal and piano students. Glad you included "I am woman". Great idea for a hub. Thanks Liz!

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 4 weeks ago from Oakley, CA

      @ Jennifer; I agree, the solution is simplistic, but then again, the best ideas are often the simplest. You have to work very hard at it to make things as complicated as they have become. Thanks for your lovely comment, and I'm glad you enjoyed these offerings.

      @ Shauna, Well hello, there! LTNS! It was a pretty good era, but yeah, in retrospect for some of us. Even living right then and there, I was too sheltered to have experienced it, so I might as well have been born later! LOL Thanks so much for your comment.

      @ Linda, Indeed, the Helen Reddy song was just a tad later on in the era, but I do think it is a very powerful song, so I stuck it in here with the others. I'm glad you liked the info and the songs.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 4 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I know all of the songs that you've included, except for the Helen Reddy one. I enjoyed them as a child (and I still do), although I didn't think of them as protest songs. Thanks for sharing the interesting information as well as the music.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 4 weeks ago from Central Florida

      Liz, I love all these songs. I especially like Joan Baez. She has such a unique, recognizable voice.

      I too, was alive in the hippie era. My mind was there, but my age was a bit of a hindrance, having been born in 1957. To this day, I still consider myself a hippie. They weren't afraid to speak their piece about peace and everything else. With the exception of the Vietnam War, it was a good era. I'm glad I was able to experience it. And, like you, I still have those songs, many of which are on vinyl.

    • Jennifer Mugrage profile image

      Jennifer Mugrage 4 weeks ago from Columbus, Ohio

      Oh, man. Thanks for the trip down memory lane. Some of these are favorites of mine.

      I was born in 1976, so of the songs on this list that I know, I learned them by listening to my Dad's Peter, Paul & Mary album (by that time on cassette tape). The sentimentality just gets to me.

      I still sing "Where Have All The Flowers Gone?" to my kids. I do love it as a poetic expression of the human cost of war. Though I think the implied solution it offers is a little simplistic, namely that if we just decided to stop going to war, there would be no war anymore.

      I love Bob Dylan too. "Mr Tambourine Man" is terrific. Might be a description of a drug trip or something, but as a writer, let's just call it a description of inspiration.

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 4 weeks ago from Oakley, CA

      @ Eric; goose bumps, eh? That's quite the reaction, but I know what you mean. I cannot sing "Where Have All the Flowers Gone," without choking up. Very pleased you so enjoyed this article.

      @ Mary; yes, a retrospective look always seems to clarify things we didn't understand as youngsters. Thanks so much for stopping by and offering your viewpoint.

      @ RedElf; Yes, there are plenty of others, but there is simply not enough space in one article; I had to exercise restraint. ;-) Many songs seem to come and go in cycles. Artists also "borrow" tunes from older works, and put in new words. (Elvis Presley's "Love Me Tender" is one such example.)

      Thanks for your input, and I'm glad you enjoyed this article.

      (BTW--Love your avatar!) ;-)

    • RedElf profile image

      RedElf 4 weeks ago from Canada

      Awesome hub. Awesome songs. I, too, suffered from 'sheltered up-bringing,' LOL. Some of those date back to the dirty-thirties, and earlier. One of my favorites has always been the New Christie Minstrels' version of Go Tell it on the Mountain/Let My People Go. And, of course, the iconic 'Imagine.'

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 4 weeks ago from Brazil

      I remember these, however, I was only still in grade school so although I know them I didn't associate them with protest songs.

      Looking back now, I see their significance for the time and as you say, they are as relevant in today's troubled times as they have always been.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 4 weeks ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Goose bumps. I will just leave this tab open until I have the pleasure of listening to all the songs.

      I was a little too young but I remember my mom explaining some of these and her sadness at the war. My one sister would play the guitar and the three of them would sing these.

      Thank you