Protest Songs

by Jeff Suwak

In 1991, a political activist challenged R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe with one of the musician's own lyrics. "The time to rise has been engaged," the activist said, summoning a line from "Finest Worksong" to provoke Stipe to take more definitive action against the Gulf War.

Stipe responded with another of his own lyrics, this one from "Talk About the Passion." "Not everyone can carry the weight," Stipe said. "I'm going to breakfast. See you later."

Three decades earlier, Bob Dylan expressed a similar sentiment when he introduced his first performance of "Blowin' in the Wind" with the statement, "This here ain't no protest song or anything like that, 'cause I don't write no protest songs."

These and countless other examples illustrate the strained relationship that musicians have with their own "protest songs." The performers learn rather quickly to avoid the pitfalls of being politicized and allowing the media to transform them into heroic effigies that will have their brains promptly bashed in by fans resentful of the fact that musicians can't actually save the world.

Yet, despite those misgivings, the lure of the protest song seems almost inescapable for most acts who stay in the game for any length of time.

This strained relationship extends to the fans, as well. The same people who search hungrily for songs to fill their need for moral outrage one day will deride the music as pretentious and empty-headed the next.

Through it all, the protest song persists, occasionally making its way into the popular culture. In this quiz, we explore ten protest songs that made particularly potent impressions.
List of Protest Songs
More Music Quiz

Comments: 9

  • Dr. Kuku from Northampton, UkLOVE this quiz. More, please.
  • Buckeye Boy from OhioI thought I knew the protest song however I was wrong on most of them. I need to study more on my supposed knowledge and I grew up during the Vietnam war.
  • Ciaobabi from Interlachen,flMissed 3. Initially thought -better with coke- but went with -whiter teeth. Wrong answer but better lifestyle choice.
  • Johnnytainment from OhioA few good guesses except for ohio and elvis
  • Johnnytainment from OhioA few good guesses except for ohio
  • Gromit from Nice (france)Great songs ! I didn't think to perform so well ;o)
  • Dan from MichiganExcellent representation of protest songs through the decades. I wonder if recent events will inspire new songs?
  • Ashley Milne from Masterson, New ZealandAwesome, bet I missed half!
  • Bruno from LimaVery well...!!!
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Fire On The Stage

Fire On The StageSong Writing

When you have a song called "Fire," it's tempting to set one - these guys did.

Jackie DeShannon - "Put a Little Love in Your Heart"

Jackie DeShannon - "Put a Little Love in Your Heart"They're Playing My Song

It wasn't her biggest hit as a songwriter (that would be "Bette Davis Eyes"), but "Put a Little Love in Your Heart" had a family connection for Jackie.

Richie Wise (Kiss producer, Dust)

Richie Wise (Kiss producer, Dust)Songwriter Interviews

Richie talks about producing the first two Kiss albums, recording "Brother Louie," and the newfound appreciation of his rock band, Dust.

Taylor Dayne

Taylor DayneSongwriter Interviews

Taylor talks about "The Machine" - the hits, the videos and Clive Davis.

Gary Louris of The Jayhawks

Gary Louris of The JayhawksSongwriter Interviews

The Jayhawks' song "Big Star" has special meaning to Gary, who explains how longevity and inspiration have trumped adulation.

U2 Lyrics

U2 LyricsMusic Quiz

How well do you know the lyrics of U2?