Music and musicians have a long history of using songs to send messages and to protest. Back during the American Revolution, a British doctor penned the lyrics to Yankee Doodle Dandy, a song that was meant to mock the American soldiers.
Later, in the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s, protest songs really started to come into their own. Artists such as Woody Guthrie wrote songs like This Land is Your Land, and Nina Simone released Backlash Blues regarding the Vietnam War. Later on 1n 1969, more than 500,000 people sang Give Peace a Chance at a rally aimed against President Richard Nixon and the ongoing involvement of the US in Vietnam.
Now, in 2021, there is something else that musicians are starting to protest against. While artists such as the Foo Fighters and J-Lo have joined one group promoting the various Covid vaccines, many other musicians are going the opposite way and denouncing the jabs as dangerous and untested.
Are musicians right to be involved in this area, or should music be left out of politics?
Why do musicians get involved with political and social unrest?
Woody Guthrie was a homeless busker when he wrote his famous protest song about America not really being for everyone. Guthrie’s guitar was emblazoned with the message, This Machine Kills Fascists. Although the song certainly wasn’t the first of its type, it resonated with the people at the time.
Later, the Vietnam War became a huge focus for the youth of the country and music to come together. The simple fact is, music can be incredibly powerful and emotive. Combine a strong message with music, and it can become an anthem for the disaffected everywhere. The funny thing is, the lyrics don’t always need to be that good.
Now, once again people are marching through the streets of various cities and countries protesting against the establishment. Just recently there were marches in 120 cities to protest against the removal of basic, fundamental human rights, such as freedom of movement, freedom of health, speech, and choice.
Do protest or political songs ever resolve anything?
It would be difficult to prove that any particular protest song had ever been responsible for ending a war, putting a stop to racism, or bringing down a government, but they do have some power.
Music can pull individuals together. Groups of people are far more powerful than individuals, and when people work together, the world stands up and takes notice. Anti-war movements start small and snowball. Once famous musicians get involved, things can change.
Woodstock was billed as 3 days of peace and music. Everything about the festival was anti-establishment, anti-war, and pro-peace. Although it didn’t stop the war going on in Vietnam, it made headlines around the world. Music can bring awareness to a particular cause.
So, music is a powerful tool for good then?
Of course, music can be used for many things, and it can even help improve physical and mental health.
Playing a few chords on a guitar can do more good than you might imagine. If you were to learn to play an instrument, you would find that your physical health would improve over time. This is because playing music helps to reduce stress and anxiety.
Playing guitar chords will help strengthen both hands and arms, and can improve hand-to-eye coordination. It boosts confidence, improves memory, and can help with tolerance and patience.
If you are going to play political songs though, perhaps miss Sting’s terrible 1985 release, Russians. There are other times that musicians get it wrong too. Eric Clapton’s Enoch Powell outburst at a 1976 concert has gone down in infamy, however, it did lead to the Rock Against Racism movement.
Who are today’s musicians speaking out against the vaccine?
Today it isn’t Bob Dylan or Pete Seegers speaking out, it is some artists closer to home, plus some big names from overseas.
Ian Brown and Richard Ashcroft, front men for The Stone Roses and The Verve, respectively, have both refused to play any festivals where vaccine certificates are mandatory.
Other artists who have expressed their views on the vaccine are both the Gallagher brothers, Liam and Noel, in a rare moment of public unity. Except they haven’t. As usual what one Gallagher does, the other does the opposite despite their outspoken views, and Noel has admitted getting the jab under advice from his doctor. He has however stated that no one should be forced to get the vaccine, quite rightly.
Van Morrison and Eric Clapton are just two others throwing their weight against the current restrictions on freedom and the vaccine. Some others have gone the other way though.
Madonna spent last year telling her fans that there was a vaccine but the worlds’ powers were keeping it to themselves, while Paul McCartney has urged people to get the jab, as he has done.
How is the pro-freedom movement going?
Across the world, several countries are seeing citizens taking to the streets. So far there are no particularly good protest songs to match those from the 1960s and ’70s.
The marches themselves are gaining publicity across the internet and especially on social media. Unfortunately, not always for the right reasons. Although there have been mass events across many of the world’s greatest cities, a recent one in London went slightly off-track.
An anti-vaccine march attempted to obtain access to a BBC building in west London to protest against the corporation’s reporting. Unfortunately, this particular bunch of protesters chose a commercial outpost of the BBC that was used for filming mostly ITV shows. Including that particular day, Loose Women.
Any good Covid protest songs yet?
While the marches are certainly growing in size, and the freedom movement gaining traction, a decent Covid or anti-lockdown song has yet to appear.
Eric Clapton and Van Morrison have had a stab at releasing an anti-lockdown song but the response has been less than positive from most quarters, on both sides of the line.
Perhaps this moment in history will find a new star, and with the government constantly telling people to stay home, maybe now is the time to spend the time wisely and start a new hobby.
If you fancy learning an instrument during the next, inevitable lockdown, then why not learn some chords from a tutorial app? Once you have mastered some easy guitar chords from the internet, you will be able to compose your very own protest or freedom song. You would be following in a historic line of great musicians too.
Guitar sales went through the roof last year due to lockdowns, so maybe there is an army of new protest-style musicians about to appear. In the meantime, there are plenty of famous musicians and celebrities speaking out against the current restrictions, lack of leadership, and the vaccine.
Music is a powerful tool, and it can be used to help political movements grow and move forward. For individuals, it can also be used to improve mood and take their thoughts far away from today’s troubled times.
Whether today’s celebrities and musicians will make any difference in the current political climate is hard to see. Unlike in the past with Woodstock and Vietnam, today’s protest doesn’t seem to need any famous names to push it on, the people are standing up and singing their own song.