Do you want to learn more about the world, but can only summon the energy to care about a political problem once a musician has created a song that epitomizes its every issue and concern in verse? By listening to songs about politics you will be able to gather a deeper understanding of the events that they are attempting to portray, whilst also tapping your toe and learning (without much effort). It’s a win-win situation. So why not scroll through this list on your preferred listening device? By its end you’ll either be marching on the White House or dead inside. Still a win-win, right?
“Strange Fruit” by Billie Holiday. Billie Holiday knew the significance that “Strange Fruit” could have on her fans. Originally a poem written by Lewis Allan about the lynching of two black men in Marion, Indiana, Holiday first performed the song in 1939 at New York’s, Cafe Society. Holiday and her record company immediately realized the song’s poignancy and drew up some guidelines to how it should be performed, which were that Holiday would always close with it, the waiters would cease service in advance of the song and the only light in the room would be a spotlight on her face. Over time, “Strange Fruit” has been recognized as not only one of the most important political songs of all time, but one of the greatest pieces of music ever written. Don’t believe us? “Time” magazine called it the song of the century and the Library of Congress added it to the National Recording Registry in 2002. Boo-yeah.
“Sunday Bloody Sunday” by U2. There used to be a time when Bono was known just for his music and not his constant search to cure all of the world’s problems. The song looks at the sectarian problems in Ireland, and refers to the events of both the 1972 and 1920 Bloody Sundays. However it is not specific about either tragedy. Set from the viewpoint of an individual who is horrified by the cycle of violence in the area, “Sunday Bloody Sunday” was originally filled with several politically charge lines, that the band decided it was best to remove. On its release, the song split fans, as it was immediately interpreted as a rebel anthem that glorified the events the song interpreted, however it also helped the band to break into America and has been a staple of every U2 tour since its inception.
“What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye. It is often forgotten the power that pop stars hold. Their songs reach millions if not billions of listeners and there is always the opportunity to offer a little wisdom onto the world. “What’s Going On” was the first political pop song that managed to tow its message between oblique and overt. When in San Francisco, Obie Benson witnessed an anti-war protest turn violent and became deeply disturbed by the plight of his country, while at the same time Marvin Gaye was going through a professional and personal crisis. After listening to the horrific tales of the Vietnam War told to him by his brother, Gaye began to modify the songs lyrics. Due to the success of the song, Gaye was handed the freedom to create an entire album that conceptualized a Vietnam War Veteran who returns to America and doesn’t recognize the country he left behind, with the album going on to receive a landmark status in the history of music and its effects are still felt today.
“The Times They Are A-Changin'” by Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan is seen as the archetypal protest singer. His music is the soundtrack to the disenfranchised youth and Dylan wrote the song as a deliberate attempt to create an anthem of change for the moment. Its short, concise and hypnotic verses circle to create a strong mood, which was recorded less than a month after the assassination of President Kennedy and signaled the emergence of a new power—the youth of America.