Protest music!
November 11, 2010 10:40 AM   Subscribe

Do you know of any protest records or songs that are about really specific, forgotten-about causes, or related to visible minorities?

I know that the question is sort of confusing/vague, but there it is anyway. My curiosity was piqued when I found an old record called Ding Dong Dollar -- it's a Scottish protest record protesting the use and storage of Polaris missiles in Scotland, and I was completely fascinated, and I want to make a themed mix CD of such forgotten protest songs. If anyone's familiar with the above record I'd love to find it in a digital format as well, because I've only got it on vinyl and I highly, highly doubt it's ever been reprinted (and I don't want to have to lug the record back home to get someone to put it on their digital transfer turntable).

Anyway, I am hoping that the vagueness of the question ends up producing some stuff that wasn't necessarily exactly what I was looking for but is interesting nonetheless. Any ideas would be appreciated! English language is not required (in fact, I would LOVE to hear of some Kurdish or Basque or Latin-American bands that are doing overtly politically-charged stuff like this -- links to lyrics and/or translations would be amazing as well!)

I'd prefer to avoid stuff made for causes by supergroups, though (for example, the Sun City anti-Apartheid record that came out 20 years ago -- a bunch of celebrities getting together around a cause isn't exactly what I'm seeking). I'm also not necessarily looking for albums by a single artist/band, but if it fits the bill I'm still definitely listening. And, any more information about Ding Dong Dollar is awesome too -- all I know about it is what's on the cover! I found it in my dad's record collection when I as scouring it for fun stuff to listen to! Thanks in advance, AskMeFi!
posted by magacid to Media & Arts (42 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Some of Peter, Paul and Mary's songs are dated to very specific causes, such as "El Salvador".
posted by Melismata at 10:42 AM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos) by Woody Guthrie comes to mind.
posted by Duffington at 10:45 AM on November 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

Allen Ginsberg's CIA Dope Calypso (lyrics.)

Russian punk band Grazhdanskaya Oborona has a song called "Palomniki v Koreyu" ("паломники в корею", "Pilgrims to Korea") about the DPRK's power handover from Kim Il Sung to Kim Jong Il. Sort of. Here are the lyrics in Russian, which you can feed into Google Translate. You can probably find the song streaming somewhere if you Google the Russian name.
posted by griphus at 10:50 AM on November 11, 2010

The Anti-Confederation Song (by Alan Mills, Joan Morrissey and others)
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:54 AM on November 11, 2010

Linton Kwesi Johnson - Reggae Fi Peach (About the Blair Peach case)
posted by Decani at 10:56 AM on November 11, 2010

Does John Lennon's "John Sinclair" count?
posted by JMOZ at 11:00 AM on November 11, 2010

What about Charlie and the MTA? It's a protest song about the fare structure of the Boston subway system. The song isn't forgotten, but I bet the issue is.
posted by craichead at 11:09 AM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Bruce Springsteen's American Skin (41 Shots) isn't necessarily obscure or forgotten, but it's about something pretty specific, the shooting of Amadou Diallo.
posted by amyms at 11:12 AM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Many of Calypsonian Mighty Sparrow's songs are topical numbers about Trinidadian political issues of the day (50s-60s). The album First Flight has a bunch of them. They are awesome and sort of mysterious because I have absolutely no context for any of the people or controversies covered.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 11:25 AM on November 11, 2010

How about Bob Dylan Talkin Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues?
posted by spicynuts at 11:30 AM on November 11, 2010

Another Bob Dylan - "Only A Pawn in Their Game" about the murder of Medgar Evers.
posted by bluejayway at 11:34 AM on November 11, 2010

Student Visas by Corb Lund is about a US soldier in Nicaragua during the Contra war. I think it's a recent song; not sure if that matters for your purposes.
posted by workerant at 11:34 AM on November 11, 2010

I'm in here to recommend calypso also. If you can track it down (think it's on iTunes) "The Gold in Africa" by Tiger (sometimes, The Tiger) is an utterly wonderful tirade against the relatively obscure (in music at least) invasion of Ethiopia by Mussolini in the 1930s during the Second Italo-Abyssinian War.
posted by fire&wings at 11:36 AM on November 11, 2010

"English Rebel Songs 1381-1984 is a mostly acappella album by anarchist punk band Chumbawamba, made up almost entirely of traditional (and modern) English protest songs." The first song on the album is from the Peasants' Revolt of 1381; the last one is from the miners' strike in the 1980s.
posted by twirlip at 11:37 AM on November 11, 2010

Ding Dong Dollar's available at Folkways: Smithsonian Folkways - Ding Dong Dollar: Anti-Polaris and Scottish Republican Songs - Glasgow Song Guild (also at emusic).

Matt McGinn's Jeely Piece Song is a mock protest song from a child having moved from a tenement to a 20-storey flat in Castlemilk.

Almsot every issue in the archives of Broadside Magazine will have some forgotten cause.
posted by scruss at 11:41 AM on November 11, 2010

David Rovics is like the king of very specific protest songs. Scroll down on this page and you'll get a nice list of the specific topics/peoples.
posted by dlugoczaj at 11:46 AM on November 11, 2010

Asian Dub Foundation - Free Satpal Ram - the case is explained in the song, Ram has since been released.

Les specifically, Ahmedo by Aynur Dogan, protesting honour killings in Turkish Kurdistan, was banned for being seditious (or maybe it was her Kece Kurdan that was banned for "sending women into the mountains to fight")

Adriano (Letzte Warnung) is a gorgeously militant anti-Nazi track released in response to Nazis in Dessau murdering a bloke of Mozambiquan origin called Alberto Adriano. It was done by a German "hip-hop supergroup", but that's still pretty obscure in international terms!

The Special's Ghost Town was in reponse to the unemployment, and "racial tension", ie rise in popular facism, of the time, and also in response to some really specific stuff that they had experienced in Glasgow and Coventry...

Chumbawamba, gawd bless 'em, released a whole album, "Pictures of starving children sell records", slagging off star-spangled celeb efforts like LiveAid. Most of their stuff is about more or less specific stuff, and is more or less listenable. They did however also put together a very valuable acapella album digging up "English Rebel Songs 1381-1914" some of which were fairly obscure.
posted by runincircles at 11:47 AM on November 11, 2010

doh! seconding the English Rebel Songs then!
posted by runincircles at 11:48 AM on November 11, 2010

Actually, the entire Protest Song category at Folkways looks like it could be a treasure trove of obscure protest music.
posted by craichead at 11:50 AM on November 11, 2010

Flip through Phil Och's back catalogue. Stuff like The Ballad of William Worth, Lou Marsh, The Heat of the Summer, for example, are all very specific to a time and place.
posted by rodgerd at 11:55 AM on November 11, 2010

I love the Eight Hours song written in the 1880's to advocate an eight hour workday. There's a great version on this album which looks like it's right up your alley.
posted by unknowncommand at 12:12 PM on November 11, 2010

Not totally obscure but Bob Dylan, Hurricane.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 12:18 PM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm surprised no one's suggested Black and Tans (link: youtube) yet. (traditional pro-Irish-independence song)
posted by sninctown at 12:24 PM on November 11, 2010

This is also a great album that includes many political/protest calypso songs from Trinidad in the 1950's. IIRC, the lyrics are included with liner notes, and some of the songs are very specific complaints about local politicians and political issues.
posted by unknowncommand at 12:27 PM on November 11, 2010

Song For Ana Belen Montes by David Rovics, it's about my ex-stepsister-inlaw.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 1:23 PM on November 11, 2010

Another Bob Dylan tune is "The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll".

I found it especially interesting when I moved to Maryland in the late 80's and Zantzinger was again in the news for renting sub-par housing. He was accused of renting houses with no indoor pumping among other issues.
posted by tman99 at 1:35 PM on November 11, 2010

Reggae Fi Peach commemorates the murder of Blair Peach by the Special Patrol Group.

The Foggy Dew, about the 1916 Easter Rising, has been performed by many different artists.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:45 PM on November 11, 2010

I used to play over & over my parents' 1972 Country Joe McDonald Incredible! Live LP - which included his best known Vietnam War protest songs - mainly because Joe famously said fuck a lot on the album. Which blew my then adolescent mind!

Almost 40 years later, I can still (more or less) sing along to his song about Nixon, "Tricky Dicky":

Late last night I was watchin' the tube
When I saw the most incredible thing
They built a new mechanical man
Looked just like a human being.
I started to become terrified,
Good God it was makin' me sick
And then I began to realize
It was no one but Tricky Dick.

Yes, it was Tricky Dicky from Yorba Linda
Hip hip hip hurrah.
Tricky Dicky from Yorba Linda
Hip hip hip hurrah.
He walks and he talks, he smiles, he frowns,
He does what a human can,
It was Tricky Dicky from Yorba Linda,
The genuine plastic man...

posted by Jody Tresidder at 1:52 PM on November 11, 2010

Anyway, I am hoping that the vagueness of the question ends up producing some stuff that wasn't necessarily exactly what I was looking for but is interesting nonetheless.

I've been meaning to put together a mix of not so much forgotten, but expired protest songs. It will feature The (English) Beat doing "Stand Down Margaret", the Special AKA with "Free Nelson Mandela", and a couple of songs mentioned above (ADF and LKJ).

For Linton Kwesi Johnson, you could probably add , 'Sonny's Lettah' (about 'suss' laws), 'New Craas Massahkah', 'Five Nights of Bleeding' and 'Di Great Inshohreckshan' (about the 1981 Brixton riots).
posted by pompomtom at 2:05 PM on November 11, 2010

I feel like Irish rebel songs are kind of not-obscure. But if you want not-really-rebel-songy Irish stuff, there's always "Streets of Sorrow/ Birmingham Six" by the Pogues.
posted by craichead at 2:32 PM on November 11, 2010

Zantzinger was again in the news

Zantzinger?? Oh, wow. That makes SO MUCH SENSE! I always hear that line as "Williams and Singer killed poor Hattie Carroll", which doesn't make sense with the next line's use of the pronoun "he". Always wondered which one of them it was, dammit!

For anti-apartheid stuff that isn't Big Celebrity Cause oriented, what about Miriam Makeba's work? I don't know any specific song that dealt with apartheid more than the others (damn you, South African languages I don't speak!), but I know the album she did with Harry Belafonte centered around apartheid as an issue.
posted by Sara C. at 2:49 PM on November 11, 2010

As followup on the Miriam Makeba trail: you want Old Sophiatown Is Gone. For starters.
posted by Sara C. at 3:03 PM on November 11, 2010

Where the Fraser River Flows, written by IWW (International Workers of the World, or "Wobblies") organizer Joe Hill. The song was written in 1912 in support of railroad construction workers in British Columbia who were striking against low pay and unsafe working/living conditions.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 4:07 PM on November 11, 2010

This might meet your criteria. The band name of Red Sparowes and their first album are both inspired by the events of the Great Sparrow Campaign. There's even a great FPP about it.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 4:17 PM on November 11, 2010

It's kind of a stretch, but Joan Baez's The Ballad of Sacco and Vanzetti.
posted by librarylis at 4:26 PM on November 11, 2010

The Robert Burns poem Ye Jacobites By Name has been made into a song many times over, I think most popularly performed by The Corries.

Quick and dirty context: In 1688, some Parliamentarians and an army lead by William of Orange (Protestants) deposed King James II of England (a Catholic) because he had fathered a son who would take the throne instead of his daughter Mary II (a Protestant). Jacobites supported returning James II (and the House of Stuart) to the throne. They led several rebellions between 1688 and 1745 and then faded.

There was actually an anti-Jacobite folksong that preceded Burns' poem. Burns re-wrote the song to be generally anti-war ("What makes heroic strife / to whet the assassin's knife / and hunt a parent's life wi' bloody war"). The poem was written in 1791, well after the decline of the Jacobites, but there are many claims that Burns was sympathetic to the Jacobites but realized it was long lost cause.

Here is more information about the Jacobites in general.
posted by SugarAndSass at 5:08 PM on November 11, 2010

U2's Running to Stand Still describes the plight of the impoverished living in Dublin's Ballymun flats, all but one of which have since been demolished.
posted by punchdrunkhistory at 6:22 PM on November 11, 2010

"The World Turned Upside Down" by Billy Bragg is about the Diggers. "The Diggers Song" by Chumbawamba is about the same episode.

"The Chartist Anthem" by Chumbawamba dates from the 1840's and is about the campaign by working men for the vote.
posted by Lexica at 6:51 PM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

"Which Side Are You On?" (1931) is certainly not forgotten to folk music fans or historians, but I'd guess that average person would not know what it is about. Here's Pete Seeger rocking it in 1967.

Check out the book Rise Up Singing (there's a labor section) for more examples.
posted by mikepop at 5:48 AM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Paul Kelly's From Little Things Big Things Grow. Very specific coverage of a protest, but has become a more general 'David vs Goliath' anthem, particularly in Australian Aboriginal affairs.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:39 PM on November 12, 2010

two from Gil Scott Heron

We Almost Lost Detroit
(concerning the near nuclear disaster that occurred in 1966 when Fermi 1, roughly 30 miles from Detroit, had a partial meltdown)

(anti-apartheid song from 1975)
posted by jammy at 6:09 AM on December 3, 2010

« Older In search of the 10-minute psychic recharge   |   Comic series recommendations? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.