The revolution will be sung, not televised
January 9, 2017 5:48 AM   Subscribe

I was at a long protest about a month ago, over the electoral college, and to build momentum a couple of people started the crowd singing. Except after we got through the US national anthem and "This Land is My Land", we all collectively forgot any songs that would work to build liberal unity. Help me think of more so I'm prepared for next time.

The lyrics don't have to be explicitly about activism, but I'd like them to at least be about solidarity or community. I don't personally give a shit if they're religious but if so they need to be something that isn't going to alienate non Christians. Patriotic songs would be perfect--remind us that we are all part of this nation too.

The more people who can be expected to know the songs you're bringing up, the better. I know, for example, quite a bit of the music from the Little Red Songbook, but it's hard to get a crowd of enthusiastic people who are mostly new to this whole protest thing and a little self conscious singing a labor song that no one knows ahead of time. Songs that hold up well to being warbled by cold, mad, tired people who can't reliably carry a tune in a bucket are good--Hallelujah is beautiful, but I don't think I could sing it without my voice cracking even at the best of times.

Good recordings of music available on Spotify so I can make sure I memorize them by listening ahead of time would be a plus, too.
posted by sciatrix to Media & Arts (51 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
 
I would check out the songbook Rise Up Singing for a great selection of social justice-y music that lots of folks are familiar with. Early Dylan works well too- for example "Blowing in the Wind."
posted by jeszac at 6:01 AM on January 9, 2017 [12 favorites]


We Shall Not Be Moved is classic and is totally singable if you don't aspire to be Mavis Staples. People won't necessarily be familiar with it, but it's super easy to pick up, and you can yell out the next verse so everyone knows what to sing.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:01 AM on January 9, 2017 [13 favorites]


America (My Country, 'Tiz of thee)
America The Beautiful.

Evidently the crowd doesn't remember the '60s.
Blowing in the Wind is the first to come to mind.

Research the albums of Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul & Mary, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Eric Anderson, etc.
posted by SemiSalt at 6:02 AM on January 9, 2017 [4 favorites]


What about some civil rights movement songs? Everyone, whether they realize it or not, knows "We Shall Not Be Moved", for instance. On the one hand, you wouldn't want to have what might be a majority white crowd (I don't know what this group is like) singing songs that are strongly identified with Black experience, but there are several that I think have moved into general-purpose protest and that call back to the civil rights movement. "This Little Light of Mine" is good.

I really like this Voices of the Civil Rights Movement compilation just for listening purposes as well as for reference.

Do you think someone could get the crowd going on songs where the crowd sings the chorus if they don't know the words? "Bread and Roses" might work, or one of the versions of "Which Side Are You On".

Also, what about oldies of the "With A Little Help From My Friends" variety?
posted by Frowner at 6:04 AM on January 9, 2017 [5 favorites]


I am not American. I presume the Internationale or The Red Flag are out?

Pete Seeger must have something (sorry, my local expert has gone to bed).
posted by pompomtom at 6:05 AM on January 9, 2017 [3 favorites]


I Shall Be Released has been covered by like a million people, which might improve the chances of people knowing it.
posted by Sequence at 6:10 AM on January 9, 2017 [1 favorite]


Solidarity Forever.
posted by General Malaise at 6:11 AM on January 9, 2017 [7 favorites]


Evidently the crowd doesn't remember the '60s.

Given that my parents were born in 1966, no, I'm not as familiar with 60s protest music as I should be. That's why I'm asking this question, dude.
posted by sciatrix at 6:13 AM on January 9, 2017 [15 favorites]


Also, around here, in MPLS, we sing "You Are My Sunshine" every year at the Heart of the Beast May Day parade. Everyone knows that one and it's a touching song. It's not a left wing song, but at least here it has a left feel because of the nature of the event. You could tell everyone to sing it for Minnesota.

No one in the US knows the Internationale or the Red Flag unless they're commie weirdos - I mean I know them - and they would absolutely not fly, unfortunately.

Maybe some more Woodie Guthrie? "So Long, It's Been Good To Know You" is a good verse/chorus song for crowds.

Can you get someone with a guitar and some charisma to actually lead the crowd? Maybe everyone just sings together for a few songs, then someone actually gets up and teaches them a few new ones?

Something else people do at protests - they print up lyrics on paper and hand them out. If you do that with songs where people know the tune, it works pretty well. I'd suggest singing some songs that everyone knows first to get people warmed up, and sticking to songs that are fun to sing. (I have sung many a purpose-composed, not-very-peppy song about why we need to save the rainforest or shut down the power plant, and many a "left wing humor LOL" song with terrible puns about the same. Fun songs composed by people who are good at composing songs are better.)
posted by Frowner at 6:13 AM on January 9, 2017 [5 favorites]


Pete Seeger -- If I Had a Hammer: Songs of Hope and Struggle. Some will be new to many people (union songs) but lots they will know (We Shall Overcome, If I Had a Hammer, Blowin in the Wind). Most of the songs already mentioned in this thread are on it and in a couple of the recordings he demonstrates how to shout lyrics for the crowd to sing as you go.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:15 AM on January 9, 2017 [8 favorites]


Lift Every Voice and Sing, sometimes referred to as the Black National Anthem.

Battle Hymn of the Republic
posted by SemiSalt at 6:23 AM on January 9, 2017 [7 favorites]


When the Saints Go Marching In

This Little Light of Mine

My Country 'Tis of Thee

America the Beautiful
posted by amtho at 6:24 AM on January 9, 2017 [1 favorite]


I know I keep posting, but I keep thinking about songs that are fun to sing (even for people like me who would need a bucket with a vacuum lid to carry a tune).

"Dark as a dungeon", which is about mining, is really fun to sing. Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard both covered it, so people might know it.

That's another thing - this may be me stereotyping, but would people in Texas tend to know a bunch of old country songs? You could look at stuff recorded by Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline...those are the main ones I know. And they have the advantage of being vaguely left (except Merle Haggard, but even he was a real weirdo) but also very apple pie-ish. And Odetta, I bet everyone knows some Odetta whether they realize it or not - take a look at the stuff she recorded.

If the crowd gets mad, you could have them sing "God's Gonna Cut You Down", which has a nice vengeful feel to it. (You could leave out the longer specifically Christian bits because people tend to forget those.)

People might know - or know part of - "I Shall Be Released".

Depending on the crowd, it might be appropriate to sing "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free", which is really fun to sing. (The Nina Simone version is one of the best songs of the US 20th century.)
posted by Frowner at 6:27 AM on January 9, 2017 [1 favorite]


Again, depending on your crowd, people might know some Appalachian songs like the ones recorded by the Carter Family. Or "Sixteen Tons", everyone knows that one. ("Sixteen tons and what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt".)
posted by Frowner at 6:33 AM on January 9, 2017 [1 favorite]


Because it might be helpful, crowds I see have been majority white with sizeable minorities of PoC, age ranging from college kids up to folks in fifties and sixties, skewing female about as strongly as they skew white. All of that is based on guesses from looking at people, not actually knowing.
posted by sciatrix at 6:36 AM on January 9, 2017


Yes, Pete Seeger! This came on the radio last night and got me super choked up: Hold the Line.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:48 AM on January 9, 2017 [3 favorites]


Have heard this Kendrick Lamar chorus used to good effect at BLM protests: Alright

Woody Guthrie's "All You Fascists Bound To Lose."
posted by johngoren at 6:51 AM on January 9, 2017 [5 favorites]


Emphatically seconding picking up a copy of Rise Up Singing [and Rise Again, a collection of newer songs] if you don't already have one. This is basically the American bible of folk and protest music. You will still need to look up the melodies of songs you don't know on Spotify or YouTube, but "Songs that hold up well to being warbled by cold, mad, tired people who can't reliably carry a tune in a bucket are good" - this is exactly what this was put together for: "Our criteria were to include songs that were relatively easy to sing and play by the lay musician, that lent themselves to singing in groups, that were not too obscure, and that had an emphasis on empowering songs with a positive message of hope and aspirations for a better world."
posted by Pandora Kouti at 6:52 AM on January 9, 2017 [6 favorites]


Will the Circle Be Unbroken and We Shall Overcome are both songs I sang a lot at anti-war protests in the early 2000s and everyone seemed to know them.
posted by Waiting for Pierce Inverarity at 6:57 AM on January 9, 2017 [3 favorites]


Phil Ochs, The Power and the Glory.
posted by HuronBob at 7:05 AM on January 9, 2017 [2 favorites]


Rise Up Singing is good; also check out the follow-up songbook by the same people (Annie Patterson and Peter Blood).

I also like Hell You Talmbout from Wondaland Records, but that's a very specific protest song connected with BLM, so it's something for just any occasion.
posted by Cash4Lead at 7:09 AM on January 9, 2017 [1 favorite]


Nobody has mentioned Which Side Are You On yet!
posted by the_blizz at 7:19 AM on January 9, 2017 [4 favorites]


oh just kidding, Frowner beat me to it
posted by the_blizz at 7:20 AM on January 9, 2017 [1 favorite]


Here's a compilation songbook put together for similar occasions by the singing wing of Occupy Boston, which can be downloaded or edited (see link on page for editable version).
posted by nonane at 8:04 AM on January 9, 2017


Joe Hill
posted by jgirl at 8:07 AM on January 9, 2017 [1 favorite]


"Let There Be Peace On Earth" - has one Christian line in it that non-Christians at the protest I was at just omitted and came back in for the rest.
posted by chainsofreedom at 8:10 AM on January 9, 2017


For What It's Worth - Buffalo Springfield

Give Peace a Chance - John Lennon

Power to the People - John Lennon

Searching YouTube for "protest songs" pulls up a bunch of results.
posted by MexicanYenta at 8:15 AM on January 9, 2017


Billy Bragg does a lot of great protest songs, and he even made a list of his favorites by other people that looks like it has some great songs on it.

Bob Marley might also be one to look into--Get Up, Stand Up might be a good one that most people would at least know the chorus to, and there's probably loads more.
posted by helloimjennsco at 8:17 AM on January 9, 2017 [1 favorite]


Came in to say Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Peter Paul & Mary, also Joan Baez and Dylan, but I've been beat to them all! ;D

Would like to add John Lennon's Imagine, most folks know it pretty well.

(And don't worry about your voice cracking: it'll be balanced out by the rest of the crowd, so no problems there.)
posted by easily confused at 8:29 AM on January 9, 2017 [1 favorite]


A lot of people seem to know "Keep Your Eyes on the Prize", and it feels right in these situations.
posted by all about eevee at 8:51 AM on January 9, 2017


One that chokes me up and inspires me every time (and is from the woman's perspective) is Bread and Roses. Here are some lyrics.
posted by gudrun at 8:53 AM on January 9, 2017 [1 favorite]


crowds I see have been majority white with sizeable minorities of PoC, age ranging from college kids up to folks in fifties and sixties, skewing female about as strongly as they skew white. All of that is based on guesses from looking at people, not actually knowing.

If you're working with crowds that are into the protest but may not know the lyrics, if you listen to live recordings of Pete Seeger and the like, you'll hear examples of how to teach songs line by line to the audience and then singing it together.

Also, you may be familiar with this, but there's more verses to This Land Is Your Land then are commonly taught, so you might throw some of the lesser known verses into the mix.

If you want something more recent than old folk songs, there's some rock songs from the 60s, 70s, and 80s that many people know - Fortunate Son, Born in the USA, Ohio, For What It's Worth, What's Going On, Get Up, Stand Up, Imagine, etc.
posted by Candleman at 9:40 AM on January 9, 2017 [2 favorites]


Maybe Revolution by the Beatles, though it might not be easy enough to sing.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:40 AM on January 9, 2017


Patti Smith- People Have the Power (the chorus on this one would be especially powerful when sung by a group!)

Playing for Change- A Better Place and Stand By Me (the YouTube channel for Playing for Change has a TON of stuff that might be of interest)

Nick Lowe- (What's So Funny 'bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding
posted by EKStickland at 9:44 AM on January 9, 2017 [2 favorites]


We Need Each Other Now by George Papavgeris and Your Daughters and Your Sons by Tommy Sands
posted by Botanizer at 9:50 AM on January 9, 2017


Step by Step is a good one and easy to get the hang of.

Turn, turn, turn by Pete Seeger

Ain't nobody gonna turn me around (sung here by The Roots)
posted by colfax at 10:05 AM on January 9, 2017


s/b but that's a very specific protest song connected with BLM, so it's not something for just any occasion.
posted by Cash4Lead at 10:14 AM on January 9, 2017


There is Power in a Union. And since it's Billy Bragg, even people who don't think they can sing can sing along.
posted by Lexica at 11:15 AM on January 9, 2017 [1 favorite]


"Bread and Roses" might work

A choral group I perform with is doing the Mimi Farina setting of "Bread and Roses" that Judy Collins recorded, and I think it would work well as you described.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:46 AM on January 9, 2017


Check out some Malvina Reynolds too!

The Faucets Are Dripping, It Isn't Nice, Magic Penny, Little Boxes, No Hole In My Head, among others are great.
posted by stefnet at 12:43 PM on January 9, 2017 [1 favorite]


I personally have a theory that the days of this kind of folky harmony protest singing are over. The theory is based on the fact that in the 60s and earlier, people for the most part had some tradition of choral singing from religious education and/or from camp. A much larger number of people sang in church regularly, and the expansion of summer camping, especially in the Jewish and liberal communities, also fostered choral singing. As did music education in schools, which has been chipped away in recent years.

Today, I have almost never seen a successful singing effort led at a protest movment. Something about it feels throwback-ish and inauthentic to me. I think that people on the younger end of the spectrum today just do not have the cultural preparation for mass, earnest choral singing and do not know a lot of those grade-school american folk classics in common. If we have protest music traditions today, they come in the same popular genres pop music does: hip-hop, country, blues, etc.
posted by Miko at 1:03 PM on January 9, 2017 [5 favorites]


All true, Miko. But still, The Times, They Are A-Changin!
posted by Rash at 1:21 PM on January 9, 2017 [2 favorites]


Following up on my comment and Miko's above:

I'm in a band that reworks Malvina Reynolds and other protest/feminist/labor songs into punk/riot grrl/jamboree/artcore/whatever. A number of my bandmates also play in a ukulele group that does a lot of group performance with people that don't know any of these songs. Two tips I've gleaned from them in organizing these kinds of things:

- print up quarter-sheet booklets or sheets of lyrics to be passed around so that people can see lyrics
- bring along tiny instruments (kazoos, tambourines, shakers, etc) so that people can participate even if they feel uncomfortable singing

We definitely had people singing along at a Trump protest in Syracuse during the election!
posted by stefnet at 1:21 PM on January 9, 2017 [2 favorites]


Dump The Bosses

Joe Hill (beautiful recording by Paul Robeson)

Down by the Riverside (Sweet Honey In The Rock)
posted by Pallas Athena at 2:14 PM on January 9, 2017 [1 favorite]


(Also, this would make an excellent MeFi Music Challenge!)
posted by Pallas Athena at 2:16 PM on January 9, 2017 [2 favorites]


Oh, and a recent one: Story 5 from clipping.'s album Splendor and Misery [previously] has a real elegaic protest-song feel (in a very BLM way) and a very singable chorus. Plus it's sung by MeFi favourite Daveed Diggs. Lyrics here.
posted by Pallas Athena at 2:27 PM on January 9, 2017


Here's Madison WI's Solidarity Singers songbook.
posted by rebeccabeagle at 2:45 PM on January 9, 2017 [2 favorites]


Not quite a protest song, but a mighty kazoo orchestra playing Ode To Joy is pretty uplifting.
posted by Candleman at 3:31 PM on January 9, 2017 [1 favorite]


I'm quite fond of Jefferson and Liberty, which is both a catchy tune with an easy chorus and ridiculously patriotic (it was Thomas Jefferson's campaign song). I was first introduced to the Leslie Fish version, but there are less folksong-ish variants floating around.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 5:00 PM on January 9, 2017


People Got to be Free by the Rascals, though I'd probably hand out a lyric book as most people would only recognize the chorus.
posted by bedhead at 10:01 AM on January 10, 2017


Thank you all so much; this has been super helpful! I'm busily compiling a Spotify playlist of the ones I liked best so I can listen to them and learn them by singing, if you'd like to sing along with me. There's a lot of stuff here I hadn't thought of in a while, or in the same way that you folks had, as well as plenty of new things--thank you!
posted by sciatrix at 4:05 PM on January 13, 2017


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