Soundtrack to the Resistance (YouTube Playlist)
I've been thinking a lot lately about what I can do to resist for the next four years (can't even think about the possibility of eight; don't make me) and the thing I keep coming back to is the arts and what an important role they have to play in justice movements. I know I want to make music and write words that challenge and subvert the current state of our world but I think it's also important to just share awesome art and music and film and media with each other, if only to give one another something to cling to (and, certainly, to critique, where appropriate) when times are hard and to inspire us to keep fighting. So I put together a YouTube playlist of 50 of my favorite protest songs--including songs with political/social commentary, songs that represent perspectives of oppressed or marginalized groups, etc. This is, by no means, a complete list and I definitely welcome suggestions of many more "Songs to Fuel the Flames of Discontent" (-Refused) but I hope these resonate with you in some way, shape. or form.
1. Against Me! - Jordan's First Choice
2. Against Me! - Those Anarcho Punx Are Mysterious
3. Against Me! - Baby, I'm an Anarchist
"Reinventing Axl Rose" was probably my first true DIY punk rock record and influenced so much about my politics from a young age. I love the powerful question posed in "Jordan's First Choice" of "are we just working til' the day we decide we've had enough?" "Those Anarcho Punx Are Mysterious" may be one of the most poetic protest songs and the way "Baby, I'm an Anarchist" translates the split between liberals and anarchists into campfire sing-along love story is so beautiful. I'll never forget standing on stage in a circle with my arms around my friends and Against Me! in the middle singing this song--literally like a campfire sing-along!
4. Against Me! - Transgender Dysphoria Blues
5. Against Me! - True Trans Soul Rebel
In 2012, Against Me! lead singer Tom Gabel came out publicly as trans and began transitioning, changing her name to Laura Jane Grace. Against Me!'s 2014 album "Transgender Dysphoria Blues" delved deeply into her experiences as a trans woman. These first two tracks from that album articulate, in an especially powerful way, the trans experience from Laura's perspective.
6. Beyoncé - Freedom (feat. Kendrick Lamar)
7. Beyoncé - Formation
So much has been written about the "Lemonade" album--including an entire "Lemonade" syllabus of works that embody the experience of being a black woman in America and multiple articles discussing the African diasporic religious imagery in the "Lemonade" visual album. "Lemonade" is undoubtedly one of the most important and powerful artistic and political statements of its generation. I picked these two songs as the most overtly "protest" songs but really the entire album is a protest.
8. Black Star - Astronomy
The entire Black Star album is, for my money (and, not being black, my money isn't really worth that much but in any case), the most powerful articulation of the black experience I've ever heard. Perhaps the most overt musical embodiment of the "Black is Beautiful" movement. This opening song exemplifies that more than any other.
9. Bob Marley - Rebel Music
10. Bob Marley - Natty Dread
11. Bob Marley - Revolution
Bob Marley isn't necessarily someone who is known for protest songs (other than "Get Up, Stand Up" which I kinda feel is a little bit played out, personally) but he has a few great ones. I especially love "Natty Dread" for its loving reverence of "black hair."
12. Bruce Springsteen - We Take Care of Our Own
13. Bruce Springsteen - The Ghost of Tom Joad (feat. Tom Morello)
Bruce Springsteen has always been well known for working class industrial Midwest anthems but these two are a bit more overtly political than those. "We Take Care of Our Own" was actually one of President Obama's campaign songs in 2012, which may or may not make it lose some points, but the message (while a bit nationalistic) is still deeply resonant, especially nowadays. "The Ghost of Tom Joad" is quite possibly one of the greatest protest anthems ever written and the updated version featuring Tom Morello really breathes SO much new life into what was originally a very basic folk song--it's no wonder they invited Tom to join the E-Street Band and recorded the new version for their first album together. Powerful, powerful stuff. (I also highly suggest checking out Rage Against the Machine's cover of the song which sounds NOTHING like the original and is intense.)
14. The Clash - Spanish Bombs
15. The Clash - Lost In the Supermarket
16. The Clash - Clampdown
17. The Clash - Know Your Rights
18. The Clash - Straight to Hell
The only band that matters. Joe Strummer's political songs are more sophisticated and nuanced than most others. It's clear that he was very deeply engaged in the issues of his time including the Spanish Civil War, capitalism, the English education system, the police, organized labor, immigrants in England, the Vietnam War, and the American Dream. Their music is so musical and yet still so uncompromising that it simultaneously feels limiting to call them punk rock and dishonest not to. Also you may recognize "Straight to Hell" from one of the many hip hop songs it's been sampled in, including M.I.A.'s hit song "Paper Planes."
19. Erykah Badu - Penitentiary Philosophy
To be perfectly honest, I'm not that familiar with Ms. Badu's work but I've had this album on my hard drive for a while and when I read the lyrics to this song, I just had to listen to it. Unbelievably powerful song about the prison-industrial complex.
20. Kendrick Lamar - King Kunta
21. Kendrick Lamar - Alright
22. Kendrick Lamar - The Blacker the Berry
"To Pimp a Butterfly" could very well be the most unapologetically black album ever made (again, not to present myself as any kind of authority on the topic, just speaking from my limited experience). Really, almost every song from that album could be on this playlist and these are just my favorites. "The Blacker the Berry" especially revels in its blackness in an incredibly powerful, uncompromising way. Definitely do yourself a favor and check out his incredibly powerful and poignant performance at last year's Grammy awards.
23. Leftöver Crack - Nazi White Trash
24. Leftöver Crack - Gay Rude Boys Unite
These songs contain some references and themes that some my find uncomfortable or counterproductive but I ask that you not throw out the baby with the bathwater and allow the larger themes of radical empowerment and anti-racism to resonate. Sometimes the resistance gets violent, at least in its creative imagery. That speaks to the passion of the resistors and the desperation of their resistance. Try to keep that in mind.
25. N.W.A. - Fuck Tha Police
This song is still controversial even today but when it came out it was a national menace that prompted congressional hearings. But these guys were just articulating realities and feelings that they and those in their communities lived with (and still live with) every day. And, in the words of Black Lives Matter organizer Rev. Osagyefo Sekou: "If you care more about young people saying 'fuck the police' than you do about the fucked up conditions they're living in, you are part of the problem."
26. Nina Simone - Strange Fruit
There are many recordings of this song but I love Nina Simone's version for her husky, intense, unorthodox voice and also because she was one of the most outspoken black female singers of her generation. This anti-lynching anthem is haunting in its imagery. Everyone should listen to this song at least once.
27. Nine Inch Nails - Dead Souls (Joy Division cover)
I feel a little weird putting a cover version on this list but I just LOVE this version of this song. It really brings out the emotion of its content, which is all about the colonization and genocide of indigenous peoples and the way those ancestors haunt colonized lands still today.
28. Propagandhi - Resisting Tyrannical Government
29. Propagandhi - The Only Good Fascist is a Very Dead Fascist
30. Propagandhi - Fuck the Border
31. Propagandhi - Today's Empires, Tomorrow's Ashes
Here are some more songs with themes that may trouble some but again I urge you to really hear what they're saying and understand where it's coming from. "Fuck the Border" is one of the most radical repudiations of the very idea of nation states and the arbitrary nature of borders as well as the fact that U.S. foreign policy is the main cause of "illegal" immigration. For their part, Propagandhi is perhaps the most sophisticated and nuanced modern political punk rock band and "Today's Empires, Tomorrow's Ashes" (the song as well as the album) really exemplifies this.
32. Public Enemy - Fight the Power
This is probably the quintessential hip hop protest song and the ultimate political hip hop group.
33. Queen - Killer Queen
This song may seem out of place here until you read the lyrics a little closer and realize it's about a sex worker. And if your feminism doesn't include sex workers, you might have some work to do.
34. Rage Against the Machine - People of the Sun
35. Rage Against the Machine - Wake Up
Rage Against the Machine was the first political band I ever got into and pretty much introduced me to politics in a time in my life when I was totally clueless about such things. Their songs contain a level of knowledge of politics and history that are unparalleled in their time or any other time. "People of the Sun" is a tribute to indigenous Mexicans and "Wake Up" deals with the conflict between the FBI and black nationalist groups such as the Black Panthers.
36. Refused - Worms of the Senses/Faculties of the Skull
37. Refused - Liberation Frequency
38. Refused - The Deadly Rhythm
39. Refused - New Noise
40. Refused - Protest Song '68
"I've got a bone to pick with capitalism and a few to break." With those words, I would never be the same. Like RATM, Propagandhi, and The Clash, Refused have a knowledge of politics and history that very few other bands or artists possess. "Liberation Frequency" and (especially) "New Noise" are especially of note for this playlist because they're both about the role of the arts in revolution. "We could be dangerous. Art as a real threat."
41. Thrice - Cold Cash, Colder Hearts
42. Thrice - Image of the Invisible
43. Thrice - The Earth Will Shake
44. Thrice - Come All You Weary
45. Thrice - Beggars
46. Thrice - The Long Defeat
Anyone who knows me could have predicted there would be way too many Thrice songs on this list but I APOLOGIZE FOR NOTHING. "Cold Cash, Colder Hearts" is a sarcastic indictment of American indifference to the problems of the peoples of the global South and the global East--or, pejoratively, the "Third World." "Image of the Invisible" is a rousing call to action--one I feel resonates deepest with younger generations. "The Earth Will Shake" is a prison ministry unto itself--a whimsical musing from a prisoner's perspective of the desire to "break these iron bars" stylistically inspired by old chain gang songs. "Come All You Weary" is the ultimate song of compassion, a thinly veiled articulation of Jesus's ministry of presence with the marginalized and oppressed (two members of Thrice are Christians). "Beggars" preaches humility to all people who consider themselves powerful or any who, in their arrogance, forget that "we are beggars all." "The Long Defeat" encapsulates the feelings of so many activists as we face the next four years to come: "Keep holding on to hope without assurance. Holding on to a memory of life. And will the morning come? For all I know we'll never see the sun. But together we'll fight the long defeat..."
47. Thursday - Autobiography of a Nation
Much like "Dead Souls," this song is about First Nations peoples. This is, however, a more overt indictment of colonialism and the atrocities we have committed against the native peoples of this land, including the misappropriation of their culture. "We have burned their villages and all the people in them died. And we adopt their customs and everything they say we steal....We erased their images and dance and replaced them with borders and flags."
48. System of a Down - Prison Song
49. System of a Down - Sad Statue
50. System of a Down - Holy Mountains
System of a Down really brings one of the most unique perspectives to protest music, particularly with their early focus on the Armenian genocide but even in their more American perspectives. "Prison Song" is a scathing indictment of the prison-industrial complex in 2001. Talk about being ahead of your time.