Classics Du Jour


Top 10 Best Protest Songs

Rock artists have always been socially conscious, and their fans have generally been supportive of their causes. But sometimes, the fans get it all wrong and misconstrue the meaning of the song, as evidenced by the protest song that came in at #1.

10 Peter Gabriel – “Biko” (1980)


This tribute to Steve Biko, an anti-apartheid activist in South Africa, who died while in police custody in 1977, was originally recorded by Peter Gabriel, but has been covered by numerous artists including Simple Minds, Paul Simon, Joan Baez and many others. A live recording of the song was used to promote the Biko biopic, Cry Freedom, and played heavily on MTV.

September ’77
Port Elizabeth weather fine
It was business as usual
In police room 619
Oh Biko, Biko, because Biko
Oh Biko, Biko, because Biko

9 Sex Pistols – “God Save The Queen” (1977)

British Working Class

Released to coincide with The Queen’s Silver Jubilee, this Sex Pistols song is about rebelling against British politics and the stifling rule of the old-fashioned royal monarchy. It became an anthem for the punk movement in England, representing the mistreatment of the British working class during the 1970s.

God save the Queen
She ain’t no human being
There is no future
And England’s dreaming

Don’t be told about what you want
Don’t be told about what you need
There’s no future, no future
No future for you

8 The Clash – “Rock the Casbah” (1982)

Iranian Music Ban

Originally written by Clash drummer Topper Headon about his love for his girlfriend, vocalist Joe Strummer kept all of the music but changed all of the lyrics to reflect on a story he had heard that Iranians were getting lashed for owning Western music. This served as inspiration for the rest of the lyrics, about the Iranian people defying the Arab ruler (Shareef)’s 1979 ban.

Now the king told the boogie men
You have to let that raga drop
The oil down the desert way
Has been shakin’ to the top
The Sheik he drove his Cadillac
He went a-cruisin’ down the ville
The muezzin was a-standing
On the radiator grille

Shareef don’t like it
Rock the Casbah, rock the Casbah
Shareef don’t like it
Rock the Casbah, Rock the Casbah

7 Midnight Oil – “Beds Are Burning” (1987)

Aboriginal Rights

“Beds Are Burning” is a protest song in support of giving native Australian lands back to the Pintupi, who were among the last Aboriginal Australians to leave their traditional lifestyle. Lead singer Peter Garrett later was elected into Australia’s House of Representatives, and appointed Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts.

The time has come
To say fair’s fair
To pay the rent
To pay our share
The time has come
A fact’s a fact
It belongs to them
Let’s give it back

6 Buffalo Springfield – “For What It’s Worth” (1966)

Sunset Strip Curfews

Written by Stephen Stills, “For What It’s Worth” has often been misinterpreted as an anti-war song, but in fact, was about the Sunset Strip anti-loitering laws and the closing of the West Hollywood nightclub Pandora’s Box. The song became Buffalo Springfield’s breakthrough hit, launching the careers of both Stills and Neil Young.

There’s something happening here
What it is ain’t exactly clear
There’s a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware
I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down

5 Bob Marley – “Get Up, Stand Up” (1973)


This anthem, written by Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, is interpreted by many to be about Jamaica, where Marley and Tosh had to fight for respect and acceptance for their Rastafarian religion, but it actually reflects on Marley’s tour of Haiti, where he was deeply moved by its poverty and the lives of Haitians. The music is based on the song “Slippin’ Into Darkness” by the band War.

Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights!
Get up, stand up, don’t give up the fight!
Preacher man, don’t tell me
Heaven is under the earth
I know you don’t know
What life is really worth
It’s not all that glitters is gold

4 Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young – “Ohio” (1970)

Kent State Shootings

Released just ten days after the Kent State University massacre May 4, 1970, when the US National Guard shot four unarmed students on campus, Neil Young penned “Ohio” and enlisted his new CSN&Y bandmates to record it with him. The event also spurred on students Chrissie Hynde (The Pretenders) and Mark Mothersbaugh and Jerry Casale (Devo) to form their own rebellious bands.

Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,
We’re finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drumming,
Four dead in Ohio.

3 Edwin Starr – “War” (1970)

Vietnam War

A protest song about the Vietnam War, this was one of the first Motown songs to make a political statement. Bruce Springsteen‘s version was also a hit in 1986.

(War, war, war, war)
 War, what is it good for?
Absolutely nothing
Say it, war, good god now, what is it good for?
Absolutely nothing, say it, (war)

2 U2 – “Sunday Bloody Sunday” (1983)

Northern Ireland Troubles

In response to political and religious conflict in Northern Ireland, Bono started writing this U2 song with political lyrics condemning the Irish Republican Army (the IRA), a militant group dedicated to getting British troops out of Northern Ireland. He later changed the lyrics to point out the atrocities of war without taking sides, trying to contrast the 1972 Bloody Sunday massacre with Easter Sunday, a peaceful day Protestants and Catholics both celebrate.

Sunday, Bloody Sunday
Sunday, Bloody Sunday
Sunday, Bloody Sunday
And the battle’s just begun
There’s many lost, but tell me who has won
The trench is dug within our hearts
And mothers, children, brothers, sistersTorn apart

1 Bruce Springsteen – “Born in the U.S.A.” (1984)

Treatment of Vietnam Veterans

“Born in the U.S.A.” was in part a tribute to Bruce Springsteen‘s friends who had fought in the Vietnam War, and also a protest against the discrimination and hardships that Vietnam veterans faced upon their return. The anthem ironically has been misinterpreted and misunderstood by countless politicians who have tried to use it as a soundtrack for their campaigns.

Born in the U.S.A.
Come back home to the refinery
Hiring man said “son if it was up to me”

Went down to see my V.A. man
He said “son, don’t you understand”

Last updated: January 1, 2020

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