Protest is for Everyone: 9 Protest Songs for Kids and Adults

The teachers choosing the song list for my primary schools in the 1980s were clearly a bunch of ex-hippies. We had psychadelia, folk songs and lots of Beatles, and certainly nothing written for children (unless the thoroughly depressing Puff the Magic Dragon counts?) And lots of protest songs.

A friend and I (we grew up in different towns) compared lists this week. In school singing at our respective schools, we’d sung Blowin’ in the Wind, Where Have All the Flowers Gone?, and This Land is Your Land. Hippiedom reigned through the school system, it seems. I don’t think it does now. (What do you think?)

A great list of good music for kids and adults. Make a noise and change the world! | Sacraparental.com

 

I was listening to our latest mixtape from Alex (around 90 per cent of what we listen to in the car comes from her) on the way to do some writing at Elements this afternoon. This is the chorus that came on, from Adam Cohen’s ‘Uniform’:

Raise your voice if you’ve got one
Raise your arms to the anthem
We’re all a part of this
We’re all at the heart of this
So come on, you don’t need a uniform

Don’t need a uniform I don’t want it
Don’t need a uniform I don’t want it
Don’t need a uniform I don’t want it

‘Raise your voice if you’ve got one’ – there’s almost no message more important than that, I reckon. And my son loves this song. What a great lyric to have in our family repertoire.

Apart from nursery rhymes, there aren’t that many ‘children’s songs’ in my three-year-old’s life. If there were, my husband and I would have to listen to them all the time, so we semi-deliberately just try to brainwash him with our own music. Every so often we have to backtrack when we realise the lyrics of a favourite are audibly unsuitable, but it’s working well as a strategy so far. He’s a big fan of Weezer, The Staves and The Decemberists just now.

Listening to the very anthemic Mr Cohen, and thinking that I’d be very happy for my kids to be singing ‘Don’t need a uniform, I don’t want it’ at the top of their lungs, I started wondering what other songs – adult, proper music songs – there are to fire kids up to change the world for the better.

Some of the most powerful, brutal songs (Mississippi Goddam, Strange Fruit, Me and a Gun) might be best discovered by teenagers as they find their own outrage.

This is a list with toddlers to 10-year olds in mind (give or take, right?). And while the 1960s were for sure the heyday of modern protest songs, I’m trying to include more recent ones too.

Here’s what I came up with – with help from the Feminist Mothers page I belong to on Facebook, and a few others – and I’d love your input on adding to the list. Leave a comment in the box at the bottom with your suggestions for the playlist.

Bread and Roses, James Oppenheim

As we come marching, marching in the beauty of the day,
A million darkened kitchens, a thousand mill lofts gray,
Are touched with all the radiance that a sudden sun discloses,
For the people hear us singing: “Bread and roses! Bread and roses!”

As we come marching, marching, we battle too for men,
For they are women’s children, and we mother them again.
Our lives shall not be sweated from birth until life closes;
Hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread, but give us roses!

As we come marching, marching, unnumbered women dead
Go crying through our singing their ancient cry for bread.
Small art and love and beauty their drudging spirits knew.
Yes, it is bread we fight for—but we fight for roses, too!

As we come marching, marching, we bring the greater days.
The rising of the women means the rising of the race.
No more the drudge and idler—ten that toil where one reposes,
But a sharing of life’s glories: Bread and roses! Bread and roses!

Redemption Song, Bob Marley

This was Bob Marley’s last recorded single, as he was dying of cancer. It’s beautiful, resonant, and haunting.

Listen to the calls to action in it.

Old pirates, yes, they rob I,
Sold I to the merchant ships,
Minutes after they took I
From the bottomless pit.

But my hand was made strong
By the ‘and of the Almighty.
We forward in this generation
Triumphantly.

Won’t you help to sing
These songs of freedom?
‘Cause all I ever have,
Redemption songs,
Redemption songs.

Emancipate yourself from mental slavery,
None but ourselves can free our minds.
Have no fear for atomic energy,
‘Cause none of them can stop the time.
How long shall they kill our prophets,
While we stand aside and look?
Some say it’s just a part of it,
We’ve got to fulfill de book.

Won’t you help to sing
These songs of freedom?
‘Cause all I ever have,
Redemption songs,
Redemption songs,
Redemption songs.

Emancipate yourself from mental slavery,
None but ourselves can free our mind.
Have no fear for atomic energy,
‘Cause none of them can stop the time.
How long shall they kill our prophets,
While we stand aside and look?
Some say it’s just a part of it,
We’ve got to fulfill the book.

Won’t you help to sing,
These songs of freedom?
‘Cause all I ever had,
Redemption songs.
All I ever had,
Redemption songs
These songs of freedom
Songs of freedom

Excuse Me, Mister Ben Harper

Ben Harper loves a good rant. Here’s my favourite of his political songs (80 per cent of his output, probably).

The idea that you could have your human citizenship revoked for being a selfish embarrassment to the species has a certain appeal to me.

Excuse me Mr.
do you have the time
or are you so important
that it stands still for you

Excuse me Mr.
lend me your ear
or are you not only blind
but do you not hear

Excuse me Mr.
isn’t that your oil in the sea
and the pollution in the air Mr.
whose could that be

Excuse me Mr.
but I’m a Mr. too
and you’re givin’ Mr. a bad name
Mr. like you

So I’m taking the Mr.
from out in front of your name
cause it’s a Mr. like you
that puts the rest of us to shame
it’s a Mr. like you
that puts the rest of us to shame

And I’ve seen enough to know
that I’ve seen too much

Excuse me Mr.
can’t you see the children dying
you say that you can’t help them
Mr. you’re not even trying

Excuse me Mr.
take a look around
Mr. just look up
and you will see it’s comin’ down

Excuse me Mr.
but I’m a mister too
and you’re givin’ Mr. a bad name
Mr. like you

So I’m taking the Mr.
from out in front of your name
cause it’s a Mr. like you
that puts the rest of us to shame
it’s a Mr. like you
that puts the rest of us to shame

So Mr. when you’re rattling
on heaven’s gate
let me tell you Mr.
by then it is too late

Cause Mr. when you get there
they don’t ask what you saved
all they’ll want to know, Mr.
is what you gave

Ngā Iwi E, Hirini Melbourne

Spend ten minutes with this song and it’ll be chiming in your brain for days. I just sang my daughter to sleep with it.

Ngā iwi e! Ngā iwi e!
Kia kotahi ra te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa

E i a i e

Kia mau rā! Kia mau rā!
Ki te mana motuhake me te aroha

Wahine mā! Wahine mā!
Maranga mai, Maranga mai, kia kaha

Tane ma! Tane ma!
Whakarongo tautoko kia kaha

E i a i e

(All you people! All you people!
Be united as one like the Pacific Ocean

Hold on firmly! Hold on firmly!
To your separate identity and to compassion

All you young women! All you young women!
Rise up, rise up, be strong

All you young men! All you young men!
Listen, support, be strong)

Big Yellow Taxi, Joni Mitchell

Even little kids can understand the imagery of this jaunty eco-protest song. What kind of silly idea is it to put a tree in a tree museum!?

And the refrain ‘you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone’ is surely a helpful piece of wisdom to include in family life.

They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique
And a swinging hot spot

Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
Till it’s gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

They took all the trees
Put ’em in a tree museum
And they charged the people
A dollar and a half just to see ’em

Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
Till it’s gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

Hey farmer farmer
Put away that DDT now
Give me spots on my apples
But leave me the birds and the bees
Please!

Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
Till it’s gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

Late last night
I heard the screen door slam
And a big yellow taxi
Took away my old man

Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
Till it’s gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

Do You Hear the People Sing?, Herbert Kretzmer, Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg

This rousing chorus appears in two forms in the musical version of Victor Hugo’s epic political and spiritual novel, Les Misérables.

First it’s the call to revolution for students and the poor in the streets of Paris. Then, in this version at the end of the show, it also has an eternal dimension, as the dead ascend to freedom with God.

Do you hear the people sing
Lost in the valley of the night?
It is the music of a people
Who are climbing to the light.

For the wretched of the earth
There is a flame that never dies.
Even the darkest night will end
And the sun will rise.

They will live again in freedom
In the garden of the Lord.
They will walk behind the plough-share,
They will put away the sword.
The chain will be broken
And all men will have their reward.

Will you join in our crusade?
Who will be strong and stand with me?
Somewhere beyond the barricade
Is there a world you long to see?
Do you hear the people sing?
Say, do you hear the distant drums?
It is the future that they bring
When tomorrow comes!

Will you join in our crusade?
Who will be strong and stand with me?
Somewhere beyond the barricade
Is there a world you long to see
?
Do you hear the people sing?
Say, do you hear the distant drums?
It is the future that they bring
When tomorrow comes…
Tomorrow comes!

Beds are Burning, Midnight Oil

Midnight Oil’s biggest hit is a burst of righteous anger in support of the Pintupi people of Australia, many of whom were forcibly evicted from their land. The band even used it to shame the Prime Minister during the Sydney Olympics, wearing clothes that said ‘Sorry’ while performing it, in contrast to the government’s conspicuous lack of apology to indigenous people.

Out where the river broke
The bloodwood and the desert oak
Holden wrecks and boiling diesels
Steam in forty five degrees

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

How can we dance
When our earth is turning
How do we sleep
While our beds are burning

How can we dance
When our earth is turning
How do we sleep
While our beds are burning

The time has come
To say fair’s fair
To pay the rent
Now to pay our share

Four wheels scare the cockatoos
From Kintore East to Yuendemu
The western desert lives and breathes
In forty five degrees

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

Pork and Beans, Weezer

On a lighter note, but super topical for many kids and young people, there’s this. Here’s what I wrote about it when our now 3.5 year old was a toddler and it was his favourite song:

At number one on the toddler playlist this week is ‘Beans! Beans! Beans!’ – Weezer’s geek-pop anthem ‘Pork and Beans‘.

Including pop culture pieces like this in our kids’ lives doesn’t exactly provide media balance – the tide of body hatred is too overwhelming – but it can open conversation and give a theme tune to family chats about body image, self-appreciation and the value of swimming against that tide. And it’s catchy!

It’s also nice to hear something on battling the standard of ‘cool’ that comes from a guy’s perspective.

The video is made up of real-life YouTube stars (from a few years ago now), though I only ever recognised two of them. Apparently I don’t spend enough time online…

I’m actually a bit more optimistic now than I was then. My 3.5 year old has no idea that he should judge anyone by their bodies, or that there could be anything wrong with his. Weezer has supported all sorts of positive messages we’ve surrounded him with and we’re doing okay so far.

They say I need some Rogaine to put in my hair
Work it out at the gym to fit my underwear
Oakley makes the shades that transform a tool
You’d hate for the kids to think that you lost your cool

I’ma do the things that I wanna do
I ain’t got a thing to prove to you
I eat my candy with the pork and beans
Excuse my manners if I make a scene

I ain’t gonna wear the clothes that you’ll like
I’m fine and dandy with the me inside
One look in the mirror and I’m tickled pink
I don’t give a hoot about what you think

Everyone likes to dance to a happy song
With a catchy chorus and beat so they can sing along
Timbaland knows the way to reach the top of the chart
Maybe if I work with him I can perfect the art

I’ma do the things that I wanna do
I ain’t got a thing to prove to you
I eat my candy with the pork and beans
Excuse my manners if I make a scene

I ain’t gonna wear the clothes that you’ll like
I’m fine and dandy with the me inside
One look in the mirror and I’m tickled pink
I don’t give a hoot about what you think

I don’t care
I don’t care
I don’t care, I don’t care, I don’t care
I don’t care

Welcome Home, Dave Dobbyn

At a time when governments are trampling on the humanity and human rights of refugees, and at a time when there are more people fleeing their homes than ever before since World War II, this song of welcome has become a potent political statement. Let’s sing it with our kids, and then take them to welcome a refugee household into our neighbourhoods.

Tonight I am feeling for you
Under the state of a strange land
You have sacrificed much to be here
‘there but for the grace…’ as I offer my hand

Welcome home,
I bid you welcome, I bid you welcome
Welcome home from the bottom of my heart

Out here on the edge
The empire is fading by the day
And the world is so weary in war
Maybe we’ll find that new way

So welcome home, see I made a space for you now
Welcome home from the bottom of our heart
Welcome home from the bottom of our hearts

Keep it coming now – keep it coming now
You’ll find most of us here with our hearts wide open
Keep it coming now – keep on coming now
Keep it coming now – keep on coming now

There’s a woman with her hands trembling – haere mai
And she sings with a mountain’s memory – haere mai

There’s a cloud the full length of these isles
Just playing chase with the sun
And it’s black and it’s white and it’s wild
All the colours are one

Now it’s your turn. I haven’t had a hope of being exhaustive here, so please do add your favourites in the comments below.

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A great list of good music for kids and adults. Make a noise and change the world! | Sacraparental.com

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11 comments on “Protest is for Everyone: 9 Protest Songs for Kids and Adults”

  1. Helen Brereton Reply

    Hi Thalia, I enjoyed this thank you. I think my teachers went to T-Coll with your teachers (Where have all the flowers gone, Little boxes on the hillside, Damn the dam). I would add “There is no depression in New Zealand” by Blam Blam Blam (an oldie but a goodie, and it has sheep), and most anything by Billy Bragg, but especially “To have and to have not” (the chorus especially- Just because you’re better than me, Doesn’t mean I’m lazy. Just because you’re going forwards, Doesn’t mean I’m going backwards) and “The Busy Girl Buys Beauty” (although the delightfully tongue twistery ‘successful secrets of a sexual kind’ may be too fresh for a three year old – or at least the questions it might prompt ). Hoping you get lots of comments- Helen

    • thaliakr Reply

      Yes, we had Little Boxes too! Made of ticky-tacky :)

      Great additions, thanks!

  2. Emily Reply

    I love this post! My son is really into Mary Poppins at the moment so we are singing a lot of Sister Suffragette! We also love Standing in the way of control by The Gossip and Little Boxes ❤️

  3. Alex Reply

    So glad you’re enjoying the music! And thanks for all these new links to explore. Pride is a great film, isn’t it?

    Been racking my brains of what we used to sing at school… Where have all the flowers gone, Streets of London, Little Boxes are the ones that come to mind. We used to have things like Universal Soldier on in the car.

    Of more recent vintage, Jewel’s I’m Sensitive was, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, borrowed by my mum for use in her own assembles for older kids (13-18). Not a protest song as such, but a worthwhile plea for gentleness.

    There’s a whole lot more political commentary style songs (is tgat the same as protest songs?) bubbling about that I can’t quite call to mind at the moment… maybe that’s the next mix CD! 😉

  4. Frank Reply

    I remember singing those songs at school too! Along with Nowhere Man, Down By the Riverside, and, less salubriously, the theme song from M*A*S*H
    I think it may well have been the teachers at teachers’college – the first song we learnt on the guitar was Nga Iwi E when I was there in the 2000’s.

    When I taught full time we did a song every week and many of your suggestions featured! I still remember the look on the principal’s face when he walked in on my kids belting out “hey, teachers, leave us kids alone! “

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