Monday, April 28, 2008


This actually started out to be a post about Protest Songs. As a baby boomer who grew up in the 60s, I’m a certified member of the Viet Nam generation, so I remember all the marches and the newsreels and, most of all, the protest songs. You couldn’t turn on the radio without hearing them. Add to that TV appearances the artists made, and it’s easy to understand that protest songs were a part of the everyday listening experience for most young people. It got me thinking about the Iraq War, and other conflicts around the world today. I was trying to think of some songs that protested current conflicts. To paraphrase the old the Kingston Trio hit - Where have all the protest songs gone? Well, once I started to look into it, I discovered that the protest songs were indeed alive and well (I was sure they were) and being written by a wide variety of artists. And that led me to reshape the topic of this post.

Listening to popular music these days is not what it used to be. I’m sure I’m not the first person to notice this, but it seems to me that what was once a seamless whole back in the AM radio days of the 60s is now broken up into all kinds of little listening venues. That’s why I’m labeling it the “Balkanization.” It’s not just radio; satellite station formats have become more and more specialized. My TV dish service has over 30 different kinds of music channels, and that’s not counting duplications (Country Gold, New Country, Bluegrass Country) or the French stations. Of course, you can hear some of the same artists and the same songs on more than one station, but still, it’s more divided than not. Back in the “good old days” all we kids had were the AM (and eventually FM) stations. Everything to be heard was pretty much heard there. And it was one great big grab bag. No wonder I was pondering where all the protest songs had got to. Who can listen to all those stations, or keep up with everything? Here’s a quickie list of Top Five Billboard hits from 1961 to give you an idea of how eclectic it was:

Week of Feb 13th, 1961
1 – Calcutta, Lawrence Welk
2 – Will You Love Me tomorrow, The Shirelles
3 – Shop Around, The Miracles
4 – Calendar Girl, Neil Sedaka
5 – Theme from Exodus, Ferrante and Teicher

See what I mean? I think you could easily find these hits on 5 different specialty stations today. So, to get back to my original point, today’s protest songs are coming from all kinds of contemporary artists. While they still seem to favor the folk genre – called alt-folk today – you can also find them spread out over a wide spectrum of artists: Sheryl Crow, Michael Franti, Guns ‘N’ Roses, Dixie Chicks, Wyclef Jean, and of course (and arguably the strongest anti-war sentiments of all) Neil Young. I doubt you would ever hear them all on the same station today, at least not a commercial one. Because of this, I kind of lament the way things have gone. It used to be easy to stay on top of all the new hits and hit-makers, the trends and trend-setters in pop music. But no more, there’s just too much to keep track of, and the borders are being redrawn all the time, so to speak. Balkanization is great if you print maps for a living, but it sure is tough on music lovers.

Well, time to wrap things up for today. There are so many protest songs to choose from for the listening portion of our post. I’ll keep it simple and just include one by a particular fave artist of mine, Phil Ochs.

I Ain't Marching Any More
This one gets filed under What If They Gave A War and Nobody Came? along with "Where Have All The Flowers Gone" and "Universal Soldier."

No comments: