From John Lennon’s ‘Give Peace A Chance’ to Elvis Presley’s poverty fighting ‘In The Ghetto’, musicians from far and wide, both famous and unknown, have used their music as a vehicle for social change. In times of war, economic problems and social difficulties, music has been written to ‘Fight The Power’ as a call to arms for protest and rebellion.
Only last year, five women from Russian punk-rock protest group Pussy Riot took to a Moscow Cathedral to rebel against President Putin’s policies on LGBT rights. Three of the women were sentenced to two years imprisonment causing uproar across the world, leading to further support for their cause and resulting in expressed concern from the likes of Paul McCartney and Yoko Ono, amongst many others.
Despite the argument that their protest may have been in vain, their views on feminism and gay rights have spread to a global audience, with Amnesty International declaring August 17th of every year Pussy Riot Global Day.
A common stigma attached to the idea of protest through music is that the founders are typically punk-rockers rebelling against the government or monarchy.
A common stigma attached to the idea of protest through music is that the founders are typically punk-rockers rebelling against the government or monarchy; see Sex Pistols’ ‘God Save the Queen’ or NOFX’s ‘The Decline’. However, the likes of Sam Cooke’s ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ helped the Civil Rights Movement succeed in their aims for racial equality and is still used as their anthem today.
Similarly, country rockers Creedence Clearwater Revival, stumbled upon ‘Fortunate Son’. This was adopted as an anti-Vietnam War anthem by the lower-earning American families, whose sons and husbands were being drafted in to fight.
Further proof that successful political change isn’t all about the raw, shock tactics employed throughout punk-rock is Bob Geldof’s anti-famine musical campaign. Proving successful in its ability to raise money, if not necessarily to completely eradicate famine, was Bob Geldof’s Band Aid, Live Aid and subsequent spin-off projects.
Geldof teamed up with Ultravox’s Midge Ure to co-write the song ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’, inviting the most popular British and Irish artists of the time to record it. Recorded and released in the space of just three days in late November 1984, the song stayed at Number One in the UK charts for five weeks, becoming Christmas Number One, selling almost 4 million copies and earning record sales in aid of famine relief.
Through the years, in times of war, economic problems and social difficulties, music has been written to ‘Fight The Power’.
After the success of Band Aid, Geldof turned his sights to organising a global concert in aid of famine, which would be called Live Aid. It took place in the summer of 1985, simultaneously in London, Philadelphia, Australia, Germany and many other countries. The London gig, held in Wembley Stadium, hosted the likes of David Bowie, U2 and Queen. It is thought that over £150 million has been raised as a direct result of the concerts.
However, despite raising significant amounts of money, the African famine is far from resolved, showing that music is just one cog in a much larger machine.
Widespread views of bands are sometimes obscured by coincidental or accidental ties to political and Socio-economic issues.
Sometimes, music can become aligned with political movements by mere coincidence, for example OMD’s ‘Enola Gay’, which has no lyrical or hidden links to the plane that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Thus, widespread views of bands are sometimes obscured by coincidental or accidental ties to political and Socio-economic issues.
Music’s power is used effectively to drive forward political campaigns worldwide, and it’s clear to see that songs and bands can change and encourage certain opinions and beliefs as well the famous and adored helping to raise awareness to problems and go about resolving issues that most everyday members of the public cannot.
Adam Keyworth and Alex Neely