For What Its Worth: Protest Rock Factual Q

Factual Question: Weren’t many 1960’s/1970’s rock songs about protesting the Vietnam War? I am hoping the SDopers can validate that I am correct, or I must have been abducted by aliens! I ask this because I am banging my head against the wall with Alice Cooper’s statement that it is “treason” for rock and politics to mix!

Surely, there was such a thing as protest rock, wasn’t there? I was born too late to know for sure…playing my Doors tapes ex post facto, that is! All I am asking is didn’t we sing “Give Peace a Chance?”, for one? - Jinx :confused:

Much of the music was protest music, although a large portion of it was of the folk genre (see Bob Dylan’s output in the 60s, such as “Blowin’ in The Wind”, Joan Baez, Buffy Ste. Marie, et al.). Groups like Buffalo Springfield (and later Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and other derivatives) were anti-war with songs like “Find The Cost of Freedom”, “For What It’s Worth”, and “Ohio”, but again a lot of it had a folk-rock flavor. Much of the rock music was drug-culture, rather than protest.

Sky Pilot (how high can you fly), Eve of destruction, Masters of War, Feel like I’m fixin to die rag, there was lots of stuff like this.

Yes, there were millions of anti-war songs, and even more that had anti-war comments that were only part of the song.

For what it’s worth, “For What It’s Worth” isn’t one of them. The Sunset Strip riot was brought on by police harassment of the hippies who were loitering around the burgeoning club scene in L.A.

That’s why the lyrics are so brilliantly jaundiced:

He wasn’t exactly on the side of the police, but the riot was over a completely trivial cause. Stills gave the song the ironic title because he was just throwing out an opinion, not yet having been radicalized.

Later on in concerts he changed the lyrics to reflect the student deaths at Ohio State and Jackson State, so it became more of an anti-war piece. A lot of the 60s really happened in the 70s.

Just a small aside: There was a protest ‘answer song’ that countered Barry McQuire’s the (rather negative) tone of Barry McQuire’s original. It stayed on the singles chart for a few weeks before fading into obscurity.

My 2¢: Lyrically, I feel the non-folk bands said alot more than some of the tracks listed here. Off the top of my head, I’d say the top 3 would be:[ol]
[li]Volunteers (by Jefferson Airplane), [/li][li]What About Me? (by Quicksilver Messenger Service) and[/li]Trouble Every Day (by The Mothers of Invention) which took on a renewed meaning during LA’s Rodney King riots.[/ol]

Define “many.” Sure, there were quite a few (no, I’m not going to define that) songs that could be labeled protest songs to varying degrees. But out of the jillions of rock, pop, and folk songs released in that time period, I would say that protest songs made up only a small percentage.

Well, it’s your head, so have at it. But some people don’t care for politics in music, apparently Alice Cooper is among them.

Does he feel this way only about rock, or music in general? Certainly there are plenty of songs in folk, blues, reggae, rap, and other genres with political messages. (Country, too, but in the latter it’s often right-wing, so I suppose that wouldn’t be “treason.”)

Songs with a political message - anti-war and pro-civil rights - were a very significant component of rock in the late 60s and early 70s. After the end of the Vietnam War, they became much less common.

My understanding was that Zappa/Mothers’ “Trouble Every Day” was more about racial unrest in general and the Watts riots in particular rather than a “war protest” song. But I agree on the second point, I found myself listening to it *a lot * during the whole Rodney King episode.

OTOH, Billy the Mountain went on a rampage because he got his F***IN draft notice.

Official Straight Dope Alice Cooper Fantm checking in.

Yep, he said he was against politics and rock joining up. That doesn’t mean he’s not pretty darn aware, though. Ever listen to "Brutal Planet’? I think the guy is far from a moron about world issues.

I hate to disagree (I don’t want to get kicked off Sickthings :wink: ) but I think rock and politics are inextricably linked. I’m just old enough to remember the real protest sonds. Even before that, there were songs like “Summertime Blues”, that, while not exactly political, did have an element of protest.

Taking Alice Cooper’s public statements as factual is a recipe for a headache, grasshopper.

Actually, Cooper speaks with quite a bit of intelligence to a number of topics.
This may actually be one of them.

I believe that if one looks up the actual interview, one will discover that he was declaring that Rock musicians who use their music to campaign for politicians are committing treason against Rock and Roll (not against the country). I have not seen the whole interview (and don’t have time to find it at the moment) but that was the gist of the snippet I heard.

I did not hear him complain that Rock could not take a political position. I heard him say that the use of celebrity to push a political candidate can corrupt the art of the person whose celebrity is based on that art.

Now, I am no more likely to take my politics from Cooper or Nugent (how did Detroit spawn all the right-wing rockers?) than I am from Springsteen or Young, but I do not see Cooper actively campaigning for Bush, so he appears to be consistent in his beliefs.

(And in the context of Detroit, Rockand Roll, and political protest, I wonder who Bob Seger (I think some stations should be playing Two Plus Two these days) is voting for and is he campaigning?

And probably the other 97% of pop music at the time was throwaway fluff, as is usually the case in any generation. In our memory, we emphasize the most important or innovative rock–which is as it should be. But it didn’t represent the standard of the majority.

What I find interesting is how some of the most famous protest songs of the period actually propound a very moderate, or even right wing message. The Beatles’ Revolution, for all its searing guitar backup, advises the listener to pull back from extreme leftist ideology. And Taxman is a bourgois protest song if there ever was one.

I have a huge collection of music, my favorite stuff largely being from the mid to late 60s. There were indeed thousands upon thousands of political rock songs at the time, most of them being obscure small sellers that didn’t chart. (Most of my collection are love and drug and party songs that didn’t chart either; I don’t think the lyrical content had much to do with this).

The first rock-not-folk song I have that’s overtly political wasn’t about the Vietnam War, but nuclear war. I recall it dates from 1965, titled “Answers Please,” and was by an Irish band that I can’t recall the name of (can’t be bothered to dig for it at the moment, sorry). They sound a bit like Them. You’d be surprised how many anti-nuke war songs date back to the late 60s. Actually some Joe Meek-written stuff takes us back to the mid-60s. (And then we have the ‘fun’ side of nuke war, Bill Haley’s “13 Women,” the first nuke war refrerence I know of in rock’n’roll: “There were 13 women and only one man in town…”)

Other obvious songs not metioned yet would be “Monster” and “Ostrich” by Steppenwolf, a lot of MC5 material (how could Alice Cooper not recall this? they were Michigan contemporaries), a few Spirit songs, The Fugs, The Monks (“Complication”), the list could go on forever. Even the insular, decadent Velvet Underground notes “all the bodies pilin’ up in Nam” in “Heroin.” Even The Monkees wrote an anti-war song called “War Games.” Then you have the increasingly overt racial & other social messages of Sly & the Family Stone, Curtis Mayfield, eventually the Last Poets…

If we count generic ‘pro-peace’ tunes of course the # skyrockets even more. Include pro-drug statements as political… whew!

I have a handful of pro-Vietnam war effort songs, most of them quite obscure (“Christmas in Vietnam,” anyone?) but even one by Jan and Dean! I have A-side of a 45 on a recently compiled comilation by one fellow who comes out for the war on one side and - unfortunately this didn’t make the comp - against mini-skirts on the other. The compiler wrote in the liner notes that the singer “couldn’t find the right side of any issue.” :smiley:

I was born in 1971, so I don’t have recollection of this, but listening to any music of the era I think the listener has to remember that the whole psychedlic rock thing marked the listener as being on one side of a cultural struggle with political implications, thus in a liberal (excuse pun) interpretation “Are You Experienced” and “Rain” or even “Interstellar Overdrive” drew a line n the sand in a way a song which isn’t overtly political couldn’t do today. We (people to young to have been around for the original) are just used to rock as being ossified and institutional.

I can’t stress this enough, but the impact of this new politicized youth culture was GLOBAL. I have pro-peace psych rock songs from around 60 countries on every continent, from Japan to Peru to Iceland to South Africa… even a Czech song in English that must’ve slipped past the authorities (“Stand Up and Go” by The Beatmen.)


The initial reaction to institutional rock was of course punk, and that’s where I have to disagree about political rock tapering off after the Vietnam War. It exploded in punk in the 80s, although almost all of the releases were tiny pressings that had no chart impact. (Most of the songs we think of as being 60s iconic didn’t actually chart themselves; some weren’t even released as singles.) There were probably more political punk songs released in 1980-1989 than there were rock songs of any sort 1960-1969, considering how technological changes dropped the cost of releasing material. By 1989 the average garage punk band could have a few albums, while the 60s equivalent band was lucky to get out a couple of 45s.

Err, that’s *bourgeois. :smack:

I always make that mistake.

I can’t believe we’ve gotten this far without mentioning Edwin Starr’s “War” (huh! good God, y’all…what is it good for?). Soul/R&B joined the protest movement a little later than the folkies, with “War” and the Temptations’ “Ball of Confusion” both around 1968 or so.

And I’d just like to sing:

Great song.

You also need to define “protest.” A number of songs offer commentary of contemporary culture without offering solutions to the problems.

*What’s Goin’ On * - Marvin Gaye

*Father, father
We don’t need to escalate
You see, war is not the answer
For only love can conquer hate
You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today

Picket lines and picket signs
Don’t punish me with brutality
Talk to me, so you can see
Oh, what’s going on
What’s going on
Ya, what’s going on
Ah, what’s going on*

Drugs and sex always get more airplay than anti-war! :smiley:

This from a singer who had a song titled “Elected” on his Greatest Hits album! (And I’d say therewas a political component to some other songs on that album.)