Songs relating to ethics

For part of my final project in my Ethics & Values class at my university I am compiling a playlist of songs with ethics related themes. I’m looking for really diverse, quirky, smart and just plain good stuff. I also feel obliged to explore all sides of an issue where possible.

I would also like to stress that this is not a case of “do my homework for me”. For one thing this is only part of the final project and further I will be exploring the songs and their meanings through in-depth essays. But in the interest of full disclosure I felt I’d better mention the above.

So I submit it to my fellow dopers: what are your favorite songs dealing with (or relating to) ethics?

The following are examples of the topics I’d like to focus on and the songs I have come up with.

Human Nature:
Superman’s Song - The Crash Test Dummies
Knowledge - Operation Ivy

The World Isn’t Fair - Randy Newman
Pull Up The People - MIA
So Says I - The Shins
Fortunate Son - Credence Clearwater Revival

Gender, Sex & Family:
Boys & Girls - Blur
Ladies First - Queen Latifah
Gonna Beat My Wife - Dead Milkmen

Meaning & Memory:
Everything You Can Think - Tom Waits
Art Is Hard - Cursive

Punishment & Surveillance:
Police Beat - SS Decontrol
I Fought The Law - Dead Kennedys version
Civil Disobedience - Camper Van Beethoven

Religion & Religious Ethics:
Atheist Peace - Bad Religion
Good Book Song - The New Main Street Singers (Mighty Wind Sountrack)
Dear God - XTC
Take Me To Your Leader - The Newsboys

Race, Ethnicity & Nation:
Hate - Skankin’ Pickle
Weeds - Pulp

So, dopers, what say you?

For Race, Ethnicity, & Nation, I nominate National Brotherhood Week by Tom Lehrer.

Paint it Black by the Rolling Stones could make for an interesting song about human nature.

Redneck Woman by Gretchen Wilson for the categories of Economics or Race, Ethnicity & Nation

For economics, how about, "Driving the Last Spike" by Genesis?

Tells a story about the building of the railroads. Not a common topic in popular music.

"You’d better do right
“Like some other men do . . .”

For Economics: “Money Becomes King,” by Tom Petty (on The Last DJ)

Two replies and no Rush, the world’s smartest band[sup]TM[/sup]?

Human Nature:
Cut to the Chase
Everyday Glory
Fly By Night
The Enemy Within
Kid Gloves
Time Stand Still
Second Nature
Lock and Key
Tom Sawyer
Grand Designs
Mystic Rhythms
Chain Lightning
The Analog Kid
Digital Man

Something for Nothing
The Big Money

Gender, Sex & Family:
Cold Fire
Entre Nous

Meaning & Memory:
Closer to the Heart
The Spirit of Radio
Lakeside Park
Between the Wheels
Prime Mover
Face Up
The Big Wheel
You Bet Your Life
Test for Echo

Punishment & Surveillance:
Red Sector A
The Weapon

Religion & Religious Ethics:
Turn the Page
Vital Signs
Natural Science
Roll the Bones
Ghost of a Chance

Race, Ethnicity & Nation:
Alien Shore
The Camera Eye
Witch Hunt
The Spirit of Radio
Free Will
Manhattan Project
New World Man
Half the World

Political Thought:
Bastille Day
Beneath, Between, and Behind
Distant Early Warning
Red Lenses
The Trees
Red Tide

That’s a starter for you.

I think this would fit under the Human Nature category:

Peter Gabriel: The Barry Willaims Show from his album UP.

If I systematically thought about all the songs I know, I’d probably come up with a different and better list, but off the top of my head, here are the first things my brain gave me:

Racism & Friendship:
Your Racist Friend - They Might Be Giants

Anger, Justice, & World Politics
If I Had a Rocket Launcher - Bruce Cockburn

Religious Ethics & Hypocrisy
Hide the Beer, the Pastor’s Here! - The Swirling Eddies
(All my links are to lyrics at ad-free, pop-up-free sites.)

Human Nature:

“What the Fuck Are We Saying?” - Lenny Kravitz


“Living Just Enough (In the City)” Stevie Wonder
“For the Love of Money”-The Ojays
“Another Day in Paradise”- Genesis

Gender, Sex & Family:

“We Are Family”-Sister Sledge
“Woman is Nigger of the World”-John Lennon

Meaning & Memory:

“Cat’s Cradle”

Punishment & Surveillance:

“I’ll Be Watching You” - The Police

Race, Ethnicity & Nation:

“That’s Just the Way It Is” Bruce Hornsby
“Southern Man”-Neil Young
“I’m Black and I’m Proud” - James Brown

The subject matter of some of these songs overlap the OP’s categories.

Human Nature:
“Less Than Zero” by Elvis Costello
“Political World” by Bob Dylan

“It’s Money that Matters” by Randy Newman
“Ghost of Tom Joad” by Bruce Springsteen or Rage Against the Machine
“Money” by Pink Floyd (obviously)

Gender, Sex & Family:
“Tear Off Your Own Head” by Elvis Costello or The Bangles
“This Is Hardcore” by Pulp
“Glory Box” by Portishead
“Supervixen” by Garbage
“Respect” by Aretha Franklin

Meaning & Memory:
“Glory Days” by Bruce Springsteen
“Reason to Believe” by Bruce Springsteen

Punishment & Surveillance:
“Green Shirt” by Elvis Costello
“Folsom Prison Blues” by Johnny Cash

Religion & Religious Ethics:
“The Mighty Quinn” by Manfred Mann or Bob Dylan
“Gotta Serve Somebody” by Bob Dylan
“He Gives Us All His Love” by Randy Newman

Race, Ethnicity & Nation:
“Inner City Blues” by Marvin Gaye
“Fight the Power” by Public Enemy

Date Rape and Wrong Way by Sublime.

Boy Cried Wolf–Patti Smith
All She Wants to Do is Dance–Don Henley

I took care to try to select the songs that really address ethical choices, engaging in the subject more deeply than most.
File under “Human Nature”:

XTC’s “The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul”: the narrator sings a cautionary tale of a man who was egotistical, greedy, and failed to sustain relationships… and who dies all alone. (As with all the XTC ones, scroll down for the lyrics.)
Under that or “Meaning & Memory,” because these are about social hypocrisies & maintaining appearances:

XTC’s “Respectable Street” and “No Thugs In Our House” (which is also about evading justice).
Under “Gender, Sex & Family”:

Robert Cray’s “Right Next Door (Because of Me)”: the rueful narrator tells the sad story of how he gave in to temptation, seduced his neighbor, and how his sexual selfishness ruined lives.
Under “Economics”:

Superchunk’s “Slack Motherfucker”: the narrator resents his lazy, slack co-worker for not pulling his own weight (and for enjoying his cigarette breaks too much).

XTC’s “Towers of London”: about the human toll paid in the building of England’s infrastructure. Don’t overlook the sidebar explanatory notes!

XTC’s “The Smartest Monkeys”: this one’s a sarcastic diatribe against the persistence of gross socio-economic inequality.
File under “Race…” and “Economics”:

XTC’s “Human Alchemy”: about the “alchemy” of slavery – turning the suffering of blacks into wealth for whites – and, crucially, how this also degraded the master class (“Although we held the whip, you knew we were the real slaves”).
Under “Punishment & Surveillance”:

XTC’s “Real By Reel”

Some of these may not be what the OP is looking for, but off the top of my head I came up with:

“A Month of Sundays” by Don Henley, re: business ethics and rural values

“The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia” by Vicki Lawrence (later covered by Reba McEntire), re: murder, and passivity in the face of injustice

“Personal Jesus” by Depeche Mode, re: televangelism and religious exploitation

“War (What Is It Good For?),” by Edwin Starr, re: the insanity of armed conflict (duh!); likewise “Peace Train” by Cat Stevens

“Live and Let Die” by Wings, re: harsh indifference to the needs of others; narcissism and selfishness

“Run to You” by Bryan Adams, re: infidelity

“We May Never Pass This Way Again,” by Seals & Crofts, re: awareness of the brevity of life and the need to be kind to others; likewise “Shower the People” by James Taylor

“Holiday” by Green Day, re: citizen activism and dissent

“We Shall Be Free” by Garth Brooks, re: everyone’s responsibility to improve the world

“Wernher Von Braun” by Tom Lehrer, re: apolitical militarism

“Welcome to the Machine” by Pink Floyd, re: conformity and consumerism

“Shock the Monkey” by Peter Gabriel, re: vivisection and animal rights

“The Fire Down Below,” by Bob Seger, re: sexual exploitation

“Song for the Dead,” by Randy Newman, re: duty and sacrifice for your country; likewise “Just a Job to Do” by Genesis

Great suggestions everybody, much thanks!

Here I was worried that I’d hear a bunch of suggestions I had already thought of, but not a single one has been.

Its perfectly alright if some songs span categories since creativity and critical thought alike are goals in this class.

Just as an aside, the class has been a blast. It completely shattered my notions of what an Ethics & Values course would be. The “texts” for our class have ranged from Plato to Pink Floyd to Hedwig an the Angry Inch. The mix-tape component of my final project is definitely in keeping with the tone of our discourse this semester.

FWIW, Let’s Misbehave by Cole Porter is a pretty startling set of lyrics, especially given the high liklihood of eventual pregnancy, degradation, poverty, and possible prostitution its object seems likely to lead to for the recipient. It seems to me far more suitable to be sung by Christopher Walken as a pimp baiting his hook (Pennies From Heaven - the really only great scene in the movie, IMHO) than by a man trying to win a girl into bed!

It’s also a good example of how such songs did not originate in the fifties or strictly by the labor movements.

Language or the Kiss - Indigo Girls
Money Changes Everything - Cyndi Lauper
When Sal’s Burned Down - Dar Williams

Gender, Sex & Family:
When I Was a Boy - Dar Williams
Under the Disco Ball - Jill Sobule
Wonder - Natalie Merchant
Better Man - Pearl Jam
Not the Guy - Dan Bern
Lousy Boy - Jian
Supermodel - Jill Sobule
I Kissed a Girl - Jlll Sobule
I’ll Be Mrs. - Buffy the Musical
She Bop - Cyndi Lauper
Who’s So Scared - Sonia / Disappear Fear

Meaning & Memory:
Hurt - Johnny Cash version

Punishment & Surveillance:
Karma Police - Radiohead?
Don’t Give That Girl a Gun - Indigo Girls
Janie’s Got a Gun - ?
Laws of Nature - Disappear Fear
various - Chicago soundtrack
When You’re Evil - Voltaire
Lawyers Guns and Money - Warren Zevon

Religion & Religious Ethics:
I Had No Right - Dar Williams
Bring Your Own God - Disappear Fear
The Christians and the Pagans - Dar Williams
Elegia - K’s Choice
Galileo - Indigo Girls
God Thinks - Voltaire
Longhaired Radical Socialist Jew - Hugh Blemenfeld
Soldiers of Christ - Jill Sobule
A Dios Le Pido - Juanes
And a God Descended - Dar Williams
Elegia - K’s Choice
various - Jesus Christ Superstar soundtrack
Teen for God - Dar Williams
Every Sperm is Sacred - Monty Python

Race, Ethnicity & Nation:
Vrbana Bridge - Jill Sobule
Father - Jian
Beautiful Enemy - Dar Williams

This project sounds fascinating! You already have a Pulp song, but I think Jarvis Cocker’s “Running the World” fits well under Economics. I’ll add more later if I think of them. Let us know how it goes!

I’ll definitely try to remember and let you all know. Right now I’m up to my ears in it though so I can’t guarantee it won’t all disappear in a drunken haze at the end of the semester :wink:

Someone already nominated Neil Young’s “Southern Man”, so I’m going to have to go with “American Woman” by The Guess Who. Once you realize that: a) it’s not really about a woman, and b) it was written by Canadians, you can see the message that it’s trying to get across.

"The Hurricane" is probably my favorite Bob Dylan song, and it touches on a lot of issues regarding race and the justice system.

"Don’t Stand So Close to Me" by The Police has illusions to pedophilia and teacher-student affairs. The slightly more famous “Roxanne” touches on prostitution.

There are a whole lotta songs about drugs, etc. “Cocaine” by Eric Clapton is a good one.