By Baruchi Malewich
When I was first approached to compile playlists for the amazing project that is Justice Adda, it never occurred to me I’ll be publishing the first one merely 10 days after Donald Trump became the new President-elect of the United States. As if his campaign wasn’t already dripping with racist and misogynistic speech, the tide of hate-related incidents following the elections left me truly speechless. I therefore turned to music to find comfort, and to also witness its great ability to bring people together and to commemorate great moments of unity and of popular struggles. This is the topic of this week’s playlist.
Of course, no list of protest songs, as extensive as it might be, will ever be complete without Sam Cooke’s ‘A Change is Gonna Come’. This song, over 50 years old now, seems eternal and timeless, and served as one of the main anthems of the civil rights movement and of subsequent political struggles that it has inspired. When Cooke wrote and recorded ‘A Change is Gonna Come’, his friends feared that such a politically-charged song might ruin his career, yet he decided he cannot stay quiet any longer at the face of injustice. The result is not only an anthem of equanimity and silent persistence, but maybe one of the most beautiful songs of the period.
Another song identified with the civil rights movement is, of course, Bob Dylan’s ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’. In fact, according to Sam Cooke, ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ inspired him to write and record ‘A Change is Gonna Come’. Soul singer and activist Mavis Staples claimed that when she first heard it, she failed to understand how such a song can be written by a white young male—which only goes to show the power of music and its ability to bring people together. To this day, no one knows what the answer the blows in the wind is, and Dylan himself remained vague on the topic, yet perhaps it is the questions that truly matter here.
Another song from the period, although one that is associated with Vietnam more than with the civil rights movement is Creedence Clearwater Revival’s ‘Fortunate Son’. The song is a protest song against the draft and against the growing militant views of those who did not have to be sent to fight. It was inspired by the marriage of Eisenhower’s grandson to Nixon’s daughter and by the anger that lead singer John Fogerty felt, knowing that these people won’t be sent to fight whereas he himself was drafted. Fogerty further claimed that it took him merely twenty minutes to write the song, as he so enraged by it. In a way, ‘Fortunate Son’ is not just a song about the war, but a song of solidarity between all those who weren’t the sons of senators and millionaires, those who weren’t lucky enough to opt out of the unnecessary war in Vietnam. The song is perhaps the most iconic piece of culture from the war in Vietnam, and has been featured in numerous movies and TV shows and even computer games.
Making a jump across the pond, a song that needs almost no introduction—it is, of course, John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’. Preaching for global harmony and for shedding off all the constructs that lead us to see each other as rivals rather than companions, ‘Imagine’ quickly became an anthem of solidarity that reflected the politics of the ex-Beatle and was the voice of a generation (Sorry Kanye…). It is a very simple piece musically, yet that seems to have made it an even more potent vehicle to carry Lennon’s lyrics to the hearts and minds of so many people.
Finally, staying in the UK would be worthwhile to visit another folk/protest singer-songwriter associated with the Marxist left, Billy Bragg. To be honest, I don’t know many of Bragg’s songs, and it’s possible that some more digging in his discography could lead to finer results in terms of sitting together with this week’s theme. However, ‘Waiting for the Great Leap Forward’ is such a beautiful and a catchy tune, that I could not help myself but to add it to this list. ‘If no one seems to understand’, sings Bragg, ‘Start your own revolution, cut out the middle man. Waiting for the great leap forward!’. Seems to me like a good message with which to seal this week’s blog. Enjoy!
Baruchi Malewich is an Israeli expatriate currently residing in the UK. He completed his BA is Government and Diplomacy from the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya and his MPhil in International Relations from the University of Cambridge. He was a DJ in the student radio of both schools, and is an avid music fan. He is currently working on PhD applications and on an online publication devoted to researching the role of theory in the