5 Greatest Protest Songs 

of the 1970s

#1 What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye

About the Song: This melancholic song about Vietnam questions the war and why police at home violently attacked peaceful protesters. Marvin Gaye’s brother returned from Vietnam shellshocked. And co-writer Renaldo Benson couldn’t understand why so much violence was happening at home when all people were asking for was peace.

#2 (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais by The Clash

About the Song: While the U.S. was boiling over in 1970s civil unrest, the U.K. was experiencing a similar crisis. England had encouraged Jamaican migrants to come over and work low-wage jobs in the 50s.

#3 Get Up Stand Up by The Wailers (with Bob Marley)

About the Song: The brilliant thing about Get Up, Stand Up is that it can represent anyone, anywhere, at any given moment in time. The gentle reggae groove keeps you moving while the lyrics empower you to never give up. Bob Marley’s inspiration came from witnessing intense poverty in Haiti while he was on tour.

#4 Ohio by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

About the Song: Neil Young wrote Ohio in direct response to the Kent State massacre on May 4, 1970. America was in the throws of the Vietnam War, backing its expansion into Cambodia. When 300 peaceful protesters gathered at Kent State University, Ohio called in the National Guard. Mayhem ensued, and the guardsmen opened fire, killing four and wounding nine more.

#5 I Am Woman by Helen Reddy

About the Song: Helen Reddy’s I Am Woman was one of the first recorded songs that spoke so plainly about female empowerment. The simple lyrics gave way to plenty of teasing and loathing by men. But it arrived just in time to become the theme song for the feminist movement of the 1970s.

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