19 September 2009

150 Years of Protest Music

So, when I taught 10th grade English last year, I gave my students an assignment: To find a protest song. It couldn't be the same as anyone else's song (in that hour at least), it had to protest SOMETHING (their choice of topic), and it couldn't have profanity. If a student REALLY wanted to present a song that had profanity, they could present it to just me, before or after school. They also had to be able to explain WHAT was being protested.

I had been collecting protest songs on my own for awhile, but the kids found me LOTS of worthy songs I didn't know about, both from modern times, and from the 1960s. It was gratifying when my husband heard me listening to 99 Red Balloons (which was from when WE were in HS) and said "That's a protest song?" Yup, it is.

Inspired by the Disney Animated Robin Hood, where everyone sings "The Phony King of England" (Too late to be known as John the First / He's sure to be known as John the worst / A pox on that phony king of England!), I went looking for historical protest songs, and turned up a Negro spiritual called "No More Auction Block For Me" that dates from the 1800s, but was recorded by a modern a cappella group called Sweet Honey on the Rocks. It's an unbelievably beautiful song.

In answer to the question "did your students like the assignment, I have to say, no, not really. Some did, of course, but many others just found it a hassle. I'll probably do the assignment again, but I have to re-think how to approach it. Early on, all of the students actually followed along with the lyrics up on the overhead, but later , as the end of the school year loomed, they tended to pay less and less attention. But I also caught glimpses of students who cared - they watched me intently, as I listened to the lyrics. I only bought the songs that I liked, and I could see that a few of them were quite gratified when they saw me buying their song. One kid even offered to burn me CD of similar songs from the band he presented (Coldplay).

Anyway, for some reason, not all of my songs made it into the iMix. One of them has never been available in iTunes, so it's no surprise that that song isn't available. But all of the others should be - I mostly got them from iTunes. The missing songs are:

  1. Bomb The World (Armageddon Version) by Michael Franti (the regular version made it - both are from the same album, and both were purchased from iTunes. It's a shame though - the Armageddon version is edgier and better)
  2. Handlebars by the Flobots (another Flobots song made it)
  3. I Ain't Marching Anymore (LP Version) by Phil Ochs
  4. Imagine by John Lennon (probably due to the new Beatles releases)
  5. Jacob's Ladder by Chumbawamba (not available on iTunes)
  6. Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream by Simon and Garfunkel
  7. Lyndon Johnson told the nation (LP Version) by Tom Paxton (an awesome song that even my 15-year-old likes, and bought for himself from iTunes after I played it for him)
  8. Peace Train by Cat Stevens
  9. Teach Your Children by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young
  10. Travelin' Soldier by the Dixie Chicks (a great song with a controversy attached to it - it was the song they were promoting in Europe, when they made a rather rude statement about the president, and lots of fans boycotted them afterwards - you know - the "shut up, and sing" story.)
Anyway, hope you enjoy the music.

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