It seemed like such a simple idea. Pick ten pop songs that inspire people who are seeking social justice.
Then I started scrolling through my iTunes cache, asking friends for suggestions, jotting down song titles, and chasing after performances on YouTube.
Ten? Are you kidding me?
So this is my list. Forty songs, not ten, listed chronologically by their release dates. Some will be on your list as well -- and many will not. But they all have one thing in common: They matter. They quicken the blood. They unleash our emotions, our hopes, our dreams for a better world. When we lie awake at night, we hear their lyrics, feel their rhythms. When we sleep, they invade our dreams. So many of us are seeking social justice in so many different ways -- it’s folly to imagine a list of ten pop songs that would satisfy us all.
Each of the songs on my list has touched me personally at important moments in my life. I’ve included the names of the performers who caught my attention, excerpts from the lyrics, and URLs for the songs themselves. I hope you listen to them again (you know most of them) and let them play upon your heart whenever you need them.
As I winnowed my choices from more than 100 possibilities, it became increasingly clear that each generation builds its own social justice playlist. Not surprisingly, most of the titles on mine were released before the mid-‘70s -- songs I heard during the first 30 years of my life that have stayed with me since.
If I’ve left out one or more of your favorites, feel free to roll your eyes. But please don’t stop there. Send me a note and tell me about them!
1. Where Have All the Flowers Gone (The Kingston Trio, 1961)
And where have all the soldiers gone, long time passing?
Where have all the soldiers gone, a long long time ago?
Where have all the soldiers gone?
Gone to graveyards, every one
When will they ever learn, when will they ever learn?
2. Stand By Me (Ben E. King, 1961)
When the night has come
And the land is dark
And the moon is the only light we'll see
No, I won't be afraid
Oh, I won't be afraid
Just as long as you stand, stand by me
3. Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream (The Chad Mitchell Trio, 1962)
Last night I had the strangest dream
I never dreamed before
I dreamed the world had all agreed
To put an end to war
4. If I Had a Hammer (Peter, Paul and Mary, 1962)
It's the hammer of justice
It's the bell of freedom
It's a song about love between my brothers and my sisters
all over this land
5. Tobacco Road (Lou Rawls, 1963)
Save my money and get rich I know
And bring it back to Tobacco Road
Bring dynamite and a crane
Blow it up and start all over again
6. Blowin’ in the Wind (Bob Dylan, 1963)
Yes, an' how many years can some people exist
Before they're allowed to be free?
Yes, an' how many times must a man turn his head
An' pretend that he just doesn't see?
7. Little Boxes (Pete Seeger, 1963)
There's a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one
And they're all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same
8. Keep Your Eyes on the Prize (Pete Seeger, 1963)
Well, the only chains that we can stand
Are the chains of hand in hand
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on
9. A Change is Gonna Come (Sam Cooke, 1964)
I was born by the river in a little tent
Oh and just like the river I've been running ev'r since
It's been a long time, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will
10. The Times They Are a Changin’ (Bob Dylan, 1964)
You better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'
11.You’ll Never Walk Alone (The Righteous Brothers, 1965)
Walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart
And you'll never walk alone
You'll never walk alone
12. The Impossible Dream (Richard Kiley, 1965)
This is my quest, to follow that star ...
No matter how hopeless, no matter how far ...
To fight for the right, without question or pause ...
To be willing to march into Hell, for a Heavenly cause ...
And the world will be better for this:
That one man, scorned and covered with scars,
Still strove, with his last ounce of courage,
To reach ... the unreachable star ...
13. Climb Every Mountain (Peggy Wood, The Sound of Music, 1965):
Climb every mountain,
Ford every stream,
Follow every rainbow,
'Till you find your dream.
A dream that will need
All the love you can give,
Every day of your life
For as long as you live.
14. For What It’s Worth (Buffalo Springfield, 1966):
There’s somethin’ happenin’ here
What it is ain’t exactly clear
There’s a man with a gun, over there
Tellin’ me I got to beware
(I think it’s time we)
Stop, children, what’s that sound?
Everybody look – what’s goin’ down?
15. Abraham, Martin & John (Dion DiMucci, 1968)
Anybody here seen my old friend Martin?
Can you tell me where he’s gone?
He freed a lot of people,
But it seems the good they die young.
I just looked ‘round and he’s gone.
16. Revolution (The Beatles, 1968)
You say you want a revolution
Well, you know we all want to change the world
You tell me that it's evolution
Well, you know we all want to change the world
But when you talk about destruction
Don't you know that you can count me out
17. Those Were the Days (Mary Hopkin, 1968)
Those were the days my friend
We thought they'd never end
We'd sing and dance forever and a day
We'd live the life we choose
We'd fight and never lose
For we were young and sure to have our way
18. And When I Die (Blood, Sweat & Tears, featuring David Clayton Thomas, 1968)
And when I die, and when I'm gone
There'll be one child born
In this world to carry on, to carry on
19. Sing a Simple Song of Freedom (Bobby Darin, 1969)
Seven hundred million are you listening?
Most of what you read is made of lies
But speaking one to one, ain't it everybody's sun
To wake to in the morning when we rise?
20. Everybody’s Talkin’ At Me (Harry Nilsson, 1969)
I'm going where the sun keeps shining
Through the pouring rain …
Banking off the north east wind
Sailing on summer breeze
And skipping over the ocean like a stone
21. Please, Don’t Pass Me By (Leonard Cohen, 1970)
Oh, please don't pass me by,
For I am blind, yes I am blind, oh but you can see,
Yes, I've been blinded totally,
Oh, please don't pass me by.
22. Teach Your Children (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, 1970)
Teach your children well . . .
And feed them on your dreams
The one they pick’s, the one you’ll know by
Don’t you ever ask them why
If they told you, you would cry
So just look at them and sigh
And know they love you
23. Bridge Over Troubled Waters (Simon & Garfunkel, 1970)
When you're down and out
When you're on the street,
When evening falls so hard
Well, I will comfort you
24. Big Yellow Taxi (Joni Mitchell, 1970)
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone?
They paved paradise
Put up a parking lot
25. Imagine (John Lennon, 1971)
You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you will join us
And the world will be as one
26. What’s Going On (Marvin Gaye, 1971)
There’s too many of you crying
Brother, brother, brother
There’s far too many of you dying
27. You’ve Got a Friend (James Taylor, 1971)
You just call out my name, and you know where ever I am
I'll come running to see you again.
Winter, spring, summer, or fall, all you’ve got to do is call and I'll be there, yeah, yeah, now
you've got a friend.
28. American Pie (Don McLean, 1971)
And in the streets the children screamed
The lovers cried, and the poets dreamed
But not a word was spoken
The church bells all were broken …
And the three men I admire most
The Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost
They caught the last train for the coast
29. Won’t Get Fooled Again (The Who, 1971)
I'll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around
Pick up my guitar and play, just like yesterday
Then I'll get on my knees and pray
We don't get fooled again
30. Lean on Me (Bill Withers, 1972)
Lean on me when you're not strong
And I'll be your friend, I'll help you carry on
For it won't be long
'Til I'm gonna need somebody to lean on
31. Dream Weaver (Gary Wright, 1972)
I have just closed my eyes again
Climbed aboard the Dream Weaver train
Driver take away my worries of today
And leave tomorrow behind
Dream Weaver, I believe you can get me through the night
Dream Weaver, I believe we can reach the morning light
32. Song Sung Blue (Neil Diamond, 1972)
Me and you are subject to the blues now and then
But when you take the blues and make a song
You sing ‘em out again . . .
Funny thing, but you can sing it with a cry in your voice
And before you know it get to feelin’ good
You simply got no choice
33. Garden Party (Rick Nelson and the Stone Canyon Band, 1972)
When I got to the garden party, they all knew my name
No one recognized me, I didn’t look the same
But it's all right now, I learned my lesson well
You see, ya can't please everyone, so ya got to please yourself
34. Cat’s in the Cradle (Harry Chapin, 1974)
And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man in the moon
When you comin' home son?
I don't know when, but we'll get together then son
You know we'll have a good time then
35. Take it to the Limit (The Eagles, 1975)
And when you're looking for your freedom
(Nobody seems to care)
And you can't find the door
(Can't find it anywhere)
When there's nothing to believe in
Still you're coming back, you're running back
You're coming back for more
So put me on a highway
And show me a sign
And take it to the limit
One more time
36. Another Brick in the Wall (Pink Floyd, 1979)
We don't need no education
We don't need no thought control
No dark sarcasms in the classroom
Teachers leave them kids alone
Hey! teachers! leave the kids alone!
All in all you're just another brick in the wall.
37. Hallelujah (Leonard Cohen, 1984)
And even though it all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah
38. Everybody Hurts (Joe Cocker, 2004)
When the day is long and the night, the night is yours alone
When you’re sure you’ve had enough of this life, well hang on
Don’t let yourself go, ‘cos everybody cries
And everybody hurts sometimes
39. I Will Rise Up / Ain’t No More Cane (Lyle Lovett, 2007)
In the darkest hour
In the dead of night
As the storm clouds are gathered
And the lightin’ strikes
And the thunder rolls
And the cold rain goes
The future it holds what God only knows (what God only knows)
And I will rise up and I will rise up
Though I be a dead man, I said, yes and amen
And I will stand tall and I will stand tall
Until I meet my end, until I meet my end
40. Don’t You Wish it Was True (John Fogerty, 2007)
He said, "The world's gonna change
And it's starting today
There'll be no more armies
No more hate"
Don’t you wish it was true,
Lord, don’t you wish it was true
And one bonus track, just for entrepreneurs:
The Roses of Success (Anton Rodgers, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, 2002)
Every bursted bubble has a glory!
Each abysmal failure makes a point!
Every glowing path that goes astray,
Shows you how to find a better way.
So every time you stumble never grumble.
Next time you'll bumble even less!
For up from the ashes, up from the ashes, grow the roses of success!