It seems as though there’s always some cause or injustice that can be protested. People have been taking to the streets for many decades. Some cause riots, some march in parades, and some make music. In some ways, protest songs can have more of a lasting effect, considering that generations to come can listen to such tunes and learn a history lesson along the way.
That said, there are some protest songs from the 1960s and 1970s that still speak to people today. Bob Dylan and Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young made two that Rolling Stone consider the top two of all time.
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young: Ohio
Days after the Kent State massacre in May of 1970, Neil Young saw a photo of a 14-year-old girl named Mary Ann Vecchio kneeling over the dead body of another student named Jeffrey Miller. Young was inspired and poured his anger and sorrow into the lyrics of Ohio.
He called his bandmates into the studio the next day to record his freshly written song. The label then rushed the track out, and it was playing on the radio by the week’s end. CSNY broke up a few months later, making Ohio their final statement.
Bob Dylan: Masters of War
The week that Bob Dylan arrived in New York City, then-president Dwight Eisenhower warned the nation about the dangers of the “military-industrial complex.” Two years later, the world was closer to a nuclear war.
The arms industry was making a killing, spreading money all over Washington, D.C. The situation put Dylan into a rage, leading him to channel his anger into the song Masters of War. “I hope you die and your death will come soon,” he wrote. “I’ll follow your casket in the pale afternoon, and I’ll watch while you’re lowered to your death bed and I’ll stand over your grave ’til I’m sure that you’re dead.”