Dick Clark and Levon Helm – Nonconformity and Protest in Music   Leave a comment

The recent deaths of Dick Clark and Levon Helm cause us to look back fondly at an earlier era. As many articles are pointing out, the brilliant career of Dick Clark forever changed American music. The beloved Levon Helm, especially in his role in the Band, had a huge effect on American music in a different way. What they both had in common, besides their importance, was how they defied expectations about the way things should be. I’ve been thinking about music and musicians lately, and just that about them – how often they point the way ahead for us, how often we learn from them and follow.

I recently bought a turntable and dug out my old LPs. I also happened upon a yard sale where the guy was selling hundreds of unopened cassettes. (I bought 80!) As a result, I’ve been listening to music from the sixties and seventies again – and  since I’m involved with the Occupy movement – with new ears. Obviously, that was a time of intense protest, and of “peace, love and understanding” – itself a form of protest – and we hear it in the music.

As “Boomers”, we were weaned on this music, which shaped our values, and provided, as Dick Clark himself so aptly put it “the soundtrack of our lives.” And yet, it seems like not very many Baby Boomers are involved in protest today – for instance with Occupy Wall Street. (I’m not as familiar with the ranks of the Tea Party, so I won’t be commenting on that.) I’ve been wondering at how that can be, and if it can change. But first, I invite you to take a stroll down memory lane with me, sampling protest music for that era. How many of these songs to you remember?

Malvina Reynolds – Little Boxes (’62)

Peter Seeger – Where Have All the Flowers Gone (’61, popularized by Peter, Paul & Mary), We Shall Overcome (based on a negro spiritual, covered here by Joan Baez), Bring Them Home (’66), Union Maid (written by Woodie Guthrie, covered here by Seeger),  Which Side Are You On? (popularized by Seeger, written by Florence Reece in ’31) this cover by Annie DeFranco

Phil Oachs – Vietnam (’62), Talking Vietnam (’64), I Ain’t Marchin’ Anymore (’65), Draft Dodger Rag (’65)

Tom Paxton – My Son Tom (’66)

Bob Dylan – Blowin’ In the Wind (’63 – sung here by Peter, Paul and Mary), Masters of War (’63), John Brown, The Times They are a Changin’ (’64), With God on Our Side (’64 – Baez cover), the Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll (’64), Masters of War (’64), Chimes of Freedom (’64), Hurricane (’66), The Death of Emmett Till (’72), Hard Rain (’76) [Most, if not all, Dylan’s solo videos have been removed from Youtube.], w/ Joan Baez, Deportee (’76)

Sam Cooke – A Change is Gonna Come (’64) (this cover by Seal)

Curtis Mayflield – People Get Ready (’65) (later covered by the Vanilla Fudge)

Jackie DeShannon – What the World Needs Now (’65), Put A Little Love in Your Heart (’69)

Country Joe and the Fish – Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die Rag (’65)

The Byrds – Turn, Turn, Turn (’65) (written by Pete Seeger)

Barry McGuire and P.F. Sloan – Eve of Destruction (’65)

Janis Ian – Society’s Child (66)

Kriss Kristofferson – Vietnam Blues (’66)

Jr. Wells – Vietcong Blues (’66)

Buffalo Springfield – For What It’s Worth (’66), Soldiers of Peace (’67)

Arlo Guthrie – Alice’s Restaurant Masacree (’67)

Donovan – The Universal Soldier (written by Buffie Sainte-Marie, ’64)

Eric Burdon and the Animals – Sky Pilot (68)

John Lee Hooker – I Don’t Wanna Go To Vietnam” (’68)

Quicksilver Messenger Service – Pride of Man (’68), What About Me? (’70)

The Doors – Unknown Soldier (’68)

Graham Nash –  We Can Change the World (’68),Oh! Camil (’73), Military Madness

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – Wooden Ships (’68), (also covered by Jefferson Airplane), Ohio (’70), Teach Your Children (’70)

David Crosby – What Are Their Names?

The Beatles – Tax Man, Eleanor Rigby, She’s Leaving Home, Revolution (’68)

Joni Mitchell – The Fiddle and the Drum (’69), Woodstock (’69), Big Yellow Taxi (’70)

Larry Norman – I Am the 6 O’Clock News (’70, Grammatrain cover), The Great American Novel (’71), Peace, Polution, Revolution (’71)

The Kinks – Some Mother’s Son (’69)

Steppenwolf – Draft Resister (’69)

Joan Baez – I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill (’69) (written in the ’30s but popularized by Baez), Saigon Bride (’67), Where Are You Now My Son? (’73)

John Sebastian – I Had A Dream Last Night (’69)

Credence Clearwater Revival – Fortunate Son (’69)

Jimi Hendrix – The Star Spangled Banner (Woodstock) (’69), Machine Gun (’70)

Jessie Collin Young – Hippie From Olema (’69), Get Together (here with Jackson Browne, Steve Stills, Graham Nash, etc.)

Yes – Harold Land (’69)

John Lennon – Give Peace a Chance (’69, with Yoko Ono in the Plastic Ono Band), Imagine (’71), Happy Xmas (’71)

Buffy Saint Marie – Moratorium (’71)

Cat Stevens – Peace Train (’71)

Grand Funk Railroad – People, Let’s Stop the War” (’71)

[Jefferson] Airplane – Rejoyce (’67), Crown of Creation (’68), Volunteers of America (’69)

The Steve Miller Band – Never Kill Another Man (’70)

Guess Who – American Woman (’70)

Deep Purple – Child in Time (’70)

Edwin Star – War (’70)

Chicago – It Better End Soon (’70)

Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On? (’71)

Neil Young & Graham Nash – War Song (’72)

O’Jays – Love Train (’73)

Johnny Cash – Don’t Go Near the Water (’74)

Tom Paxton – Born on the Fourth of July (’74), Whose Garden Was This?

Bob Marley and the Wailers – War (’76), No More Trouble (’97)

The Ramones – Commando (’77)

This list is a “who’s who” of the most popular performers of that time – and not just in terms of protest music. These songs sent many of us out into the streets, and still exert great influence in music and on our musical consciousness. (How, for instance, can anyone listen to “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” and not be changed?)

As we look back this week with affection on the passing of two musical greats, I wanted to raise a question – not “Where have all the flowers gone?”, but “Where have all the protestors gone?” Now, I should say that I talked to enough people at Zuccotti Park (before “the man” shut it down to protect “the establishment”) to know that plenty of people who are out protesting now were doing it “back in the day”, or perhaps, ever since “the day.” But, it seems to me like what is probably a much greater number who were outraged and moved to action back then by racism, injustice, police brutality, corruption in government and the injustices and terrible human (and economic) cost of war, are now distracted by other things. (Typically, activists come from the ranks of the young, so that is also an obvious factor.) Even so, is that what we want? To leave the fight for justice to only the young? To be remembered as youthful agitators but then comfortable, sleepy oldsters? Is it fair for us to leave all the hard work to the young – and can they even succeed without us? (For protest is much more than holding up signs outside Goldman Sachs or letting yourself be arrested for sleeping on the sidewalk.)

So, here’s what I suggest if it’s been a while since you’re really been stirred by a problem bigger than paying the mortgage (which granted, today is no small problem for many). Put on some of your old LPs, or simply click some of the links in this article to revisit some amazing and great old musical places. See if the idealism of those days doesn’t grab you. See if you may have forgotten some things that are sacred to you. See if you may indeed want to do something “for the cause.” I’m not saying it has to be with Occupy Wall Street. I’m just saying that your country and your planet needs you. Don’t do it for Dylan or Baez. Don’t do it for Morrison or Lennon. But do it because you still share the values they sang about. Do it for yourself, your children, your grandchildren and for your neighbors near and far.

* I want to emphasize that my review is obviously subjective and therefore somewhat arbitrary. If I’ve left out your favorite song or band, I apologize in advance. Obviously,  I’ve limited my selections to a certain era (basically 60s and 70s). This has meant refusing the urge to look back to some great songs (e.g., “Strange Fruit” by Billie Holliday), or to later years either (“Rockin’ In the Free World” by Neil Young). I’ve included as many actual clips of the groups singing as possible, and avoided posting those “collage” type “videos” with the music in the background –  with only a few exceptions (i.e., “Ohio”). I hope you enjoy the article (and the music!), that you think about my question, and that you leave a comment. I’m interested in your responses.

P.S. I want to thank Tom Carnacchio for his contributions to this article.


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