Gai Terrell/Redferns

The 25 most significant political songs

The political climate in the United States is quite contentious at the moment. On the positive side, perhaps some memorable music will come out of this moment when things calm down.

On that note, here's a look at some of the more notable political songs through the years.

 
1 of 25

"A Change Is Gonna Come," Sam Cooke (1964)

"A Change Is Gonna Come," Sam Cooke (1964)
Jess Rand/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

We kick off our list with an somewhat autobiographical song from the great singer-songwriter. Cooke was known for civil rights awareness-tinged and this was personnel. It's Cooke's response, reportedly, to a moment of segregation in Louisiana, where he was unable to stay at a motel that was only taken business from white people. It's a poignant musical example of the struggle of Cooke and other blacks dealt with then - and continues to do so in many ways.

 
2 of 25

"Mississippi Goddam," Nina Simone (1964)

"Mississippi Goddam," Nina Simone (1964)
David Redfern/Redferns

Many consider this to be the legendary Simone's first song about civil rights. It's her response to the 1963 murder of civil rights activist Medgar Evers, as well as other tragedies that involved the movement during that volatile and ever-changing social dynamic of the decade. As time went on, Simone would continue to send a message through her music, specifically in terms of activism and social injustice issues. 

 
3 of 25

"The Times They Are a-Changin'," Bob Dylan (1964)

"The Times They Are a-Changin'," Bob Dylan (1964)
Jimmy Ellis/The Tennessean via Imagn Content Services, LLC/USA TODAY

The song is considered one of the great songs off all time. It's also one of the most covered - thanks to the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Joan Baez and Tracy Chapman. Dylan wanted to create an anthem of sorts, and he did at the time. The world, specifically in America, was changing as folks, especially young people, were voicing their displeasure on topics such as war and racism. 

 
4 of 25

"Eve of Destruction," Barry McGuire (1965)

"Eve of Destruction," Barry McGuire (1965)
Barry McGuire

One of the most socially conscious songs of all time. Barry McGuire's mainstream pop success was pretty much limited to this song. Though he was considered a prominent songwriter and enjoyed some love as Christian music artist. The song tackles pretty much all the major issues of the 1960s - the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, foreign policy and nuclear threats - and that it could add up to something combustible. 

 
5 of 25

"The "Fish" Cheer/I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-to-Die Rag," Country Joe and the Fish (1967)

"The "Fish" Cheer/I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-to-Die Rag," Country Joe and the Fish (1967)
Warner Bros.

One of the more memorable sing-a-long, overly blatant protest songs of the 1960s. The Vietnam War is the target of Country Joe McDonald wrath - a popular subject mature to attack during that era. The song was made even more popular after its inclusion in the Woodstock documentary film, where it's live performance proved to be one of the highlights of the historic event. 

 
6 of 25

"Fortunate Son," Creedence Clearwater Revival (1969)

"Fortunate Son," Creedence Clearwater Revival (1969)
John Meore/The Journal News via Imagn Content Services, LLC/USA TODAY

Anti-Vietnam songs, as we've already seen, and will continue to entertain on this list, were a staple of the 1960s and into the '70s. However, this CCR classic was one of the more mainstream anthems that continues to resonate to this day. That's because it's enjoyed prominence in pop culture (Forrest Gump) and been covered countless times by such bands as Dropkick Murphys.

 
7 of 25

"Give Peace a Chance," Plastic On0 Band (1969)

"Give Peace a Chance," Plastic On0 Band (1969)
Plastic Ono Band

Another in a long line of anti-war songs. And one that had a resurgence during the Gulf War in the early 1990s. Thus, it remains one of those tracks that has the ability to stand the test of time, no matter what the level of war or unrest. It's one of John Lennon's most recognizable songs, and the writing credit is actually shared with Paul McCartney, at the beginning of a post-Beatles world. 

 
8 of 25

"Ohio," Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (1970)

"Ohio," Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (1970)
Larry McCormack/The Tennessean via Imagn Content Services, LLC/USA TODAY

CSN&Y, in any form, together or solo, never shied away from sending a message through music. It was a response to the Kent State University student shootings by the Ohio National Guard in 1970. It was one of the seminal protest songs of the 1970s, and a specific attack at president Richard Nixon, whom, obviously, none of the band members thought highly about.

 
9 of 25

"War," Edwin Starr (1970)

"War," Edwin Starr (1970)
Edwin Starr/Motown

Originally written for The Temptations, it turned out to be a No. 1 hit for this little known Motown performer. In fact, many probably can't remember who sang the song or have ever heard of Starr to this day. Regardless, the anti-Vietnam War cut still remains one of the great and powerful protest songs of that era.

 
10 of 25

"What's Going On," Marvin Gaye (1971)

"What's Going On," Marvin Gaye (1971)
Marvin Gaye

Arguably the highlight of Gaye's legendary conceptual masterpiece of the same name. The song tackles the subject of police brutality (fitting for 2020 in the United States). While it the tone of the tune is rather calming, the message is no less powerful. It was also a song that enjoyed tremendous success on the both the soul and pop charts - a huge milestone at the time. 

 
11 of 25

"Get Up, Stand Up," The Wailers (1973)

"Get Up, Stand Up," The Wailers (1973)
The Wailers

This is simply a stellar collaboration between the great Bob Marley and bandmate Peter Tosh. The song was inspired, reportedly, when Marley was on tour in Haiti. He was taken back by the country's high level of poverty, as well the class system that spread all socio-economical factors. It was a long-time favorite of the band's and Marley's live shows. 

 
12 of 25

"Ronnie, Talk To Russia," Prince (1981)

"Ronnie, Talk To Russia," Prince (1981)
Prince

Not one of Prince's most notable songs. In fact, it would certainly qualify as a deep cut. Yet, it's arguably his most political. At least among the ones he's performed himself. The song is a straight shout out to former president Ronald Reagan. In regards to America's relationship with Russia and how tense things were at the time as the nuclear threat was heightened. 

 
13 of 25

"Born in the U.S.A," Bruce Springsteen (1984)

"Born in the U.S.A," Bruce Springsteen (1984)
Amy Newman/NorthJersey.com/USA TODAY NETWORK

Perhaps the most misunderstood, seemingly patriotic, song in music history. While this Springsteen classic is well worthy of anthem consideration, it's an anti-Vietnam tune that many a politician has used to rally around for all the wrong reasons. As we'll see, The Boss is no stranger mixing politics with music, and this is his most vocal stand. 

 
14 of 25

"Peace Sells," Megadeth (1986)

"Peace Sells," Megadeth (1986)
Megadeth

Political angst has always been a hallmark of Megadeth's music. Perhaps because Dave Mustaine still needs a way to channel his anger for being booted from Metallica all those years ago. There's plenty of angst and disgust packed into four minutes of the band's most recognizable track. From shots at perceived government corruption to failing foreign policy, it's a powerful song that also features one of metal's most famous bass lines. 

 
15 of 25

"Rockin' in the Free World," Neil Young (1989)

"Rockin' in the Free World," Neil Young (1989)
Rick Wood/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel via Imagn Content Services, LLC/USA TODAY

Neil Young is not too happy with the current U.S. president using his song at campaign events. Of course, it's not surprising Trump thinks this is a positive tune. In reality, it's Young aiming his disdain at the George H.W. Bush administration and all the classic rocker hated about it. One of Young's most popular songs, it's still a rallying cry for hard-rocking liberals around the country. 

 
16 of 25

"F** Tha Police," N.W.A (1988)

"F** Tha Police," N.W.A (1988)
N.W.A.

Unfortunately supporting local police departments has been politicized in 2020 - perhaps more so than ever before. However, N.W.A. members endured first-hand experience the trials of police brutality and racial profiling. While controversial, it's no doubt the band's most well-known track. It's also a statement that has been quite prevalent at recent Black Lives Matter protests throughout the world.  

 
17 of 25

"Fight The Power," Public Enemy (1989)

"Fight The Power," Public Enemy (1989)
Universal Pictures

From a mainstream and commercially successful standpoint, there might not be a more prominent political rap song than this. PE was all about the message, and taking down the establishment, big government and abuse authority were usually central themes. In this instance, Spike Lee recruited the band to pen what became the theme song for his upcoming film about racial tensions in Brooklyn, Do The Right Thing.

 
18 of 25

"Killing in the Name" Rage Against the Machine (1992)

"Killing in the Name" Rage Against the Machine (1992)
Tanya Breen via USA TODAY

Another song fitting for our current political and social climate. Police brutality and systemic racism are at the forefront, but Rage was leading the way in bringing awareness long before. It's quite funny to think that some rock fans think RATM just became a political band. For those who actually need proof that's genuinely not the case, need only listen to its most raw, unabashed and powerful song within a stellar catalog.

 
19 of 25

"Bu$hleaguer," Pearl Jam (2002)

"Bu$hleaguer," Pearl Jam (2002)
Thomas Hawthorne/The Republic/USA TODAY

Not one of Pearl Jam's most popular songs, but arguably its most controversial. The title pretty much says it all. Its frontman Eddie Vedder's shot at former president George W. Bush, specifically insinuating that he's a warmonger and not the diplomatic figure those on the right portray him to be. The band took some heat for the tune, but it did not stop them from continuing to attack another (so-called) republican president. 

 
20 of 25

"Death to My Hometown," Bruce Springsteen (2012)

"Death to My Hometown," Bruce Springsteen (2012)
Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY NETWORK

Not only is it one of Springsteen's most experimental tracks (the celtic vibe), it's arguably his most obvious protest song. From the Wrecking Ball album, Bruce takes aim at failed government policy that, he believed, was directly responsible for the economic fallout and recession from 2007 and 2008. Of course, on the republicans' watch, and coming through the mouth of a staunch liberal.

 
21 of 25

"Glory," Common and John Legend (2014)

"Glory," Common and John Legend (2014)
Democratic National Convention/USA TODAY NETWORK

OK. this is a soundtrack song. Written for the movie Selma, the story of the 1965 civil-rights marches in Alabama. However, it's a powerful piece nonetheless, especially when performed by two of the most popular and respected entertainers of a generation. It won the Academy Award for Best Original Song, and is one that, like many on the this list, quite appropriate for America's current climate.

 
22 of 25

"Alright," Kendrick Lamar (2015)

"Alright," Kendrick Lamar (2015)
Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY

The Grammy-winning tune is certainly one of the highlights of Lamar's brilliant career. It's also become somewhat of an unofficial anthem for the Black Lives Matter movement, which has been at the forefront this spring and summer in the wake of racial and social injustice issues that have consumed America. Arguably one of the most poignant and, possibly, inspirational songs that could end up defining Lamar's legacy.

 
23 of 25

"Million Dollar Loan," Death Cab for Cutie (2016)

"Million Dollar Loan," Death Cab for Cutie (2016)
Chris Caldwell/The Spectrum & Daily News/USA TODAY

One of the most-blatant and celebrated anti-Trump songs out there. It was released as part of the 30 Days, 30 Songs project leading up to the 2016 presidential election - and a way to dissuade voters from pulling the lever for Trump. Of course, we know what happened, but the song is still searing. Attacking Trump's notion that he's a self-made man, rather than the truth that he's essentially squandered his father's fortune.

 
24 of 25

"Land of the Free," Joey Bada$$ (2017)

"Land of the Free," Joey Bada$$ (2017)
Noah K. Murray/USA TODAY Sports

Another anti-Trump song. Geared more to his history of racially-charged ideology and knack for division to stir the pot. In this case, the New York rapper lets it be known that "Donald Trump is not equipped to take this country over." And, "Sorry, America, but I will not be your soldier." It's also one of the most visually powerful music videos of the last decade. 

 
25 of 25

"This Is America," Childish Gambino (2018)

"This Is America," Childish Gambino (2018)
Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY

Leave it to Donald Glover to compact the issues of gun violence, mass shootings and widespread/systemic racism into a mainstream hip-hip hit. The song won four Grammy Awards, including Record of the Year and Best Music Video. Those looking for an introduction into the mind of Glover's musical persona, this is the perfect starting point. 

Jeff Mezydlo has written about sports and entertainment online and for print for more than 25 years. He grew up in the far south suburbs of Chicago, 20 minutes from the Mascot Hall of Fame in Whiting, Ind. He’s also the proud father of 11-year-old Matthew, aka “Bobby Bruin,” mascot of St. Robert Bellarmine School in Chicago. You can follow Jeff at @jeffm401.

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