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There were many songs in the rock era that project a strong message. Love will always be the most popular reason for singing a song, but it’s not the only reason. I’m going to pick out several songs that span the rock era that I thought have a strong message. I’m not going into rap or hip-hop; I leave that to the younger people. There are many more. Please come up with some good ones and add them in the comments.
When I think about songs with a message I have to think back to the Vietnam War. There were many songs written in protest of the war. Some of them were good and some were rabble rousing for the express purpose of selling records.
Steppenwolf was a hard rock band in the late sixties and early seventies. The lead singer of Steppenwolf, Johnny Kay, knew something about what it feels like to be free. His family lived through Nazi Germany and he escaped East Germany to the freedom of the west when he was four years old. Of course Steppenwolf will always be remembered for “Born to be Wild” and “Magic Carpet Ride” but the band tackled political issues with a vengeance.
Songs like “Don’t Step on the Grass Sam” told you exactly where they stood. The song that I remember most was “Monster”. This was a ten minute plea to maintain the freedom that America was known for around the world. It went a little overboard taking the bad things in American history out of context but he was trying to make a point. The point, in my mind, was that it wasn’t the government’s problem when it gets out of hand; it’s the people’s problem. The line, “The people grew fat and grew lazy; now the vote is just a meaningless tool,” reflects exactly what I mean. Not too many writers of protest songs put the problem back on the voters.
Kenny Rogers is known for his songs that straddled the genres of rock and country. He did several good story songs including “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town,” but the song “Rueben James” really told of the struggles of a good African/American man trying to rear an orphan white boy in the south in the sixties. It spoke of the attitude in the south at that time quite plainly with lines like, “You’re just a no account sharecropping colored man and you’d steal anything you can. And everyone laid the blame on Rueben James.”
Later Don Henely sang about how things start out so simple when you’re young. How there is good and bad, and then you learn that the people that you think are good aren’t always good and there is something called rationalization. The song was “The End of the Innocence.” It also speaks to sending our young people off to war with the lyrics, “Oh beautiful for spacious skies. But now those skies are threating. They’re beating plowshares into swords for this tired old man we elected king.”
That was a good song but my favorite Don Henely song was “Dirty Laundry.” That song really hammered the news media with lines like, “The bubble headed bleach blonde comes on at five. She can tell you about a plane crash with a gleam in her eye.” I guess some reporter really got old Don mad.
More recently the song “What It’s Like” by Everlast brought home the message of “Walk a mile in my shoes before you judge me”. Eric Schrody, a former front man for the rap group House of Pain, preformed “What It’s Like” under the name Everlast. He is a singer-song writer of Irish/American heritage.
What It’s Like appeared on Everlast’s second album “Whitey Ford Sings the Blues” in 1998. It is a song broken into three little stories about people down on their luck and how the world judges them. It is a good song to spark debate because it brings up issues of panhandling, abortion, and families of drug users. The lyrics are straight forward and hard hitting and they will make you think the next time you are ready to condemn someone.
Those are my picks. Tell me some songs with a message that you remember.