Politics and music seem to go hand-in-hand, with music being the easiest medium of art to voice your opinions on politics while getting a massive amount of people to hear the message. Over the years, there have been plenty of politically charged songs with some of them having a lasting impression that would resonate for decades. Here are our picks for five songs that changed political discourse the most upon their release.
“Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival
To this day, whenever we see someone that was able to avoid being drafted into the Vietnam War, we assume that they had rich connections. Even eventual President Donald Trump was subject to this criticism as he avoided the war due to bone spurs. That didn’t stop Trump from using it as a campaign song, much to the chagrin of Creedence Clearwater Revival, issuing a cease and desist order.
“Kids did not support the Vietnam War,” CCR lead singer John Fogerty said. “Also, there was a draft, which meant that many of the young men were going to be conscripted into the military. Perhaps against their will.” Fogerty added that “People like me who didn’t support the war and thought it was kind of a stupid foreign policy…but I was drafted, and at some point, you stop kicking and screaming and do your duty.”
“Born in the U.S.A.” by Bruce Springsteen
Another one of those songs that’s played by certain politicians who apparently never listened to the lyrics is “Born in the U.S.A.” by Bruce Springsteen. Released in 1984, “Born in the U.S.A.” is an upbeat rock-pop tune, but the lyrics tell a sad story. That story is of a Vietnam veteran who returns to America without purpose and is left unwanted by his government and family. It’s heartbreaking when you hear a more broken-down version of the song that has a patriotic feeling in its album form.
“When you think about all the young men and women that died in Vietnam, and how many died since they’ve been back – surviving the war and coming back and not surviving – you have to think that, at the time, the country took advantage of their selflessness,” Springsteen said. “There was a moment when they were just really generous with their lives.”
“Fight the Power” by Public Enemy
While the first two songs were wrapped up in a nice pop-y package, “Fight the Power” was an angry-sounding tune from front to back. Released as part of the soundtrack for Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing”, “Fight the Power” was an anthem against the abuse of said power that’s used by law enforcement and the government. In 1989, the song was released and made it to the top of the rap charts in the United States.
“There was a lot of civil and racial unrest in New York because certain areas where people lived were being taken care of and other areas were neglected,” Chuck D said. “And the areas that were neglected, for years, had no representation, enforcement, or education.”
“American Idiot” by Green Day
Green Day had made just a handful of political statements throughout their heyday in the 1990s, but in the mid-2000s, the band went full-on political with the release of their album “American Idiot”. The title track of the album was released in 2004 and became a massive statement against the state of American politics. George W. Bush was up for re-election, and “American Idiot” seemed like a lengthy letter to get him out of office.
“It was very important to me when I was writing the lyrics for this album that the things I’m singing about are personal,” lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong said. “So even the things that are political have to have a personal element to them.”
“This is America” by Childish Gambino
In the late 2010s, America seemed to be more divided than it had been in decades, and the country needed a song to encapsulate the feelings that were happening. Under his stage name Childish Gambino, Donald Glover released the track “This is America” in May 2018 and it instantly drew attention. The song itself made plenty of statements, but the video is what really had people talking for months.
Glover remained fairly silent on the meaning of each scene from the video. “I just wanted to make a good song,” he said. “Like something that people could play on Fourth of Julys.” It wasn’t until five years later that Glover said the song “started as a joke.” He added that it started as a diss track toward Drake, but the beat was “kind of hard” and transformed into what we all heard in 2018.