The song remains the same

In the 1960s and 1970s several musicians tried to change the world through their music. The 'protest songs' of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Neil Young and The Byrds gained a lot of air play, particularly on the pirate radio stations, as they sought to raise awareness of the dangers of nuclear weapons, the futility of the Vietnam War, or the need for greater equality, justice and freedom.

The late 1970s saw the emergence of an even more angry genre of music - punk rock exploded on the scene, grabbing attention, causing controversy and piquing our social awareness through the raw energy of The Sex Pistols, The Clash and Patti Smith, and political awareness flowed freely from the lyrics of Billy Bragg, UB40 and a number of other home grown UK bands in the 1980s. They railed against corporate greed, and called out for equality, justice and freedom (again). If we were cynical we would point out that they also became wealthy off the back of their record sales. Most recently, Hip Hop outfits such as Public Enemy have tried to tap into the power of the beat to challenge the status quo, change people's minds and drag them from their comfortable lethargy into political activism but they have a limited audience. Pink's 'Dear Mr President' held currency for a while, but a new president with a new agenda may have drawn some of its potency.

Political movements have risen from songs. Remember 'Stand Down Margaret', and 'Free Nelson Mandela', or 'Biko' (Peter Gabriel). But ultimately what has been the legacy of these music movements? Did they really change much at all? And what is the alternative now that music seems to have lapsed into its own lethargic morass of the X-Factor style 'karoake' culture?

Gil Scott-Heron sang 'The Revolution will not be Televised', but the times they are a-changing, and people now have mobile TV and Radio studios and newspaper presses in their pockets. We have witnessed the evidence that the use of mobile phones by citizen journalists has raised public awareness to the injustices, tragedies and disasters occurring across the globe - as they happen, and at the scene. Sometimes several hours ahead of the major media channels - instant messages, texting and other live networking has raised our awareness that there are riots on the streets of Iran, or that a major incident is happening somewhere in the world. YouTube videos, Flickr photographs and blog reports provide us with the content that informs, circumventing the mainstream media, and undermining the repressive control methods of those in power.

In the next few years there will be a rise in the use of citizen journalism, just as there will be a rise in the number of free internet channels that will be open for all to use. Perhaps we don't need the protest song anymore. The song remains the same, but the tools have changed. And they may be a lot more effective. Government ministers and those who wield the power will be looking over their shoulders with increasing regularity, as citizen observers with powerful links to the world ensure that they do the best for their country.

And that can only be a good thing, can't it?

Image source


Nick said…
It's a good thing, for sure, if you have nothing to hide! Trouble is, all those people with plenty to hide are the same ones hired to set the agenda and draft our laws. The result is the nonsense we see over protecting intellectual property and 'three strikes and you're out' and all that rot!

If the citizen-journalist pushes, how hard do those with something to hide push back?

So the song does indeed remain the same for 'twas ever thus!
geordie_online said…
Our college is providing guest speakers to come in chat with our young learners about politics and the election to inspire them to make a choice. However, in traditional politics the young learners feel that they cannot make a difference and discussions are made without their consent. Therefor what is the point of voting.

Citizen journalism gives them a chance to feel that they are taking part in decision making and helping change opinions. As far as I can see protest songs are finished and the people in charge need to be aware of what is being said in cyberspace. Though they must be careful not to pander to any old whim or fad that presents itself.
Nick Sharratt said…
Did the music you cite start a movement or did their popularity and creation mearly reflect the zeitgeist?

If the later then maybe that's what the production line pop of the x-factor is doing too - depressing as that would be.
Nick Sharratt said…
I think this article makes interesting reading in this context too:
Felix said…
And don't forget that, ultimately, the power to block orpull the plug remains with the same corporate controllers who got even richer than the songsters who made the records in the 60s.

I was a hippy; I believed that the world would change. Well, it did change, and for the better, and I'm glad of it ... but more fuzzily than I hoped, less than I hoped, and in fewer ways than I hoped.

The new communications are world changing, in the same way that invention of writing, and printing, and the telegraph or telephone, and mass literacy/numeracy were world changing − they give new power to populations and individuals, but also to TPTB. The price of liberty is not just eternal vigilence, but also eternal determination to use new tools smarter and in more fluid, inventive ways than those which “the system” can mobilise.
geordie_online said…
Seems that not all political songs have gone.

While listening to (a social network for songs) a friend thought I would like
John Mayer - Waiting for Change.

Seems like social networks have a place in spreading political songs.
ffolliet said…
I don't think the song remains the same. Surely the people have different means of expression now and the effect that Facebook (Rage Against the Machine- Killing in the Name) and Twitter (The Iranian Election issues) can have is clear.

Gil Scott Heron could not forsee the future in his poetic rap but actually the Revolutions (whether they are against musical hegemony, electoral fraud or whatever else comes up) WILL be televised but in a way none of us could predict either back then or even now.

The future is hopeful and the people of the world WILL continue to make music about it. None of those protest songs were really from the establishment (althought those may be seen as that now) but people are still being angry and disagreeing and making music and maybe their song will be Christmas No1 next year?

I feel the song remains the same but different voices are singing it.

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