Protest Rock


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The musical genre of Rock and Roll has long been known for its elements of social protest. A lot of protest rock was triggered by the Viet Nam war and the resultant social unrest. Some of the notable songs of the era, such as John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance,” were a general reproach to the chaos of life in the late 60s/early 70s. Others, like Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s “Ohio” were written in response to a specific event, the Kent State shootings.

One of the best protest songs ever written was “Ball of Confusion,” written by Norman Whitfield for the Temptations in 1970. You can hear the song and check out the lyrics here. In addition to being a prime example of the Motown Sound, “Ball of Confusion” is a microcosm of life in 1970. The lyrics contain references to the following social issues:

  • Discrimination
  • Racial tensions
  • Violence
  • Teenage Sexual Activity
  • Gun Control
  • Taxes
  • War
  • Role of Government
  • The Draft
  • Drug Use
  • Evolution vs Creationism
  • Suicide
  • Unemployment

That list looks pretty familiar, doesn’t it? In fact, if one were to replace the line “the Beatle’s new record’s a gas” with something like “(Lady) Gaga’s new record’s a gas,” that song could have been written today. That timelessness says a lot about Mr. Whitfield’s song writing ability. Interestingly, this was one of the few protest songs the Temptations recorded.

What amazes me is that forty some years after that song was written NOTHING HAS CHANGED! Think about that for a minute. What does that say about our society? Discuss.


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