The story behind the protest song

The story behind the protest song


Join the fight against extreme poverty

Over the next few weeks, we will be highlighting some of the interactive ways you can take part in our protest song project, agit8. In this post, we highlight our protest song playlist, which includes covers and original versions of the world’s most iconic songs. 

Protest songs are classic for a reason – but do you know why? Here are a few surprising facts on why these songs were written: 

Get up, Stand up” by Bob Marley, from the album Burnin 

Bob Marley wrote this song while touring Haiti, where he was deeply moved by its poverty and the lives of Haitians.

Burnin Album Cover


Born in the USA” by Bruce Springsteen, from the album Born in the USA

This song is often misunderstood as a patriotic or nationalistic, when in fact it was written as a tribute to Springsteen’s friends who experienced the Vietnam War, some of whom did not come back.

Born in the USA Album Cover

Talkin’ Bout a Revolution” by Tracy Chapman, from the album Tracy Chapman

Tracy Chapman originally recorded and released the song in 1988 as a means of political consciousness and liberal activism. The song also became incredibly popular in Tunisia during its 2011 revolution.

Tracy Chapman Album Cover


Pride (In The Name of Love) by U2, from the album The Unforgettable Fire

Bono wrote this song about the civil rights movement after being inspired by reading “Let the Trumpet Sound: A Life of Martin Luther King, Jr.” and a biography of Malcolm X.

The Unforgettable Fire Album Cover


Man in Black” by Johnny Cash, from the album Man in Black

Johnny Cash was renowned the “Man in Black” for his traditional on-stage dress, all-black attire with a knee-length, black coat, a strong contrast to the rhinestone suit and cowboy boots worn by many country acts of the day. He wrote this song to explain why he dressed the way he did.

The Man in Black


Big Yellow Taxi” by Joni Mitchell, from the album Ladies of the Canyon

Joni Mitchell wrote this environmental protest song when while traveling Hawaii, she looked outside her hotel window and was struck by the juxtaposition of the mountains in the distance and a parking lot as far as her eyes could see.

Ladies of the Canyon Album Cover

Zombie” by The Cranberries, from the album No Need to Argue

Written during The Cranberries’ English Tour in 1993, the song commemorates the lives of two boys killed in an IRA bombing during the tour.

No Need to Argue


Listen to covers and original versions of the world’s top protest songs here, and click through to discover more surprising facts. 

Join the Conversation

Comment Guidelines