Harp Magazine has just posted up a wonderful interview with Grace Potter, where she picks her top 5 protest songs:
Neil Young “Ohio”
If you listen to the second verse, it’s just “naaaaa, na-na, naaaa, na, naaaa.” It’s ‘cause he said everything he needed to say in the first damn verse. That’s pretty powerful. Not only that, but the song is amazing. I love the instrumentation. One of my biggest pet peeves is when a protest song stomps on its own point by making the music not as good as the lyrics.
Billie Holiday “Strange Fruit”
It was written by a Jewish man, actually, who handed her a poem in a club one night. It’s about a lynching, but what’s so incredible about it is it shares a perspective about not only what African-Americans were going through, but also what Jewish people were [enduring due to the Holocaust]. That’s one of the eeriest songs I’ve ever heard. Every time she sang it, she would not be able to hold her shit together.
Marvin Gaye “What’s Going On”
Once again, like “Ohio,” it’s just—bang. It’s not about the lyrics, but you [understand] them later… It kinda seeps into your subconscious and I really dig that.
The Rolling Stones “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”
It’s not necessarily a protest song but it’s got one little lyric in it that I absolutely love that kinda puts this visual in my head. “I went down to the demonstration.” There’s panic in that lyric. “We gonna vent our frustration/if we don’t, we’ll blow a 50-amp fuse.” I thought that was an interesting whiplash back at protest songs, basically saying protesters can be just as bratty as the worst Republican, money-grubbing asshole.
Rage Against the Machine “Killing in the Name”
It just goes for the throat. There’s no shame, there’s no self-awareness. It’s just, boom.
And Grace's own, wonderful protest song:
Ah Mary - Grace Potter and the Nocturnals