Songs For Protest: 23 Best Protest Songs Of The 20th Century – Influential Protest Songs from the 1960s-80s

25 Best Protest Songs of the 20th Century - Influential Protest Songs from the 1960s-80s - Most Famous Protest Songs of All Time

The power of music has long been used to inspire social change, raise awareness and provide a voice for the voiceless.

Protest songs have played their part in this positive transformation, becoming anthems for social justice movements and beloved songs that remain timeless.

In this blog post, let’s take a look at some of the most famous songs for protest throughout history and what they can teach us today.

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#1. Top 7 Most Famous Protest Songs of the 20th Century

Get an insight into the history of politics through music the best political songs ever recorded! Uncover timeless hits.

1. “We Shall Overcome” by Pete Seeger

This protest song was one of the most iconic during the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s and is still so powerful today.

It is written in the folk style, with a simple repeating chorus and meaningful verses.

The powerful message of unity and perseverance despite adversity makes this song an anthem for all those fighting for justice everywhere.

2. “Goodnight Irene” by LeadBelly

Lead Belly wrote this civil rights song to bring attention to violence against black people in the early 1900s, and it soon became a rallying cry for social change.

This traditional blues song follows the story of Lead Belly’s friend Irene, who was murdered after getting involved in a dispute with white men. Its raw emotion and direct lyrics make it an unforgettable protest ballad.

3. “Strange Fruit” by Billie Holiday

This famous anti-racism song was written about the horrific lynching of African Americans that occurred throughout history.

The haunting melody sung over surrealist lyrics paints a vivid picture that still sticks with listeners to this day.

This song has been beloved since its release in 1939 and remains one of the most important protest songs ever written.

4. “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around” by Sweet Honey in the Rock

Originally performed during the Selma voting rights marches in 1965. This song quickly gained attention as an uplifting tune to rally people together while protesting oppression and injustice inflicted upon African Americans during that time period.

Driven by soul-stirring vocals and hard-hitting instrumentation, this protest anthem leaves an unmistakable mark on everyone who hears it.

5. “Revolution” by The Beatles

The opening track from their iconic album Abbey Road. Revolution calls out political issues such as war, poverty, pollution, and consumer culture, that were relevant not only during its 1968 release but remain prominent even now.

Its driving rhythm and piercing guitar riffs lend it further power; making it enduringly popular among activists for generations to come.

6.”Blowin’ In The Wind” by Bob Dylan

One of Bob Dylan’s most famous songs speaks volumes about equality: “How many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man?”

Asking us to challenge social stereotypes then,  and even now about entire people groups being judged unfairly because they look or act differently than others!

Although first released more than half a century ago, its powerful message remains relevant today as we continue striving for true justice across cultures globally

7. “Imagines” by John Lennon

John Lennon’s 1971 single speaks out strongly against racism,  particularly towards African Americans.   It also touches on other topics concerning intolerance such as censorship or materialism with his deeply touching plea: “Imagine no possessions / I wonder if you can”.

As heartfelt as it is thought-provoking, “Imagine” serves as a lasting legacy that continues resonating generations later– painting an emotional picture to mobilize us to protect human dignity around us

#2. Top 11 Best Protest Songs of the 60s and 70s

Discover the greatest political songs of the 60s and 70s! From folk classics to funk anthems, there are plenty of musical gems to explore right here.

1. Get Up, Stand Up by Bob Marley

This song was released in 1973 and is largely regarded as one of the most important protest songs in history.

The song focuses on civil rights struggles and calls for people to stand up and fight for their rights. The chorus “get up, stand up, don’t give up the fight” has become a rallying cry for generations of protesters around the world.

2. We Shall Overcome by Pete Seeger

This folk classic was released in 1959 and popularized by activists during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

The song has become an anthem for social justice movements all over the world, with its empowering message of overcoming difficult situations through unity and perseverance.

3. Fortunate Son by Creedence Clearwater Revival

Originally released in 1969, this anti-war song became one of the defining songs of the Vietnam War era as well as subsequent wars around the world.

It speaks out against government hypocrisy while lamenting that only those with money or power can truly avoid military service or hardship faced by soldiers on the battlefield.

4. Ohio by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

This song was released in 1970 during a time when anti-war sentiment had reached a peak.

It speaks directly about four students who were killed at Kent State University after a clash between students and National Guardsmen at an anti-war demonstration there earlier that year.

The heartbreaking lyrics lament violence used to suppress dissent while sending an ominous warning that if this violence continues “it’s gonna be murder”.

5. Midnight Special by Leadbelly

Released in 1934 but later adapted into a larger form by other artists such as Creedence Clearwater Revival.

This folk classic is known to many today as a protest song against racism and inequality throughout American history, particularly under segregation laws enacted during times of deep racial tension across America only decades prior to then.

6. F–k tha Police by NWA

Focused on police brutality towards people living in inner cities throughout America during its release date in 1989.

This gangsta rap single calls attention to systemic racism and abuse from law enforcement officers that continue to affect many communities today despite advances made over recent decades.

7. Sign ‘O’ The Times by Prince

Released In 1987 this funk-inspired track dares to speak out about struggles indigenous people have gone through which sadly lingers today racial profiling and displacement from aboriginal lands.

Prince mixes modern-day news reports with powerful music. This piece gives us an understanding of what it was like living through these times.

He also aimed to have fans scrutinize their surroundings more closely so we can learn from our past mistakes

8. “For What It’s Worth” by Buffalo Springfield (1967)

This 1960s classic song is an anthem for social change and peaceful protests. It was written in the aftermath of witnessing a demonstration against the closing of a popular club in Los Angeles called Pandora’s Box.

The lyrics urge young people to make sure their voices are heard and it has become one of the most iconic protest songs of all time.

9. “Get Up, Stand Up” by Bob Marley & The Wailers (1973)

Originally released as a single, this song quickly became an anthem for freedom and justice around the globe.

With its unmistakable island beat, inspirational message, and passionate delivery, “Get Up, Stand Up” is one of the defining protest songs of its era – and still resonates today.

10. “The Times They Are A-Changin'” by Bob Dylan (1964)

One of Bob Dylan’s most iconic tunes is no doubt his 1964 ode to changing times.

The pivotal protest song serves as an anthem for anyone who stands up in a challenge to society’s injustices and does it with powerful poetic verses that transcend generations.

11. “What’s Going On?” by Marvin Gaye (1971)

This timeless R&B classic tackled some tough issues such as war and civil unrest that resonated with millions upon its release in 1971. It still does today more than 45 years later!

Not only did it spark conversation but also proved to be an amazing vehicle for meaningful change that happened through Gaye’s advocacy work throughout his lifetime.

#3. Top 5 Most Popular Songs That Protest The Vietnam War

1. “Blowin’ in the Wind” by Peter, Paul and Mary

Released in 1962, “Blowin’ in the Wind” is an iconic protest anthem that gained worldwide prominence during the Civil Rights Movement and Vietnam War era.

The song is a prophetic plea for justice asking “how many times must the cannonballs fly before they are forever banned?”

2. “Eve of Destruction” by Barry McGuire

This 1965 protest song written by P.F Sloan expresses anti-nuclear sentiments with menacing tones of discordance and fear.

And stating how Vietnam was leading young men to unnecessary death without any good cause.

3. “Ohio” by Crosby, Stills and Nash

Released shortly after the Kent State Massacre which left four students dead and nine others wounded after Ohio National Guard officers opened fire on those protesting against Nixon’s decision to expand the war into Cambodia.

This 1970 single pleads for peace with its poetic lyrics offering comfort following these events: “tin soldiers & Nixon’s coming…we’re finally on our own”.

4.”Give Peace a Chance” by Plastic Ono Band

John Lennon and Yoko Ono wrote this 1969 song as part of their long-standing campaign for world peace.

Notably taking a stand against American involvement in Vietnam.

It ultimately became a popular chant during antiwar protests around North America during this time period with thousands clapping along and chanting “all we are saying…is give peace a chance”!

5.”Draft Dodger Rag (Laugh Now)”by Phil Ochs

Throughout his career, Phil Ochs was known for being one of the most celebrated iconic forces behind 1960/70s protest music.

His satirical comedic take features spirited spoken word sections interlaced over twangy guitar riffs all while poking fun at draft dodgers in an attempt to bring awareness towards selective service law enforcement operations happening during Vietnam. It eventually loosened up with the passage of draft lottery legislation put forth months later

What makes a good protest song?

A good protest song is one that speaks to the emotions and motivations of those it is targeting. It should have a powerful chorus and vivid imagery, as well as a clear purpose.

Lyrics should be direct and political while also being relatable on an emotional level. It should be catchy and inspiring in order to motivate people to take action.

When were protest songs most popular?

Protest songs have been around for centuries and have experienced periods of great popularity from the 1960s to today.

In the 1960s, protest songs reached a peak in popularity with Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” and Phil Ochs’s “Power and Glory”.

The 1970s saw a resurgence of popular folk music which also featured protest elements, including Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s classic anthem “Ohio”.

In more recent years, hip-hop has become one of the main vehicles for protest song lyrics. Rappers like Kendrick Lamar and Killer Mike have released some powerful social justice anthems that have connected with large audiences around the world.

Why is protest music so powerful?

Protest music has the power to capture and communicate the struggles, stories, and emotions of a group of people in ways that are meaningful and inspiring.

Through its use of melody and lyrics, it can inspire feelings of courage, strength, resilience, and unity in individuals who may otherwise feel powerless, while also providing a platform to discuss societal issues in an accessible way.

Additionally, many protest songs are able to express urgent messages quickly which is especially important at a time when social movements and their message can easily be diluted or pushed aside.


Below are some FAQs about songs for protest:

What is a protest song in music?

A protest song is a song that is specifically written to advocate for a cause or to protest a particular injustice.

Generally, these types of songs reflect the feelings of social and political frustration among the common people.

Protest songs may also help to support existing movements and rally supporters, or introduce new ideas and stoke further conversations about important issues.

What is an example of a protest song?

A “protest song” is a musical composition that focuses on expressing social and/or political dissatisfaction.

These songs often employ messages of protest and serve to rally the public around certain causes and demands.

Protest songs are typically performed with the intent of inspiring and motivating listeners to take action, either in support or opposition to a particular issue.

Examples include Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind,” John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance,” and Rage Against The Machine’s “Killing In The Name.”

What is the most historically significant protest song?

Answer: Many protest songs have been created over the years, but a few stand out as iconic and enduring symbols of collective action.

From Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ In The Wind” to Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit,” these songs often capture the essence of social movements and provide motivation for change.

What is the most political song ever?

One of the most iconic political songs is John Lennon’s “Imagine,” which was released in 1971 as an anthem for world peace.

Other popular examples include Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up” and Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing in the Name,” both of which strongly advance their political messages.

Who was known for protest songs?

Bob Dylan was widely known for being a prolific protest songwriter in the 1960s. He penned classics like “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Times They Are A-Changin'” which helped give voice to the civil rights and anti-war movements during that time.

What is the most famous protest?

One of the most famous and iconic protests in history is the 1968 ‘March on Washington’ which was held in Washington D.C., USA.

It was a civil rights demonstration that was organized by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and 250,000–300,000 demonstrators attended to protest injustices towards Black Americans at the time.

Many consider this as a seminal moment of the Civil Rights Movement as it helped to gain more recognition for their plight and brought people together across race, religion, and gender in support of their cause.

What was the first protest song?

Many historians credit a folk song called “We Shall Overcome” as the first protest song, with its roots in slavery and the civil rights movement.

Originally recorded in 1947 by the famous gospel singer Rev. Charles Albert Tindley, it quickly spread throughout radical communities, inspiring social change in both words and deeds. Inspired by this early success, other protest songs soon emerged to address issues like injustice and inequality.

What songs have motivated social movements?

Over the years there have been many songs that have helped to motivate social movements around the world.

Some of the most famous include:

  1. John Lennon’s “Imagine”
  2. U2’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “Pride (In the Name of Love)”
  3. Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up”
  4. Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA”
  5. Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday”
  6. Beyoncé’s “Run the World (Girls)”

Do protest songs make a difference?

While there is no one answer to this question, it is clear that protest songs have had a powerful impact on history.

Whether used to rally people around a cause or galvanize public opinion, protest songs have been an important part of social justice movements throughout the ages.

From Woody Guthrie to Kendrick Lamar, artists have used music to inspire change and raise awareness of social issues. By unifying voices and sentiments in powerful ways, protest songs can make a difference.


In conclusion, protest songs are an incredibly important tool for sharing and expressing views on topics ranging from civil rights to environmentalism.

They can be powerful motivators for large-scale social change, as well as remind us of the importance of standing up for what we believe in and not being afraid to voice our opinions.

Protest songs have long played a vital role in advocating for positive change and they will continue to do so as long as they remain relevant.

The Vietnam War was one of the most controversial events in modern history. Music played an important role in the protests against it and many musicians wrote songs to convey their dissent.

These songs, with their powerful lyrics, moving music, and creative energy, reminded people of the true cost of war and provided a platform for those who wanted to make their voices heard.

Today these songs still serve as a reminder that freedom should never be taken for granted and that we must always strive for peace.

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