30 Jul

Songs for Social Change, Love and Empowerment

We are at a crisis. The kids are aurally out of control in our house, without direction, or without foundation. They are listening solely to…<gasp>…POP MUSIC. This intervention was born out of necessity, and out of a loving desire to save the kids from audio hell.

Photo Credit by Irish Typepad

Photo Credit by Irish Typepad

Okay, maybe that is a bit of hyperbole. But only just a bit. This list was truly born as my kids began exploring their musical selves, gravitating toward music (as we all did) through popular music.

As a bit of background, I love music. Music moves my world and moves my soul. In many ways it is a centerpiece to my life, it is always with me, and I am immersed in it. I can mark life events through the songs and albums, and even use music to help me navigate feelings and emotions. Music is multi-dimensional poetry.

Because of this, I wanted to help develop a strong foundation for the kids in music, on the various formulations, on the various histories, and how music is, in many ways, a map our cultural history. I wanted them to understand the connections between the songs they are listening to today and the songs of the past.

In the beginning, the pop songs that the kids were listening to were innocent enough, very catchy and saccharine, inoffensive, with a short shelf life. It was manageable (for me, anyway). As our eldest son has approached the cusp of the teen years, however, the songs bordered on the (if not outright were) offensive, and the themes were more expansive. The songs were not just about love anymore, but also about lust, sex, alcohol and drugs, and, more concerning, about reinforcing particular cultural norms of sexism, genderism, homophobia, racism, dominance, and classism.

All of music has cultural messages embedded in it, and, until the kids have the tools to nuance the music from the cultural messages, it was important for me to counter-program the social messages in the music they were listening to. Like almost every other aspect of radical parenting and raising loving, peaceful, and justice-oriented children, this was another area for me to leverage some influence.

I decided the theme would be: “songs for social change, love, and empowerment.” Initially the list was over 200 songs, culled from my experience and from music-loving friends. It was impressive, and it felt overwhelming and unfocused. I started to categorize the music by genres, but it quickly became clear that the categories didn’t matter: it was about the content and the message of the songs, and those transcended the labels. As I pared down the list, I realized how difficult it is to come up with a list. In keeping with the focus of the theme, I had to cut a lot of brilliant and amazing music—music that i want my kids to listen to—because it did not fit into the theme, and I had to make choices. But there is more, much more, that I hope my kids will hear, and my hope is that this list is a gift that helps them find more new and amazing sounds.

As a last thought, I have discovered that much of the music in this list has informed my social consciousness, and that, now, my social consciousness is informing the music I listen to.  It is a powerful cycle that I hope positively develops within my children, and this next generation.

As a caveat, this is not a complete list and there are definitely missing songs that would fit well into this list. I discovered in putting this list together, that music is also a map our individual consciousness over time. I am limited by the paradigm into which I was raised; as such, the list is mostly male performers, and mostly music from black/african-american and white communities. I notice that my musical consciousness is missing songs from many other communities in the world. In this process of making this list for my kids, I have realized that I have my own work to do, to continue to build and expand my understanding of the world through music, especially because it is so central to my being. (I’ll report on my progress in a coming issue).  This list, though, serves as a collection point and a starting place.

I offer this list in the hopes that it helps other parents and children expand consciousness. I’d love to hear back from the readers on what might be on your list as well.

  • A Change is Gonna Come—Sam Cooke
  • A Church Is Burning—Simon & Garfunkel
  • American Idiot—Green Day
  • Anarchy In the U.K.—Sex Pistols
  • Blackbird—The Beatles
  • Blowin’ In the Wind—Peter, Paul, and Mary
  • Born in the USA—Bruce Springsteen
  • Brave—Sara Bareilles
  • California Dreaming—Mamas & The Papas
  • Carry Love—Omaya
  • Change It All—Goapele
  • Change—Blind Melon
  • Changes—2Pac & Talent
  • Changes—David Bowie
  • Check the Rhime—A Tribe Called Quest
  • Compared to What—Les McCann & Eddie Harris
  • Corduroy—Pearl Jam
  • Crazy Horse—John Trudell
  • Crazy Life—Toad the Wet Sprocket
  • Defying Gravity—Wicked
  • Don’t Drink the Water—Dave Matthews Band
  • Evangeline—Los Lobos
  • Everything Possible—Flirtations
  • Exodus—Bob Marley
  • Fight The Power—Public Enemy
  • Gay Vatos in Love—Ozomatli
  • Get By—Talib Kweli
  • Get Up, Stand Up—Peter Tosh
  • Hard Times—John Legend & The Roots
  • Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise—The Avett Brothers
  • Hey Jude—The Beatles
  • I Am Resistance—Rico Pabon
  • I Hope You Dance—Lee Ann Womack
  • I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free—Nina Simone
  • I’ll Cover You—Rent: Original Broadway Cast
  • If I Had A Hammer—Peter Paul & Mary
  • Imagine—John Lennon
  • In or Out—Ani Difranco
  • Independent Women, Pt. I—Destiny’s Child
  • Inner City Blues—Marvin Gaye
  • Is Love Enough—Michael Franti & Spearhead
  • It’s Movement Time—Las Cafeteras
  • Jails & Bombs—Amos Lee
  • Just Do You—India.Arie
  • Like a Rolling Stone—Bob Dylan
  • London Calling—The Clash
  • Love and Only Love—Neil Young & Crazy Horse
  • Lovely Day—Bill Withers
  • Man In the Mirror—Michael Jackson
  • Me, Myself and I—De La Soul
  • Mean—Tailor Swift
  • Mighty Mighty—Earth, Wind & Fire
  • Money Made You Mean—Indigo Girls
  • Mr Wendal—Arrested Development
  • Ohio—Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young
  • Old Man—Neil Young
  • One—Metallica
  • One—U2
  • People Are People—Depeche Mode
  • People Get Ready—Curtis Mayfield & The Impressions
  • Perfect World—Indigo Girls
  • Ramble On by Led Zeppelin
  • Redemption Song—Bob Marley
  • Respect—Aretha Franklin
  • Revolution—The Beatles
  • Same Love—Macklamore & Ryan Lewis
  • Shed a Little Light—James Taylor
  • Someday We’ll All Be Free—Donnie Hathaway
  • Street Fighting Man—Rolling Stones
  • Streets of Philadelphia—Brice Springsteen
  • Sure Shot—Beastie Boys
  • Talkin’ ‘Bout A Revolution—Tracy Chapman
  • Testify—Rage Against the Machine
  • The Grind Date—De La Soul
  • The Harder They Come—Jimmy Cliff
  • The Light—Common
  • The Message—Grandmaster Flash and the Furious 5
  • The Times They Are a-Changin’—Bob Dylan
  • This Woman’s Work- Kate Bush
  • Tick Tock—Vaughan Brothers
  • True Faith—New Order
  • U.N.I.T.Y.—Queen Latifah
  • U2—Pride (In the Name of Love)
  • Under Pressure—Queen & David Bowie
  • Union Song—The Nightwatchman
  • Voices Carry—’Til Tuesday
  • Waiting On the World to Change—John Mayer
  • Wake up Everybody—Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes
  • What a Good Boy—Barenaked Ladies
  • What’s Going On—Marvin Gaye
  • Where is the Love?—Black Eyed Peas
  • Whine and Grine/Stand Down Margaret—English Beat
  • With My Two Hands—Ben Harper
  • Woman in Chains—Tears for Fears