1960's Protest Songs

By learning about 1960's protest songs, and the politics of the era, students can broaden their understanding of music and history.

By Barbara Moseley

1960's protest songs

Political protest through music did not start or stop in the 1960's.  However, this was a very significant time with one of the most complex generation gaps.  Rock and Roll was intrinsic to the political and social movement.  This generation was swept off its feet by Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Marvin Gaye, and John Lennon, to name a few.  These song writers were not afraid to sing in protest of the government, the "man", and all that had been considered sacred by the past generation. Lesson plans about the 1960's will come together when listening to "What's Going On"  by Marvin Gaye or "Give Peace A Chance" by John Lennon referring to the anti-Vietnam sentiment that began stirring as troops were dying or getting sent home to tell their tales. 

In the 1960's the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War became the hot topics in every home. Oddly enough, most of the children of this generation grew up watching 1950's pro-war propaganda. With increasing polarization, and intense fear and anger being generated, one could turn on the radio and hear a song such as; "For What It's Worth" by Stephen Stills, and the match was struck. Listeners were ripe, and writers were on fire with inspiration.  Listen to the lyrics, and even now your pulse will start to race and tears may start to well up.

Another powerful song is, "Respect" by Aretha Franklin, which is synonymous with the Women's Rights and the Civil Rights Movements.  Ask your students to imagine a life with no respect; what are the ramifications of living without it?  To the current listener, all of the meaning could easily be lost, but in context of the times, it is a powerful testament.

Society comes together with music, and with the current changes in media, it is important to reflect and seize the power of what we listen to and remember that a simple song can change the minds and hearts of a country. Have your students listen to "Respect" and "For What It's Worth" and challenge them to analyze the lyric content.  Ask your students questions about the songs they listen to, and how they affect or reflect their thoughts about the government and their experiences as an American citizen.  Greenday is a great current band to have discussions about.

Lesson Plans for 1960's Protest Songs:

The 1960's Through Music:  Students will gain an understanding of the controversial and complex nature of the era.

A Song for Every Headline:  There are lessons for music and social studies classes for grades 9-12.

Patriotism and Protest:  Students analyze songs from the American Revolution, WWI, and the Vietnam War. 

A Survey of the Women's Liberation Movement:  Students listen to and discuss music relating to the Women's Liberation Movement.

Pearl Jam Story Tellers:  Students will explain the lyrics of various songs that have changed over time to illustrate the use of music as a medium for social protest.


Music Guide

Barbara Moseley