Marching Solidarity Songs
February 1, 2017 11:02 AM   Subscribe

Marching Solidarity Songs
I keep talking about songs to sing at protests, right? Well, here's a list of things that more or less seem to go over well, which I am currently curating and tweaking to hit the songs that seem to be most useful for the most people marching today. I'm aiming to keep this list relatively lean at under 50 songs so that it's a little easier to find something that works at any given moment, because existing lists seem sort of bloated and hard to organize. Works best if you have a paid version of Spotify that can use the "up next" feature to pick and choose what gets played when, and also maybe a portable bluetooth speaker.

The list is collaborative, so feel free to add things, but also please do not feel bad if I prune them down again. Again, trying to keep this thing workable--I'm pruning plenty of songs I personally love when crowds don't respond too well, and actually including a few things I don't personally care for. (Look, I'm really sorry, but I don't really like the Beatles very much. But people know Revolution, so it's on here.)

Current observations and takeaways:
-Songs from popular musicals and Broadway plays are 100% awesome, in part because they tend to be well known and memorized by exactly the kind of nerds who are most enthusiastic about singing along. Very popular.
-Popular pop songs, like Lily Allen's Fuck You, appear particularly popular among young women. Generally, the more popular the song, the better it plays out and the more likely people are to know the lyrics and sing along.
-Some of the old patriotic folk songs, like This Land is My Land and America the Beautiful, work real well because many people were taught them in elementary school. Sometimes they make people feel all uncomfortable. Know your audience. (This Land Is My Land: particularly good for immigration related protests.)
-No one really sings along to a few of the most appropriate lyrical songs on this list, mostly because almost no one remembers them. Conspicuous examples include Bread and Roses, Solidarity Forever, and We Shall Overcome. I have included some anyway because the best way to get us all learning them again is to go out and sing them, but read the crowd and consider whether people want to learn something new or just get used to the idea of singing in public at all.

Songs that I have noticed going down especially well, in order of most enthusiastic down:
Lean on Me - Bill Withers
Get Up, Stand Up - The Wailers
Do You Hear the People Sing? - Les Miserables soundtrack
The Story of Tonight - Hamilton soundtrack
Seasons of Love - RENT
I'm Not Ready to Make Nice - Dixie Chicks
Fuck You - Lily Allen
This Land Is Your Land
Battle Hymn of the Republic (although some people *will* accidentally start singing "Mine Eyes Have Seen The Glory Of The Burning of the School" by mistake)
Revolution - Beatles

A note on choosing specific recordings, if you, like me, are doing the bluetooth speaker thing because carrying around musical instruments sounds way too fucking scary: try to pick ones that are good quality with minimal warbling and strumming of music. Yes, I know, I like warbly folk music too, but a lot of people don't and they are going to start sulking immediately if they think you are going to play up to their expectations of protest music being terrible if enthusiastic folk. Read your crowd.

Final note: if you download both the Spotify and Genius apps, Genius will start popping up with lyrics for each song on your phone as Spotify plays them. If you, like me, are spending some time in your daily life practicing singing along while walking the dog or doing chores or whatever, this can be extremely useful.
Role: Curator
posted by sciatrix (8 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

You might try making posters with the lyrics to some of the less familiar songs you still want to use like We Shall Overcome. That would help people learn the lyrics at a protest.
posted by irisclara at 11:11 AM on February 1 [1 favorite]


Oh, I like that idea. Works better, I would think, for simpler songs.

Recently pulled, as I am going through, so I can keep a mental record:
-Can the Circle Be Unbroken (Carter Family): too warbly, crowds not reacting well; possibly to be returned with better recording
-Preacher and the Slave (Utah Phillips): this particular recording starts with a bit of storytelling which is useful as a note to people who might be performing live running a crowd, but which is no good at all on a playlist for building crowd momentum. also, this particular song is a bit older and will need lyric teaching, and despite the bit where I love it I want to skew my list more towards what works for the crowds I got.
-We Have Fed You All For a Thousand Years (Utah Phillips): see above
-Let That Liar Alone (Mavis Staples/Staple Singers): whole point of all this is that we're collectively calling that liar out!
-I Ain't Marching Anymore (Phil Ochs): love anti-war context, but again, half the point of today is that we're picking up marching again! Without a war to protest, context is off.
-Immigrants (We Get the Job Done), Hamilton mix-tape: not confident this is very singable for most folk, despite the bit where I love it and will totally mine it for chant material.
-Sins of the Now (Andrew Huang): again, perfect for chant material, not so good for folks to sing along to right now. Bit too fast. (That said, "Sling your arrows/I'll be using them to etch my art" and a few other lines are etched onto my heart and soul by now.)

Might be missing a few, but those are the ones I've done since remembering to keep this list.

Recently added, although I do sometimes pull songs after I've listened to them a bunch and mulled it over:
-It's the End of the World As We Know It (and I Feel Fine), (REM): oh, come on, we've been humming the chorus of this one while trying not to laugh-sob for weeks. And everyone knows at least the bits that aren't SUPER fast.
-War (Edwin Starr): oh, yeah, this one is popular enough that I expect people to know it, and it moves both slowly enough and forcefully enough to get people moving.
-Stressed Out (Twenty One Pilots): you want a song about the tensions young twenty-somethings like me feel, yooooo here's one. plus I'll honestly be sort of startled if at least 80% of any given crowd doesn't know it at least well enough to sort of sing along to. Possible downside: not sure how singable it will be, but I'll find out with practice.
-Who Will Take My Place? (Duhks) This is a traditional that I happen to really like and have a good version for; it's here in part so I can test it out and see how folks react.
-What It's Like (Everlast): Popular, much newer than a lot of this, very pointed. Might be a little too lyrically complicated; again, this is one to test out and think about.

Vaguely Considering:
Royals (Lorde): on one hand, recent massively popular hit, likely to be known, relevant lyrics; on the other hand, not sure about racial implications and criticism of song; conscious of criticism when it came out. also vaguely considering "We're Already Royal" (Maimouna Youssef), but will have to *actually listen* to that one before making up mind.

Right. I think that's it for the moment until I can find my headphones and actually listen through some of these.
posted by sciatrix at 11:33 AM on February 1


Hi, what do you think about Bob Marley's Small Axe? It's simple and to the point, easy to pick up and very singable I think. Lyrics.

Nice work with the list.
posted by glasseyes at 1:24 PM on February 1 [1 favorite]


Works better, I would think, for simpler songs.

Or you could use a bunch of cards like in that Dylan video. They'd be a mess to keep track of but I'll bet they'd be effective.

You might also try Pete Seeger's method of shouting the next line quickly after the end of the line.
posted by irisclara at 8:09 PM on February 2 [1 favorite]


Recently added:
"I'm Going to Say It Now", Phil Ochs. Topical, anyway, and a lot of Phil Ochs' music does get taught to kids in middle school--anyway, that's how I ran into it for the first time.
"Sixteen Tons," Johnny Cash, in the hopes that enough people have heard it enough to sing.

Recently removed:
"What It's Like", Everlast, for being too lyrically complicated.
"Ringing of Revolution", Phil Ochs, for containing a long and frankly sort of weird-to-me story involving a lot of celebrities who were probably topical in the 60s but who I do not currently recognize. I can't find a version of that song without the long meandering bit, so away it goes. Pity.

I'll try the Bob Marley song out a bit. I'm worried it might be a bit slow for a lot of these crowds, but maybe that's an advantage; I haven't practiced enough to know yet. I'm also a little worried that he might not be understandable enough through the speaker for people to pick up what he's saying--which is a problem, because I'm totally using my little speaker to be my song-leader and music most of the time, and the vocalist in the recording is often setting the tone and pace. It's not a traditional approach, but it's also probably easier for a lot of folk to prep with on short notice than carrying around music, an amplifier, a musical instrument, etc.

Irisclara, that's a good idea re the fast shouting! Do you think I could still manage it if I'm using a recorded bluetooth speaker as my music, not a guitar or anything? A lot of these songs move just a bit too fast to manage it. I know some of the live versions have bits with that in, but the long story bits without an actual person to make people listen tends to result in some fidgeting and anyway those are usually not quiiiite topical for whatever I'm marching with. Bear in mind, I also often don't have a stage or anything when I'm bringing music to march with, so flash cards are difficult--and if you look at that video, he doesn't have full lyrics on the cards anyway.
posted by sciatrix at 2:05 PM on February 3


Sure! Listen to the album Sing Out With Pete or Singalong Sanders Theater from Pete Seeger to see how he does it on different kinds of songs. He does it on fast songs and slow songs too.

For lyrics flash cards you could put each verse on a card and hold them up over your head.

Your best bet might be to teach the song to two or three people and have them help you carry it. Real people's singing voices will carry better than a recording unless you invest in a personal sound system. Here one that's got 600W of extreme loudness, a shitty microphone, and disco lights! You may wish to invest in something like that if you intend to make protest a regular thing. A portable karaoke machine would work. Get one with a big rechargeable battery and it can power your other gadgets as well.
posted by irisclara at 2:03 PM on February 6 [1 favorite]


You might like this song. It's called Trickle Down by a group that may not still exist called Atomic Duo. It has a catchy chorus and the verses are current and pointed. It makes me want to sing-along every time I hear it.
posted by irisclara at 4:07 PM on February 12


I really resonate with Uprising, by Muse. Just saying.
posted by Amor Bellator at 10:28 PM on March 15


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