In the final installment of my top fifteen songs about revolution, I offer my top five. I'd really like to hear from you, so drop me a note in the comment box.
5. "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)" by Marvin Gaye
I could have chosen one of my favorite songs of all-time, What's Going On, but I went with another protest song from the same album, Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler). Backed by several of the Funk Brothers, Marvin Gaye's gem depicts ghetto life of inner-city America.
"Inflation, no chance/to increase finance/bills pile up, sky high/send that boy off to die."
4. "A Change is Gonna Come" by Sam Cooke
Sam Cooke was so moved by Bob Dylan's Blowin' in the Wind that he was determined to write a song about racism in America. Although Cooke was afraid that recording a political song would tarnish his image with his white fan base, he felt obligated to write about two experiences that forever changed him: the death of his 18-month-old son, Vincent, and an incident in 1963 when he and his band were arrested for trying to register at a "whites only" motel in Shreveport, Louisiana.
"There have been times that I thought I couldn't last for long/but now I think I'm able to carry on/It's been a long time coming/ but I know a change is gonna come."
3. "You Haven't Done Nothin'" by Stevie Wonder
Back in 1974, Stevie Wonder could do no wrong. In perhaps his angriest songs, Stevie criticizes Nixon's America, while The Jackson 5 sing backup. Big Brother, another political song, is the b-side to this funky hit.
"But we are sick and tired of hearing your song/Telling how you are gonna change right from wrong/ 'Cause if you really want to hear our views/You haven't done nothin'."
2. "Gimme Shelter" by The Rolling Stones
I could have also selected Street Fighting Man, but I chose Gimme Shelter because Keith Richards' opening guitar riff never fails to give me goose bumps. Mick Jagger's apocalyptic lyrics speak of a threatening storm that will wreak havoc, but in the end the power of love will prevail.
Jagger and backing vocalist Merry Clayton repeatedly sing, "Rape, murder; it's just a shot away; it's just a shot away," but their final line is "Love, sister; it's just a kiss away; it's just a kiss away."
1. "Revolution" by The Beatles
While John Lennon urged the rest of the Beatles to release Revolution 1 as a single, Paul McCartney wanted to avoid controversy and George Harrison wanted to record a more upbeat version. They compromised. Eventually, Revolution 1 made it onto the White Album and the band recorded a more rocking version which was the b-side to Hey Jude.
Up until 1968, with the exception of Taxman, the Beatles didn't make political statements. John Lennon said, "I thought it was about time we spoke about it [revolution], the same as I thought it was about time we stopped not answering about the Vietnamese war. I had been thinking about it up in the hills in India."
Revolution was a response to the political protests in 1968 in which Lennon expressed skepticism. On the White Album version, he was uncertain about destructive change:
"But when you talk about destruction/Don't you know that you can count me out/ In."
Throughout the song is the refrain, "It's gonna be alright." Lennon borrowed this from his Transcendental Meditation in India, suggesting that God will protect us no matter what.
"But if you go carrying pictures of chairman Mao/You ain't going to make it with anyone anyhow/ Don't you know it's gonna be all right/ all right, all right."
And like Gimme Shelter, in the end the power of love will prevail.