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Protest Music in the 1960s

Since ancient times, music has been an essential component of any culture. While it has always allowed people to share their feelings and connect with others, creating melodies and signing are the ways the world population goes through specific life events. With the help of music individuals celebrate personal achievements, countries mourn the death of soldiers killed during wars, and nations distribute their traditions and customs. In addition, this type of art can also function as a means of raising awareness about various societal problems and challenging the government’s operations. Such melodies are often referred to as protest music, and, as mentioned by Haycock (2015), they have all the power that could “help to save the planet” (p. 423). For this reason, it is crucial to gain more knowledge about the history of protest songs that existed during specific time frames and understand their significance for society. Therefore, the following paper will discuss the topic of protest music in the 1960s and provide readers with two famous examples.

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In the 1960s, after the escalation of the Vietnam conflict, American music focused on the topics of international peace and the civil rights movement. Heilbronner (2016) concluded that the 1960s was “a period of radical protest, both political and cultural, institutional and idiosyncratic” (p. 689). The events happening in Vietnam and worldwide established a new type of radicalism which led to the occupation of industries and campuses (Heilbronner, 2016). The movement primarily engaged young individuals, university students, oppressed communities, and women who were not afraid to express their concerns and stand for a better future (Heilbronner, 2016). Eventually, musicians and bands from different countries supported the population by writing and performing songs on the topics of injustice, equality, and peace (Heilbronner, 2016). The spirit of the 1960s brought into reality music scenes that emerged worldwide and influenced the future development of the industry and the awareness of people. Thus, it can be stated that protest music did not only contribute to the spread of ideas but also helped to transfer the necessary knowledge and history to modern times.

One of the most famous protest songs which dates back to those times is “For What It’s Worth” by Buffalo Springfield. According to the song’s publishing center, it has been played more than 8 million times on various television channels and radio stations since the day of its release (Browne, 2016). Furthermore, in 2014, “For What It’s Worth” was recognized as the third best protest song ever by the readers of Rolling Stone due to its relevance in the contemporary world and references to guns, police, and paranoia (Browne, 2016). This song is often considered to carry the anti-war ideas; however, Stephen Stills reported that he was inspired to write it after being exposed to the curfew riots and clashes between young individuals and police in November 1966 (Browne, 2016). The demonstration happened because Hollywood residents required the city to pass laws that would restrict students from entering night clubs in the evening (Browne, 2016). As a result, young people felt that their rights are not respected and organized a protest (Browne, 2016). Hence, it can be concluded that this song is unique and stands for justice and equality.

Another protest song that should be mentioned because of its influence on society is “Ohio” by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. In the middle of May 1970, Neil Young saw the photos of four university students who were murdered by the national guard of Ohio during a protest against the Vietnam War (Lynskey, 2010). The musician was so inspired and overwhelmed by the events that he quickly wrote a song about the killings (Lynskey, 2010). It is after this memorable and impactful song that the tendency for developing politically oriented pop acts started to rise (Lynskey, 2010). In other words, individuals understood that their words could make a difference and change people’s perception of reality. Songwriters realized that even though they are not able to change the world by performing and writing touching lyrics, their songs can become crucial historical documents portraying societal issues and movements (Lynskey, 2010). Thus, “Ohio” is a powerful protest song that educates the population since the 1960s and makes people respect history.

Overall, music is definitely one of the most essential elements of any culture that has a huge influence on people’s perception and understanding of the world. In addition to bringing entertainment and happiness, songs can also raise important societal issues and challenge governments. For instance, the 1960s were popular for protest music which focused on the themes of injustice, global peace, equality, and values. Various songs, such as “For What It’s Worth” and “Ohio” carried an important meaning and educated the population about processes happening in the world. Therefore, the presented paper discussed protest music in the 1960s and analyzed two mentioned examples.


Browne, D. (2016). “For What It’s Worth”: Inside Buffalo Springfield’s classic protest song. Rolling Stone.

Haycock, J. (2015). Protest music as adult education and learning for social change: A theorisation of a public pedagogy of protest music. Australian Journal of Adult Learning, 55(3), 423-442.

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Heilbronner, O. (2016). Music and protest: The case of the 1960s and its long shadow. Journal of Contemporary History, 51(3), 688-700.

Lynskey, D. (2010). Neil Young’s Ohio – the greatest protest record. The Guardian.

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