I have always been fascinated by the messages and stories that can be conveyed through songs. Many musicians have used their talent and considerable influence to create messages regarding politics, social justice, even regional pride. Musicians hold a unique position within the folds of society and are therefore able to inspire their listeners all over the country (and sometimes around the world) to think about what is happening in the world around them.
Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young’s album 4 Way Street, for example, is littered with references to political events that were occurring in the late 1960s. Chicago calls attention to the trial of the ‘Chicago 8’ – eight men who were arrested for inciting a riot outside of the Democratic National Convention in 1968, during a protest against the Vietnam war. One of the men, Bobby Seale, was bound and gagged during his trial – referenced in the first line of the song -“So your brother’s bound and gagged and they’ve chained him to a chair.” Indeed, in the live recording of this song, they say “This is a song for Mayor Daley” – the mayor of Chicago at the time of these riots. Ohio draws attention to the fact that national guardsmen killed four students at Kent State University in Ohio during a protest over the announcement by President Nixon that US troops were invading Cambodia.
Michael Jackson famously used his Superbowl performance in 1993 to promote racial equality and world peace – even getting the entire crowd involved. U2 used their moment in the big game to pay homage those lost in the 9/11 terror attacks. Beyonce used her appearance in the 2016 Superbowl to promote her song Formation, which many see as anti-police, in the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement.
But with music, even entire genres can be indicative of what message is sent or even the ideology behind an entire group of people. With our country so divided on so many major issues at the moment, it is insightful to hear the take of musicologist Nate Sloan and songwriter Charlie Harding break down the two songs titled “Made in America” released in 2011. Their analysis shows several different ways in which country and hip hop differ on the traditional American values. This episode is well worth the listen!