Radical Music

 Paul Robeson with shipyard workers/ National Archives

“Which music influenced your development of a radical political orientation?” Democratic Left decided to ask some DSA activists to answer that question by giving us their top choices for certain decades. The answers follow.—Eds.

The Forties

Artist: Paul Robeson (written by Abel Meeropol, writing as Lewis Allen)

Song: “The House I Live In” (1945)

Years ago, I felt after first hearing Robeson's version of "The House I Live In" that it should be our national anthem.  The song reminds us of our need to fulfill democracy, remember our founding fathers, appreciate our diversity, and believe in our collective.  It's more secular than "God Bless America" and acknowledges war without glorifying it like "The Star-Spangled Banner."  Still, what moves me the most is Robeson's deep bass voice ringing "but especially the people…that's America to me."

David Duhalde

Artists: The Almanac Singers

Song: “Talking Union”

Duane Campbell

The Fifties and After

From the 1950s and well into the 1970s, the most radical songs were rarely Top 40. When it came to protest music, the 1950s were a joke. If any popular song had a political edge, it was Carl Perkins' 1956 crossover “Blue Suede Shoes,” with the classic possessive individualist/consumerist complaint, "You can do anything but lay off of my blue suede shoes."
Cashbox magazine put it on the best-selling singles list for 16 weeks.

Within 10 years, in the wake of civil rights murders and an expanding war in Vietnam, Barry McGuire was singing P.F. Sloan's hard-edged “The Eve of Destruction,” ranked 29th for the year, which opens with:

“The eastern world, it is explodin’,
Violence flarin', bullets loadin'
You're old enough to kill, but not for votin'.”

Not bad for AM radio. The year's #1 hit was "Wooley Bully."

But perhaps the best pop protest song about class privilege, war, and inequality was Creedence Clearwater Revival's 1969 “Fortunate Son,” with raspy-voiced John Fogerty singing:

It ain't me, it ain't me, I ain't no millionaire's son, no, no
It ain't me, it ain't me, I ain't no fortunate one, no

It was a B-side release and still made it to #14 on Billboard’s weekly chart.

Michael Hirsch

More From the Sixties

Artist: Phil Ochs.  Album: Tape from California.

Songs: “White Boots Marching Through a Yellow Land.”

            “I Ain’t Marching Anymore.”

            “The War is Over”

Artist: Country Joe (at Woodstock)

Song: “The Fixin’ to Die Rag.” (1,2,3, What are we fighting for?)

Important songs of the anti war movement.

Duane Campbell


Artist: Buffy St. Marie

Songs: “My Country ‘Tis of Thy People You’re Dying”

            “Now that the Buffalo’s Gone

A Cree from Canada brought up in the United States who became our best-known American Indian singer-songwriter.

Barbara Joye


Artist: Nina Simone

Song: “Mississippi Goddamn”

The title says it all.

Barbara Joye


The Seventies

Artist: Jimmy Cliff

Album: The Harder They Come (1972)

Song: "You Can Get It If You Really Want,"

As a stretch, this song embodies Antonio Gramsci's charge, "Optimism of the will; pessimism of the intellect." It's great reggae from the 1972 breakout Jamaican film about exploitation. Cliff sings, "Got your mind set on a dream/You can get it though hard it may seem now."

Bill Barclay & Peg Strobel


Artist: Bob Marley and the Wailers

Album: Burnin’ (1973)

Song: “Get Up, Stand Up”

This song speaks directly to basic human rights and the will to fight for them: “Get up, stand up, don't give up the fight.”

Simone Morgen


Artist: The Clash

Album: The Clash (1977)

Song: "I'm So Bored With The U.S.A."

The Clash was the most overtly socialist of the first wave of British punk rock bands, and there was no mistaking singer/lyricist Joe Strummer's hatred of U.S. support for foreign dictators and Nixon-era political corruption. This wouldn't matter much if the band’s performance didn’t match the words, but like everything else on the album, “I’m So Bored” is delivered with a furious, vehement snarl that will never sound dated.

Jason Schulman 


Artist: Joan Baez; lyrics by Woody Guthrie (1941)

Song: “Plane Wreck at Los Gatos” (1978)


Artists: Luis Valdez, Los Lobos and the Salas Brothers of Tierra

Album:  Si Se Puede !  (1976) (Proceeds from this album went to the United Farm Workers of America. -  Eds.)

Songs: “Huelga en General”

            “Mañana is Now”

            “No Nos Moveran” (traditional)

 The emergence of the United Farmworker Movement created an almost new political movement in the U.S. and changed labor and Latino history.

Duane Campbell


Artists: Inti Illimani

Song: El Pueblo Unido jamas sera vencido !


Artist: Victor Jara 

Album:  El Canto Libre de Victor Jara (1970)

Songs: Chile Vencera

            El dercho de Vivir in Paz

Songs of the Chilean revolution.  See http://www.theguardian.com/music/2013/sep/18/victor-jara-pinochet-chile-rocks-backpages


Artist: Luis E. Mejîa Godoy

Album: Un son para mi pueblo (1979)

Songs: Un Gigante Que Despierta

            Un Nuevo Amanecer

            Pan Con Dignidad

Several of the major songs of the Nicaraguan revolution.

Revolutions in Latin America and solidarity work in the U.S. contributed a new genre (for the U.S.), Nueva Cançión (new song)

Duane Campbell


The Eighties

Artists: Dead Kennedys

Album: Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables (1980)

Song: “Kill the Poor”

Though not my favorite song today, in the 1980s, this song exposed me to the Dead Kennedys, a group whose politically charged music was partly responsible for introducing me to radical thought. Though my musical tastes have matured, my political ideals largely have not, so I occasionally find myself still referencing the DK's music as a source of inspiration for the world we should have.

Michael D. Baker


Artists: Public Enemy

Song: “Fight the Power”

First released on the soundtrack for Spike Lee’s film “Do the Right Thing” (1989).

Barbara Joye


We invite readers to suggest their favorite radical songs in the comment section below. —Eds


Lessons in Organizing from the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union

January 17, 2017
· 50 rsvps

Join DSA Vice-Chair Chris Riddiough to explore what we can learn from the work of the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union (1969-77), the largest of the socialist feminist women’s unions of the 1970s, which had a rock band, a graphics collective, the underground abortion collective JANE, and numerous other projects. Check out their website and join the discussion via internet connection.

Film Discussion: The Price We Pay

January 30, 2017
· 38 rsvps
The Price We Pay blows the lid off the dirty world of corporate malfeasance — the dark history and dire present-day reality of big-business tax avoidance, tax havens - and what we need to do to stop this.  DSA member Bill Barclay, who has a cameo role in the film, will facilitate the discussion. Watch the film prior to the discussion.

Full film available on Vimeo.

How to Plug in New Members

February 01, 2017
· 10 rsvps

Is your DSA chapter growing quickly and you're trying desperately to find ways to plug new members into your chapter's work? Never fear! On this conference call an experienced DSA organizer will go over the basics of new member outreach and developing a plan for plugging new members into your chapter's work. Most of the call will be devoted to troubleshooting specific issues you're facing, so please brainstorm some issues beforehand that you want to bring up on the call.  8 PM ET; 7 PM CT; 7 PM MT; 7 PM PT.

Film Discussion: Salt of the Earth

February 05, 2017
· 7 rsvps

Join DSA members Shelby Murphy and Deborah Rosenfelt in discussing Salt of the Earth, a captivating film made in 1954 by blacklisted writers and actors about a strike at a New Mexico zinc mine. Well before the resurgence of feminism in the 1960s, these filmmakers were exploring gender inequality and solidarity. Available on Netflix.

Shelby Murphy is a Latina from Texas and former Young Democratic Socialists co-chair. Professor Emerita of Women’s Studies at the University of Maryland, Deborah Rosenfelt researched the making of the film and its aftermath for the reissued screenplay. Here is her blogpost about the film.


DSA New Member Orientation Call

February 15, 2017
· 31 rsvps

You've joined DSA - Great. Now register for this New Member Orientation call and find out more about our politics and our vision.  And, most importantly, how you can become involved.  8 PM ET; 7 PM CT; 6 PM MT; 5 PM PT.

Film Discussion: Documentaries of People's History in Texas

April 02, 2017
· 1 rsvp

Join DSA members Glenn Scott and Richard Croxdale to discuss videos produced by People’s History in Texas (PHIT), a project that brings to life the stories of ordinary people in significant socio-political movements in Texas. They will discuss The Rag, their newest documentary, which tells the story of an influential underground paper based in Austin, Texas, from 1966-77. Click here to view Part I (the early years as an all-volunteer paper covering the student, anti-Vietnam and Civil Rights movements), Part II (the impact of Women’s Liberation on the paper) and Part III (building community: covering local politics, nukes, co-ops, feminist institutions). But check out their short the video on the Stand-Ins about a group of university students who led a movement to desegregate Austin’s movie theaters in 1961.

Film Discussion: The Free State of Jones

June 11, 2017
· 2 rsvps

Join Victoria Bynum, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History, Texas State University, San Marcos, to discuss The Free State of Jones. STX Entertainment bought the film rights to Bynum's book of the same title. She also served as a consultant and appears in a cameo scene. What was the Free State of Jones? During the Civil War, an armed band of deserters led by Newt Knight, a non-slaveholding white farmer, took to the swamps of southeastern Mississippi and battled against the Confederacy in an uprising popularly known as “The Free State of Jones.” Joining Newt in this rebellion was Rachel, a slave. From their relationship, there developed a controversial mixed-race community that endured long after the Civil War had ended. View the film here for $6 before the discussion.