In her 1968 collection of essays Slouching Towards Bethlehem, author Joan Didion wrote skeptically of songwriter Joan Baez, dismissing her as “the pawn of the protest movement… above all, she is the girl who ‘feels’ things.” Harsh, but Didion captured a crucial understanding of the connection between Baez’s protest songs and her raw, emotional core. In Baez’s lyrics, the personal is political; her personal rage and resignation fuel her songs in elemental ways. In honor of her November 1 concert at Celebrity Theatre, we take a look at Baez’s Top 5 Protest Songs.
In 1967’s Joan, Baez offered this blunt critique of the Vietnam War. While many of her contemporaries cloaked their politics in flower power language, Baez’s words are as stark as her voice: “How many dead men will it take… How many children must we kill…”
A keen interpreter of other singers’ songs, Baez offered this 1964 reading of Richard Fariña’s “Birmingham Sunday” (a response to the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing of 1963) with a haunting contrast: “The choirs kept singing of freedom,” she sings, detailing the horrors of that day.
“All the Weary Mothers of the Earth (People’s Union #1)”
With 1972’s Come From the Shadows, Baez steered her career in a more polished, pop direction, but her concerns remained pointed. “All The Weary Mothers of the Earth” is an existential protest ballad, imagining what a world without violence or toil might look like.
“A Young Gypsy”
The political nature of “A Young Gypsy” (1973) is inherent: It features recordings Baez made in Hanoi on a human rights campaign while American bombs fell on the city.
“God Is God”
Written by Steve Earle for Baez’s 2008 album Day After Tomorrow, “God Is God” ruminates – like many of Baez’s best songs – on the notion of human fallibility.
– Jason P. Woodbury
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