Songs for Social Change (Day Twenty-Five of Homegrown Music)

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Welcome to 31 Days of Homemade Music! This month we are exploring how and why everyone can benefit from being an active participant in music making. To read more posts in this series, click here

Another sub-genre of folk music are those songs which advocate for social justice and cultural change. There are countless songs that protest war and promote peace, or cry for the rights of the abused and downtrodden. Music has at many times been a voice for the weak and a powerful catalyst for societal shifts. Whether or not you agree with the position of any given song, you can certainly appreciate the historical context and effects of each. Let’s have a listen, shall we?

First up, Johnny I Hardly Knew Ya. Though the origins of this song are somewhat debated, it likely dates to 1867, and has had many remakes (even by punk rock band Dropkick Murphys) throughout the years. It is sung to the same tune as “The Ants Go Marching One by One.” It has become an anti-war song that has been applied to various times. You can get the words and chords here to give it a go at home. (Hope you enjoy the old video recording.)

Next, I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing, first featured on a Coke commercial, became an iconic peace-promoting (and tree-hugging) sing along song, sung in this video by the New Seekers in 1972. I first heard this sung by an 8 year old girl playing the ukelele, and I have to say she got me teary with her clear voice singing such big ideas at such a young age. Get the chords and words here.

Finally, how about Drill Ye Tarriers, Drill, a song lamenting the poor working conditions and unfair rules placed upon those workers constructing new railways in the mid-19th century. These men “worked all day for the sugar in their tay (tea),” and sometimes suffered terrible accidents while drilling and blasting holes in rocks. While it is a work song, it certainly also highlights the injustice of the harsh working conditions. Here are the chords and words for this one.

Do you have a favorite song that calls for some improvement to society, life, or culture? Share it below!


4 thoughts on “Songs for Social Change (Day Twenty-Five of Homegrown Music)

  1. Liz

    Visiting from our Facebook group! This is such a unique series – I went back and read your music story after reading this post.

    My husband and I met through music. He was working as a producer in a studio and his company put on a local talent show – it was right around the time American Idol was getting big. I wound up being one of the 20 winners and had the opportunity to record a two-song demo before signing a contract for a full album and music video and being shipped to Capitol Records in CA. I never signed the contract… he didn’t want me to move so he said they weren’t offering one to me. Sneaky guy.

    We often lead worship together at church and are always using music to be creative. He’s very similar to your husband in that he can pick up any random instrument and make music.

    So glad to stumble here!

    1. Abi Post author

      Such a neat story! And isn’t it wonderful to do music with your husband? I enjoy your series as well and I will be following you!


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