For those who believe in the crisis and want to raise awareness of climate change, here are seven of the best activist songs.
Music is a powerful tool for sharing ideas, wisdom and feelings – it can also be a very effective call for action. When it comes to climate change, musicians have been calling for change for decades, since the heady days of the 1960s when the counterculture movement – with its hippies and free love – spread around the world. Here are 7 great songs about climate crisis.
This article looks at seven of the most memorable songs that shone a light on the climate change threatening the planet.
Joni Mitchell – Big Yellow Taxi (1970)
Let’s start with an anthem. Big Yellow Taxi is one of the most covered songs of all time, with even the great Bob Dylan giving us a version many years ago.
Mitchell’s original is the one that endures though. Her sweet voice laced with regret as she covers industrialisation and the environmental destruction that comes with it. ‘They paved paradise and put up a parking lot’ is perhaps the most famous lyric, but ‘you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone’ is the one that resounds – and helps to make this track seem so prescient over 50 years later.
Neil Young – After the Gold Rush (1970)
Neil Young has been calling for climate action for over half a century, calling out the wasteful nature of society and corrupt politicians. His song After the Gold Rush, the title track from his third album, might sound like a reference to the great hunt for
treasure in 19th century America – or even the title of one of the many online casino games out there, if you’re an iGaming fan – but it’s more abstract than that.
Young talks about mankind’s time on Earth – the violence of medieval times, through to modern day excess and then to the end of our time on the planet, when spaceships come to take us to a new place. In short, the ‘Gold Rush’ stands for how humans exploited Earth, and then had to leave after they destroyed it. ‘Look at Mother Nature on the run’ is the line that sums up this 1970s classic rom one of the all-time great rockers.
Marvin Gaye – Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology) (1971)
The upbeat, light-hearted air of this song is deceptive. Beneath it, Gaye addresses several social issues from police brutality (‘how much more abuse from man can she stand?’) to environmental damage (‘fish full of mercury’).
Of all the songs on this list, Mercy, Mercy Me is probably the most hopeless, serving as the singer’s lament about all that’s wrong with the world. The positive feel of the song may signal the hope that he is clinging to.
REM – Fall on Me (1986)
Michael Stipe’s beautifully composed track reminds us of autumn, with its tinkly guitar sounds and lush melodies. Yet his lyrics are full of worry, pleading for the sky – amongst other things – not to fall on him.
Some critics have taken it to mean acid rain, but it seems Stipe is talking about oppression in general – including how big corporations use their power to hold sway over us and destroy the environment in the process. Stipe has been an avid campaigner or environmental issues and released a solo single in 2019 calling for urgent action.
Pixies – Monkey Gone to Heaven (1989)
This Pixies classic is another track that deceives with its carefree melody, but lead singer Black Francis’s screaming vocals towards the end show that things are not OK. ‘There’s a hole in the sky’ he points out, and ‘everything is gonna burn’.
Quite who or what the monkey is that Pixies are singing about is open to debate, but the band leave a clue by depicted a primate with a halo on its head on the single’s cover.
Childish Gambino – Feels like Summer (2018)
Summer. It’s the best time of year, right? Long, sunny days spent doing summer things, like hanging outside with your
friends, going to the beach, having a barbeque.
Childish Gambino makes us feel all of that with his falsetto vocals, summery guitar and even a flute in there somewhere; but peel a layer off and see that he’s talking about something more serious than that. Something dangerous and dark that’s lurking around the corner, something that we seem to have forgotten in all the fun we’re having.
Gojira – Amazonia (2021)
Gojira aren’t a fan of understatement. Unlike some of the previous tracks, their Amazonia gets straight to the point: a
five-and-a-half-minute heavy metal blast about the destruction of the rainforests hits us right in the solar plexus.
It’s hardly new ground for the genre, with Atheist, Napalm Death and Faith No More all writing hits about the subject, but
none of them quite deliver a slap in the face quite like this one.