June 15

Lyrics and poems which promote social awareness

Many song lyrics and poems are written from a biased point of view to carry a social message, or to persuade us to accept the author’s point of view.

Here are three examples of famous songs and the story behind them. Identify the bias or point of view of the lyricist:

From Little Things Big Things Grow written by Kev Carmody and Paul Kelly

This song is based on the story of the Gurindji strike when Vincent Lingiari led other Aboriginal workers off Lord Vesty’s land in 1967. The strike, which originally was a protest on the part of workers who received no pay (only food and board) became a struggle for Indigenous Australians to receive land rights and reconciliation.Read more about the story behind the Gurindji Strike:




Blue Sky Mine by Midnight Oil

“The song was inspired by the experiences of workers at the Wittenoom asbestos mines who contracted various asbestos-related diseases. The ‘blue’ refers to blue asbestos, and the ‘sugar refining company’ refers to the Colonial Sugar Refining Company (CSR), the owner of the mines.” Wikipedia

Read more about the disaster here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CSR_Limited#Wittenoom_controversy

Dear Mr. President by Pink and Billy Mann

“Pink said that the song was an open letter to the President of the United States, George W. Bush, and that it was one of the most important songs she had written. She stated that it would never be released as a single in the United States, because it was too important to be perceived as a publicity stunt.” Wikipedia

Dear Mr. President
Come take a walk with me
Let’s pretend we’re just two people and
You’re not better than me
I’d like to ask you some questions if we can speak honestly

What do you feel when you see all the homeless on the street
Who do you pray for at night before you go to sleep
What do you feel when you look in the mirror
Are you proud

How do you sleep while the rest of us cry
How do you dream when a mother has no chance to say goodbye
How do you walk with your head held high
Can you even look me in the eye
And tell me why…

Other Lyrics with a Social Theme or Positive Message (This is NOT an exhaustive list!):

Blowin’ in the Wind by Bob Dylan

The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll by Bob Dylan

Birmingham Sunday by Joan Baez

A Walk in the Green Light (better known as I was only Nineteen) by John Schumann; performed by Redgum. There is a picture book of this song in the Library at 782.42 SCH ‘I Was Only Nineteen’

At Seventeen by Janis Ian

And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda by Eric Bogle

Took the Children Away by Archie Roach. 828 ROATook the Children Away  – Picture book with paintings set to the worlds of the song.

This Land is Your Land by Woody Guthrie

Treaty by Paul Kelly, Mandawuy Yunupingu, Stuart Kellaway, Cal Williams, Galarrwuy Yunupingu, Milkayngu Mununggurr, Witiyana Marika; performed by  Yothu Yindi

Beds are Burning by Midnight Oil

Talkin’ ‘Bout a Revolution by Tracey Chapman (also Fast Car)

Under Pressure by Tim Levinson, Dale Harrison, Simon Fellows, Shannon Kennedy, Byron Williams; performed by The Herd

Lies by The Waifs

Another Day in Paradise by Phil Collins

I Won’t Back Down by Tom Petty & Jeff Lynne; performed by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers

Khe Sanh by Don Walker; performed by Cold Chisel

My Island Home by Neil Murray; performed by Christine Anu 828 MURMy Island Home – picture book of song words.  

Black Fella White Fella by Neil Murray; performed by Warumpi Band 828  MURBlack Fella White Fella – picture book.

Solid Rock by Shane Howard; performed by Goanna Band 828 HOWSolid Rock – picture book and CD of song.

Universal Soldier by Buffy Sainte-Marie; performed by Donovan

Sunday Bloody Sunday by U2 (and Miss Sarajevo)

True Colours by Cyndi Lauper (also Girls Just Want to Have Fun)

Just the Way You Are by Billy Joel

Water by Blue King Brown (also Don’t Let Go)

Black Tears by Powderfinger

Beautiful by Linda Perry; performed by Christina Aguilera

Hands by Jewel

Hold On Be Strong Tupac Shakur

Heal the World by Michael Jackson (and Ben and Black or White)

Imagine by John Lennon

He Ain’t Heavy, He’s my Brother by Bob Russell and Bobby Scott; performed by The Hollies

You’ll Never Walk Alone by Oscar Hammerstein II

What a Wonderful World by George David Weiss, George Douglas and Bob Thiele; performed by Louis Armstrong

The Greatest Love of All by Michael Masser and Linda Creed; performed by Whitney Houston

Do They Know It’s Christmas? by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure; performed by Band Aid

Spread a Little Happiness by Sting

Respect by Otis Redding; performed by Aretha Franklin

I Hope You Dance by Mark D. Sanders and Tia Sillers; performed by Lee Ann Womack

Sitting on Top of the World by Delta Goodram

Don’t Worry Be Happy by Guy Sebastian

I believe I can fly by R. Kelly

Wind beneath my Wings by Jeff Silbar and Larry Henley; performed by Better Midler

Beautiful Day by Bono; performed by U2

Over the Rainbow by E.Y. Harburg; performed by Judy Garland

Count on Me by Bruno Mars, Philip Lawrence and Ari Levine; performed by Bruno Mars

Wings by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

Just a Girl by Gwen Stefani & Tom Dumont; performed by No Doubt


Poetry with a social message (includes links to poems):

A Poison Tree by William Blake

Aboriginal Australia by Jack Davis

All One Race by Oodgeroo Noonuccal

The Ballad of the Landlord by Langston Hughes

The Barefoot Boy by John Greenleaf Whittier

Career by Yevgeny Yevtushenko

Color, Cast, Denomination by Emily Dickinson

Eliza Harris by Frances E. Watkins

Faces in the Street by Henry Lawson

Enter Without So Much As Knocking by Bruce Dawe

Final Faith by Yevgeny Yevtushenko

The Great City by Walt Whitman

Harriet Beecher Stowe by Paul Laurence Dunbar

Hate he said by Steven Oliver

Homecoming by Bruce Dawe (There are lots of other war poems by other poets.)

Homo Suburbiensis by Bruce Dawe

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Ichabod by John Greenleaf Whittier

If by Rudyard Kipling

Incident by Countee Cullen

Indian Names by Lydia H. Sigourney

Indian Summer by Lydia H. Sigourney

The Indian’s Welcome to the Pilgrim Fathers by Lydia H. Sigourney

Intolerance by Oodgeroo Noonuccal

Invictus by William Ernest Henley

Invisible by Steven Oliver

Last of His Tribe by Oodgeroo Noonuccal

Let Go by Jack Davis

Lies by Yevgeny Yevtushenko

Lines Suggested by a Lock of Hair by Lydia Maria Child

The Lovers of the Poor by Gwendolyn Brooks

The Man with the Hoe by Edwin Markham

Me I Am by Steven Oliver

Mother to Son by Langston Hughes

To Mrs. Harriet B. Stowe by Joseph C. Holly

To Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe by Frances E. Watkins

The Present Crisis by James Russell Lowell

Song of Myself by Walt Whitman

Still I Rise by Maya Angelou

Tableau by Countee Cullen

Television by Roald Dahl

to the Diaspora by Gwendolyn Brooks

Weapons Training by Bruce Dawe

The Women Who Went to the Fields by Clara Barton
Here is an analysis of South African protest poetry:

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