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Although, the protest music movement of the mid-1960s represented a stylistic spinoff of the folk-rock genre, its ancestry can be clearly discerned as far back as the colonial era in American history; the revered "Yankee Doodle" falls within this category. The output of seminal commercial folk artists such as Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, and Peter Seeger in the pre-World War II period, the Weavers in the 1950s, and Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Phil Ochs, and Peter, Paul and Mary in the early 1960s laid the foundation for later protest material.

Other than concern regarding the sudden escalation of the Vietnam conflict, topical matter in mid-1960s protest songs differed little from its immediate antecedents; e.g., civil rights, nuclear disarmament, international peace. The music, however, had evolved from acoustic-oriented folk stylings to rock-based rhythms. Softer material--generally performed by commercial folk artists or singer-songwriters--continued to be released, but it now comprised a comparatively small portion of the total protest output.

Barry McGuire's "Eve of Destruction," which entered the singles charts in August 1965, represented a symbolic milestone in the protest song movement. Although far from being an early example of the genre, it was the first such recording to reach number one and, in the process attracted a considerable degree of controversy. Criticized for its extreme pessimism, the song was ultimately banned by many radio station program directors.

Despite efforts to suppress the song--or perhaps largely because of them--McGuire's hit inspired a rash of similar releases. But whereas "Eve of Destruction" focused on a condemnation of war in general, much protest material which followed directly criticized America's involvement in Vietnam. By 1966, rising troop commitments, casualty figures, and draft quotas all contributed to an increasing anti-war sentiment on the part of American youth. For the next couple of years, the growth and popularity of protest songs roughly paralleled the escalation of America's war effort in Southeast Asia.

By 1968, however, the number of anti-war songs released sharply declined and these seemed to lack immediacy and forcefulness of earlier material. H. Ben Auslander, in a 1981 Journal of American Culture article, offered the following explanation for this decline: "...performers and audiences alike were physically and spiritually exhausted by the war against the war and simply did not want to be reminded of the conflict any more than was necessary. Another possible reason may be that many shared the sense of manic resignation expressed by Phil Ochs in his last anti-Vietnam song, "The War is Over." The fervor with which the Nixon administration suppressed subversive behavior in general may well have also contributed to the protest song movement's loss of vitality.


Top Artists and Their Recordings

Commentary on Social Conformity

Janis Ian--"Society's Child" (1967)

The Searchers--"Take Me For What I'm Worth" (1966)

Pete Seeger--"Little Boxes" (1964)

Neil Young--"Here We Are in the Years" (1969)

Condemnation of Police Brutality

Buffalo Springfield--"For What It's Worth" (1966)

Condemnation of the U.S. Selective Service

Donovan--"To Susan on the West Coast Waiting" (1968)

Arlo Guthrie--"The Alice's Restaurant Massacree" (1967)

Phil Ochs--"The Draft Dodger Rag" (1965); "I Ain't Marchin' Anymore" (1965) Peter, Paul and Mary--"The Great Mandala" (1967)

Condemnation of the Vietnam War

The Association--"Requiem for the Masses" (1967)

Joan Baez--"Saigon Bride" (1967)

Country Joe and the Fish--"I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-To-Die Rag" (1967) Crosby, Still, Nash and Young--"Ohio" (1970)

Donovan--"The War Drags On" (1965)

Earth Opera--"American Eagle Tragedy" (1969)

Jefferson Airplane--"Volunteers" (1969)

Phil Ochs--"Talkin' Vietnam Blues" (1964); "White Boots Marching in a Yellow Land" (1968) Tom Paxton--Lyndon Johnson Told the Nation" (1965)

The Plastic Ono Band--"Give Peace a Chance" (1969)

Pete Seeger--"Waist Deep in Big Muddy" (1967)

Criticism of the Justice System

Moby Grape--"Murder in My Heart For the Judge" (1968)

General Condemnation of War

Eric Burden and the Animals--"Sky Pilot" (1968)

Glen Campbell--"The Universal Soldier" (1965)

Donovan--"The Universal Soldier"(1965)

The Doors--"The Unknown Soldier" (1968)

Bob Dylan--"Masters of War" (1963)

The Fugs--"Kill For Peace" (1965)

Barry McGuire--"Eve of Destruction" (1965)

Peter, Paul and Mary--"Cruel War" (1962)

Kenny Rankin--"The Dolphin" (1969)

Malvina Reynolds--"What Have They Done to the Rain?" (1963)

The Searchers--"What Have They Done to the Rain?" (1964)

Simon and Garfunkel--"Seven O'Clock News/Silent Night" (1966)

Inhumanity of Mankind/Hypocrisy

Henson Gargill--"Skip a Rope" (1967/8)

Jeannie C. Riley--"Harper Valley P.T.A." (1968)

Spanky and Our Gang--"Give a Damn" (1968)