Peace and civil rights, on and off the air

Using new media to get around cultural or political roadblocks is one of the most important themes in the history of communication. It’s hard to imagine a better example than the way musicians and comedians of the 1960s and 70s used  long playing (LP) records to express ideas about stopping war and recognizing civil rights.

Many of these ideas could not be expressed through mainstream radio, for both commercial and legal reasons. Broadcasting rock n’ roll and related genres was restricted to safe songs in the US and Europe. Meanwhile, rock n’ roll was all but illegal in Russia and the Soviet-controlled “Eastern block” until the 1980s. And rock n’ roll is still heavily restricted in China and some Arab nations, even to this day.

Restrictions on radio in the US during the 1960s come up in a song by Peter, Paul and Mary:  I Dig Rock n’ Roll Music. (“But if I really say it, the radio won’t play it, unless I lay it between the lines”).

Early protest songs of the 1940s and 50s might have been aimed at the
competence of leadership leaders, as Seeger shows with his “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy.”

Pete Seeger was among a group of  folk singers from the 1920s – 30s labor movements who bridged over into the civil rights and anti-war era. He wrote a medley of  antiwar songs that help us get to the roots of the musical movement,  beginning with Yankee Doodle.


Labor movement songs collection here.


Crossover songs were especially important in the early phases of the antiwar movement and were mild enough to be playable on the air, especially when the records sold in the millions. Here Marvin Gaye sings a folk / Motown song that did get a lot of radio play: “What’s Goin’ On.” (“War is not the answer … We’ve got to find a way …. ” )

Barry McGuire also recorded an important folk / rock song: The Eve of Destruction.


The two classic songs of the Sixties: “We Shall Overcome” and “Give Peace A Chance”

Rock and Roll songs spoke to a generation fed up with warfare:


Modern antiwar songs include