If you’re ever looking for something that thinks outside of the bun on the radio dial, look no further than 97.1 WXOX otherwise known as Art+FM. A 24 hour a day broadcast, Art+FM is a low power FM station that has roots in online radio, and who consistently explore some of the wildest tunes out there; anything goes. We reached out to a handful of the awesome DJ’s down at the station to ask what songs light their fires. Unsurprisingly, we received a pretty wide range of songs that may not immediately hit you as protest classics, but are nevertheless such. Read on and get inspired to fight the power.
Sharon Scott (President Art+Fm Board of Directors)
It ever there was a song that could make the sunshine, it would be this one. With a few strums on the guitar, the clouds begin to part and midway through, the listener is in full rapture. Inspired by the collective singing of “We Shall Overcome” during the March on Washington, this song written by Curtis Mayfield transcends color, genre, hardship to bring the listener into a musical paradise. Eternally uplifting, People Get Ready, is a prayer, a promise, and an inspiration to make the world a better place. A reminder that light overwhelms the darkness and that –if we work together– justice will prevail. At our signal launch, we were fortunate to have Carly Johnson and Will Oldham lead us in a sing-a-long this train song as a collective pledge that WXOX 97.1 FM would be an engine of justice, equality, and righteousness.
Alan W. White (Mythic Beat)
One of Gil Scott-Heron’s most powerful songs stems from a partial nuclear meltdown outside Detroit in 1966. Luckily no radioactivity was released, but because of its close proximity to Detroit, it was bit of a sobering reminder how close the city came to utter disaster. Heron’s gritty and soulful poetry will always remain relevant, especially if our local politicians, corporations and police are not held accountable for favoring greed over health and safety.
Heron’s stark awareness foretold this with a line like “That when it comes to people’s safety money wins out every time.” Because when you follow the money, we tend to find most environmental disasters are linked to some form of corruption. For example, the ongoing water utility disaster in Flint, MI. which is one of dozens of examples you could cite where this song applies. But it’s a reminder of how resonating and bold Gil Scott-Heron was not only for 1977, but the years that proceeded his death in 2011. Plus he had one badass rhythm section to lift his words and make all his albums timeless.
JC Denison (auralgamiSOUNDS, Brenda, Cliftones)
Love this song, Declare Independence by Bjork. Musically, it has everything I dig: drones/repetition/grime/electronics/kick-ass drums. It sounds fucking mean. And it is. Mark Bell from LFO produced and co-wrote it and it is no-holds-barred gritty! It sounds like it begins as a swell of anger and reaction down deep in someone’s gut and slowly swells out like hot lava until all these little fiery electrodes start attaching themselves and that anger becomes action or revenge or full on revolt.
The lyrics are a call to arms, to be sure. ‘Make Your Own Flag/ Raise Your Flag (Higher! Higher!)’. It’s like Bjork took that tank she drove in the Michel Gondry video for Army of Me and said ‘Fuck it!: I’m running over my enemies now. Anyone that stands in my way is done for.’
It feels like it could just be a protest song to stand up to pop culture or mediocrity or the status quo. But at times like these, when shit really does feel like US or THEM, you cannot crank ‘Declare Independence’ loud enough!!! You can dance to it, too, which is why it feels timeless to me.
And simply, it demands that we each seek our highest truth: ‘With a flag and a trumpet/ Go to the top of your highest mountain’. Make art. Make music. ‘Make your own stamp’, and then put it everywhere.
William Benton (Cat Casual and the Hotel Boheme, Cat Casual and the Holy Midnight/Ordinary Bones)
Barbara Dane and the Chambers Brothers It Isn’t Nice. A great song and performance. Minimal and direct. Protest doo wop? Somethin’ like that. It has been a time capsule of sorts, describing a particular time and chapter in the civil rights battle. Yet, it has never aged out of contemporary relevance. Unfortunately.
Brian Manley (Insect Policy, Driftless Afternoon Turmoil/Night Train Cocktail Lounge)
This question actually left my brain torn in several directions for a couple of days, and I can’t say the rift has been completely soldered. I guess this happens whenever someone asks me what my favorite song is for anything: time period, genre, album, last current thirty seconds. As a fan of music, and a fan of music history, of course I love and appreciate what are considered early protest songs from throughout American history. That whole movement is dug into the aural soil of the US, so of course you’ve got your Strange Fruit, and the importance of Guthrie, and everyone nods towards Dylan, whose early albums I crushed on in my mid-20s. What makes this one more difficult for me is defining a protest song. Does it have to be a rallying cry, or is a song of defiance against oppression in all ways? Do you count something like Jean Sibelius, who wrote orchestral protests against Russian occupation in the early 20th century, including a favorite piece of mine called Finlandia?
It started to get difficult to wrap my head around, and I’ve walked around wondering what my favorite protest song actually is, or was. I love the myriad of ways protest and dissent are expressed in music, and there is so much, and so many ways, it becomes boggling. I started thinking of what was some of the first music that created an awakening in my head that slowly stirred my perceptions into the idea of questioning the government, questioning authority, questioning the ceilings. I was a child of the Reagan era, raised in a conservative household, and the first times I remember thinking that our leaders weren’t necessarily good guys with our best interests at heart and that American is owned by corporations when I listened to early 80s thrash. Are these protest songs? Master of Puppets by Metallica and Peace Sells….But Who’s Buying? by Megadeth both hit when I was 13, and pretty soon I was staring wary-eyed at Reagan Empire, and forever since have been a fan of songs that point out the treacheries of political, social, racist, and economic injustices. I mean, maybe just as important was when I was 21 and loved listening to Ministry scream “fuck you, fuck me, fuck everyone, fuck the church, fuck George Bush, fuck Tipper Gore…” for two minutes at the end of the live version of Stigmata, or Public Enemy’s Fight the Power. My education continues, because I only recently really realized that a long slow burning love of The Clash has been developing inside me, and I just got into the wonders of Crass. So yeah. Fuck DJT.