Artists & Bands performing music of style «Protest Songs»

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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.

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