Fight the power! 21 ferocious protest anthems

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Fight the power! 21 ferocious protest anthems

The new issue of NME contains a special report on the wave of student protests that have been taking place.

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Added: 14 Mar 2011

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Fight the power! 21 ferocious protest anthems

In it, Patrick Kingsley reports on the protest movement, and speaks to some of the people involved, ahead of the huge march planned for March 26. Duly inspired, we thought we'd revisit some classic protest anthems.

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Added: 10 Nov 2010

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Fight the power! 21 ferocious protest anthems

21. Creedence Clearwater Revival, 'Fortunate Son' (1969). John Fogerty was always good at portraying embittered outsiders, but this attack on well-heeled Vietnam draft-dodgers - specifically President Dwight D. Eisenhower's grandson, David - found his invective allied to a weapons-grade chorus, too.

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Added: 1 Apr 2009

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Fight the power! 21 ferocious protest anthems

19. Gang Of Four, 'Natural’s Not In It' (1979). The post-punk ideologues extend the Marxist concept of alienated labour to argue that ‘leisure’ is just as sterile. There is no escape from the capitalist machine. Even while shopping, socialising, having sex, you are trapped.

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Added: 1 Apr 2009

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Fight the power! 21 ferocious protest anthems

18. Bjork, 'Declare Independence' (2008). In its original form, this roiling, avant-electro call-to-arms could apply to any state (although it was originally written about the Faroe Islands and Greenland). It was only in March 2008, when Bjork tagged the words "Tibet! Tibet!" on to the end, that it became a critique of Chinese repression.

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Added: 1 Apr 2009

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Fight the power! 21 ferocious protest anthems

17. Radiohead, 'You And Whose Army' (2001). The political dimension of Radiohead's music is often missed – Thom Yorke was obsessed with Will Hutton's assault on Thatcherism, 'The State We're In' while writing 'OK Computer' – but it was only with 'Amnesiac' that the band's rage became specific, rather than oblique. On this track, the word "cronies" suggests the target could only be Tony Blair.

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Added: 31 Mar 2009

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Fight the power! 21 ferocious protest anthems

16. Bikini Kill, New Radio (1993). A 90 second splurge of sexual self-determination that combines chainsaw riffing, gender politics, and pure, uncaged physicality ("The gaps in teeth, the dirty nails") to synapse-frying effect. Produced by Joan Jett, weirdly enough.

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Added: 31 Mar 2009

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Fight the power! 21 ferocious protest anthems

15. Rage Against The Machine, 'Sleep Now In The Fire' (2000). A Panzer-strength polemic that takes aim at all of America's darkest crimes, from slavery to the use of Agent Orange in Vietnam. The band shot the Michael Moore-directed video outside the New York Stock Exchange, spooking security staff into locking the front doors.

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Added: 31 Mar 2009

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Fight the power! 21 ferocious protest anthems

14. Public Enemy, 'Fight The Power' (1989). The brilliance of 'Fight The Power' is that it recognises that cultural imperialism can be just as repressive a force as more obvious forms of state authority. Everyone knows about the Elvis lyric – but only Chuck D could tease out the unsettling racial stereotypes reinforced by Bobby McFerrin's 'Don't Worry Be Happy'.

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Added: 31 Mar 2009

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Fight the power! 21 ferocious protest anthems

13. NWA, 'Fuck Tha Police' (1988). The song's moral force was borne out four years later by the LA race riots, but its sentiments have proved to be universal: in 1996, a radio station in Belgrade played the song on a loop for two days straight in support of anti-Milosevic street protests.

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Added: 1 Apr 2009

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Fight the power! 21 ferocious protest anthems

12. System Of A Down, 'B.Y.O.B.' (2005). Nothing to do with barbecues, this bludgeoning calypso-metal blitzkrieg was in fact inspired by the genocide in Darfur. Look beyond Sej Tankian's hysterical, Fiddler On The Roof vocal style and marvel at a protest song of startling flair and googly-eyed inventiveness. What do you think of our list?

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Added: 1 Apr 2009

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Fight the power! 21 ferocious protest anthems

11. Sleater-Kinney, 'A Real Man' (1995). From the second-wave riot grrrls' self-titled debut album, a full-throated howl of emancipation from a phallocentric, heterosexual, capitalist establishment. "Should I buy it?", questions Corin Tucker, equating the uninvited male advance with just another unwanted product.

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Added: 1 Apr 2009

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Fight the power! 21 ferocious protest anthems

10. Johnny Boy, 'You Are The Generation That Bought More Shoes And You Get What You Deserve' (2004). An anti-consumerist polemic set to a 'Be My Baby' drumbeat and a titanic chorus, this James Dean Bradfield-produced little-symphony is one of the great lost tracks, destined to be feted by music journalists and utterly forgotten by everyone else. Still, what a tune.

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Added: 1 Apr 2009

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Fight the power! 21 ferocious protest anthems

9. Manic Street Preachers, 'Motown Junk' (1991). Like a lot of early Manics songs, it's difficult to know exactly what they were protesting about - although the exploitation of black musicians was certainly somewhere in the mix – but, with its scrawled power-chords and impossibly thrilling intro ("Revolution, revolution…"), this is certainly the Manics' most ferocious four minutes.

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Added: 1 Apr 2009

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Fight the power! 21 ferocious protest anthems

8. Prince, 'Sign O The Times' (1987). AIDS, gang war, looming nuclear apocalypse… Prince's own 'What's Going On?' certainly has scope - although the social commentary aspect is somewhat undermined by the random nature of the lyrics: what do Hurricane Annie and the Challenger disaster have to do with urban deprivation?

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Added: 1 Apr 2009

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Fight the power! 21 ferocious protest anthems

7. Black Sabbath, 'War Pigs' (1971). The point at which anti-war sentiment merges into pagan mysticism. It's easy to sneer at Ozzy Osbourne's lyrics (rhyming 'masses' with 'masses'), but there are moments here that carry genuine, unsettling power. That final line, for example ("Satan laughing spreads his wings") is pure 'Paradise Lost'. The epic poem, not the goth metal band.

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Added: 1 Apr 2009

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Fight the power! 21 ferocious protest anthems

6. Metallica, 'One' (1988). An indirect protest song (in that it's written in character), but no less chilling for that. Perhaps the most terrifying anti-war song ever, narrated by a WW1 veteran who has lost all his limbs and senses. He longs to die, but cannot communicate that wish, so remains entombed within his own silent, endless hell. 'Give Peace A Chance' it is not.

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Added: 1 Apr 2009

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Fight the power! 21 ferocious protest anthems

5. Billie Holiday, 'Strange Fruit' (1939). Billie Holiday had to leave her label, Columbia, before she could record this – they didn't want the 'controversy' of releasing a song in which the titular fruit represent the hanging bodies of black Americans, strung from trees by white lynch-mobs in America's South.

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Added: 1 Apr 2009

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Fight the power! 21 ferocious protest anthems

4. Dead Kennedys, 'California Uber Alles' (1979). In singer Jello Biafra's fantasy dystopia, Jerry Brown, one-time Governor of California enforces his policies with the ruthlessness of a fascist dictator. References to Shakespeare's 'Julius Caesar' and Orwell's '1984' contribute to an unhinged, yet cleverly nuanced, tirade.

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Added: 31 Mar 2009

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Fight the power! 21 ferocious protest anthems

3. The Clash, 'Straight To Hell' (1982). The intro riff might have been given a second life as a hipster ringtone thanks to M.I.A.'s 'Paper Planes', but this is one of The Clash's bleakest songs – a sweeping panorama of disaffection that veers from industrial decline in Northern England to the persecution of Puerto Rican immigrants in 80s New York.

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Added: 10 Nov 2010

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Fight the power! 21 ferocious protest anthems

2. Bruce Springsteen, 'Born In The USA' (1984). It's that beefy production that tricked people into thinking 'Born…' was a patriotic anthem – although only a moron could miss the throat-bursting anti-Reaganite fury evident in the opening line: "Born down in a dead man's town".

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Added: 31 Mar 2009

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Fight the power! 21 ferocious protest anthems

1. Bob Dylan, 'A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall' (1963). Dylan has always maintained this visionary epic, written a month before the Cuban Missile crisis, was not a song about the aftermath of nuclear war – but how else to interpret the soothsayer-like images of death, pollution, poison and decay that run right through it? You can listen to all 21 protest anthems now at NME.COM/blogs.

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Added: 31 Mar 2009

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