Looking at the musical releases of important or less known bands and soloists, it’s not always just about Longing, Love, heartbreak or Sex. Political topics are also represented, without the musicians standing out as political agitators. It is not very easy to separate such songs thematically, because in most of the presented music all topics are touched upon.
(A Spotify playlist with all songs listed here can be found at the end of the article.)
Songs about the environment:
Peter Gabriel – “Red Rain”
Peter Gabriel has touched on environmental issues several times, including “Down to Earth,” “Here Comes the Flood,” or “Red Rain.”. This environmental song was first released on his successful album “So” in 1986.
It was one of his most successful solo albums. “Red Rain” was released as a single in the U.S. in 1986, and spent three weeks at number three on the Billboard chart. Red Rain” was originally conceived as a film score. The film was never made, but some of the songs composed for it dealt with the filmic theme.
According to this, people should be punished for their sins with bloody rain. The song reflects two basic fears of people that dominated the headlines of press reports in the eighties.
John Mayall – “Nature’s Disappearing”
In 1970, blues guitarist John Mayall addressed the issue of the environment. In his blues song “Nature’s Disappearing” Mayall accuses a man of being a hideous creature that exploits and pollutes nature.
Now is the time to act, he says – but whether anyone cares? Rivers and landscapes will be devastated, waste will not be recycled if there is no reflection. He blames those who live now for destroying the environment and nature. Naturally, blues songs like this don’t end up in the charts.
But they prove that such topics are burning on the nail regardless of the musical genre.
The Cranberries – “Time Is Ticking Out”
In 2002, Cranberry singer Dolores O’Riordan sang about the force with which people pollute the environment worldwide. The now-deceased singer of the indie rock band described environmental disasters like the Chernobyl nuclear accident, the hole in the ozone layer, or nuclear radiation.
In their song, the band condemned the inaction of politics, but also the phlegm of the people who currently inhabit the earth. Living on poisoned earth is not an attractive option for our descendants, according to the Cranberries.
Jimmy Cliff – “Save Our Planet Earth”
Reggae artist Jimmy Cliff presented this simple song lyric in 1989 on his album of the same name. Despite the reggae groove, the message comes across clearly.
Cliff is unequivocal about the legacy mankind is leaving for future generations. He sees it as criminal to do such things to the climate or the environment. Among much ding-ding-ding and whoa-whoa, Cliff asks in the song to stop cutting down forests, stop killing animals, and ensure everyone’s survival.
It also addresses the hole in the ozone layer and the polluted air on earth. In the solution to simply colonize Mars, Jimmy Cliff sees no alternative even then.
Midnight Oil – “Beds Are Burning”
For Midnight Oil, an Australian band, the environment was a matter of the heart. Just as the first European immigrants took over the land of the Indians and treated it shamefully, in Australia whites have taken over the land of the Aborigines and pushed the indigenous people to the social fringes. “Beds are burning”, published in 1987, describes the environmental and land destruction that has taken place since then. Man shows himself to be unyielding to their suffering, and equally indifferent to the environment.
At the end of the song, the band expresses their wish that things will eventually turn around for the good of Aborigines and the environment.
Don Henley – “Goodbye to a River”
Don Henley, formerly the distinctive voice of the “Eagles,” used rain as a metaphor in this song. It was meant to wash away mankind’s arrogance towards nature. Henley says goodbye in the lyrics to straightened rivers or lakes put in their place. Henley tells of environmental toxins being carried around the world in these rivers.
In the process, they pollute fields and entire stretches of land. Henley questions what to tell his child. The years have also increasingly diluted his senses, he says, but he wants to remember how it used to be. This environmental song was inspired by a book by John Graves.
Released “Goodbye to a River” on Don Henley’s fourth solo album, titled “Inside Job”. The album reached number seven in the US charts.
The Beatles – “Mother Nature’s Son”
Already in 1968, the Beatles were worried to see an idyll disappear in this song. Lennon and McCartney always delivered content lyrically – except for the songs that had humorous content.
Covered this Beatles song, written by McCartney, was covered by John Denver, Sherly Crow, and Harry Nilsson. McCartney felt inspired to write “Mother Nature’s Son” after he had attended a seminar on nature with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. In addition, impulses from Nat King Cole’s “Nature Boy” also flowed in.
Bob Dylan – “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”
The environment and climate protection were already a topic for Bob Dylan in 1962 – for example in his song “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”. The song was released on the album “The freewheelin’ Bob Dylan”.
It was covered among others by Ann Wilson – former singer of the US rock band “Heart” – also by Bryan Ferry or Julie Felix. Dylan thematizes injustice, environmental pollution, or war. The trigger for the lyrics was – as Dylan wrote in his memoirs “Chronicles: Volume One” – reading microfiche newspapers in New York’s “Public Library”.
After reading, Dylan felt overcome by gloomy forebodings. His song, he says, is a funeral dirge to humanity.
Songs about climate change:
Bruce Cockburn – “If a Tree Falls”
This song about climate change is from Cockburn’s 1988 album “Big Circumstance” already. From this, we can see how old this topic already is, without any noteworthy successes being achieved in terms of global warming and climate protection. Cockburn doesn’t hide behind diaper wording but gets very direct.
He addresses deforestation as one of the greatest human outrages contributing to climate change. Cockburn later reported that many critics did not like this song. They thought the lyrics were too pedantic, too direct, and used metaphors that went too far.
However, important environmentalists like David Suzuki saw it quite differently.
Beastie Boys – “It Takes Time to Build”
With this song, the Beastie Boys turned against the climate policy of U.S. President Bush. The song was released in 2004 on the album “To the Five Boroughs”, and criticizes especially – but not only – the failure of the US president not to sign the Kyoto Protocol. The Beastie Boys make a clear statement about how commercial intemperance and greed are causing irreparable damage to the planet.
The lyrics to this song still stand today. You could exchange the name of Bush for that of Trump.
Bad Religion – “Kyoto Now!”
“Kyoto Now!” is from the album “The Process of Belief” released in 2002. The song is about student protests that have addressed climate issues at many U.S. universities. Here, too, the background of the topic is the so-called “Kyoto Protocol”, which was supposed to set new environmental standards, but in the end, resulted in nothing more than lukewarm compromises in favor of economic interests.
Although everyone knows that the amount of environmentally harmful emissions lead to climate change, lazy compromises are always negotiated. The listener may understand the song as direct support of the student protests of the time. This is no coincidence, as one member of the band studied at Cornell University.
This is where the protests started at the time.
Radiohead – “Idioteque”
Radiohead’s Thom Yorke has taken aim at climate change several times in songs by his band – but also in his solo projects. For example, his 2006 album “The Eraser” featured several songs on the subject at once. In addition, according to Yourke, the song “Sail to the Moon (Brush the Cobwebs out of the Sky)” from Radiohead’s 2003 album “Hail to the Thief” was also about climate change. “Idioteque” comes from Radiohead’s album “Kid A”.
Here Yorke stays a bit cryptic instead of being direct. Nevertheless, the message is unmistakable. The apocalyptic sound does the rest to support the effect of the text.
With this song, Yorke wants to make people aware of what will happen if we just carry on like this.
Breaking Laces – “Global Warming Day”
Even lesser-known bands that never had a hit have dedicated a song and a video to climate change. “Global Warming Day” was released on the album “Soahcahtoa” in 2003. In this text, it goes bluntly to the thing.
It is described what climate change causes: That people will be baked if they don’t finally change something. God gives, but the man takes away – that is the endless and painful story. In the end, people are disposable.
It can hardly be said more clearly.
Songs about planet earth:
Michael Jackson – “Earth Song
Michael Jackson was always accused of being naive and childish – not to mention other things. But the “Earth Song” of 1995 was a concern for him, which should therefore not be minimized.
Jackson probably recorded the most successful eco-song ever on the charts with it. Jackson’s vision of “Love and Peace” was romanticized. He refers to worldwide dimensions. Also, because of the pathetic way Jackson presented “Earth Song,” it was a hit that had a strong impact on mostly young audiences.
It deals with topics like environmental pollution, war, or the exploitation of our planet’s resources. To make the message more impactful, Jackson sang this song with children from different nations. Jacko asked bluntly when it was time to turn around and take a different course.
The social commitment was important to Jackson.
Jamiroquai – “When You Gonna Learn”
Jamiroquai also addressed everything that man is doing to this planet on his debut album in 1993. The song is not only about climate change, or the increasing pollution of the planet, but also about the greed of the economic bosses.
He is of the opinion that environmental issues must be taken more seriously in order to save the planet. Instead, a large part of the politicians remains in apathy and can be steered by the interests of the economy and their lobbyists. The content of this song is similar to a protest song, but the music of Jamiroquai is still danceable. Another song by Jamiroquai showed that this topic was not an alibi-published ephemera.
The song “Emergency on Planet Earth” is also dedicated to this concern.
Neil Young – “Mother Earth (Natural Anthem)”
Many of his fans know that Neil Young with his band “Crazy Horse” always takes aim at environmental issues. This song is from his successful album “After The Goldrush” from 1970.
This album was famously followed by several concept albums on the same theme – for example, the album “Greendale” released in 2003, or the “Fork in the Road” released in 2009. In addition, Young addressed the state of the planet again in the album “The Monsanto Years” released in 2015, and in the live album “Earth”, dedicated exclusively to environmental issues. With the song “Mother Earth (Natural Anthem),” released again in 1990 on the album “Ragged Glory,” Young questions man’s relationship with planet Earth.
Marvin Gaye – “Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology)”
Even soul singer Marvin Gaye dealt in songs with what will become of this planet. “Mercy, Mercy me” comes from the 1971 album “What’s Going On,” a concept album about social issues. Gaye addresses in the usual style questions that have moved him.
It’s about overpopulation, about abuse crimes against this planet, or the climate. In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Gaye once said that around 1969 he started thinking about what he wanted to say with his lyrics. Through letters from his brother in Vietnam, he became more aware of social issues.
He understood that if he wanted to reach people with his songs, he would have to try his hand at such topics.
Cat Stevens – “Where Do the Children Play”
At first glance, this Cat Stevens track is anything but a song about our planet. But even the song title betrays Steven’s concern for what we humans leave to our descendants.
Published is “Where do the children play?” as the title track on the hit 1970 album “Tea for the Tillerman”. It’s no secret that Cat Stevens has always taken a closer look at things. Nevertheless, he was a hip poet who deliberately became less direct than others. This was also due to the time in which Cat Stevens celebrated his greatest chart successes.
The song evolved into a much-played Earworm. Its effect reverberates to this day.
Joni Mitchell – “Big Yellow Taxi”
When Joni Mitchell describes in her song “Big Yellow Taxi” how a huge parking lot in Hawaii, a pink hotel, a boutique, and a nightclub destroy the idyll of the Hawaiian landscape, it is unmistakable. Mitchell outlines most ironically in this song, first published in 1970, that the trees cut down for it is now to be admired in a tree museum, and people have to pay a dollar and a half to admire them.
According to Mitchell’s song, farmers should rather use less DDT (insecticide) to produce edible apples. Man does not know what he has until he has lost it. “Big Yellow Taxi” is about more than just a few felled trees and an ex-lover to whom this lyric line is supposedly directed.
Although the song was first released in 1970, it wasn’t until its re-release in 2003 that it became a huge hit for the American song poet.
Depeche Mode – “Landscape is Changing”
On their third studio album ” Construction Time Again” Depeche Mode again deals with existential fears and loveless relationships. In their usual ultra-cool sound garb, the synth-poppers present a song that deals with poverty, nuclear threats, and national revolutions. According to the song, the landscape is changing.
She cries, and thousands of acres of land are doomed to die.
More songs about the environment, climate change, earth
Each song is linked to the corresponding music video via the title.
Umwelt, Klimawandel, Erde Spotify-Playlist:
Regardless of the style of music played, many musicians have dedicated one or more pieces to these three themes. An impressive list of research can be found in this PDF.