The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #17515   Message #1422684
Posted By: GUEST,Hippie Lawyer
28-Feb-05 - 04:37 AM
Thread Name: Greatest protest singer of the sixties
Subject: RE: Greatest protest singer of the sixties
Dear People:

I am writing this e-mail as someone who was there, and who has retained all the values I developed during that best-of-times/worst-of-times era.

If you want to talk about the greatest musicians of the 1960's who harbored counter-cultural values, and thus protestors' values, the obvious answer is The Beatles. They changed our society in numerous ways not remembered now. They challenged, or at least thumbed their noses at, almost every social icon. And, along with the indispenable help of their genius producer/classical musician/assistant songwriter, George Martin, they get my vote for the greatest musical force since Beethoven.

If you want to talk about the greatest songwriter who wrote antiwar and other protest songs FOR AWHILE, the clear answer in my opinion is Dylan. Nobody ever wrote a protest against the "sport" of boxing that could touch "Who Killed Davey Moore?" I have never heard a song about racial and economic injustice of my lifetime, not to mention judicial corruption, that comes close to "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll." I have hever heard a scarier song about nuclear war than "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall," nor a song which better captured the (blind) optimism of early-1960's activism than "The Times They Are A-Changin'."

But as I suggested above, Dylan only wrote protest songs for awhile, and not a very long while, at that. For that reason, I don't think he can seriously contend for the greatest protest singer/songwriter of that decade.

By the same token, the young Joan Baez had a better singing voice than any other protest singer I've heard, and she kept singing such songs when Dylan had stopped... BUT, she did not start writing songs until the end of the decade. "Sweet Sir Galahad," a song for her sister Mimi, was her first musical composition to be released, and while I rate it as one of her best, a protest song it ain't.

There are many others I could mention, and to whom great praise could go as protest singers: Buffy Sainte-Marie; Peter, Paul and Mary; Pete Seeger; Judy Collins; etc.

But if you are looking for the single individual or group who most tirelessly championed the military, political and social causes we progressives lived for--the guy who started very early in the decade and was still going strong until its end, albeit not for much longer than that--there is only one answer.

And his name, may his soul rest in the peace he never knew in this world, was Phil Ochs.

Like young David Rovics today, only with far more talent, Ochs released album after album after album filled with protest songs he had written. The Vietnam War and the horrors of racist brutality in the American South were his two pet topics, but he wrote about everything: the A.M.A.; coal miners; America's complicity with Franco's fascist Spain; the persecution of journalist William Worthy, who traveled to New York at some personal peril to hear Phil sing "The Ballad of William Worthy" (can you imagine the mutual respect in the coffee shop that night?); the corruption of the 1968 Democratic Convention and the fascist barbarism of the police riot outside it; and more other things than I could begin to recite.

The definitive song about 1960's chickenhawks is, without any doubt whatsoever, Phil's "Draft Dodger Rag." The song which the antiwar movement adopted as its anthem, more than any other, was "I Ain't Marchin' Anymore." Phil was the archetypal 1960's protest singer/songwriter, driven by relentless, and ultimately tragic, forces.

Dylan's best efforts were better, but they were so enormously outnumbered by Phil's that I can see no case for selecting Dylan over Phil as the decade's greatest protest singer/songwriter. The same goes for Peter, Paul and Mary, and a lot of others.

There simply was nobody who, despite the radio stations' total blacklisting of his protest songs, so ceaselessly churned out a steady diet of iconoclastic, in-your-face protest songs--some of them funny as hell, others tragic. And yes, I know, it eventually destroyed him. He never really recovered from what happened at the 1968 Democratic convention--although he still wrote some great songs after that, including my favorite Ochs song, the painful "No More Songs." And his eventual descent into alcoholism, hopeless depression and ultimately suicide are all well documented.

But this post specifically talks about "the sixties," and if you're not just talking about the most beautiful voice (Baez or Collins), or the best writer of a select few protest songs (Dylan), but rather are asking who was the ceaseless foe of oppression and champion of protest singer/songwriters, there is only one answer. To my great regret, he ain't marchin' anymore, but when he did, he was the best. And none of us who loved him then will ever forget him.

Thanks, Phil.

Jim Fahey