Friday, April 22, 2011

Songs of reckoning, despair and hope

You may have gotten the impression this spring that there are a bunch of political kooks running the great state of Wisconsin. We aren't even sure yet what's shaking out in Madison, but we do have a proud history when it comes to progressive, visionary leadership, and today we salute one of our favorites: the late, great U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson.

Nelson believed the environment was worth fighting for years before it became fashionable to do so -- decades before Al Gore was conveniently winning the Nobel Peace Prize for The Inconvenient Truth. Nelson founded Earth Day on this day in 1970 and was later awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

A year after Nelson got Earth Day rolling, Marvin Gaye took up the cause with "Mercy Mercy Me," a stirring anthem about the environment that stands as one of his most poignant songs. Here are 10 songs worthy of consideration on Earth Day 2011. Click on the lyrics to hear the songs.

1. Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology), Marvin Gaye
Things ain't what they used to be, no, no

2. Big Yellow Taxi, Joni Mitchell
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot

3. Where Do the Children Play, Cat Stevens
Well you've cracked the sky, scrapers fill the air

4. Saltwater, Julian Lennon
Time is not a friend, 'cause friends we're out of time

5. I'd Love to Change the World, Ten Years After
World pollution there's no solution

6. What a Wonderful World, Louis Armstrong
I see trees of green, red roses too

7. Save Our Planet Earth, Jimmy Cliff
The children wanna love, they wanna live

8. Shapes of Things, Yardbirds
Please don't destroy these lands, don't make them desert sands

9. Sweet Old World, Lucinda Williams
Look what you lost when you left this world

10. The Road to Hell Pt. 2, Chris Rea
You must learn this lesson fast and learn it well

UPDATE: Oops, how could we forget "Burn On" by Randy Newman. Here's a live performance from Berlin in 1994 -- 25 years after the Cuyahoga River started on fire. Maybe we are making some progress...


  1. This thread reminds of these Lynyrd Skynyrd lyrics:

    Did you ever see a she-gator protect her young
    Or a fish in a river swimming free
    Did you ever see the beauty of the hills of Carolina
    Or the sweetness of the grass in Tennessee
    And Lord I can't make any changes
    All I can do is write 'em in a song
    I can see the concrete slowly creepin'
    Lord take me and mine before that comes

  2. Nice one, Matt. Here's an acoustic version of "All I Can Do is Write About It":

    If you have a guitar you'll want to play it, so here is the simple progression:

    G-D-Em-C, G-D-C

    (A-E-D for the piano solo)