5 Things You Should Know Before Writing Political Songs

Jon Ostrow on Feb 20, 2012


Tom Morello (Rage Against The Machine) Performing At Occupy Wall Street

Music has the power to create a movement.

Throughout music history, songwriters all over the world have used this power to speak out and raise awareness about political issues. From genocide and racial atrocities, to class warfare and economic unbalance, every (or almost every) major political issue of the last 50 years has been given a soundtrack by a songwriter that felt strongly enough to put their feelings into song.

In fact, some of the best songwriters of all time are considered as such because of their ability to stir the pot and get people in motion to act again political injustice.
 A few important examples of famous political songs are:

  • Bob Dylan The Times They Are A Changin' - Written in 1964 during the civil rights movement in the US, this song became the soundtrack for the movement.
  • Bob Marley Redemption Song - A hopeful protest song written during time of unrest in Jamaica.
  • John Lennon Imagine - Easily considered to be the most important anti-war, pro-peace song ever written.
  • The Sex Pistols God Save The Queen - Commentary on the economic divide in England during the 1970s, this song took direct aim at UKs elite class, meanwhile giving a voice to the unrepresented, lower class.
  • Rage Against The Machine Killing In The Name Of - Written in reaction to the 1992 acquittal of the four police officers accused of assaulting Rodney King (which sparked the infamous LA Race Riots), this song has since become the soundtrack to racial injustice.
  • Notorious B.I.G Things Done Changed - A terrifyingly realistic portrayal of the economic divide and widespread crack cocaine epidemic that plagued many inner city neighborhoods in the early 90s.

To celebrate Presidents' Day in the US, we thought this was the perfect time to break down the idea of a political song and give you 5 things that have been shown to work in all of the best political songs, that you should consider when writing your own:

1) Tell a story

Whether you tell a personal story or just paint a picture of what the victim of the political issues would experience, telling a story is one of the most important and effective ways to connect the significance of the issue with the listener.

2) Be personal

Often times, songwriters will try to simply write a political song for the sake of writing one, but without having a personal connection to the issue, the song will likely fall flat with connecting with others on a widespread level. The reason here is because an effective political song should show passion about the issue and more importantly, what it takes to right the wrong, so if you attempt to take on a political injustice through song, make sure it is something you personally feel strongly about.

3) Opinion matters

Writing an effective political song is more than just laying out the facts, it is about adding in your own commentary and again showing the passion as to why you feel it is so important to address the issues within your song head on.

4) The song must be the primary focus

While the lyrical content and political message will obviously be in the spotlight, that doesn't mean you can forego quality songwriting! This is a big mistake that so many make and believe it or not, it can lessen the effectiveness of the lyrics and message if the song isn't worth listening to. All of the songs listed above made a difference, and all tell an important political message, but first and most importantly each is a fantastic song worth listening to.

5) Should be current and relevant

This would seem obvious enough but it is important to state; if you are going to write a political song, make sure it is current and relevant if you want it to energize people. While WWII and the Vietnam War were important, writing political songs about them now is less social commentary and more a nostalgia piece. The latter is absolutely fine if thats what you are going for, but it if not, it is certainly something to be wary of.

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