7 Woodstock-Era Songs Just as Influential Today


Photo via Times Are Hard for Dreamers

Sometimes the drama of Woodstock overshadows one basic fact: In the beginning, it was all about the music. The songs of the time were powerful tools in the '60s' movement toward social, political, and environmental change--and they're as relevant, important, and effective today as they were then. Whether you heard them at the festival or yesterday on the car radio, there's no doubt that these tunes had--and continue to have--an impact. We've listed seven, but feel free to chime in with your favorite Woodstock-era global-change tunes in the comments below. Plus, read more of our Woodstock 40th anniversary tribute here. A few of these bands have also landed on our list of 10 Woodstock-Era Bands Still Rocking the Green Movement.

1. Mercy Mercy Me by Marvin Gaye


Released in 1971, Marvin Gaye's album What's Going On tackled more than just environmental issues, but the hit "Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology)" remains one of his most powerful works, and has been covered by artists including Robert Palmer, Grover Washington, Jr., and The Strokes. Sample lyrics: Ah, things ain't what they used to be, no no/Where did all the blue skies go?/Poison is the wind that blows from the north and south and east...Oils wasted on the ocean and upon our seas, fish full of mercury/Ah, oh mercy, mercy me.

2. Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell

Joni Mitchell's 1970 ode to trees, "Big Yellow Taxi" was reportedly inspired by a trip to Hawaii, where she saw that "The natural beauty of Hawaii had been rudely interrupted by a slab of pavement;" hence the refrain, "They paved paradise and put up a parking lot." The song also references DDT, the expansion of the pink Royal Hawaiian hotel, and the Foster Botanical Garden, which Mitchell calls "a tree museum." Sample lyrics: Hey farmer, farmer, put away that DDT now/Give me spots on my apples/But leave me the birds and the bees/Please/Don't it always seem to go/That you don't know what you've got/'Til it's gone.

3. Alice's Restaurant by Arlo Guthrie


Inspired by his famous dad, Woody, Arlo Guthrie made it big with the 1967 hit, "Alice's Restaurant," which--despite its 19-minute running time--became an almost instant classic for the, according to Guthrie, "anti-idiot" message. Primarily a protest against the draft, the song also describes the dangers of garbage dumping--and though it wasn't part of his Woodstock set, it's still one of Guthrie's most famous works. Sample lyrics: And that's what it is, the Alice's Restaurant Anti-Massacre Movement, and all you got to do to join is sing it the next time it comes around on the guitar.

4. Out in the Country by Three Dog Night

More about a love of nature than environmental ethics, "Out in the Country" by Three Dog Night has the kind of melody that calls up sunny picnic days and spring afternoons. The song, released on 1970's It Ain't Easy, was written by Paul Williams--who also wrote songs as diverse as "The Rainbow Connection" and the theme to The Love Boat. Sample lyrics: Before the breathin' air is gone/Before the sun is just a bright spot in the nighttime/Out where the rivers like to run/I stand alone and take back somethin' worth rememberin'.

5. We Shall Overcome by Joan Baez

Joan Baez wasn't the first person to use "We Shall Overcome" as a call for social change--the song was first published in 1947, and grew in popularity as Pete Seeger taught it to his audiences. It was already an anthem for the Civil Rights Movement when Baez performed it at Woodstock, and since then it has been adopted by everyone from Lyndon Johnson in a 1965 speech to anti-apartheid activists in South Africa in the 1980s. Sample lyrics: We are not alone/We are not alone/We are not alone someday/Oh, deep in my heart/I do believe/We shall overcome someday.

6. Let's Work Together by Canned Heat

Though their song "Going Up the Country" became the unofficial theme song to the Woodstock film, it's one of Canned Heat's other performances--"Let's Work Together"--that became the band's biggest hit. It's also an important reminder that global change requires a global effort--whether your goal is peace, human rights, or clean air. Sample lyrics: Together we'll stand, divided we'll fall/Come on now people let's get on the ball/And work together, come on, come on/Let's work together now, now people/Because together we will stand/Every boy, girl, woman, and man.

7. Love City by Sly and the Family Stone

Sly and the Family Stone made a name for themselves with a lineup of songs promoting "peace, love, and understanding,"--and their Woodstock performance of "Love City" tied all those elements together during a turbulent era. Sample lyrics: Look into the future/Tell me what you see/Brothers and sisters holding hands/And you sitting next to me, now...All these wonderful people singin'/All these wonderful songs, yeah/Love city, love city.

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Tags: Activism | Arts | Conservation | Music | Woodstock