Top Ten Climate Change Songs

Yesterday, millions marched against Climate Change worldwide in what is being acknowledged as a game-changing moment of awareness, one that no politician can now ignore. Sweden’s Greta Thunberg has given a very clear focus for the people of the world to rally around, take responsibility and take actions. Be part of the solutions, not the problems.
Our friends at Permaculture magazine: Earth Care, People Care, Future Care(https://www.permaculture.co.uk/) have been on the environmental front line for over 100 issues/27 years and have put together this essential list of listening for Louder Than War readers of activist music that has also helped shape the creative responses to climate change awareness over the past 50 years.

 

1. No Such Thing As Waste, The Formidable Vegetable Sound System
Never heard of them, have you? Not saying this is better than anything above, but Australian activist-performer (where Permaculture originated from increasing environmental need as that country heats up) Charlie Mgee could be the most singular environmental musician/singer/songwriter on planet earth. This is a highlight from the band’s debut album, Permaculture: A Rhymer’s Manual, twelve songs, each of which is one of the twelve Permaculture Principles (this is Principle 6 ‘Produce No Waste’).

The lyrics are an A-Z of what to do. “There’s no such thing as waste/Only stuff in the wrong place” it sounds so simple but this is clever, up-beat, can-do activism. The band are amazing live performers and have in the past done 9 plus performances at Glastonbury Festival in recent years – although still invited Charlie has remained in Australia to tackle local activist issues and yes, not to fly. In the UK we have Tellytubbies for kids entertainment, in Australia, they have a daytime kids programme called Dirt Girl showing kids how to grow and nurture: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mgZkn56dpk8

 

2. What Nature Gives…Nature Takes Away, The Membranes
Again, we are trying to present you with examples of a creative response to climate change and our place on this planet as they are unfolding right now and The Membranes What Nature Gives…Nature Takes Away is the most coherent state of the nation/union/world piece of art (not just music) to have appeared this year. As you will all know from the plethora of five-star reviews this post-punk double album could have been the most out of place release of the year, but is suddenly the most important and actually emotional (and true).
“Humanities fundamentally greatest mistake is that it denies its irrefutable connection to the natural world” says TV natural world expert Chris Packham on the album. So, this album, at a time when Extinction Rebellion is reframing how we can all feel about and respond to climate change, what we can and should demand of our ‘leaders’ and, being specifically British, how our relationship to our particular environment makes us feel/shapes who we are.

The album’s title track and song titles like The City Is An Animal (Nature Is It’s Slave), The Magical and Mystical Properties Of Flowers and The Murmuration Of Starlings on Blackpool Pier are particular observations, caught within the larger frame of worldwide environmental awareness; we no longer inhabit a state of ‘innocence’ and that has increasing consequences for mental health as well as other species and habitats.

The album as a whole deserves to be listed/highlighted here, but here is the stunning title track. As Packham alludes to above we are part of this planet, it can survive without us, but not us as we are right now without it and what it offers?:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7wK_6VOwHsQ

 

 

 

3. Monkey Gone To Heaven, The Pixies

The Pixies 1989 classic, go on, you knew this one would be included, has the lines, “There’s a hole in the sky and the ground’s not cold and if the ground’s not cold, we’re all gonna burn” (climate change and the depletion of the ozone layer in a hit single shock! By a band who would prove to be hugely influential over the next few years. Black Francis said that the inspiration for the song was a sense of anger at the destruction of the natural world. There are also references to the seas and human waste and the monkey could be both the ‘monkey’ on our backs or the first chimp sent into space … just that last bit is kind of epically lonely/uncomprehending?  What does “five, six, seven” mean at the end, the hierarchy of man, devil, god? Who can pin that down, who wants to pin that down, but at under three minutes long this is a nailed on classic?https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EHC9HE7vazI

4. Flying, Seize The Day
One of the big environmental issues is the consequences of flying and this song by the UK’s leading climate activist band articulates the dilemma of ‘what do I do?’ “I discovered so much of who I am/Sitting in deserts in the sand/Nothing and no one to get in the way. No bills to pay/I love lying in the sun and swimming in warm sea/I don’t want to think about all the places I may never see/Living is hard and flying is easy… What will you do?” They are asking themselves this question, not just pointing a finger and going “you” it is about the moderation/taking of responsibility of each of us.
For decades now they have been an unmissable festival live act, you can’t help but dance along to the choreographed moves they employ … so a kind of dancing, singalong activism:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gNO7F5m-7pQ
5. Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology), Marvin Gaye
One of the seminal albums of all time was also an awareness raising for the planet/our environment .. and this is back in 1971! Now, with the realisation of what we are doing to ‘our ‘foodchains, plastics and Gulf stream this genius evocation of man’s impacts seems ever more revolutionary. “Oil wasted on the oceans and upon our seas/Fish full of mercury/Oh, mercy mercy me/Oh, things ain’t what they used to be”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=efiDnHS3fzk

6. After The Gold Rush, Neil Young

Some of our great artists (of any art form) have remained true to commitments they were making 30, 40, 50 years ago. This Neil Young classic originally had the line “Look at Mother Nature on the run / In the 1970s” is currently sung by Young in concert as “Look at Mother Nature on the run / in the 21st century.”

He has championed climate activism, US farmers and sustainable farming and permaculture throughout his extraordinary career. In 2015 Young invitedPermaculture Magazine to every gig of his world tour that year … we wanted to go in person, but not being keen on flying we sent local activists to each show to hand out magazines/connect with people … the permaculture solution. Quite simply still one of the world’s unmissable live performers, by turns tender and ferocioushttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KAOE3ENMGuo
7. Maybe, Autons
The one hundred miles-an-hour brilliantly bonkers single Snakes by this bunch of electro-punkers came second in the 2006 Festive Fifty (https://www.dandelionradio.com/2006festive50.htm). From the same album, Short Term Manifesto (and there’s a clue), there is also this climate change classic. “Cast the line into the brine/the world we know is dying/strip your skin, reveal your sin/and show me what you’re made of” is a superior expression of climate awareness/consequence.
The brilliant video was made by activists (using images from front line activists the world over) has reached a lot of people: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rdowhGmxWYQ
8. What The Fuck, Crass
As the history of punk is written, re-written and re-written (by people who were not even there) the one consistent ommision are Crass. This is from their 1981 female only vocal album Penis Envy, and is as direct as the Kennedys are surreal. “What now? Now you would destroy the earth, dry the river beds” they ask. Your answer? Which side of the line are you on? Many Crass songs interweave war, religion, politics, people’s choices (the ‘What The Fuck?’ here). Their classic Bloody Revolutions is almost their perfect moment, but at a time when people are asking why aren’t their more female performers at festivals, or in higher positions of influence in society here we have one band who did something about it in the most direct way … and that is powerful, real activism: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WEy9_WjRBZw
9. Forest Fire, The Dead Kennedys
With great swathes of the Amazon so recently burning, with world wide tempratures rising and our human impacts becoming ever more apparent this direct, manic take on human’s building their own prisons/tombs via a world of selfish ‘stuff’ is about as about as loud a call out as you can get. Part of the speed-freak Side One genius of their 1982 Plastic Surgery Disasters highwatermark. I always imagine comedian Frankie Boyle being the biggest Kennedys’ fan in the world and marvelling at the sheer tightrope walking not just of the lyrics but of the political intent. Heady, dangerous stuff … best version to view is this lip-sync mayhem from a Dutch TV broadcast: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BOqv1nnrIqc way beyond the call of duty, “thank you Jello”.
10. Up From The Skies, The Jimi Hendrix Experience

The opening track from Jimi’s second album of 1967 (so a statement in itself) was the gentle, but pointed, wah wah jazz of Up From The Skies. He sings “a smell of a world that is burned … maybe it’s just a change of climate” and “I wanna know about the new Mother Earth / I wanna hear and see everything” and somehow Hendrix seems both world/people weary and prophetic, communicating in pure music as well as words.

Jimi played it just once live himself, in Stockholm, Sweden in 1968, the home of Greta Thunberg, listen here (YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c5cu-nG7Vew), but check out the album version, very beautiful.
There are cover versions by Rickie Lee Jones, Vernon Reid, Joan Jett and Sting but the most interesting is The Gil Evans Orchestra Plays the Music of Jimi Hendrix (1974, RCA) album version, as you get to hear the ‘jazz’ potential of Hendrix’s music that so many (Miles Davis for example) were saying they could hear in his output and live performances.
Honourable 1960s mention to The Door’s epic When The Music’s Over for:
“What have they done to the Earth?
What have they done to our fair sister?
Ravaged and pundered and ripped her and bit her
Stuck her with knives in the side of the dawn
And tied her with fences and dragged her down”
As with Hendrix a 1967 release that offered a globally aware view of our planet and our place/impacts on it. This music was charting, it’s influence and impact
Up From The Skies, The Jimi Hendrix Experience

I just want to talk to you
I won’t, do you no harm
I just want to know about your different lives
On this is here people farm
I heard some of you got your families
Living in cages tall and cold
And some just stay there and dust away
Past the age of old
Is this true?
Please let me talk to you

I just wanna know about
The rooms behind your minds
Uh do I see a vacuum there
Or am I going blind?
Or is it just uh, remains of vibrations
And echoes long ago?
Things like “Love the world” and uhh
“Let your fancy flow”
Is this true ?
Please let me talk to you
Let me talk to you

I have lived here before
The days of ice
And of course this is why
I’m so concerned
And I come back to find
The stars misplaced
And the smell of a world
That is burned
A smell of a world
That is burned

Yeah well, maybe, ehm…
Maybe it’s just a… change of climate
Hmm, hmm…
Well I can dig it
I can dig it baby
I just want to see

So where do I purchase my ticket?
I’d just like to have a ringside seat
I wanna know about the new Mother Earth
I wanna hear and see everything

Words:
Tony Rollinson, Permaculture magazine: Earth Care, People Care, Future Care(https://www.permaculture.co.uk/)

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