Environmentalism in music

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Environmentalism has occasionally been a topic in music, primarily since the 1940s. However, the earliest songs including environmentalist topics can be traced back to the 19th century, earliest of which is "Woodman! Spare that Tree!" by George Pope Morris and Henry Russell. [1] Ecomusicologists (musicologists and ethnomusicologists focusing on music and environmental issues) and music educators are increasingly emphasizing the intersections of music and nature, and musicking for ecological activism.[2][3]

This topic was significantly more relevant in music in the '40s after World War II and has continually progressed over time. There are many artists across the world that advocate environmentalism such as the Barenaked Ladies, Bonnie Raitt, Cloud Cult, Dave Matthews Band, Don Henley, Drake, Green Day, Guster, Jack Johnson, KT Tunstall, Metallica, Moby, Pearl Jam, Perry Farrell, Phish. The Roots, Sarah Harmer, Sheryl Crow, Thom Yorke, Willie Nelson, and many others.[4][5]

In addition to being a topic of music, Environmentalism has been increasingly prevalent among artists and the music industry itself. An example is the push for CDs to be packaged in cardboard rather than plastic. Also, many music festivals such as Bonnaroo make significant efforts to be sustainable.[6]

Popular music from the 1960s-2000s[edit]

In the 1960s and 1970s a growing amount of popular music inspired by the counterculture movement reflected anti-war sentiments of peace and harmony. "Big Yellow Taxi" by Joni Mitchell was a song about environmental degradation with lyrics such as "They paved Paradise, put up a parking lot". Her reference to DDT in the song is a reflection of the times as Rachel Carson's 1962 book Silent Spring had brought the dangers of DDT into the spotlight. John Denver, a country and folk singer often sang about the wilderness of Colorado with popular songs such as "Rocky Mountain High" and "Take Me Home, Country Roads".

Black Sabbath's song "War Pigs" is an anti-war song that was extremely influential to young Americans across the nation. Many consider the wave of environmentalism in the era to be the foundation of metal music in the world. A song titled "Blackened" by Metallica is another song that supports environmentalism as is said in the lyrics "Blackened is the end, winter it will send, throwing all you see, into obscurity." This song says that if war and rampage continue, the earth around us will die. Environmentalism is still prevalent today as it continues to shape our way of life and forms of music.

In 1995 singer Michael Jackson came out with the hit "Earth Song" which was about environmental and animal welfare. The production of the music video had an environmental theme, showing images of animal cruelty, deforestation, pollution, poverty and war. Jackson and the world's people unite in a spiritual chant—"Earth Song"—which summons a force that heals the world. Using special effects, time is reversed so that life returns, war ends, and the forests regrow. The video closes with a request for donations to Jackson's Heal the World Foundation.[7][8] The clip was shown infrequently in the United States.[9]

In 2007, a massive concert entitled Live Earth (2007 concert) was held across the world to raise awareness and provoke action on climate change. Smaller concerts with similar themes have also been held around the world. An example is the Earth Music Festival which was held in Australia in 2010.[10]

In 2009 Disney created a campaign called Disney's Friends for Change which helped to promote an environmental message. A song called Send it On recorded by Disney singers Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato, the Jonas Brothers and Selena Gomez was produced and the profits donated to environmental charity organizations. The song debuted at number nine on Billboard's Hot Digital Songs which led to it making into the Billboard Hot 100, issue dated August 29, 2009.[11] "Send It On" debuted and peaked at number twenty in the Hot 100.[12][13] It then fell to number twenty-one, and stayed on for three more weeks before falling off.[14]

A rock club in New York City called Wetlands Preserve served as both a performance venue and a hub for environmentalist activism from 1989-2001.[15][16]

Music since World War II[edit]

After a radioactive isotope (Strontium-90) was found in cows milk in 1959, the concern for the environmental effects of the nuclear arms race increased exponentially. This sparked songs about the invisibility of environmental effects like radioactive isotopes. In his song "Mack the Bomb," Pete Seeger wrote a comparison between a shark and Strontium-90, explaining that the threat of a shark is at least visible, unlike radioactive isotopes. [17] In 1962, Malvina Reynolds also wrote a song called "What Have They Done to the Rain?", which was inspired by above-ground nuclear testing, and how it was putting Strontium-90 into the air, then into soil through rain, which is how it got into cows and their milk. [18]

Pete Seeger released what is considered the first environmentalist album, entitled "God Bless the Grass" in 1966. The 1960s produced a large amount of environmental-focused songs, primarily due to the popularization of folk music and the musicians that penned many environmental protest songs, in that genre. [19]

Modern classical music[edit]

While composers have often used nature as their inspiration, the period since World War II has seen an ever increasing amount of music in this regard. Composers such as John Cage and Olivier Messiaen began using patterns in nature as their materials in Musical Composition.[20][21] One example of Cage's use of environmental sounds is the piece Child of Tree. This work involves amplifying a cactus and pea pod shakers in addition to other instruments chosen by the performer.[22] John Luther Adams writes music directly from his surroundings in Alaska.[23] He is an environmentalist who has written and discussed the role that artists can play in combating Global Warming.[24] An example of his music is the piece The Place Where You Go to Listen. This work involves a sound and light installation that is "controlled by natural events occurring in real time."[25]

The Baltic Sea Festival was founded on the theme of preserving the environment. Countries surrounding the Baltic Sea are brought together to solve problems with the body of water. Music "serves as a good platform" in discussions of solutions which can only be solved jointly.[26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Environmental Activism in Music". Retrieved 2016-10-06. 
  2. ^ http://www.worldcat.org/title/eco-literate-music-pedagogy/oclc/975386833
  3. ^ http://www.worldcat.org/title/current-directions-in-ecomusicology-music-culture-nature/oclc/1001724999
  4. ^ Grist Staff, . "29 Comments 22 Jun 2007 3:02 PM Share on reddit Share on stumbleupon Share on email Share on print 15 Green Musicians and Bands."Grist, June 27, 2007. http://grist.org/article/musicians/ (accessed November 21, 2012).
  5. ^ Coscarelli, . "The 15 Most Eco-Friendly Rockers."Rolling Stone, Dec 16, 2010. https://www.rollingstone.com/music/pictures/the-15-most-eco-friendly-rockers-20101216 (accessed November 21, 2012).
  6. ^ Bonnaroo, "Greening and Green Activism." Last modified 2012. Accessed November 26, 2012. http://www.bonnaroo.com/get-involved/greening/.
  7. ^ George, p. 48–50 [clarification needed]
  8. ^ Michael Jackson HIStory on Film volume II VHS/DVD
  9. ^ "History on Film, Vol. 2". Billboard. Nielsen Business Media. Archived from the original on May 6, 2008. Retrieved September 15, 2008. 
  10. ^ Earth Music Festival, Last modified 2009. Accessed November 26, 2012. http://www.earthmusicfestival.com/.
  11. ^ "Digital Songs". Billboard. Nielsen Business Media, Inc. August 29, 2009. Retrieved August 20, 2009. 
  12. ^ "Top 100 Music Hits, Top 100 Music Charts, Top 100 Songs & The Top 100". Billboard. Nielsen Business Media, Inc. August 29, 2009. Retrieved August 20, 2009. 
  13. ^ "Disney's Friends For Change - Send It On - Music Charts". aCharts.us. Retrieved August 20, 2009. 
  14. ^ "Top 100 Music Hits, Top 100 Music Charts, Top 100 Songs & The Top 100". Billboard. Nielsen Business Media, Inc. Retrieved August 27, 2009. 
  15. ^ McKinley Jr., James C. "Larry Bloch, Who Built the Wetlands Club, Dies at 59." New York Times, sec. Region, Nov 03, 2012. https://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/03/nyregion/larry-bloch-who-opened-wetlands-club-dies-at-59.html (accessed November 23, 2012).
  16. ^ NYRock, "NYC's Legendary Wetlands Preserve Rock Club Forced to Close Its Doors After Almost 13 Years." Last modified 2001. Accessed November 23, 2012. http://www.nyrock.com/worldbeat/07_2001/073001b.asp
  17. ^ Ingram, David. ""My Dirty Stream": Pete Seeger, American Folk Music, and Environmental Protest". Popular Music and Society. 31 (1): 21–36. doi:10.1080/03007760601061456. 
  18. ^ "Song lyrics to What Have They Done to the Rain?, by Malvina Reynolds". people.wku.edu. Retrieved 2016-10-06. 
  19. ^ "Environmental Activism in Music". Retrieved 2016-10-06. 
  20. ^ David Ingram, ""The clutter of the unkempt forest": John Cage, Music and American Environmental Thought," Amerikastudien / American Studies, 51, no. 4 (2006): 567-579, JSTOR 41158263 (accessed November 20, 2012).
  21. ^ KOZINN, Allan. "Olivier Messiaen, Composer, Dies at 83." New York Times, sec. Arts, April 29, 1992. https://www.nytimes.com/1992/04/29/arts/olivier-messiaen-composer-dies-at-83.html? (accessed November 20, 2012).
  22. ^ Solomon, Samuel. SZSolomon.com, "John Cage, Child of Tree (1975)." Accessed November 26, 2012. http://szsolomon.com/notes/cagetree.shtml.
  23. ^ Gutierrez, . United States Artists, "USA Fellows Stories: John Luther Adams." Last modified 2006. Accessed November 23, 2012. http://www.unitedstatesartists.org/news/usa/usa_fellows_stories_john_luther_adams
  24. ^ Adams,. John Luther Adams, "Global Warming and Art." Last modified 2000. Accessed November 23, 2012.
  25. ^ Ross, Alex. "Song of the Earth: A composer takes inspiration from the Arctic." The New Yorker, May 12, 2008. http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/05/12/080512fa_fact_ross (accessed November 25, 2012).
  26. ^ Jönsson, Ann-Charlotte. "Classical music and environment at Baltic Sea Festival." Visit Stockholm Blog (blog), Aug 25, 2011. http://blog.visitstockholm.com/classical-music-and-environment-at-baltic-sea-festival-3590 (accessed November 24, 2012).

Further reading[edit]