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Top 10 Songs That Criticize America

VO: Adrian Sousa WRITTEN BY: George Pacheco
Script by George Pacheco This music had a very specific message. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we're counting down our picks for the Top 10 Songs That Criticize America. For this list, we'll be ranking the most popular or influential songs that carry a lyrical message criticizing America or pointing out negative aspects of its culture, style or politics. We're not taking sides with regards to the content behind these songs, but rather commenting about how successful each artist was with how they executed their ideas. Like our videos? Head over to WatchMojo.comsuggest to submit your own video ideas today!  
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Top 10 Songs That Criticize America


 
This music had a very specific message. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we're counting down our picks for the Top 10 Songs That Criticize America.
 
For this list, we'll be ranking the most popular or influential songs that carry a lyrical message criticizing America or pointing out negative aspects of its culture, style or politics. We're not taking sides with regards to the content behind these songs, but rather commenting about how successful each artist was with how they executed their ideas.
 
 

#10: "This Is America" (2018)
Childish Gambino


 
"This Is America" may be the most recently released song on this list, but that doesn't make it any less powerful. In fact, the video has been viewed over two hundred million times on YouTube, which means that its lyrical message is reaching an incredibly large group of people. That message is multifaceted, as well, bringing together commentary on gun culture, violence and race relations in America with a video as captivating as it is frightening. Childish Gambino was already a popular artist before releasing "This Is America," but it's safe to say at this point that the actor, writer and musician is well on his way to being a massive tastemaker.

 

#9: "What's Going On" (1971)
Marvin Gaye


 
Marvin Gaye had released a whopping ten studio albums prior to unleashing "What's Going On" to the masses; an epic concept album touching on all of the hot button topics of the day. The album's title track is a reflection on how the Vietnam War affected every American, at home and abroad. The song is melodic and soulful, focusing its message head on as Gaye delivers his vocals from the perspective of a disheartened Vietnam vet. The seventies may be over, but "What's Going On" is timeless, and still possesses an incredible amount of power to this day.

 

#8: "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" (1970)
Gil Scott-Heron


 
The next song on our list may have been released in the same decade as Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" but it couldn't be more different in terms of tone. "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" is the angry and passionate brother to Gaye's troubled melancholy, delivered with righteous indignation by beat poet and jazz musician Gil Scott-Heron. Heron rattles off rapid-fire pop culture references while hammering home the song's title in what can only be described as an embryonic form of hip hop. "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" is simple, yet oh so effective: a construct of vocals, bass, drums and flute that captured lightning in a bottle almost fifty years ago.

 

#7: "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Caroll" (1964)
Bob Dylan


 
As Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech in 1963, a decision was being levied against Baltimore's William Zantzinger. Zantzinger was only given six months and a $500 fine for the racist assault of a black barmaid named Hattie Caroll, an incident that reportedly contributed to the brain hemorrhage that caused her death. "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Caroll" was written by Bob Dylan in response to Zantzinger's reported verbal abuse and beating of Caroll at Baltimore's Emerson Hotel. The song is more about Dylan's powerful lyrics than a memorable arrangement or key melody, yet it's this directness that reinforces Dylan as one of music's most unique wordsmiths.

 

#6: "Fortunate Son" (1969)
Creedence Clearwater Revival


 
The Vietnam conflict rears its head once again, this time with "Fortunate Son" by CCR. The song is a counter-culture and anti-war anthem, commenting on the huge gap between the rich and poor, and specifically on how the sons of influential and powerful families avoided the draft. "Fortunate Son" is a short song, at just over two minutes, but this doesn't stop frontman and guitarist John Fogerty from getting all of his thoughts out in the open with raw and impassioned vocals. 
 
 

#5: "Fight the Power" (1989)
Public Enemy


 
One could argue that hip hop is a musical genre tailor made to successfully deliver a lyrical message; a form of communication that gets right to the point. "Fight the Power" is a great example of this notion, as Public Enemy are all about providing intelligent and insightful social commentary. The song discusses social injustices faced by the black community, and negatively calls out specific celebrities by name, including Elvis Presley and John Wayne. "Fight the Power" wouldn't be the first time Public Enemy criticized the American status quo, and it wouldn't be the last...but it might be the group's best.
 
 

#4: "Sleep Now in the Fire" (1999)
Rage Against the Machine


 
Ok, we admit that you could feasibly pick out any Rage Against the Machine song for this list, and it would probably fit: "Killing in the Name," anyone? For our money, though, "Sleep Now in the Fire" brings it all home with some raw lyrical fire, funky-ass drumming and an ingenious guitar "solo" from the mind of Tom Morello. Lyrically, "Sleep Now in the Fire" touches upon many controversial acts committed by America during wartime, such as the use of chemical and atomic weapons. Meanwhile, the video features Rage in full on takeover mode playing at the New York Stock Exchange with documentarian Michael Moore behind the camera.
 
 

#3: "Rockin' in the Free World" (1989)
Neil Young


 
Who said you had to be an American to criticize the United States? If that's the case, no one told Canada's Neil Young, who used his 1989 hit "Rockin' in the Free World" to take on George Bush, Sr. and his "thousand points of light" speech. Young was no stranger to speaking his mind in song, as evidenced by the track "Southern Man," which took on civil rights and slavery in the south. "Rockin' in the Free World" directly comments about the problems that affect drug users and the poor, doing so with a simple-yet-heavy riff which practically begs for the air guitar treatment.
 
 

#2: "Mississippi Goddam" (1964)
Nina Simone


 
"Mississippi Goddam" may sound like a tune from a Broadway show, but it only takes one quick listen to Nina Simone's incredible lyrics to realize that this song is NOT playing nice. "Mississippi Goddam" is a call to arms; a song which doesn't beg for civil rights, but DEMANDS it, thanks to Simone's inspiring vocals. There's a touch of sadness and exasperation to Simone's voice as she rattles off the injustices committed against her people by a racist America, yet there's also a certain surety that a change IS going to come...and it's coming soon. "Mississippi Goddam" is one of those perfect songs released at the perfect time; a masterpiece that begs for repeated listens.
 
 
Before we name our number one pick, here are a few honorable mentions!
 
"Bullet the Blue Sky" (1987)
U2

 
"For What It's Worth" (1967)
Buffalo Springfield
 
 
"Strange Fruit" (1939)
Billie Holiday

 

#1: "Born in the U.S.A." (1984)
Bruce Springsteen


 
It's perhaps one of the most misconstrued pop songs of all time. Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A." was thought by many to be the sort of pro-American anthem that would've felt right at home during the 1980s. However, a deeper listen to the lyrics would reveal that "Born in the USA" actually possesses a very melancholic attitude towards life for a working class man in a post-Vietnam America. Springsteen has never shied away from personal and political messages in his songs-even in the modern day, with the track "American Skin (41 Shots)"-but this 1984 mega-hit was an example of Bruce's sound firing on both critical and commercial cylinders.
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