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Music: Political Rock Evolution

2 minute read
Benjamin Nugent

Early rock ‘n’ roll was about kissing in Dad’s sedan. Today stars opine about trade policy. Here’s a rock history suitable for C-SPAN as well as MTV.

–By Benjamin Nugent

BOB DYLAN When the master lyricist traded his acoustic guitar for an electric backup band in 1965, he sang to rock fans about the evils of war and the emptiness of consumerism

MARVIN GAYE Sliding harsh indictments of poverty, violence and pollution into silky R.-and-B. grooves, his album What’s Going On was Motown’s most important comment on social issues and proof that political pop could be soft and sexy

BOB MARLEY The Third World found a voice in rock ‘n’ roll when the legendary Jamaican and his Wailers took their Rastafarian, anticolonialist reggae to an international audience

THE CLASH Inspired by both reggae and fellow English punks like the Sex Pistols, the band bluntly confronted Britain’s class system and America’s global influence with music that incorporated every popular genre from ska to rockabilly

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN His blue-collar anthems were both bitter and proud, lamenting the outrages, and reveling in the glories, of everyday life in America. Born in the U.S.A. isn’t a patriotic showstopper but a song about a destitute angry vet

PUBLIC ENEMY Hip-hop ceased to be just party music and went political when rhymers Chuck D and Flavor Flav merged Black Power ideas with cutting-edge beats, sampling and videos, earning the genre a new level of respect

BONO Once, musicians only proselytized from the stage or gave benefit concerts to raise money for good causes. But U2’s singer pals around with Prime Ministers and tycoons to persuade rich nations to relieve Third World debt. Will other rock stars follow his lead?

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