Just try to remember the first song you’ve ever heard… There is a 70% probability it’s either about being in love, unrequited love, or past love. Love themed songs have always been ‘the’ main theme. They are considered to be a soothing and mending way to make us relate to one another since we’ve all had our fair dose of love related problems. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for their existence, but what to do when you’re sick and tired of them, and you’re not in the mood to drown yourself into past relationship nostalgia? Well, this article is meant to shine a light on other possible song themes, in the hope of you exploring other horizons of your daily concerns and fears through music.
When it comes to climate change and environmental issues, we can easily say that they become more of a priority in the past decades, some musicians have taken part in showcasing their worry through their work. Most of them try to spread a general ‘wake up’ call to their listeners, while others address concerns about specific issues, here are 15 of my favorite ones.
1. Earth Song, Michael Jackson (1995)
A classic. This is the most known and probably the one that struck me the most. I can still remember my first time listening to it: I was in my parents’ car when suddenly a feeling of sadness hit me, probably intensified by the fact that I was gazing out at the picturesque greenery of the Moldavian landscape. I was 6-ish and the first question that popped into my head was ‘Why would anybody want to destroy such beauty?’ as listening to the rhetorical questions put in the second part of the song. As I’ve been returning back to this song throughout the years, my respect for it grew stronger when acknowledging all the cultural references behind it (the Bible, classical mythology, and the romantic notion of the natural world). Overall, a multilayered wake-up call, that holds a special place in my heart.
2. O Green World, Gorillaz (2005)
On a re-listen of ‘Demon Days’, I discovered this gem. For me, it definitely feels like an old record. It has an industrial rock and post-apocalyptical vibe with a melancholic somber melody, with the wish to go back to the time when the Earth was a green lush paradise. Then the realization that it won’t ever happen. The ‘green world’ has been indeed destroyed as a result of humanity’s greed. I relate a lot to it, given that I always find myself fantasizing of an ideal kind of Earth, only to realize that it won’t ever become reality.
3. Song For A Dying Planet, Joe Walsh (1992)
The title is quite self-explanatory. Talking about how ‘We’re killing everything that’s alive’, Walsh also points the finger to the ones that try to deny it and are paid to do that. Very soothing and calm. My favorite detail is the clock ticking in the background, a reminder to the listener about the time is passing by and the urge to act and not waste it.
4. Sunday, Foals (2019)
It's a kind of song that gets better and better each time you hear it. I love how this song feels like 2 songs merged together, due to the change to a more fast-paced beat in the bridge. The general theme of the overarching climate change and the inaction by world governments is paralleled to the point of optimistic young adults, that don’t give a damn ‘Cause we got all our friends right here’.
5. Planet B, King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard (2019)
‘There is no Planet B / Open your eyes and see’: The inspiration behind writing this article.
It's a great heavy rock song, almost a metal one. It points out how humanity is neglecting to reduce its impact on the Earth. It’s a wake-up call, that there is a fight and we should not surrender. Another song from the band worth mentioning is the more boogie-fun sounding ‘Plastic Boogie’, which denounces our reliance on single-use plastic and the poor use of it. Depending on my mood, I find myself juggling between these 2 songs recently.
6. The Landscape Is Changing, Depeche Mode (1983)
More of a playful sound, thanks to the synth-pop and the drums, with a super pessimistic outlook on humanity to the point of saying ‘I don’t care if you’re going nowhere / Just take good care of the world’. I love how the melody is so artificial yet so contradictory to the lyrics. It almost sounds like something that would be played in a bar along with other 80s songs. My theory is that they tried to sneak a powerful message behind a catchy song, in order to spread awareness on climate change.
7. The Numbers, Radiohead (2016)
This was part of my high school thesis on Rachel Carson’s ‘Silent Spring’ - a book that denounces the environmental effect of the indiscriminate use of pesticides. She witnessed the death of birds around her property as a result of aerial spraying of DDT (an insecticide used to kill mosquitos), she was motivated to study the environmental problems caused by chemical pesticides. Why am I telling you this? Well, a fun fact is that this song was originally presented under the title of ‘Silent Spring’ during a concert, but it was later changed due to unknown reasons. However, this protest song is underlining the fact that ‘We are of the earth, to her we do return’ and that we need to ‘Take back what is ours / One day at a time’.
8. When Are You Gonna Learn?, Jamiroquai (1993)
This song was so ahead of its time, part of their ‘Emergency on Planet Earth’ debut album. A funky warning on environmental issues and what we should do to save it before it’s too late (‘Foresight is the only key / To save our children’s destiny). In the second verse, quite ironic scenery of a future world, where ‘Money’s on the menu in my favorite restaurant’ is highlighting the fact that only when everything is gone, we’ll realize that money is not the most important thing in life.
9. The 1975 (NOAFC), The 1975 (2019)
This song was an unexpected surprise. As you may know, The 1975 have always opened their albums with a song which began with the lyrics ‘Go down / Soft sound’ This time, they broke the pattern. They chose to start it with a protest song, with portions of speech taken from the environmental activist Greta Thunberg’s “Our House is on Fire” intervention at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland. An inspirational spoken word song, with a soft background. I appreciate that the lead singer did not cut in, leaving Greta alone to spread her message. This song is a reminder to take time and acknowledge the fact that environmental issues must not be forgotten and that ‘It is time to rebel’.
10. Elegy for the Arctic, Ludovico Einaudi (2016)
If you haven’t already seen the video performance of this song, you should. It’s beautifully somber. You can literally see Einaudi’s terrifying surprise when witnessing the fall of a glacier which broke the silence. The sadness of the melody and the horrifying sound of the melting glaciers really left a mark on me. It literally gives me goosebumps every time. This is the soundtrack for a Greenpeace campaign in order to shine a light on the situation in the Arctics. If you want to get to know more about the ‘Save the Arctic’ campaign, you can just go here.
11. Paris is Melting, Reckonwrong (2018)
‘It’s that the best you can do? It’s that the best a man can be?’ - these are the recurring lyrics throughout the song. The title probably refers to the heatwave that struck European cities in 2018, especially Paris. Reckonwrong questions himself if there is room for improving yourself and the impact you have on the environment. With a post-punk influence mixed with a weird euro-pop vibe, it has been stuck in my head this past 2 weeks.
12. Eskimo Blue Day, Jefferson Airplane (1969)
Recently, while filling some gaps in my musical knowledge, I came across this song. It seems to have anticipated the awareness of global warming way earlier, focusing their attention on the dying trees. Starting with a moody & slow tempo, it progressively grows into this psychedelic rock groove. The guitar presence on this song is just so bewitching, a common pattern I’ve noticed in their songs. Do you want an easter egg? Listen to the last 15 seconds of the song. You can hear what sounds like either a falling glacier or a bomb, a beautifully placed detail.
13. The Seed, AURORA (2019)
‘You cannot eat money’ was mentioned in the Jamiroquai song, AURORA also stands by it More so, she brings it to the chorus. The whole concept is taken from a Native American proverb: “when the last tree has been cut down, the last fish caught, the last river poisoned, only then will we realize that one cannot eat money.” The motivation behind writing the song, as stated in the youtube description of the audio version, “I’m missing anger in the youth. (...) The kind of rage that inspires you to do something with the power you have in you.”
14. Clear Blue Skies, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (1988)
Calm, dreamy, and soothing, it's a song that focuses on the question of whether the blue skies will be here when we’re gone. I’ve resonated a lot with this song, especially while looking at the skies. With the recent headlines of major cities recording a drastic decrease in air pollution, my instant answer to the question would be ‘yes’. But with more in-depth analysis, a temporary solution won’t change the course, leading to my final answer: probably not.
15. Fuck this World (Interlude), Rina Sawayama (2020)
Ending it even more on a personal note. I actually relate a lot to this song. As Rina Sawayama says, it feels like “dissociating from what’s happening on Earth and floating in space and looking at the world from above.” Apparently there is only solution left: let’s go to Mars! In the last part, Rina feels like tackling climate change is a moral responsibility in order to protect the future, no matter how irreversible the damage already done seems.
Here you go! You can find them all linked in the Spotify playlist. : https://open.spotify.com/playlist/48wfUZ8BQFubEyk4oY2V1W?si=G-R2-CcARgynxF44qC_Z_A
Cover Art: Breanna Keane