This is pitiful. It’s Earth Day Week. It’s Earth Day Month. And it’s dangerous to be outside and too dangerous to be too close to each other. A lot of us are sad and angry. We are angry because we are too smart for this. We were warned. We had time to prepare. We knew this could happen. We could have staved off the worst of this. We are sad, because we know this can and will happen again. Or will it? Maybe we will learn something. Or maybe we will point fingers and tear each other apart. So, it will be worse next time.
These songs are about degradation of the Earth. They are songs about losing our planet, because we did not take care of it. I think we need to face the music. I know there are those who will say that these songs are all too depressing. Why not, “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow” at a time of despondency and pandemic. Well, I don’t like Annie and her little dog, Toto, even after the witches have melted and there’s cotton candy at the baseball game. There’s not going to be cotton candy at a Cardinals’ game for a good while, so I am putting together my Top 10 songs about saving our planet. Some of them I listened to 50 years ago. I am not sure we are any closer to saving our earth, or ourselves, then in 1970. Isn’t that when the first Earth Day began?
See the top 10 list of songs below.
10. GLOBAL WARMING – Gojira – 2005
Originating from France, Gojira is a metal band heavily influenced by environmental angst over treatment of the planet and global warming. The character in this concept album has had enough of the way humans have treated their land. He decides to make a journey to space to find the aliens that will help him restore Earth. I used to hate metal music, but I have changed my mind after going to a few metal concerts with my son and his millennial friends. I understand all the noise and anger now. I get it.
9. AIR – Hair Ensemble – 1967
Theatre critic Scott Miller noted that in Hair, the youth of America, especially those on college campuses, started protesting all the things that they saw wrong with America: racism, environmental destruction, poverty, sexism and sexual repression, violence at home and the war in Vietnam. Contrary to popular opinion, the hippies had great respect for America and believed that they were the true patriots. They were the only ones who genuinely wanted to clean the air, save our country, and the planet. Make the planet great again. I get that.
8. MY CITY WAS GONE – Pretenders -1982
The song was written by Pretenders leader Chrissie Hynde. I always thought it was called “Ohio,” but that is the name for the song about the kids with hair getting mowed down by Nixon. This song reflected Hynde’s growing interest in environmental and social concerns. It’s an autobiographical lament, with the singer returning to her childhood home in Akron, Ohio, and finding rampant development and pollution has destroyed the place of her youth. I get that, but why did Rush Limbaugh adopt her song for his show? My Pretenders’ song was gone.
7. BIG YELLOW TAXI – Joni Mitchell -1970
Joni Mitchell and her songs are known for their environmental concerns: “They paved paradise to put up a parking lot” and “Hey farmer, farmer, put away that DDT now.” It’s a little bit angry, but it’s more sentimental. That line, “They took all the trees, and put ’em in a tree museum / And charged the people a dollar and a half just to see ’em” refers to a Botanical Garden in downtown Honolulu. It’s a living museum of tropical plants, some rare and endangered. Seems like she was spot on.
6. WHERE DO THE CHILDREN PLAY? – Cat Stevens – 1970
The song reflects the turmoil and sadness of the late 1960s. The country was torn by war, urban sprawl, poverty, illness, ecological disaster, and concern over the precarious future of humankind. Cat Stevens made us realize we needed to do better for our children and our grandchildren. We learned so much from the pain of that era — and our future is, indeed, so much more secure. NOT.
5. THE TREES – Rush – 1978
Rush relates a lyrical short story about a conflict between maple and oak trees in the nearby forest. The maple trees want more sunlight, but the oak trees are too tall. It’s just not working for nature in this song and the only thing missing is some invasive honeysuckle. The natural conflict ends when man cuts down the forest: All the trees are finally kept equal… by a hatchet, an axe, and a saw. Rush (Not Limbaugh) has another great song that could be in this Top Ten — SUBDIVISIONS. Be cool or be cast out.
4. GAIA – James Taylor – 1997
This was an introspective album that earned James Taylor his best critical reviews in almost 20 years.Many radical political environmentalists accept some form of the Gaia Theory, an idea that Earth has its own ways to restore the planet’s homeostasis — whenever things get too out of balance because of man-made climate change, primate extinction, or rain forest loss. So is that what Gaia means? And is that what is happening now? And, when can we go park in a $25 lot and see our baseball franchise again? Because these are just songs, not real life in a stadium box seat.
3. WOODSTOCK – Joni Mitchell – 1970
Don’t you love Joni Mitchell? The lyrics tell a story about a spiritual journey to Yasgur’s Farm, the place of the festival. The song makes prominent use of sacred imagery, comparing the festival site with the Garden of Eden. “We’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden”. And there are references to the horrific “mutual assured destruction” of the Cold War with “bombers riding shotgun in the sky…” We’ve made a lot of progress since the Woodstock days and our armaments have been “…turning into butterflies above our nation.” (The skies are at least bluer during this pandemic, in case you haven’t noticed.)
2. HAVE YOU SEEN THE STARS TONIGHT – Jefferson Starship – 1970
This is among songs in a narrative concept album that tells the story of a counterculture revolution against “Uncle Samuel” and his worst excesses. A plan is made to steal the star ship and journey into space in search of a New Home! I listened to “Blows Against The Empire” – and this song – a thousand times in college. It was not good preparation for a post-college job. But I did NOT believe we would ever get back to nature and Joni Mitchell’s garden — and I was ready to escape and to see the stars (see the stars in the music video to this song) on the deck of the star ship on the way to a new home in the sun.
1. NATURE’S WAY – Spirit – 1970
This song is just one huge lament for the fate of the Earth. Nature is telling us that something is wrong. The song was written long before global warming became hot. Long before climate change became a threat, but even in 1970, some ecologically minded songwriters could see what was happening. This is a song of passion, sorrow, torment by a guy named California, and if you don’t feel his pain — you just can’t feel. He is crying out about something that was happening then — and it’s happening now. It’s Nature’s Way.
Thank you for these wonderful songs and your comments. Like you, we listened to many of these so long ago and are appalled at how little has changed. Here are some others that could be added to your excellent list – Here Comes the Sun (Beatles), After the Goldrush and Mother Earth (Neil Young), Shapes of Things (Yardbirds).
The Leonards – Debra and Steve
Thanks to Debra and Steve for adding to the list. And I know it is appalling how little has changed, but there is still some time for our generation to help make a difference. I loved the Yardbirds. Rode my bike to the record shop to get their 45s. You inspired me to look up the lyrics and they are prophetic:
Now the trees are almost green
But will they still be seen
When time and tide have been?
Fallin’ into your passing hands
Please don’t destroy these lands
Don’t make them desert…