Readers recommend playlist: songs about climate change

From the prescient lyrics of Jackson Browne to Michael Jackson getting angry about humans destroying the Earth, here are the tunes that made this week’s playlist

Below is this week’s playlist – picked by a reader from the comments on last week’s blog. Thanks for your suggestions. Read more about the weekly format of the Readers recommend series at the end of the piece.

In 1974, Jackson Browne’s celebration of the back-to-the-land movement, Before the Deluge, which starts this week’s playlist, contained this one eerily prescient verse that served to dampen the spirits of that generally optimistic generation:

Some of them were angry
At the way the earth was abused
By the men who learned how to forge her beauty into power
And they struggled to protect her from them
Only to be confused
By the magnitude of her fury in the final hour

The YouTube playlist. Click here if you use Spotify.

The idiosyncrasies of 20th century weather could be the topic of comical pieces, such as Flanders and Swann’s engaging A Song of the Weather, or the blackly humorous Hard Day on the Planet by Loudon Wainwright III which includes the lines:

In California the body counts keep getting higher
It’s evil out there, man, that state is always on fire

As we approached the turn of the millennium, however, there was a greater sense of accountability for the problems of the planet. Our waste, our emissions, our extractive industries, our sheer numbers were threatening the ecosystems we depended on. You can hear the grief in Tracy Chapman’s haunting song that accuses us of just standing by and watching The Rape of the World, you can hear the anger in Michael Jackson’s Earth Song, and you can hear the profound sadness in New Model Army’s Ballad, accompanied by a fabulously mournful harmonica:

When they look back at us and they write down our history
What will they say about our generation?
We’re the ones who knew everything still we did nothing
Harvested everything, planted nothing

I chose the next three songs because they seem to me to represent the spirit of enquiry that was the next important step.

"Liberated Carbon" by Andy Revkin is a fun one. Not only is it a nice blues, but it has geologically accurate lyrics and is written and performed by the creator of the New York Times's Dot Earth blog:

Corb Lund’s song The Truth Comes Out is an observent but low-key song about the effects of climate change on wildlife in the foothills of Alberta. As Baylor Fox-Kemper’s nomination suggests Andrew Revkin’s Liberated Carbon provides some geological background, and Melissa Etheridge’s passionate anthem to personal responsibility, I Need To Wake Up, was used in Al Gore’s influential climate change documentary An Inconvenient Truth.

Next up are two contrasting songs – one angry, one resigned nevertheless both looking towards a very changed planet and a very difficult human future. The Restarts insist there is No Escape from global warming, and French for Rabbits sing an elegy for a home Claimed by the Sea.

I can’t completely explain the reason I chose to end this playlist with Harry Belafonte’s Turn the World Around. Several nominated songs made me feel hopeful for the future but none more than this one. I appreciated the simplicity of the message, we need to get back to the basic elements of life, and I was inspired by his amazing, never-give-up energy. Enjoy the music.

New theme

The theme for next week’s playlist will be announced at 8pm (UK time) on Thursday 28 April. You have until 11pm on Monday 2 May to make nominations.

Next week’s playlist will be compiled by Andrew Morrissey, who posts in the comments as Makinavaja.

Here’s a reminder of some of the guidelines for RR:


Sheila Deane

The GuardianTramp

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