Writing songs about protecting nature isn’t exactly new. The first one that has been acknowledged as the great great granddaddy of environmental music was written in 1837, according to a paper by Richard Kahn.
The 1837 popular song, “Woodman! Spare that Tree!” by George Morris and Henry Russell is generally considered the first of its kind.
The Boll Weevil Song and similar ones decried the invasion of the insects, destroying crops through the South, were both pleas for help and expressions of rage against politicians’ inaction. The first noted edition was in 1897, possibly written by Gates Thomas. The version below was recorded in 1962 and was a pretty big hit.
Brook Benton – The Boll Weevil Song
The Great Depression was layered with additional misery by agricultural practices which led to the Dust Bowl in the center United States. Woody Guthrie, whose ‘This Land is Your Land’ could be considered an environmental protest songs, wrote ‘So Long it’s Been Good to Know Yuh’
Woody Guthrie – So Long it’s Been Good to Know Yuh
The first one to chart though was “What Have They Done to the Rain”, from 1964. Written by Malvina Reynolds (who is pretty interesting!) in the early 1960s about nuclear fall out from testing, the 1964 version by The Searchers charted in both the US and UK, reaching 29th and 13th, respectively.
The Searchers: What Have They Done to the Rain
Satirist (and mathematician) Tom Lehrer released “Pollution” in 1965, with the simple lyrics:
If you visit American city,
You will find it very pretty.
Just two things of which you must beware:
Don’t drink the water and don’t breathe the air!
Tom Lehrer: Pollution
There’s not only a history of environmental activism through music, but we can see that many of these songs were popular. We have a post of songs from the late 1960s-90s here. We believe that we can help more people take climate action, and contact their political leaders, through the power of music.