October 23, 2015, by Helen Whitehead
The top five environmental anthems
Sarah Stubbings writes: While working on our plans for the University of Nottingham’s MOOC Sustainability, Society and You, Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi was on repeat play in my head. Joni’s inspiration for the song was looking out of her hotel window in Hawaii and seeing its sublime natural beauty blighted by the sight of a huge carpark.
That led me to think about how the environment and sustainability is the theme of some of the great rock and pop songs. Here is my personal top five environmental tracks.
- Joni Mitchell – Big Yellow Taxi
I’ve got to start with Joni’s iconic song. The lines: “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone” beautifully sum up her elegiac environmental theme.
- The Eagles – Last Resort
“Some rich men came and raped the land, nobody caught ’em”, Don Henley sings on this song about how man’s greed always destroys the places he finds most beautiful.
- Marvin Gaye – Mercy, Mercy me (The Ecology)
This haunting track, from Gaye’s politically engaged What’s Going On album, documents the environmental destruction that is taking place. He asks: “What about this overcrowded land, how much more abuse from man can she stand?”
- The Kinks – Apeman
In Apeman, Ray Davies, one of pop’s great lyricists, wants to escape from the urban world that, elsewhere, he documents so brilliantly. Here, “the air pollution is a-foggin’ up my eyes” and he wants to “sail away to a distant shore and make like an apeman”, far away from the mess that man has made.
- Neil Young – After the Gold Rush
We started with a great Canadian singer songwriter, let’s finish with another one, who happens to be my personal favourite. After the Gold Rush is an ode to the environment in the form of a dream vision. In his unique, plaintive voice, Young conveys a mournful yearning for a lost past through lines such as: “Look at Mother Nature on the run in the nineteen seventies”.
Which tracks have I missed out? And where are the contemporary environmental anthems?
If this track list has whetted your appetite for environmental issues, sign up now for our free online course, Sustainability, Society and You on the FutureLearn website, which starts on Monday 2 November.