It's amazing how these things start. So picture the scene where a bunch of people at the pub with a healthy appreciation in music begin discussing history. All the music they love, they hate (and why) and what they miss and so on, and inevitably we hit a subject area that gets everyone's tree shaking (or blood boiling), in this case 'Whatever happened to the protest song?'.
Now regardless of whether you are an idealist, politically motivated or at the other end of the spectrum where you just want music to be a more light-weight soundtrack to your life, we all have an opinion about the protest song.
In many ways it gets to the very heart of the power that music can have, can you imagine a life without it? Bob Geldof summed it up better than most on a recent trip to Australia when he said that rock 'n' roll needs a social context to exist and further went on to say that much music today reflected a lack of context, in his opinion thereby fragmenting if you will the power of music.
Whether you agree with this or not what he did say however can infer a reasonable parallel to a perception that protest songs do not figure as prominently as they once did. Now I use the term perception quite deliberately here simply because having a perception doesn't necessarily mean something is true, far from it. A 'smoking gun' the perception maybe but always points to the need for validation.
In the course of my involvement in this beer-fuelled conversation I found myself agreeing with the notion that protest songs had diminished in number and prominence and I was compelled to explore this further.
The obvious problem is that by their very nature protest songs are highly charged and emotive and any opinions offered about their significance and place in the modern world will likely result in much heated debate, that which I would like to avoid. So the only sensible approach to take is to try and be as scientific as possible within obvious constraints in order to arrive at the truth of the matter, or at least present enough data from which trends can be identified and extrapolated.
When I started this exercise however I had no idea how difficult this was going to be because my two key measures were simply the number of songs released within a time range or period. In other words the number of protest songs released in each year since 1963. This date was purely arbitrary to provide a convenient fifty year snapshot and in no way diminishes any protest song released prior to this date, of which there are many dating back not just decades but centuries. Unfortunately this approach is still very simplistic.
We take a look at this interesting MIDI sequencer