It’s a dangerous world. Things are breaking. Sometimes faster than we can fix them. The collapse is broadcast on billions of social media feeds. Every day, some outrage happens. Helpless, often we can just look on. The world crumbles and we hold our collective breath. Evil seems to hold sway.
Yet, once in a while, good triumphs. Despite the downward spiral, we find a handhold. We can hold on for one more hour, day, week, month, year. For a moment, the voices of peace drown out the screaming void. Cherish these things, because it doesn’t happen often.
Music has a way of inspiring our inner hopes. It can be a reviving balm for weary souls. A beacon of melody, a musical lighthouse, shepherding us to calmer shores. Both primal and aspirational, it is the symphony of life. The soundtrack of humanity.
With that in mind, I sat down and combed my brain. What are the six best pop songs about progress and hope? This can be a pretty expansive list, even narrowed down to one genre. I landed on the 60s and 70s(I know, ok boomer), with exception of one song. I know the decline of convulsive progress spans those decades.
People still made hopeful music or glimpses of what freedom looked like. After additional decades between those momentous times, these songs might seem naive. Very little real change has happened. Yet, we again live in defining times.
I admit this music is my music. It was made in a different time and different struggle against malaise. The music was my soundtrack to my humanity. The music made me first realize that a change is going to come.
One Love/People Get Ready – Bob Marley & The Wailers | Exodus (1977): Bob Marley could have at many other songs on this list. I waffled between this and ‘Redemption Song’. Both move me in ways I can’t describe.
A cool girl at Crystal Ship in Portland gave me this album. She pushed it into my hands, telling me how important it was (there was always a cool girl at Crystal Ship, Portland, Oregon). I initially resisted. I was there buying Led Zeppelin and Rush albums. She insisted.
I look back now and she had shared the soundtrack of her humanity with me. A musical merging of passing ships (yeah, I know). She was right.
Chimes of Freedom – Bob Dylan | Another Side Of Bob Dylan (1964): I will admit, I didn’t came to see the genius of Bob until later in life. To be fair, when I was a teenager, Bob wasn’t making music for testosterone fueled white boys (weirdly, another great Bob, Mr. Seger was the same).
My dearest Diane was my entry into Bob Dylan’s music. Cool girls always recommend the best music to me. The catalog of Dylan could have a lot of songs on this list, too. Chimes of Freedom shuffled in my head first, an opus two humanities seeing the present and future.
I have found that feeling, in the arms of a person who insisted. She was right.
I Got A Name – Jim Croce | I Got A Name (1973); Lena Horne | Lena & Michael (1975): I know this makes my pick six into a pick seven, but both versions of this song are outstanding. Jim Croce is more introspective in his recording of the Norman Gimbel/Charles Fox composition. It was released after his untimely death and has added resonance for that alone.
Lena Horne’s version is big and bold, proudly proclaiming the refrain, “I got a name”. I am a person. I have a name. I am here. I am not going away. The song looks outward as much as it looks inward.
All You Need Is Love – The Beatles | Single (1967): Duh. Of course this would be on the list. This is naive ‘we can change the world’ music at its finest. Maybe, naive hope is a better description.
It is a simple call, sounding across time, that maybe we can find the love of humanity. The naivety comes from the distance of knowing that those do will always be followed by those who don’t. It is true, though. All we need is love. It’s just that sometimes it’s a long journey to that place.
Freedom – Pharrell Williams | Despicable Me 3 Soundtrack (2015): A song from the past decade? It has a certain modern take on an old theme. We are all the same and made of the same stuff. The dirt that is the Earth is from where we all come.
These times are tumultuous but is still producing music that holds out hope. I may be stuck in the past but at least others are singing about the future. (next week, I will redo this list, with only songs from the past ten years. Deal?)
A Change Is Gonna Come – Sam Cooke | Ain’t That Good News (1964): Now this is a song that reverberates and will continue for centuries to come. Consider when this song was first written. The South was still in the grips of Jim Crow. Sam Cooke inspired hope that things could change (you can argue whether they really have).
Sam Cooke only performed the song once in public (on The Tonight Show), fearing the nature of the song was too dark. “Like death,” Bobby Womack was said to have remarked after first hearing it. Sam agreed and said he would never perform it again. Womack clarified that he meant it sounded “spooky,” but Sam moved on.
The song is dark and angry, the kernel of truth that change is gonna come, rather that it must come. It has become a marching song towards the future. It is often a weary journey. It can be disheartening, the dance of the two steps forward, one back.
Sam Cooke sent us his weary words in a deceptively complicated arrangement. We listened, hearing the pain and yearning. His weight moved us and pushed the boulder of societal justice a little further.
The hope of change, the audacity of progress will happen if we just keep going. That is the truth of it. Many of us crave to be more unified in this twilight of the past. It is a trying time to be sure. The struggle will always be there. The resistance of the past, dragging on trudging advance.
That is the song of humanity. Things can get better. A change is gonna come.