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Songs about Classism and Poverty

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performed by Billy Joel
from the album The Nylon Curtain (Purchase from
about the constraints of growing up in a steel working town:

"Well we're living here in Allentown
And they're closing all the factories down
Out in Bethlehem they're killing time
Filling out forms, standing in line"
Another Day In Paradise
performed by Phil Collins
from the album But Seriously (Purchase from
about insensitivity of people towards the problem of poverty:
"She calls out to the man on the street
'Sir, can you help me?
It's cold and I've nowhere to sleep,
Is there somewhere you can tell me?'
He walks on, doesn't look back
He pretends he can't hear her
Starts to whistle as he crosses the street
Seems embarrassed to be there"
Argon Mill
performed by Si Kahn
from the album In My Heart (Purchase from
about the closing of a mill and the subsequent effect on resident's lives:
"And the only tune I hear
Is the sound of the wind
As it blows through the town
Weave and spin, weave and spin"
Big Yellow Taxi
performed by Joni Mitchell (also remade by Amy Grant)
from the album Ladies of the Canyon (Purchase from
about the dangers of capitalism and commercialism:
"They paved paradise and put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique and a swinging hot spot
Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got
Till it's gone
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot"
Coming of the Roads
performed by Judy Collins
from the album Fifth Album (Purchase from
about the lure and power of greed:
"Once I thanked God for my treasures
Now like rust, it corrodes
I can't help bur blaming you going
On the coming, the coming of the roads"
Crime to Be Broke in America
performed by Spearhead
from the album Home (Purchase from
about exploitation of the lower class:
"The punishment is capital
for those who lack in capital
because a public defender
can't remember the last time
that a brother wasn't treated like an animal"
The Day They Closed the Factory Down
performed by Harry Chapin
from the album Best of Harry Chapin 3
about the small town struggles when the local source of employment is shut down

performed by Bruce Springsteen
from the album Darkness on the Edge of Town (Purchase from
about the struggles of the working class through the eyes of a boy:

"Through the mansions of fear, through the mansions of pain,
I see my daddy walking through them factory gates in the rain,
Factory takes his hearing, factory gives him life,
The working, the working, just the working life."
Fast Car
performed by Tracy Chapman
from the album Tracy Chapman (Purchase from
about trying to make ends meet financially while maintaining emotional and pyshical health:
"I've got a fast car we've got a ticket to anywhere
been workin' at a convenience store
tryin' to save just a little bit a money
won't have to drive to far
just across the border and into the city
you and I can both get jobs
.......what need to be livin'"
He Calls Home
performed by Candlebox
from the album Candlebox (Purchase from
about a homeless man:
"I see him everyday
In that blanket that he calls home
I wonder does he know
That his family they1re left alone"
Hole in the Bucket
performed by Spearhead
from the album Home (Purchase from
about an individual's struggle to be more compassionate for those not as well-off:
"Walk right past and think about it more
Back at the crib I'm opening up the door
A pocket full of change, it don't mean a lot to me
My cup is half full, but his is empty"
performed by Paul Simon
from the album Graceland (Purchase from
about homelessness in South Africa caused by "strong wind":
"Strong wind destroy our home
Many dead, tonight it could be you
Strong wind, strong wind
Many dead, tonight it could be you"
I'm Afraid of Americans
performed by David Bowie
from the album Earthling (Purchase from
about the effects of American commercialism:
"Johnny wants a brain, Johnny wants to suck on a
Johnny wants a woman, Johnny wants to think of
a joke
Johnny's in America"
Jacob's Latter
performed by Mark Wills
from the album Greatest Hits (Purchase from
about connecting across socioeconomic classes:
"Jacob was a dirt poor farm boy
Raised at the fork in the road in a clapboard house
And Rachael was a land baron's daughter
Born with a silver spoon in her mouth
Her daddy said he wouldn't stand
For Rachael to waste her life with a common man"
Johnny Ryall
performed by Beastie Boys
from the album Paul's Boutique (Purchase from
about the life of a homeless man:
"Living on borrowed time and borrowed money
Sleepin' on the street there ain't a damn thing funny
Hand me down food and hand me down clothes
A rockabilly past of which nobody knows
Makes his home all over the place
He goes to sleep by falling down on his face"
Liverpool Lullaby
performed by Judy Collins
from the album In My Life (Purchase from
about the life of a poor child of an alcoholic father:
"Although we have no silver spoon
Better days are coming soon
Now Nellie's working at the loom
And she gets paid on Friday"
performed by Fugazi
from the album Repeater (Purchase from
about commercialism:
"Merchandise, it keeps us in line...
What could a businessman ever want more
Than to have us sucking in his store
We owe you nothing
You have no control..."
The Message
performed by Grandmaster Flash
from the album Message from Beat Street (Purchase from about life in the ghetto:
"Bill collectors they ring my phone
And scare my wife when I'm not home
Got a bum education, double-digit inflation
Can't take the train to the job, there's a strike at the station"
performed by Pulp
from the album Different Class (
about the frustration and rage caused by suppression and lack of opportunity transformed into nonviolent power:
"We want your homes,
We want your lives,
We want the things you won't allow us
We won't use guns,
We won't use bomgs,
We'll use the one thing we've got more of:
That's our minds."
The Mission
performed by Janis Ian
from the album Revenge
about living in a homeless shelter:
"Theres no place like home
Inside these walls
safe from the cold
another night falls
whats mine is mine
So Ive been told
theres no place like home"
Mr. Wendal
performed by Arrested Development
from the album 3 Years, 5 Months, and 2 Days in the Life of... (Purchase from
about learning from, instead of judging, a homeless person:
"Uncivilized we call him,
but I just saw him eat off the food we waste
Civilization, are we really civilized, yes or no?
Who are we to judge?
When thousands of innocent men could be brutally enslaved
and killed over a racist grudge"
No Shelter
performed by Rage Against the Machine
from the album Live at the Olympic Grand Auditorium (Purchase from
about the dangers of commercialism in America:
"They got you thinkin' that what you need is what they sellin'
Made you think that buyin is rebellin'
From the theaters to malls, on every shore
The thin line between entertainment and war"
On Dark Street
performed by Elton John
from the album The One (Purchase from
about the experiences of a poor man and his family:
"But I've dreamed about an island all I got's a bucket of sand.
I'd give my eyes to give you all your dreams
Now I get to see my family slipping through my hands"
No Woman No Cry
performed by Bob Marley
from the album Legend (Purchase from
about Bob Marley's recollections of growing up in poverty in Trenchtown:
"And then Georgie would make the fire lights
As it was, log would burnin' through the nights
Then we would cook cornmeal porridge
Of which I'll share with you
My feet is my only carriage"
Pirate Jenny
performed by Nina Simone
from the album I Put a Spell on You (Purchase from
about mistreatment coming back to haunt the oppressor, and triumph from invisibility:
"You people can watch while I'm scrubbing these floors
And I'm scrubbin' the floors while you're gawking
Maybe once ya tip me and it makes ya feel swell
In this crummy Southern town
In this crummy old hotel
But you'll never guess to who you're talkin'.
No. You couldn't ever guess to who you're talkin'."
Rich Girl
performed by Hall and Oates
from the album The Very Best of (Purchase from
about the disconnect between wealth and responsibility:
"You're a rich girl and you've gone too far
'Cause you know it don't matter anyway
You can rely on the old man's money
You can rely on the old man's money"
Seek Up
performed by Dave Matthews Band
from the album Remember Two Things (Purchase from
about the tendency to seek fulfillment in material belongings and numb ourselves to others' suffering:
"Sit a while with TV's hungry child,
big belly swelled
Oh, for the price of a coke or a smoke
keep alive those hungry eyes
Take a look at me, what you see in me,
mirror look at me
Face it all, face it all again."
Something in the Rain
performed by Tish Hinojosha
from the album Culture Swing (Purchase from
about calling for the improvement of working conditions and lives for migrant workers:
"There must be something in the rain
I'm not sure just what that means
Abuelita talks of the sins of man
Of dust that's in our hands
There must be something in the rain,
Well, what else would cause this pain
Those planes cure the plants so things can grow
Oh no, it must be something in the rain."
Talking about a Revolution
performed by Tracy Chapman
from the album Tracy Chapman (Purchase from
about equality, hope, welfare:
"While they're standing in the welfare lines,
crying at the doorsteps of those armies of salvation,
wasting time in the unemployment lines,
sitting around waiting for a promotion.
Poor people gonna rise up
and get their share
Poor people gonna rise up
and take what's theirs"
Village Ghetto Land
performed by Stevie Wonder
from the album Songs in the Key of Life (Purchase from
about the struggles and dangers of living in the ghetto, and "the powers that be" turning their heads to it:
"Children play with rusted cars
Sores cover their hands
Politicians laugh and drink
Drunk to all demands"
Whitey on the Moon
performed by Gil Scott Heron
from the album Small Talk at 125th and Lenox (Purchase from
about the establishment's priorities of social welfare:
"You know, the man just upped my rent last night
'Cos whitey's on the moon
No hot water, no toilets, no lights
But whitey's on the moon
I wonder why he's uppin' me
'Cos whitey's on the moon?
Well, I was already givin' him fifty a week
And now whitey's on the moon"
Why I Sing the Blues
performed by B.B. King
from the album Why I Sing the Blues (Purchase from
about a history and lifetime of racial and economic oppression:
"I laid in the ghetto flat
Cold and numb
I heard the rats tell the beadbugs
To give the roaches some
And everybody wants to know why I sing the blues
I've been around a long time
I've really paid my dues"

an Equity Literacy Institute and EdChange project
© Paul C. Gorski, 1995-2019