Which Side Are You On?: 20th Century American History in 100 Protest Songs

Regular price $ 19.95

by James Sullivan

Oxford University Press

3/1/2021, paperback

SKU: 9780197549452


When he emerged from the nightclubs of Greenwich Village, Bob Dylan was often identified as a protest singer. As early as 1962, however, Dylan was already protesting the label: I don't write no protest songs, he told his audience on the night he debuted Blowin' in the Wind. 

Protest music is largely perceived as an unsubtle art form, a topical brand of songwriting that preaches to the converted. But popular music of all types has long given listeners food for thought. Fifty years before Vietnam, before the United States entered World War I, some of the most popular sheet music in the country featured anti-war tunes. The labor movement of the early decades of the century was fueled by its communal songbook. The Civil Rights movement was soundtracked not just by the gorgeous melodies of Strange Fruit and A Change Is Gonna Come, but hundreds of other gospel-tinged ballads and blues. 

In Which Side Are You On?, author James Sullivan delivers a lively anecdotal history of the progressive movements that have shaped the growth of the United States, and the songs that have accompanied and defined them. Covering one hundred years of social conflict and progress across the twentieth century and into the early years of the twenty-first, this book reveals how protest songs have given voice to the needs and challenges of a nation and asked its citizens to take a stand--asking the question Which side are you on?

Review Quotes:

"Journalist James Sullivan has compiled a fascinating history of protest songs in the US. ... In each chapter, Sullivan offers a detailed discussion of the historical contexts of the topic and the songs that topic generated. The titles of the 100 featured songs are printed in boldface, but they are scattered among scores of songs along with their authors and the performers who dealt with the same themes. Sullivan draws on a wide range of sources -- these are listed in the notes and bibliography." -CHOICE

"James Sullivan writes an intriguing and broad history of events that include protest songs.... For the general public desiring to learn about music and movements, this is a great overview. It is an interesting read that follows the historical content of protest songs across the years. The book might also be helpful for graduate students researching a specific song, artist, or theme." -Bonnie L. Finn, Music Reference Services Quarterly

"Sullivan's fluid prose and attention to detail serve him admirably in this engaging title, which should awaken nostalgia in those of a certain age and introduce new generations to these musical catalysts for social change." -Library Journal

About the Author:

James Sullivan is the author of five books, with subjects ranging from the comedian George Carlin and the performer James Brown to high school football and a cultural history of blue jeans. He is a longtime contributor to the Boston Globe and a former staff critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, and he has written for Rolling Stone, the Atlantic and many other publications.