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11 Songs That Will Make You Appreciate Our Planet

From Joni Mitchell and Cat Stevens in the Seventies to Childish Gambino and Miley Cyrus in the 2000s, it’s about time we start listening to what these artists have to say

Joel Arambur May 15, 2019

A still from Lil Dicky's "Earth" music video.

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American rapper Lil Dicky showed us the perfect example of using a platform for positivity with his celebrity-studded track “Earth” which dropped on April 18th, 2019. Within three weeks the animated video, which features the likes of Ariana Grande, Wiz Khalifa, Snoop Dogg, Ed Sheeran  and more ,hit over 91 million views and is currently one of the most trending videos on YouTube, meeting the rapper’s goal of raising awareness about the deteriorating health of our planet.  It’s something musicians have been doing for decades, each with a goal of educating their own generations about doing better. Here are a few other examples we’ve seen over the years of songs that were created to awaken the environmentalist within us all.

“Melting Ice” – Lil Peppi

Key point:  When a 10-year-old rapper is talking about the melting of the polar caps, you need to start paying attention. The song was released in 2009 based on data from NASA that states, “Both (Antarctica and Greenland) ice sheets have seen an acceleration of ice mass loss since 2009.” In the video of the song, Lil Peppi dressed as former U.S. President Barack Obama addresses the world about the rising sea levels: “Don’t mean to be gloomy I’m just telling the truth/Do your own research and/get your own proof/What’s the solution?/We’re the solution/Let’s stop with the excuses and make a contribution.”

“Feels Like Summer” – Childish Gambino

If a kid living in 2090 discovers the video to this song, they would learn a lot about the culture of our generation through the various cameos it features by hip-hop artists. However, if one ever paid close attention to the lyrics, its message is a whole lot bigger. According to the directors of the video, Childish Gambino was most concerned with capturing the hazy, hot, polluted atmosphere of the clip. With relaxed vocals he sings:  “Every day gets hotter, than the one before/Running out of water, it’s about to go down ,go down/Air that kill the bees that we depend upon/Birds were made for singing, wakin’ up to no sound.”

“Last Great American Whale” – Lou Reed

This song was released as part of Lou Reed’s 1989 album New York–which brought the spotlight back on him and enabled rockers The Velvet Underground to start touring again. The song follows a narrative in which, a Native American tribe’s Chief is being executed for murdering the son of the town’s mayor (Who would “Spit on Indians and lots worse”). Now the Chief is locked up and so his tribesmen begin to pray, that’s when the last whale in the world creates a huge wave destroying the jail and freeing the Chief. However, the whale is shot by a Harpoon in the process, with which the entire species goes extinct.  Lou Reed makes no effort to sing this song and simply gets away with speaking melodic sentences such as: “Well Americans don’t care for much of anything/land and water the least/And animal life is low on the totem pole/With human life not worth much more than infected yeast/Americans don’t care too much for beauty/They’ll shit in a river, dump battery acid in a stream.”

A study in 2017 by NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center concluded that,“Between 1990 and 2010 abundance [of whales] increased to 482 animals, but since 2010 the numbers have declined to 458 in 2015, with 14 known deaths this year.“

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“Blackend” – Metallica

Metal music loves to play around with dark themes and Metallica chose to take it to the next level. Released in 1988, “Blackend” was the first song co-written by their then new bassist Jason Newsted, who also happened to come up with the riff of this song. The track describes a dystopian future, in which the colorful flora and fauna of our planet is destroyed by human activity and everything is doomed. With a classic thrash metal sound vocalist-guitarist James Hetfield soars: ”Blistering of earth/Terminate its worth/Deadly nicotine/Kills what might have been/Callous frigid chill/Nothing left to kill/Never seen before/ Breathing nevermore never.”

“Driving Driving Driving” – Kimya Dawson

Although most well-known for her work on 2007 feature film Juno’s soundtrack, Kimya Dawson’s has been making lyrically powerful music with her band the Moldy Peaches since 2001. Most of her songs are just a simple melody with a few basic chords and wholesome lyrics to wake you up. On “Driving Driving Driving,” she talks about how we’re digging our graves if we continue with our current lifestyle of depending upon non-renewable energy resources. She also speaks about how the mainstream media sources don’t cover environmental issues as much as they should and asks important questions like, “Will our desire for convenience be the cause of our extinction? “

In a six minute rant she sings, “But I’ve always identified with the turtle’s soft insides/Because there are times when I really need to hide/But even the strongest, toughest, thickest shell is not designed/To survive, to survive, to survive something of this magnitude/Because water is fluid and oil is crude/And it billows way down deep and it sticks to grains of sand/And it floats up on the surface where the birds all try to land/And it’s ruining the marshes, ecosystems are destroyed/And the people all along the gulf coast are now unemployed”

“Take AIM at Climate Change” – Rhythm, Rhyme, Results

NASA teamed up with Rhythm, Rhyme, Results (a company which produces educational music in hip-hop) to write this song to raise awareness about the ever increasing pace of decline of our planet’s health. We see two rappers drop sick bars about rising CO2 levels, melting of glaciers and sustainability. The entire song is a conversation, with one asking questions about the earth and the other answering them with bars like: ”See, the heat comes down from the sun to the earth/But now the heat can’t escape, it just can’t disperse/Cos of carbon dioxide from power plants and factories/Cars and trucks, so much more than you can find naturally/So the poles get warm, and the Earth gets hotter,/All that necessary ice melts down into water/And the impact, the sad fact, is it can only escalate/So for real we gotta act now, before it’s too late.”

“Wake Up America” – Miley Cyrus

This powerful eco-pop anthem from Miley Cyrus is from her second studio album Breakout, which was released in 2008 when she was just 15 years old. Cyrus talks about how we remain ignorant towards climate change and decreasing bio-diversity, successfully channeling teenage angst into something positive: “Stand up, I’ll try if you will/Wake up it’s not a fire drill/All she needs is a little attention/Can you give her just a little attention?/Oh, it’s easy to look away/But it’s getting harder day-by-day.”

“Big Yellow Taxi” – Joni Mitchell

Any list on songs about our planet Earth is incomplete without this 1970 classic written by Joni Mitchell, which has been covered by numerous artists since its release. When asked about the song, Mitchell told the Los Angeles Times, “I wrote ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ on my first trip to Hawaii. I took a taxi to the hotel and when I woke up the next morning, I threw back the curtains and saw these beautiful green mountains in the distance. Then, I looked down and there was a parking lot as far as the eye could see, and it broke my heart… this blight on paradise. That’s when I sat down and wrote the song.”

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With a pop rhythm guitar section and backing vocals she sings: “They took all the trees/And put them in a tree museum,/And they charged all the people/A dollar and a half to see ’em/Don’t it always seem to go/That you don’t know what you’ve got/’Till it’s gone/They paved paradise/And they put up a parking lot.”

“Down To Earth” – Peter Gabriel

Written for Disney Pixar’s Wall-E by Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Peter Gabriel, the song celebrates the diversity of landscapes available on earth and the ability of our planet to support life in different terrains. This six-minute rock ballad is filled with poetic lyrics which compliment the movie’s theme of a post-apocalyptic world: “Like the fish in the ocean/We felt at home in the sea/We learned to live off the good land/We learned to climb up a tree/then we got up on two legs/But we wanted to fly/And when we messed up our homeland/we set sail for the sky.”

“Where Do The Children Play” – Cat Stevens

Released as part of British singer-songwriter Cat Stevens’ fourth studio album Tea for the Tillerman in 1970, which earned the artist worldwide fame and critical acclaim, “Where Do The Children Play” is a song attacking our excessive urban development urges. Turning open spaces into commercial buildings, forests turning into concrete jungles, casual burning of fossil fuels and more are some of the sensitive topics that Stevens talks about with a catchy melody that drowns the seriousness of the issue in a way that it reaches a larger audience: “Well you’ve cracked the sky, scrapers fill the air/But will you keep on building higher/’Til there’s no more room up there?/Will you make us laugh, will you make us cry?/Will you tell us when to live, will you tell us when to die?/I know we’ve come a long way/We’re changing day to day/But tell me, where do the children play?”

”We Are The World” – USA For Africa

This is one song which doesn’t require an introduction, “We Are The World” was written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie in 1985 in an effort to raise funds for the African Famine Relief as suggested by activist Harry Belafonte and fundraiser Ken Kragen. The song went on to become the fastest selling American pop single in history and the first single to reach a multi-platinum status. It also went on to win three Grammy Awards and raised over $63 million (equivalent to $144 million today) for humanitarian aid in Africa and the U.S. The super group collectively sings: ”Oh, send them your heart/So they know that someone cares/And their lives will be stronger and free/As God has shown us by turning stones to bread/And so we all must lend a helping hand.”

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