The best songs about equality and freedom reflect the changing political landscape of America and the world at large, as well as various movements that have come and gone.
With subjects ranging from workers’ rights and unions to the experiences of black people in America, these songs strike a powerful nerve.
Read on for a complete breakdown of the most moving and influential songs throughout history that have called for equal rights in all of their forms.
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The 23 Best Songs About Equality & Freedom
Folk music and hip-hop have frequently come to the forefront of music that discusses and champions the rights of people.
We’ve featured the best examples of these genres along with some more surprising entries that ensure this playlist covers a broad range of tastes.
Without further ado, here’s our playlist of the 23 best songs about equality and freedom:
23. “A Change Is Gonna Come” – Sam Cooke
After writing one of the best songs about Saturday in celebration of the weekend, Sam Cooke turned his attention to more serious matters.
“A Change is Gonna Come” was inspired by Bob Dylan and served as a protest song in support of the American civil rights movement.
When creating this powerful anthem, Sam Cooke took further inspiration from his encounter with the police in Louisiana.
22. “We Shall Not Be Moved” – The Seekers
“We Shall Not Be Moved” by The Seekers showcases the resilient spirit of protest movements active during the late 1960s.
“Just like a tree that’s standing by the water side,” the lyrics read, “We shall not be moved.”
The Seekers released “We Shall Not Be Moved” in 1968 and featured the song on their album Live at The Talk of The Town.
21. “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” – Gil Scott-Heron
Gil Scott-Heron coined a popular expression in 1970 with his memorable equality song “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.”
Written and performed at the height of the fight for racial equality in America, it remains one of the core songs about social justice to this day.
It’s also a great example of the style and influences that Gil Scott-Heron drew upon in his music, including John Coltrane and Nina Simone.
20. “Alright” – Kendrick Lamar
Kendrick Lamar has risen through the hip-hop ranks to become one of the most celebrated rappers of his generation in a few short years.
Featured on the album To Pimp A Butterfly, the track “Alright” is a moving contribution to music that seeks equal rights and racial harmony.
Lamar’s success includes two number-one songs on the Billboard Hot 100 charts in addition to hit collaborations with Snoop Dogg and Beyonce.
19. “Solidarity Forever” – Utah Phillips
The folk music genre is well-known for its many great songs about equality and human rights, such as “Solidarity Forever” by Utah Phillips.
It’s a song that speaks to the power of workers when united and features lyrics like, “But the union makes us strong.”
Since it was first released, “Solidarity Forever” has been covered by Leonard Cohen, Seth Staton Watkins, and others.
18. “America” – Neil Diamond
“America” by Neil Diamond was released as part of the soundtrack to the movie The Jazz Singer, which hit theaters in 1980.
“Got a dream to take them there. They’re coming to America,” Diamond sings, “Got a dream they’ve come to share. They’re coming to America.”
While “America” ranks among his lesser-known works, he has also written songs everyone knows, like “Sweet Caroline.” It was released in 1969.
17. “To Be Young, Gifted And Black” – Nina Simone
Jazz-singing icon Nina Simone’s song “To Be Young, Gifted And Black” was released in 1970 and featured in the classic documentary Summer of Soul.
Simone’s beautiful vocals celebrate the achievements of black women across America and the world at large.
In the years since its release, “To Be Young, Gifted And Black” has been covered by Elton John, Aretha Franklin, and other great artists.
16. “Bread And Roses” – Judy Collins
“Bread and Roses” by Judy Collins returns us once again to classic folk music that calls for equal rights and world peace.
It’s a gorgeous tune with a pop undercurrent that urges women to rise up and embrace their responsibilities as mothers and activists.
The title track from her 1976 album of the same name, “Bread and Roses,” was the 11th studio record released by Judy Collins.
15. “Redemption Song” – Bob Marley & The Wailers
A playlist covering the best songs about equality wouldn’t be complete without an entry from reggae master Bob Marley.
Marley performed “Redemption Song” with his band The Wailers, and it ranks among his most popular tunes of all time.
Other great songs released by Marley include “One Love” and “400 Years”; they speak to the simple but profound belief that we should have no more wars.
14. “American Flag On The Moon” – Brad Paisley
Country music artist Brad Paisley offered a more up-to-date retrospective on equality with his 2014 song “American Flag on the Moon.”
“We led the world, fought tyranny, touched the stars, brought liberty,” Paisley explains in the song’s lyrics and continues, “Let’s do that again.”
“American Flag on the Moon” is among the most uplifting songs that explore the concept of equal rights with optimism.
13. “Blowin’ In The Wind” – Bob Dylan
A prolific singer-songwriter responsible for some of the best songs of all time, Bob Dylan is no stranger to powerful music celebrating human rights.
“Blowin’ in the Wind” was an early protest song from the legendary folk singer that paved the way for many more songs from political activists.
Dylan followed “Blowin’ in the Wind” with his most recognized anthem for political action, “The Times They Are A’Changin’.”
12. “Black Rage” – Lauryn Hill
Tapping into the anger and frustration that would later inform the Black Lives Matter movement, “Black Rage” by Lauryn Hill is another song demanding respect.
“Black rage is founded: who fed us self-hatred,” Hill sings in this moving piece of music, “Lies and abuse, while we waited and waited.”
Lauryn Hill wrote and produced “Black Rage” in 2012 and released the song two years later in dedication to lives lost in Ferguson, Missouri.
11. “From Little Things Big Things Grow” – Paul Kelly
Paul Kelly brings together elements of pop, rock, and folk music for the song “From Little Things Big Things Grow.”
The song title points to how protest movements often start out small before slowly gaining momentum and becoming unstoppable forces.
“From Little Things Big Things Grow” was released in 1993 and featured on the Paul Kelly album Bloodlines.
10. “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)” – Marvin Gaye
“Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)” by Marvin Gaye fits perfectly into his broader approach to writing songs about peace, such as “What’s Goin’ On.”
“Trigger-happy policing panic is spreading,” Gaye sings prophetically and continues, “God knows where we’re heading.”
Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated just two years prior to the release of this track, making the song even more poignant.
9. “Step By Step” – Pete Seeger
Pete Seeger’s folk song “Step By Step” is another more obscure entry under the category of anti-government music that calls for an emboldened union movement.
“And by union what we will can be accomplished still,” Seeger’s lyrics read, “Drops of water turn a mill singly none, singly none.”
Seeger began his career back in the 1940s and went on to become one of the most notable social activists during the post-war era.
8. “Same Love” – Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
In 2012, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis turned their attention to the gay rights movement by releasing the song “Same Love.”
The lyrics to this popular song explore the difficulties of coming out and how this decision can conflict with the Christian values that underpin much of America.
This hit track received the MTV Video Music Award for “Video for Good” in recognition of its contribution to the LGBT rights movement.
7. “Philadelphia Freedom” – Elton John
Elton John ranks among the world’s most successful musicians, with multiple Grammy Award wins and many more nominations to his name.
“Philadelphia Freedom” is Elton John’s celebration of the civil rights movement and the fight for freedom around the world.
Written as a tribute to Billy Jean King in 1975, “Philadelphia Freedom” was later included on the album Elton John’s Greatest Hits Volume II.
6. “400 Years” – Bob Marley & The Wailers
We’re back to the legendary singer-songwriter Marley and his band The Wailers for another equality song, “400 Years.”
This song mentions the time spent in exile referenced in the Bible. It also highlights the rebellious Rastafarians and their fight against racism.
It’s a song that embodies Marley’s sense of hope and optimism that was echoed in the works of people like John Lennon and James Brown.
5. “The Star-Spangled Banner” – Whitney Houston
For many Americans, the national flag is a powerful symbol of the equal rights and opportunities that the nation affords its populace.
Whitney Houston explored this symbolism in 1991 when she performed her version of the national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
“I Will Always Love You,” one of the best karaoke songs of all time, saw Whitney Houston on a more personal note.
4. “Where Is The Love?” – Black Eyed Peas
The Black Eyed Peas released “Where Is The Love?” in 2003 as a response to the tragic terrorist attack on the World Trade Center that happened two years earlier.
It’s a profound work that reflects the tensions and racism in America following these attacks and the build-up to the war in Iraq.
As conflicts around the world continue to cause death and suffering, “Where Is The Love?” remains relevant to this day.
3. “Ghost Town” – The Specials
While many of the best songs about equality come from an American perspective, there are some that hail from elsewhere around the globe.
“Ghost Town” by The Specials is one such song, exploring the decline of the English city of Coventry as well as a conflict between band members.
Recorded in 1981, the song reflected Britain’s emergence from a huge economic downturn and the daily struggles felt by families trying to make ends meet.
2. “Fight The Power” – Public Enemy
The rap song “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy focused on the growing racial tensions in American cities during the tumultuous 1990s.
Public Enemy caused a stir with lyrics that disparaged John Wayne and Elvis Presley, claiming that they were “white heroes” who didn’t resonate with black America.
It’s not surprising that “Fight the Power” is often ranked among the best songs about fighting, thanks to its powerful energy and rage at a broken system.
1. “Killing In The Name” – Rage Against The Machine
“Killing in the Name” sees Rage Against the Machine rail against the establishment while alluding to police brutality and other injustices in the American system.
Like their song “Wake Up,” it picks up where the early civil rights movement left off and includes a reference to Martin Luther King Jr. in the lyrics.
“Killing in the Name” proved to be a big song for Rage Against the Machine, boosting their popularity worldwide.
That’s a wrap on this playlist of the greatest songs exploring equality and the fight for human rights in America and around the world.
Powerful lyrics calling for improvements in how people get to live their lives will remain a ubiquitous feature of the musical landscape for years to come.
As such, we can anticipate many more great songs that celebrate the fight for freedom and seek justice for historical wrongs.
What’s the best song about equality and freedom, in your opinion? Leave a comment below.
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