Today marks the forty-first anniversary of Earth Day. As the brainchild of Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson, the observation first held in the United States on April 22, 1970 was conceived as a “teach-in” meant to inspire awareness and action on issues critical to the health of the environment. The response to the first Earth Day was immense; an estimated 20 million people from coast to coast participated in marches, rallies and educational events held at schools and universities.
The impact of the massive outpouring of concern for the environment has been measured by the many and important legislative efforts passed since the first Earth Day. The Environmental Protection Agency was formed soon after and the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts became law in the years that followed.
To celebrate our Mother Earth today, here's a list of five environmentally conscious songs to get your eco-friendly groove on.
1. Malvina Reynolds – God Bless the Grass
Malvina Reynolds was a superb folk singer whose songs were ultra-profound in their simplicity. Chief among them was the poetic anthem “God Bless the Grass.” Easy stoners, this was not an ode to cannabis, but rather an inspired hymn to the resiliency of nature. In fact, the song's lyrics can be taken literally as well as metaphorically. It's the same sentiment that lead Chilean poet Pablo Neruda to declare, “They can cut all the flowers, but they cannot stop the coming of the Spring,” or rapper Tupac Shakur to muse about “The rose that grew through concrete.” It also inspired Pete Seeger's eco-album “God Bless the Grass.”
2.The Doors – When the Music's Over
Malvina Reynolds had another more straight forward environmental song asking “What have they done to the rain?” In “When the Music's Over,” Jim Morrison of the Doors asks “What have they done to the Earth?” The long-form song off of Strange Days isn't about the environment for the most part, however, during a short section of the song, the Lizard King engages in a little eco-poetry that is among the track's most memorable lyrics. That alone with the double Dionysian solo sections makes “When the Music's Over,” a song that inspires us to scream along together, “We want the world and we want it now!”
3. Michael Jackson – Earth Song
After Michael Jackson's death nearly two years ago, numerous interviews with family members confirmed that “Earth Song” was the legendary singer's favorite. When released off of 1995's HIStory: Past, Present, and Future, Book I, the song was much more commercially successful in Europe than in the United States. However, after Jackson's untimely death, people rediscovered his gospel ballad to the environment as well as the music video for the song displaying both the beauty of nature and humanity's destruction of it. As the documentary Michael Jackson's This Is It shows, the performer was looking to include “Earth Song” into his set list. Deepak Chopra also revealed that Jackson was writing a follow up song on Global Warming that would end up left forever unfinished.
4. Joni Mitchell – Big Yellow Taxi
No list of this nature can afford to ignore Joni Mitchell's “Big Yellow Taxi.” Like Malvina Reynold's song, it speaks of the struggle between nature and concrete. Mitchell continually returns to the refrain “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” The inspiration for the lyrics came from the musician's first visit to Hawaii. Released in 1970, the same year as the first Earth Day in the U.S., “Big Yellow Taxi” has gone on to be covered throughout the years by numerous artists — a testament to its endearing lyrics and continued relevancy.
5. Pachamama Crew f/ Vandana Shiva – La Semilla
Any song that can boast a collaboration with environmental justice advocate Vandana Shiva deserves to be included in this list! Pachamama Crew recruited the seed activist for their song “La Semilla.” The hip-hoppers from Madrid, Spain trade eco-conscious verses in the song and video before pausing for words of wisdom from Shiva. The author of numerous books including Earth Democracy and Soil, Not Oil reaffirms her faith in the youth saying that a brighter future is in their hands. This track is definitely not on the iPod playlist of Monsanto executives, but hopefully will find its way to yours this Earth Day.