I'm into both music and the environment, but I'm often disappointed when musicians try to combine the two. To my mind, in too many songs with environmental themes, the message ends up eclipsing the music. The result, even when they are done by accomplished artists, is often something like this – a mawkish guilt-trip that makes me want to start a tire fire.
That said, there are some genuinely good eco-themed songs out there. Ones with smart lyrics. Ones that rock. The Bright Green Blog's Panel of Distinguished Experts (which consists of, well, me) has assembled a list of the best ones out there. And, in true rock fashion, it goes to 11. Links are to videos for the songs on YouTube.
11. Idioteque, by Radiohead I've listened to Kid-A more times than I can count, but I'll admit that I never actually paid any attention to the lyrics of this song until Wikipedia told me that it had an environmental theme. "Ice age coming/Ice age coming/Let me hear both sides/Let me hear both sides," croons Thom Yorke. Could this be anything other than an allusion to the fabricated controversy over the scientific basis of global warming?
10. Blackened, by Metallica "Death of mother earth/Never a rebirth/Evolutions end/Never will it mend." When it comes to singing about the apocalypse, nobody can touch these thrash metal hegemons.
9. Bicycle Race, by Queen "I want to ride my bicycle/I want to ride my bike/I want to ride my bicycle/I want to ride it where I like." This is clearly a call for expanding bike lanes throughout urban areas. Either that or Freddie Mercury couldn't come up with a better rhyme for "bike."
8. Dirty Water, by The Standells I don't know if anybody outside Massachusetts likes this 1966 proto-punk Boston anthem, but it's pretty popular where I come from. The song, whose title refers to the notoriously polluted Charles River, is played at every home game victory for the Sox, the Celtics, and the Bruins. The Charles has been cleaned up considerably since then, but still not enough to make me want to swim in it.
7. Big Yellow Taxi, by Joni Mitchell I'm not going to argue that you can rock out to this song, only that it has become a standard, covered by everyone from Bob Dylan to Amy Grant to Counting Crows. My favorite line: "They took all the trees/Put 'em in a tree museum/And they charged the people/A dollar and a half just to see 'em." Apparently this is an allusion to Honolulu's Foster Botanical Garden, which now charges $5 for admission.
6. After the Gold Rush, by Neil Young The original lyrics go: "Look at Mother Nature on the run in the 1970s." During the 80s, Neil Young updated it to "in the 20th century," and now he sings "in the 21st century." It's good that he keeps updating it, because this is the only line in the entire song that makes any sense.
5. Monkey Gone to Heaven, by The Pixies Rolling Stone's David Fricke called this song "a corrosive, compelling meditation on God and garbage." It begins: "There was a guy/an underwater guy who controlled the sea/got killed by ten million pounds of sludge/from New York and New Jersey." The song was released in 1989, a year after Congress enacted a ban on dumping sewage into the ocean.
4. Treat yo Mama, by The John Butler Trio Lest someone accuse me of being a classic rock snob, I need to have at least one song that came out in this decade."Treat yo Mama with respect," the song urges. "Mama" being Mother Nature. This Australian jam band tries to walk the walk, too: their 2007 tour was greened by Clif Bar's GreenNotes program, which seeks to cut CO2 emissions with a biodiesel tour bus, recycled paper, and offsets.
3. (Nothing but) Flowers, by Talking Heads Probably one of the first songs to anticipate peak oil, it describes a world whose factories, strip malls, and fast-food joints have been reclaimed by nature. "If this is paradise," the protagonist sings, "I wish I had a lawnmower."
2. My City Was Gone, by The Pretenders The catchy bass line to this song, which decries suburban sprawl and the hollowing out of the American downtown, serves as the intro to Rush Limbaugh's radio program. Songwriter Chrissie Hynde allows Limbaugh to use her song, provided that the conservative talk show host makes the royalty checks payable to PETA.
1. Godzilla, by Blue Öyster Cult I was going to put Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World" in this slot, but I had a last-minute change of heart. After all, how can you go wrong with a song about a giant, radioactive lizard? "History shows again and again how nature points out the folly of man." Words to live by.