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Posts Tagged ‘Civil Rights’

At number 38 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s 100 greatest Beatles songs is “Blackbird”. Although credited to Lennon and McCartney, this 1968 song was not only composed solely by McCartney, but also he is the only one performing on the song. It appears on the Beatles’ White Album (officially known as “The Beatles”), an album I blogged about here as it is at number 10 in Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest albums.

By the time the White Album was recorded during the summer of 1968, the rifts amongst the members of the Beatles were beginning to appear. Probably most (if not all) of the Lennon and McCartney songs on the album were composed separately, and often they would record their part of the song separately too, with the other members each adding their parts as overdubs. Hardly any of the songs were recorded with all four of them playing at the same time. Abbey Road studios effectively had Lennon, McCartney and Harrison each working in three separate studios.

“Blackbird” is a song about the struggle for civil rights in the United States. Unlike Lennon’s more direct “Revolution”, McCartney’s song is more oblique. In an interview in 2002 McCartney said

I remembered this whole idea of “you were only waiting for this moment to arise” was about, you know, the black people’s struggle in the southern states, and I was using the symbolism of a blackbird. It’s not really about a blackbird whose wings are broken, you know, it’s a bit more symbolic.




At number 38 in Rolling Stone Magazine's list of the 100 greatest Beatles songs is "Blackbird".

At number 38 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest Beatles songs is “Blackbird”.



The melody of the song was inspired by Johann Sebastian Bach’s BourrĂ©e in E minor, a lute piece which McCartney and Harrison used to attempt to play as teenagers to showcase their proficiency on the guitar. The melody of the song is beautiful, and it is my favourite McCartney song on the White Album.


Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise.

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to be free.

Blackbird fly Blackbird fly
Into the light of the dark black night.

Blackbird fly Blackbird fly
Into the light of the dark black night.

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise
You were only waiting for this moment to arise
You were only waiting for this moment to arise.


Here is a video of this beautiful song. Enjoy!





Which is your favourite McCartney song on the White Album?

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At number 12 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s 500 greatest songs of all time is “A Change is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke. This song was written by Cooke himself, and was released in December 1964. It wasn’t really much of a commercial success, getting to a fairly modest 31 in the US singles charts, and wasn’t a hit anywhere else. But its lyrics, which deal with black Americans’ struggle to gain equal status, has made it a significant song in the civil rights struggle and in the history of popular music. The third verse reflects an incident which happened to Cooke and his band, when they were not allowed to stay at a motel in Louisiana whilst on the road during a tour because they were black.



At number 30 in Rolling Stone Magazine's '500 Greatest Songs of all Time' is "I Walk the Line" by Johnny Cash.

At number 12 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s ‘500 Greatest Songs of all Time’ is “A Change Is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke.



Cooke’s soulful delivery is full of passion and soul, and the song builds beautifully in each verse before the refrain “But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will”.


I was born by the river in a little tent
Oh and just like the river I’ve been running ev’r since
It’s been a long time, a long time coming
But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will

It’s been too hard living, but I’m afraid to die
‘Cause I don’t know what’s up there, beyond the sky
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will

I go to the movie and I go downtown
Somebody keep tellin’ me don’t hang around
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will

Then I go to my brother
And I say brother help me please
But he winds up knockin’ me
Back down on my knees, oh

There have been times that I thought I couldn’t last for long
But now I think I’m able to carry on
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will


Here is a video of this great song. Enjoy!





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At number 24 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s 500 greatest songs of all time is “People Get Ready” by The Impressions. This song is from 1965, and I thought that I did not know it when I saw it listed. But, once I listened to it to write this blog, I knew that I had heard this song many times before. It was written by Curtis Mayfield, and it reflects Mayfield’s increasing social and religious awareness. It has strong gospel overtones, and reached number 14 in the US singles charts.



At number 30 in Rolling Stone Magazine's '500 Greatest Songs of all Time' is "I Walk the Line" by Johnny Cash.

At number 24 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s ‘500 Greatest Songs of all Time’ is “People Get Ready” by The Impressions.



This song has been covered by many other artists, including Eva Cassidy, Bob Marley and Bob Dylan. Jeff Beck and Rod Steward recorded a version in the mid-1980s which is possibly one of the better known cover versions.

People get ready, there’s a train comin’
You don’t need no baggage, you just get on board
All you need is faith to hear the diesels hummin’
You don’t need no ticket you just thank the lord

People get ready, there’s a train to Jordan
Picking up passengers coast to coast
Faith is the key, open the doors and board them
There’s hope for all among those loved the most
There ain’t no room for the hopeless sinner whom would hurt all mankind
Just to save his own
Have pity on those whose chances grow thinner
For there is no hiding place against the kingdoms throne

People get ready there’s a train comin’
You don’t need no baggage, just get on board
All you need is faith to hear the diesels hummin’
You don’t need no ticket, just thank the lord


Here is a video of this song. Enjoy!





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Tomorrow (28th of August) marks the 50th anniversary of what has become one of the most famous speeches in history, Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech. The speech was part of a “March on Washington for jobs and freedom”, which was organised by 6 civil rights organisations. These were King’s “Southern Christian Leadership Conference”, The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People” (NAACP), “The National Urban League”, “The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters”, “The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee” (SNCC) and “The Congress of Racial Equality”. The day included many performers and speeches. Bob Dylan and Joan Baez sang together, but for most people the highlight was King’s speech.



Martin Luther King giving his "I have a dream" speech on the 28th of August 1963.

Martin Luther King giving his “I have a dream” speech on the 28th of August 1963.



I suspect nearly everyone is familiar with the “I have a dream” part of this speech. But in the video clip below is the complete speech, which is some 16 minutes long. The “I have a dream” part doesn’t begin until the 12th minute, and I would imagine a lot of people are not famiiar with what King says before the famous finale.

Here is the opening part of the speech:

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon of hope to millions of slaves, who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity. But one hundred years later, the colored America is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of the colored American is still sadly crippled by the manacle of segregation and the chains of discrimination.

One hundred years later, the colored American lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the colored American is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we have come to our Nation’s Capital to cash a check. When the architects of our great republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.

This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed to the inalienable rights of life liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given its colored people a bad check, a check that has come back marked “insufficient funds.”

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and security of justice.

I am trying to remember when I first became aware of this speech. I think it was when I was about 12 or 13 years old. I know from talking to my children that they are now introduced to the ideas of King, Mahatma Ghandi and Nelson Mandela in their “religious education” classes, something we were not when I was in school.

Although I am a little vague as to when I first became aware of the “I have a dream” part of this magnificent speech, I do remember distinctly when I first became aware of the beginnings of the speech. It was in 1998, and I had bought a DVD of the Encyclopaedia Brittanica, and it had an article on this speech including a video of the complete speech. This was in the days before YouTube, and it was the first time I had heard the opening parts.





Within a few months of King giving this speech, John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Initially it seemed as if the hope of meaningful civil rights legislation had died with him; Lyndon Johnson had never shown much support for this cause. But, to many people’s surprise, Johnson pushed through the landmark Civil Rights Act in 1964, ensuring most forms of racial segregation in the US were outlawed.

In the years that followed this famous I have a dream speech Martin Luther King would go on to accomplish many other great things, including being the youngest ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. He was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee on the 4th of April 1968, and towards the beginning of April next year I will write the fourth blog in this series, summarising his life from this speech through to his death only four and a half years later.

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