23 Great Songs For Your Sustainable Living Soundtrack

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As ecological and environmental issues become more prominent in our consciousness, some of the biggest musicians have been voicing their own concerns as far back as the 1970s. It’s frightening to hear how many of these songs still stand true to today’s state of the world. One would think that with time, the world would have seen enough to be prompted to take action and effect change.

Historically, humanity has had a habit of self-destruction and/or gearing up to fight back after our hands have been forced.  But are we finally ready to take heed of the many forewarnings and not just let these words go in one ear and out the other before the choice is taken away from us?

It would be nice to imagine a world 20 years from now being depicted differently and positively in songs. A world where our environment and our ecological system are thriving and our lifestyle is one that we can be proud of and can gladly outline as the main catalyst for this new reality.

In the words of The Cranberries; time is ticking out!

Check out the Sustainable Living Soundtrack playlist on Spotify.

1. Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology) | Marvin Gaye

While climate change is now the worry du jour, in 1971 Marvin Gaye wrote a song about the environment and the obligation we have to care for our planet. Taken from his socially-conscious album ‘What’s Going On’, the song mourns the destruction of the environment in a modernized society. It would go on to be regarded as one of popular music’s most poignant songs regarding ecological issues.

“Mercy, mercy me
Things ain’t what they used to be, no no
Radiation under ground and in the sky
Animals and birds who live nearby are dying”

2. Big Yellow Taxi | Counting Crows (ft. Vanessa Carlton)

This 2003 hit is a cover of Joni Mitchell’s 1970 song of the same name. She said the following of the song; “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”.

“They paved paradise and put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique, and a swingin’ hot spot
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot”

3. Only So Much Oil in the Ground | Tower of Power

The band wrote the song in response to a 1971 oil spill in the San Francisco Bay caused by two tankers colliding. Co-founder Emilio Castillo recalls the news showing seagulls covered in oil and how they were to trying to be rescued. Following a conversation about the event, he and bandmate Stephen “Doc” Kupka wrote the song highlighting an over-reliance on the fossil fuel, a global sentiment still relevant almost five decades later.

“Cause there’s only so much oil in the ground
Sooner or later there won’t be none around
Alternate sources of power must be found
Cause there’s only so much oil in the ground”

4. Earth Song | Michael Jackson

Taken from his ninth studio album HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I, the iconic Earth Song sees Michael Jackson voicing his concerns for the state of humanity and the world. The song was the first of its kind in being focused on both animals and the environment. It earned the singer the 1995 Doris Day Award for its animal sensitivity.

“Did you ever stop to notice
All the blood we’ve shed before?
Did you ever stop to notice
This crying Earth, these weeping shores?”

5. Mother Nature’s Son | The Beatles

Greatly inspired by Nat King Cole’s Nature Boy, his childhood, and the
Indian guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s teachings, Paul McCartney wrote the song during a visit to his dad’s home in Liverpool and completed with a little help from a certain John Lennon. “I’d always loved nature, and when Linda and I got together we discovered we had this deep love of nature in common.”

“Find me in my field of grass
Mother Nature’s son
Swaying daisies sing a lazy song beneath the sun”

6. Hungry Planet | The Byrds

This 1970’s hybrid rock song speaks of the consequences of humans using up the Earth’s resources and robbing it of all that’s good. The ecological theme present in the song’s lyrics is enhanced by the addition of earthquake sound effects and the use of a synthesizer, creating an almost psychedelic atmosphere.

“I’m a hungry planet
I had the bluest seas
Oh the people kept choppin’ down
All my finest trees
Poisonin’ my oxygen”

7. My City Was Gone | Pretenders

Written by Pretenders leader Chrissie Hynde, the song reflected her growing interest in environmental and social concerns; particularly after the singer returned to her childhood home of Ohio and discovered that widespread development and pollution had devastated her “pretty countryside”.

“I went back to Ohio
But my pretty countryside
Had been paved down the middle
By a government that had no pride”

8. Down to Earth | Peter Gabriel

Better known as the theme song from the hit computer-animated Pixar movie Wall-E, it was co-written by English rock musician Peter Gabriel and was nominated for Best Original Song at the 66th Golden Globe Awards and 81st Academy Awards. It stands out as a stirring song about the importance of responsibility and sustainability in the ever-changing and magical planet we all call home.

“Like the fish in the ocean
We felt at home in the sea
We learned to live off the good land
Learned to climb up a tree”

9. Where Do The Children Play? | Cat Stevens

In this anti-pollution song, British folk-rock musician Cat Stevens reflects on the advancement of technology and how we have progressed, albeit at the cost of the destruction of our environment, perhaps leaving behind the key elements (innocence, happiness…) that should define our lives.

“Oh, I know we’ve come a long way
We’re changing day to day
But tell me, where do the children play?”

10. Time Is Ticking Out | The Cranberries

Frontwoman Dolores O’Riordan wrote this song after reading an article about the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Depicting humans’ lack of care for the planet, the singer warns that there’s not much time left before things start to get ugly.

“We better think about the consequences
We better think about the global census
If time went down, yeah, if time went down”

11. What A Wonderful World | Louis Armstrong

Released in 1967, the song is simply about appreciating the beauty of your surroundings despite all that may be going wrong in the world. By recognising and acknowledging the wonder of the natural world and the good in people, it remains one of the most uplifting and life-affirming songs of all time.

“I see trees of green, red roses too
I see them bloom, for me and you
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world”

12. The 3 R’s | Jack Johnson

Taken from the 2006 Sing-A-Longs and Lullabies for the Film Curious George album, the song is designed to educate children on the Three R’s of sustainability (Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle). An important lesson to remember, regardless of age.

“If you’re going to the market to buy some juice
You’ve got to bring your own bags and you learn to reduce your waste
And if your brother or your sister’s got some cool clothes
You could try them on before you buy some more of those”

13. Dragonfly | Ziggy Marley

Ziggy channels his inner Dr Doolittle in the song and communicates with animals, pondering the damages that human existence has done to so many of them.

“Hey mister bee the world change but you remain the same
And I wonder how you’ll survive with the environment going down the drain
Hey miss dragonfly I see you look at me with your beautiful eyes
You must be wondering what type of creature am I”

14. When the Music’s Over | The Doors

Released in 1967, the lyrics below were some of the first environmentally themed in rock music. Sung with such building tension and quizzical angst, it is a magical display of musical theatrics – particularly when Jim Morrison exclaims “we want the world and we want it…now”.

“What have they done to the earth?
What have they done to our fair sister?
Ravaged and plundered and ripped her and bit her
Stuck her with knives in the side of the dawn
And tied her with fences and dragged her down”

15. Feels Like Summer | Childish Gambino

This is not your typical Summer anthem. The song centres on a multitude of vital issues currently affecting the world including climate change and overpopulation. It is a point mostly lost on people as the music video features endless cameos, including a crying Kanye West being comforted by Michelle Obama. This was intentionally done by the artist to show how easily distracted we are by celebrity and popular culture; as he is singing about bees dying, we are more focused on whose hair Oprah is braiding.

“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
Waking up to no sound”

16. Plastic Beach | Gorillaz (ft. Mick Jones and Paul Simonon)

Addressing pollution and the rise of cyberculture, the titular area it is described as “a secret floating island deep in the South Pacific, made up of the detritus, debris and washed up remnants of humanity. This Plastic Beach is the furthest point from any landmass on Earth; the most deserted spot on the planet”.

“It’s a Casio on a plastic beach
It’s a styrofoam deep sea landfill
It’s automated computer speech”

17. The Numbers | Radiohead

Thom Yorke first played this protest song about global warming during the December 4, 2015 Pathway to Paris climate change concert at Le Trianon in the French capital. Surprising that the song came to fruition at all since Yorke once said that if he were to ever write a song about climate change, “it would be shit”.

“We call upon the people
The people have this power
The numbers don’t decide
The system is a lie
A river running dry”

18. Virtual Insanity | Jamiroquai

This 90’s pop/funk number is a forewarning of the insidious technology and its increasing hold over humanity. Jamiroquai’s frontman, Jay Kay, began to express his concerns about third world debt and environmental issues on the group’s debut album ‘Emergency on Planet Earth’.

“And nothing’s going to change the way we live
‘Cause we can always take but never give
And now that things are changing for the worse
See, it’s a crazy world we’re living in”

19. Don’t Go Near the Water | The Beach Boys

Encouraged by their then new manager to write more political songs in a bid to make them more relevant, the band penned “Don’t Go Near the Water”. Straying away from their traditional beach-and-surf-based songs, this ecological twist advises the listener to act now to save the water and avoid “an ecological aftermath”.

“Oceans, rivers, lakes and streams
Have all been touched by man
The poison floating out to sea
Now threatens life on land”

20. Where is The Love? | The Black Eyed Peas

“Everyone is into social activism when they heart things and retweet things, but we need more from people,” will.i.am. commented. “Retweeting is great and liking things is awesome, but let’s do more together.”

“What’s wrong with the world, mama?
People livin’ like they ain’t got no mamas
I think the whole world’s addicted to the drama
Only attracted to the things that’ll bring a trauma”

21. Monkey Gone to Heaven | Pixies

This song by the American alternative rock band is said to address three major environmental problems: Pollution (“sludge from New York and New Jersey”), ozone depletion (“hole in the sky”) and the greenhouse effect (“if the ground’s not cold, everything is gonna burn”). The song is also alleged to symbolise the contrast of creation in (“god”) with manmade destruction (“monkey”).

“Now there’s a hole in the sky
And the ground’s not cold
And if the ground’s not cold
Everything is gonna burn”

22. Eyes Wide Open | Gotye

Eyes Wide Open’s music video depicts stop-motion animation of creatures riding on spider-legged boats over several barren terrains, searching for water. Their faces are then shown crumbling – perhaps due to the lack of water. Written from the perspective of a dystopian future looking back at the ecological destruction caused to the earth by the present day generation. It’s evident that actions are to be taken and we shouldn’t wait until it’s too late to do something. The time is now.

“And some people offered up answers
We made out we like we heard
They were only words
They didn’t add up, to a change in the way we were living (it)
And the saddest thing, is all of it could’ve been avoided”

23. Waiting On The World to Change | John Mayer

In an interview, Mayer explained why he wrote the song that makes a point without labouring matters: “I wanted to start a debate. Most of us are happy to wait for things to change.” Can we really expect a better world if we simply sit on our hands waiting for the government to take control?

“We keep on waiting
Waiting on the world to change
It’s hard to beat the system
When we’re standing at a distance”

Article written by Anoushka Petit
Contact: anoushka.petit@hotmail.co.uk