California-based acoustic slide guitar player and singer-songwriter, [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Ben Harper[/lastfm], is a master at writing beautiful reggae-funk tinged tomes to humanity with globally aware, socially conscientious lyrics.
With almost twenty years of music under his belt, Harper still has one overarching musical metanarrative–recognizing the flaws in the global system and trying to change them.
Come May 18th, Harper might play some of the Ten Socially Conscious Tunes we chose for his Live on Letterman webcast right here at 8pm, ET/5pm, PT.
10. “Fight Outta You”
From his 2007 album “Lifeline,” Ben Harper’s song “Fight Outta You” is about exactly what the title describes–the constant fight of living and having the strength to keep fighting back:
They’ll look you in the eyes and stone you/Then turn and disown you, don’t you let them take the fight outta you/They’ll walk all over your name ’til they find someone else to blame/don’t let them take the fight outta you/Secrets hide their lies inside hidden alibis/don’t let them take the fight outta you/They put the world on a hook, it’s worse every time I look/Don’t let them take the fight outta you
9. “Both Sides Of The Gun”
Harper makes no qualms in dissecting (and dissing) the state of the modern political system in his song “Both Sides Of The Gun” from his 2006 album of the same name:
Politics, it’s a drag /They put one foot in the grave /And the other on the flag /Systems rotten to the core /Young and old deserve much more /Than struggling every day until you’re done /Tension /Too much to mention/Living on both sides of the gun
8. “Serve Your Soul”
If Harper is not subtle about making a provocative statement, he is at least refined in his delivery, which is evident in his song “Serve Your Soul” that makes an allusion to the perpetual debate over religious freedoms:
Battles over which direction to kneel /People reaching out to touch /But forgetting to feel/Daily breath shouldn’t be a daily penance /Is that what you believe /Or just a life sentence
7. “People Lead”
Taken from Harper’s 1995 album Fight For Your Mind, “People Lead” is a song that encourages active democracy rather than subtle tyranny from self-serving, history re-writing government officials:
So as long as someone else/controls your history/the truth shall remain just a mystery/for you can lead a horse to the water/but you cannot make him drink/you can put a man through school/but you cannot make him think
6. “Don’t Take That Attitude To The Grave”
Harper tip-toes on the edge of darkness in his song “Don’t Take That Attitude To The Grave” when he boldly makes the statement that for some people it might be too late to change.
While most of his other songs have hopeful endings, Harper shows a little cultural misanthropy in this one, but still does it with a “tough love” approach:
I hear helicopters/Over my house every day/Shining their lights and flying low/Treat a child like a criminal /From the day that he is born/And you’re gonna reap just what you sow/Now while there’s still time to be saved/Don’t take that attitude to your grave/Might be too late for you I’m afraid
5. “God Fearing Man”
While the lush acoustic melody of “God Fearing Man” may send you into a peaceful trace, the message of not taking your life on this earth for granted is anything but subdued:
Listen mister brother sister/family and friend/I fear with each day pass/our time grows closer to the end/Listen stranger passer by/and those I never knew/there’s not one day that you are living/has been promised to you/I am a God fearing man
4. “Fight For Your Mind”
In “Fight For Your Mind,” Harper reminds the listener that while thinking positive thoughts about world change is wonderful, it isn’t effective. If you want to change the world, you’ve got to get out there and get your hands dirty:
If you’re gonna build a house/make it a home/If you’re gonna pull some weight/pull your own/If you’re gonna help/reach out your hand/If you’re getting up/then take a stand/you got to fight for your mind
3. “Better Way”
Much like “Fight For Your Mind,” Harper doesn’t believe that you can just sit there with ideas and not take active participation in the world–the “better way” is to take your global goals and use them for something that supports your point:
What good is a man/Who won’t take a stand/What good is a cynic/With no better plan/I believe in a better way!
2. “I’ll Rise”
With borrowed lyrics from the infamous author of I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou, “I’ll Rise” says that despite what identity history creates for you, you can rise above the lies:
So you may write me down in history/With your bitter twisted lies/You may trod me down in the very dirt/And still like the dust I’ll rise
1. “With My Own Two Hands”
As evidenced by his past songs on this list, Harper doesn’t think one man can’t make a difference. In fact, the best way to make a change is to rely on your “own two hands” rather than expect someone else who might have more perceived power to do it for you:
Now I could make peace on earth/With my own two hands/And I could clean up the earth/With my own two hands/And I can reach out to you/With my own two hands
Don’t forget to come back, right here, on Wednesday, May 18th to watch Ben Harper’s full streaming Live on Letterman concert at 8 PM ET/ 5 PM PT.
- What’s your favorite Ben Harper song? Let us know in the comments!