The gift of an artist is the ability to communicate a message in a unique and inspired way. That message is not always about love, drugs, and partying. If the artist is so inspired it can also be about global issues. These five artists had experiences that compelled them to share their views on urban sustainability. No it’s not a sexy or glamorous topic but it’s important.
Forecasting Urban Sustainability
It explains issues that might not otherwise have ever been obvious to listeners and fans. These songs were all written 30 to 40 years ago. I think they were trying to tell us something….
5. “Another Rainy Day in New York City” by Chicago
From their 1976 Album Chicago X this song was written by Robert Lamm explaining how rain washes away all the impurities of the big city. It never did go number one because at the time of album release it was cut in favor of their song “If You Leave Me Now” which had a more mainstream message.
4. “My City Was Gone” by The Pretenders
Chrissie Hynde wrote this song and released it in 1982 when she had gone back to her home town of Akron, Ohio after being away on tour. When she returned she was saddened to find that the town in which she grew up had changed and all her favorite places had been demolished or developed as urbanization became more rampant.
Another interesting note about this song is that it’s the opening theme for Rush Limbaugh’s radio program in a rhetorical taunt at Chrissie who vehemently opposes his conservative political views.
3. “Traffic Jam” by James Taylor
Off his 1977 album JT, Taylor’s song Traffic Jam is totally unlike is usual songs. It’s said that the song was simply written out of frustration and crankiness. Though in this writer’s opinion it’s a little bit tongue-in-cheek in that, as the lyrics go, he’s not really concerned about his supper being cold but more so making a statement about confused societal priorities i.e. the real problem is that we have traffic in the first place.
2. “Allentown” by Billy Joel
This song appeared on Billy Joel’s 1982 Album The Nylon Curtain and has been used in pop culture reference as an anthem for blue collar workers. He wrote this song to depict how the decline of the manufacturing industry in Northeastern America was affecting the livelihoods of families and subsequently youth in the region.
He introduced the song at a performance in Leningrad with the following comparison to soviet youth:
“This song is about young people living in the Northeast of America. Their lives are miserable because the steel factories are closing down. They desperately want to leave… but they stay because they were brought up to believe that things were going to get better. Maybe that sounds familiar.”
1. “Big Yellow Taxi” by Joni Mitchell
Written and recorded in 1970, Mitchell explains that she was inspired during her trip to Hawaii when she looked out of her hotel room and saw the green mountains and scenery but looked down and could see a giant parking lot. The song overall conveys the message of urbanization in sacrifice of the surrounding environment.
The song was again popularized in 2002 when the Counting Crows featuring Vanessa Carlton covered the track on their album Hard Candy.
Music always has and always will be a great medium to communicate social, economic, environmental, and political issues. What are some other songs you know that convey strong messages about urbanization? What about the environment in general? Send us your ideas and we’ll share them with the PowerHouse Growers community!
Feature Image: Cover of “Ladies Of The Canyon” Album by Joni Mitchell.