Friday Song: “Rockin’ in the Free World”

Protest music is scant these days, but that doesn't mean we don't need it

We’re in the midst of stressful times, as powers of various kinds — authoritarian, economic, reactionary, and religious — attempt to constrain humanity in cages of various designs.

In previous times, protest music was an important element shaping the responses to insults, corruption, and inequities.

These days, lounge music and vocal/producer collaborations dominate popular music, with little room for protest songs of the caliber of Neil Young’s 1989 classic, “Rockin’ in the Free World.”

Written in response to the first Bush Administration, the lyrics mock trite political slogans of that era, with “thousand points of light” and “kinder, gentler” woven in.

Young wrote the song in response to the problems in the world, with the title inspired after a Russian promoter absconded with money intended to promote a cultural exchange concert between the US and Russia. Dealing with the news of the theft that would prevent Young and his band from traveling to Russia, one member said, “Well, I guess we’ll just have to keep rockin’ in the free world.”

Released a few months before the fall of the Berlin Wall, the song became an anthem as freedom spread across Eastern Europe.

Pearl Jam has performed the song live numerous times, as Young has been the band’s long-time protege, first performing with them in 1993 at the MTV Video Music Awards, where the song “Jeremy” ruled the night.

The song was originally recorded in E and played at a fast tempo of 132 bpm. Blistering guitar solos are a hallmark of any live performance.

The version below was performed in Grote Markt, Haarlem, in the Netherlands in May 2016. It captures the song’s worldwide popularity among all ages.


And keep on rockin’ in — and for — a free world!