Special Report

50 Protest Songs That Made the Billboard Hot 100

Michael Ochs Archives / Michael Ochs Archives via Getty Images

A protest song by its very existence is polarizing, and as such it is unlikely to enjoy widespread appeal. Even so, some songs that captured the mood of an era so accurately became hits on the Billboard Hot 100, with six reaching No. 1 and four others climbing to No. 2.

To determine the most popular protest songs on the Billboard Hot 100, 24/7 Tempo reviewed performance data on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. Songs were ranked based on an inverse score where in a week at No. 1 is worth 100 points, a week at No. 2 worth 99 points, and so on, up to a week at No. 100 worth one point. Chart data is current through the week of Nov. 19, 2022.

Protest songs in America go back at least 100 years. Their roots are in folk music and their message is that the American economic system does not work for all Americans.

The father of this genre was a Swedish immigrant, born Joel Hägglund, who changed his name to Joe Hill. He became a union activist who railed against the oppression of miners, longshoremen, and railroad workers and wrote memorable protest songs before he was controversially convicted of murder and executed. (These were the largest strike waves in U.S. history.)

Hill inspired the composer and ethnomusicologist Charlie Seeger and also Woody Guthrie, who eventually passed the folk-protest baton to Charlie’s son Pete and to such figures as Phil Ochs; Peter, Paul and Mary; Joan Baez; and Bob Dylan. (Here’s a ranking of Dylan’s greatest all-time hits.)

In the 1960s and 1970s, African-American music and rock ‘n’ roll picked up the protest gauntlet and focused on issues such as the Vietnam War, the nuclear threat, urban blight, pollution, civil rights, overdevelopment, and feminism.  

Click here to see the most popular protest songs on the Billboard Hot 100

Most of the protest songs on this list were released during the Cold War era. After the fall of communism and the easing of fears of nuclear war eased, fewer songs addressed the issue of total destruction. More contemporary artists such as Green Day and Nine Inch Nails have used their music to protest American foreign policy.

Source: Michael Ochs Archives / Michael Ochs Archives via Getty Images

50. Sam Cooke, “A Change Is Gonna Come”
> Entered Hot 100: Jan. 30, 1965
> Peak position on Hot 100: #31 (for 1 week)
> Total time on Hot 100: 7 weeks

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Source: David Redfern / Getty Images

49. Edwin Starr, “Stop the War Now”
> Entered Hot 100: Dec. 19, 1970
> Peak position on Hot 100: #26 (for 1 week)
> Total time on Hot 100: 8 weeks

Source: Michael Ochs Archives / Stringer / Getty Images

48. The Impressions, “People Get Ready”
> Entered Hot 100: Feb. 13, 1965
> Peak position on Hot 100: #14 (for 1 week)
> Total time on Hot 100: 8 weeks

Source: Jo Hale / Getty Images

47. Green Day, “American Idiot”
> Entered Hot 100: Aug. 21, 2004
> Peak position on Hot 100: #61 (for 1 week)
> Total time on Hot 100: 20 weeks

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Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

46. Ten Years After, “I’d Love to Change the World”
> Entered Hot 100: Sept. 25, 1971
> Peak position on Hot 100: #40 (for 2 weeks)
> Total time on Hot 100: 12 weeks

Source: Michael Ochs Archives / Michael Ochs Archives via Getty Images

45. Frankie Goes to Hollywood, “Two Tribes”
> Entered Hot 100: Oct. 20, 1984
> Peak position on Hot 100: #43 (for 1 week)
> Total time on Hot 100: 15 weeks

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Source: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds / Getty Images Entertainment via Getty Images

44. Metallica, “One”
> Entered Hot 100: Feb. 18, 1989
> Peak position on Hot 100: #35 (for 1 week)
> Total time on Hot 100: 15 weeks

43. Johnny Hates Jazz, “I Don’t Want to Be a Hero”
> Entered Hot 100: July 9, 1988
> Peak position on Hot 100: #31 (for 2 weeks)
> Total time on Hot 100: 12 weeks

Source: Frederick M. Brown / Getty Images Entertainment via Getty Images

42. Joni Mitchell, “Big Yellow Taxi”
> Entered Hot 100: July 25, 1970
> Peak position on Hot 100: #24 (for 1 week)
> Total time on Hot 100: 16 weeks

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41. Plastic Ono Band, “Give Peace a Chance”
> Entered Hot 100: July 26, 1969
> Peak position on Hot 100: #14 (for 1 week)
> Total time on Hot 100: 9 weeks

Source: Michael Ochs Archives / Michael Ochs Archives via Getty Images

40. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, “Ohio”
> Entered Hot 100: June 27, 1970
> Peak position on Hot 100: #14 (for 1 week)
> Total time on Hot 100: 9 weeks

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39. Nine Inch Nails, “The Hand That Feeds”
> Entered Hot 100: April 9, 2005
> Peak position on Hot 100: #31 (for 1 week)
> Total time on Hot 100: 20 weeks

Source: Keystone / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

38. Culture Club, “The War Song”
> Entered Hot 100: Oct. 6, 1984
> Peak position on Hot 100: #17 (for 1 week)
> Total time on Hot 100: 13 weeks

Source: Michael Putland / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

37. The Charlie Daniels Band, “Still in Saigon”
> Entered Hot 100: March 27, 1982
> Peak position on Hot 100: #22 (for 2 weeks)
> Total time on Hot 100: 12 weeks

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Source: Michael Ochs Archives / Michael Ochs Archives via Getty Images

36. Tommy James And The Shondells, “Sweet Cherry Wine”
> Entered Hot 100: March 22, 1969
> Peak position on Hot 100: #7 (for 2 weeks)
> Total time on Hot 100: 10 weeks

Source: Keystone / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

35. The Moody Blues, “Question”
> Entered Hot 100: May 2, 1970
> Peak position on Hot 100: #21 (for 4 weeks)
> Total time on Hot 100: 12 weeks

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Source: Kevin Winter / Getty Images Entertainment via Getty Images

34. Sting, “Russians”
> Entered Hot 100: Jan. 18, 1986
> Peak position on Hot 100: #16 (for 2 weeks)
> Total time on Hot 100: 13 weeks

Source: Kevin Winter / Getty Images Entertainment via Getty Images

33. System of a Down, “B.Y.O.B.”
> Entered Hot 100: April 16, 2005
> Peak position on Hot 100: #27 (for 1 week)
> Total time on Hot 100: 20 weeks

Source: David Redfern / Staff / Getty Images

32. Paul Hardcastle, “19”
> Entered Hot 100: June 1, 1985
> Peak position on Hot 100: #15 (for 2 weeks)
> Total time on Hot 100: 14 weeks

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Source: Michael Ochs Archives / Michael Ochs Archives via Getty Images

31. Elvis Presley, “If I Can Dream”
> Entered Hot 100: Nov. 30, 1968
> Peak position on Hot 100: #12 (for 2 weeks)
> Total time on Hot 100: 13 weeks

30. Cat Stevens, “Peace Train”
> Entered Hot 100: Sept. 25, 1971
> Peak position on Hot 100: #7 (for 3 weeks)
> Total time on Hot 100: 12 weeks

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Source: Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty Images

29. Freda Payne, “Bring the Boys Home”
> Entered Hot 100: June 5, 1971
> Peak position on Hot 100: #12 (for 2 weeks)
> Total time on Hot 100: 13 weeks

Source: Michael Ochs Archives / Michael Ochs Archives via Getty Images

28. Barry McGuire, “Eve of Destruction”
> Entered Hot 100: Aug. 21, 1965
> Peak position on Hot 100: #1 (for 1 week)
> Total time on Hot 100: 11 weeks

Source: Tony Russell / Getty Images

27. Glen Campbell, “Galveston”
> Entered Hot 100: March 1, 1969
> Peak position on Hot 100: #4 (for 1 week)
> Total time on Hot 100: 12 weeks

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Source: Brad Barket / Getty Images Entertainment via Getty Images

26. Lil Baby, “The Bigger Picture”
> Entered Hot 100: June 27, 2020
> Peak position on Hot 100: #3 (for 1 week)
> Total time on Hot 100: 20 weeks

Source: LisaValder / Getty Images

25. Larry Verne, “Mr. Custer”
> Entered Hot 100: Aug. 29, 1960
> Peak position on Hot 100: #1 (for 1 week)
> Total time on Hot 100: 13 weeks

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Source: Michael Ochs Archives / Michael Ochs Archives via Getty Images

24. Men At Work, “It’s a Mistake”
> Entered Hot 100: July 2, 1983
> Peak position on Hot 100: #6 (for 2 weeks)
> Total time on Hot 100: 15 weeks

Source: Central Press / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

23. The Supremes, “Stoned Love”
> Entered Hot 100: Nov. 7, 1970
> Peak position on Hot 100: #7 (for 2 weeks)
> Total time on Hot 100: 14 weeks

Source: Michael Ochs Archives / Michael Ochs Archives via Getty Images

22. Peter, Paul & Mary, “Blowin’ in the Wind”
> Entered Hot 100: June 29, 1963
> Peak position on Hot 100: #2 (for 1 week)
> Total time on Hot 100: 15 weeks

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Source: Michael Ochs Archives / Michael Ochs Archives via Getty Images

21. Don Henley, “All She Wants to Do Is Dance”
> Entered Hot 100: Feb. 23, 1985
> Peak position on Hot 100: #9 (for 1 week)
> Total time on Hot 100: 19 weeks

Source: Jamie Squire / Getty Images Entertainment via Getty Images

20. Bruce Springsteen, “Born in the USA”
> Entered Hot 100: Nov. 10, 1984
> Peak position on Hot 100: #9 (for 1 week)
> Total time on Hot 100: 17 weeks

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Source: David Redfern / Redferns via Getty Images

19. Elton John, “Daniel”
> Entered Hot 100: April 7, 1973
> Peak position on Hot 100: #2 (for 1 week)
> Total time on Hot 100: 15 weeks

18. Jonathan Edwards, “Sunshine”
> Entered Hot 100: Nov. 13, 1971
> Peak position on Hot 100: #4 (for 3 weeks)
> Total time on Hot 100: 16 weeks

Source: Angela Deane-Drummond / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

17. Marvin Gaye, “What’s Going On”
> Entered Hot 100: Feb. 20, 1971
> Peak position on Hot 100: #2 (for 3 weeks)
> Total time on Hot 100: 15 weeks

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Source: Courtesy of USA For Africa via Facebook

16. USA For Africa, “We Are the World”
> Entered Hot 100: March 23, 1985
> Peak position on Hot 100: #1 (for 4 weeks)
> Total time on Hot 100: 18 weeks

Source: Michael Ochs Archives / Michael Ochs Archives via Getty Images

15. The Temptations, “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today)”
> Entered Hot 100: May 23, 1970
> Peak position on Hot 100: #3 (for 3 weeks)
> Total time on Hot 100: 15 weeks

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Source: Michael Ochs Archives / Stringer / Getty Images

14. Edwin Starr, “War”
> Entered Hot 100: July 11, 1970
> Peak position on Hot 100: #1 (for 3 weeks)
> Total time on Hot 100: 15 weeks

Source: Rich Fury / Getty Images Entertainment via Getty Images

13. Green Day, “21 Guns”
> Entered Hot 100: July 11, 2009
> Peak position on Hot 100: #22 (for 1 week)
> Total time on Hot 100: 20 weeks

Source: Michael Ochs Archives / Stringer / Getty

12. White Lion, “When the Children Cry”
> Entered Hot 100: Nov. 5, 1988
> Peak position on Hot 100: #3 (for 1 week)
> Total time on Hot 100: 23 weeks

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Source: Michael Ochs Archives / Michael Ochs Archives via Getty Images

11. The Youngbloods, “Get Together”
> Entered Hot 100: Sept. 2, 1967
> Peak position on Hot 100: #5 (for 2 weeks)
> Total time on Hot 100: 25 weeks

Source: Graham Wood / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

10. Genesis, “Land of Confusion”
> Entered Hot 100: Nov. 1, 1986
> Peak position on Hot 100: #4 (for 1 week)
> Total time on Hot 100: 21 weeks

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Source: Central Press / Getty Images

9. Sly & The Family Stone, “Everyday People”
> Entered Hot 100: Nov. 30, 1968
> Peak position on Hot 100: #1 (for 4 weeks)
> Total time on Hot 100: 19 weeks

Source: Tony Russell / Redferns via Getty Images

8. Helen Reddy, “I Am Woman”
> Entered Hot 100: June 24, 1972
> Peak position on Hot 100: #1 (for 1 week)
> Total time on Hot 100: 22 weeks

Source: Ethan Miller / Getty Images

7. Poison, “Something to Believe In”
> Entered Hot 100: Oct. 6, 1990
> Peak position on Hot 100: #4 (for 1 week)
> Total time on Hot 100: 21 weeks

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6. Jesus Jones, “Right Here, Right Now”
> Entered Hot 100: April 13, 1991
> Peak position on Hot 100: #2 (for 1 week)
> Total time on Hot 100: 25 weeks

Source: Michael Ochs Archives / Michael Ochs Archives via Getty Images

5. Prince, “1999”
> Entered Hot 100: Oct. 30, 1982
> Peak position on Hot 100: #12 (for 2 weeks)
> Total time on Hot 100: 30 weeks

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Source: Michael Ochs Archives / Michael Ochs Archives via Getty Images

4. Scorpions, “Wind of Change”
> Entered Hot 100: June 1, 1991
> Peak position on Hot 100: #4 (for 1 week)
> Total time on Hot 100: 25 weeks

3. M.I.A., “Paper Planes”
> Entered Hot 100: Aug. 2, 2008
> Peak position on Hot 100: #4 (for 1 week)
> Total time on Hot 100: 20 weeks

Source: Theo Wargo / Getty Images Entertainment via Getty Images

2. The Black Eyed Peas, “Where Is the Love?”
> Entered Hot 100: June 14, 2003
> Peak position on Hot 100: #8 (for 3 weeks)
> Total time on Hot 100: 25 weeks

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Source: Theo Wargo / Getty Images Entertainment via Getty Images

1. Green Day, “Holiday”
> Entered Hot 100: April 9, 2005
> Peak position on Hot 100: #19 (for 1 week)
> Total time on Hot 100: 32 weeks

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