Sounds green to me – 10 top environmental songs

Few things can capture the mood of a moment (or movement) quite as well as a song – think of New Labour’s 1997 victory and it’s all but impossible to divorce it from D:Ream’s now horribly ironic Things Can Only Get Better.

True, most music has other interests in mind than championing causes, but in among the welter of self-obsessive navel-gazing, hedonism and despondent odes to lost love there’s a rich seam of eco-conscious music too.

Between the bombastic and scathing protest songs of Neil Young and the poignant poetics of Laurie Anderson, there’s room on the green songs playlist for comedy, pop, rock, blues, soul and the experimental avant garde.

So here, for your entertainment on an overcast Friday afternoon and in no particular order of merit, are 10 of the best songs concerned with the environment.

If I’ve missed out your favourite, post below and share it with everybody else!


• Neil Young – Be the Rain

Don’t care what the governments say
“they’re all bought and paid for anyway”
Save the planet for another day
“hey big oil, what do you say?”

• Joni Mitchell – Big Yellow Taxi

Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
Till it’s gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

• The Pixies – Monkey Gone to Heaven

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

• Laurie Anderson – John Lilly

John Lilly, the guy who says he can talk to dolphins, said he was in an aquarium and he was talking to a big whale who was swimming around and around in his tank. And the whale kept asking him questions telepathically. And one of the questions the whale kept asking was: do all oceans have walls?

• Soundgarden – Hands All Over

Hands all over the coastal waters
The crew men thank her
Then lay down their oily blanket
Hands all over the inland forest
In a striking motion trees fall down
Like dying soldiers

• Tom Lehrer – Pollution

See the halibuts and the sturgeons
Being wiped out by detergents.
Fish gotta swim and birds gotta fly,
But they don’t last long if they try.

• The Beach Boys – Don’t Go Near the Water

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

• Marvin Gaye – Mercy Mercy Me (the Ecology)

Oil wasted on the oceans and upon our seas
Fish full of mercury
Oh, mercy mercy me
Oh, things ain’t what they used to be

• Yardbirds – Shapes of Things

Please don’t destroy these lands
Don’t make them desert sands

• The Kinks – Apeman

I think I’m so educated and I’m so civilized
’cause I’m a strict vegetarian
But with the over-population and inflation and starvation
And the crazy politicians
I don’t feel safe in this world no more,
I don’t want to die in a nuclear war.
I want to sail away to a distant shore and make like an apeman.

And by way of a bonus track

• Frank Zappa and the Mothers – Billy the Mountain

A special word of thanks goes to my colleague Charlotte, who not only made some great suggestions for the above list but also introduced me to Frank Zappa’s epic Billy the Mountain.

As it’s not possible to improve on Charlotte’s summary of song, it’s best to let her introduce it in her own words:

“This half-hour long rock opera, first performed live in 1971, tells the story of a mountain named Billy who finally receives his royalty cheque, the result of his photos appearing on many scenic postcards. He and his stunning wife Ethel, a tree (growing off of his shoulder), head off on a holiday adventure across America, with Billy inadvertently causing a trail of destruction due to his size and bulk. This upsets several people, including a new breed of superhero named Studebacher Hoch whose one mission is to thwart and destroy Billy and Ethel once and for all. Many capers en route, but the final message is clear: this is what happens when you mess with a mountain and when you mess with a tree.”


Paul Newman, Press OfficerPaul Newman
Press & Communications Officer

  • Ernie Scales

    John Denver’s ‘I Want To LIve’

    • How about Loud Sugar’s song “No Ozone”. A catchy ska song about banning CFC from 1991. Need one like this for C02. 🙂

  • Hi all,

    Afraid you’ve missed out the best of all, not well known but this song conveys the message perfectly, one of my favourite ever tracks, Martha Tilston ‘It’s a good World”!/s/Good+World/3aGVcG?src=5

  • and of course a video of the same song sung in a shed

  • Quentin Given

    Captain Beefheart’s “Blabber and smoke” on the Dropout Boogie album

    Clean up the air
    and treat the animals fair
    Sometimes I feel you treat love like a joke
    Time’s running out
    and all you ever do is blabber and smoke
    blabber and smoke

  • Diana Rickard

    The whole show of HAIR is about a polluted world.

  • Such songs give us motivation to take care about our environment.

  • Thanks – all good. I’ve always thought Bob Dylans “slow train coming” does it for me.
    I find it reassuring that as far as I know. No songwriter has ever penned a song about how good it is for humans to transform nature into things to accumulate and wealth to hoard. – Funny that.

  • Cockburn’s “If a tree falls” nails it.

  • Bethany

    You forgot about the best Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World!!

  • What? No “Earth Song” by Michael Jackson? No other song has moved me like that one has.

  • There’s also sting’s
    “We work the black seam”

    And also Pearl Jam’s
    “Do the Evolution” – that’s my favorite.. 🙂

  • Tracy Chapman’s “Heaven’s Here on Earth” is a wonderful environmental song

  • Great list, thanks for sharing! I’m definitely going to add a few of these to my “:green playlist” :). I actually just made a similar blog post of environmentally based songs myself, here’s the link if you want to check it out!

  • Theresa

    I make an “Eco-Fair” cd for a college event each year, Here’s what we’re using in 2014. Some of these are a bit rough around the edges, many are already on your list:)

    Allstar, Smashmouth
    Ambah Foiye (“Believe You Can”) , African Children’s Choir, Heitor Pereira
    Around the World (Radio Edit), Daft Punk
    Big Yellow Taxi (ft. Vanessa Carlton), Counting Crows
    Colors Of The Wind, Vanessa Williams
    Counting Stars, OneRepublic
    Down To Earth, Peter Gabriel
    Earth Song, Michael Jackson
    Emergency on Planet Earth, Jamiroquai
    Feeling Good, Michael Bublé
    Fireflies, Owl City
    Fragile, Sting
    Harvest For The World, Isley Brothers
    Higher Ground, UB40
    It’s The End Of The World As We Know It, REM
    Look Out Any Window, Bruce Hornsby & The Range
    Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology), Marvin Gaye
    New World Water (Clean), Mos Def
    One Love/People Get Ready, Bob Marley & The Wailers
    Only So Much Oil In the Ground, Tower of Power
    Planet Earth, Duran Duran
    Pocketful of Sunshine, Natasha Bedingfield
    Radioactive, Imagine Dragons
    Rise, Samantha James
    Somewhere Over The Rainbow/What A Wonderful World, Israel Kamakawiwo’ole
    Sunlight, Bag Raiders
    The 3 R’s, Jack Johnson
    The New Pollution, Beck
    Tide Is High, Blondie
    Waters Of March (Aguas de Março), Basia
    What A Wonderful World, Louis Armstrong
    Where is the Love?, Black Eyed Peas

    • Theresa

      I actually just updated our list for this year – here’s what we’re playing at our April 2014 event:

      Ambah Foiye (“Believe You Can”), African Children’s Choir, Heitor Pereira
      Big Yellow Taxi (ft. Vanessa Carlton), Counting Crows
      Fireflies, Owl City
      Higher Ground, UB40
      Look Out Any Window, Bruce Hornsby & The Range
      Safe And Sound , Capital Cities
      Love Is the Answer, Aloe Blacc
      Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology), Marvin Gaye
      It’s The End Of The World As We Know It, REM
      Pocketful of Sunshine, Natasha Bedingfield
      Somewhere Over The Rainbow/What A Wonderful World, Israel Kamakawiwo’ole
      Team, Lorde
      Sunlight, Bag Raiders
      Happy, Pharrell Williams
      Dark Horse (feat. Juicy J), Katy Perry
      Counting Stars, OneRepublic
      Hold On, Colbie Caillat
      Waters Of March (Aguas de Março), Basia
      What A Wonderful World, Louis Armstrong
      Home, Phillip Phillips
      Where is the Love?, Black Eyed Peas
      The 3 R’s, Jack Johnson
      Allstar, Smashmouth
      Around the World (Radio Edit), Daft Punk
      Feeling Good, Michael Bublé
      Earth Song, Michael Jackson
      The Man, Aloe Blacc
      If I Could Change Your Mind, HAIM
      Best Day Of My Life, American Authors

  • We’re currently trying to promote awareness to the plight of the Koalas here in Queensland through this song …

  • trsdek

    How about “The Earth Bleeds” by the Terry Sutton Conspiracy with the speech from Obama in the middle talking about the BP Oil Disaster.