When so much strife going on in the world, it’s never a wrong time to seek out songs about peace. So in this article, I’m going to provide you with ten of my favorite songs that touch on topics of peace, unity and love for the world.
Songs About Peace You’ll Love
Let’s begin with a song by Joni Mitchell.
The Fiddle and the Drum by Joni Mitchell
Released during the Vietnam War, Joni Mitchell’s “The Fiddle and the Drum” is an open letter to America. Mitchell had a foot in both countries; a Canadian at heart, but living and performing in the states. She used the song as a form of protest, asking America in the lyrics why “you are fighting us all.”
The song was recorded acapella, with no instruments to distract from the lyrics. The silences between Mitchell’s wispy voice provide time for reflection. Like much of her work, the song feels at times more like poetry than music. Expressing both devastation and horror, she closes with the lyrics “we have all come / to fear the beating of your drum.”
Follow Your Arrow by Kacey Musgraves
Criticizing hypocrisy in an incredibly endearing and disarming way, “Follow Your Arrow” set the stage for Kacey Musgraves’ career spent pushing the dial forward in country music. While most songs about peace center around anti-war or anti-violence themes, Musgraves took a less conventional approach.
Less of a protest anthem and more of a guide for coexistence, the song suggests that the world would be a lot nicer if we all would stop focusing on what others are doing and instead prioritize staying true to ourselves. The song uses wit and humor to challenge some of the common double standards that create division. Despite not taking itself very seriously, “Follow Your Arrow” is packed with truths delivered with a smile.
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Peace Train by Yusuf/Cat Stevens
If you are looking for joy and togetherness, then grab a ticket and board the “Peace Train.” Released in 1971, the song reflects the “give peace a chance” spirit that was making waves in music at the time. Irresistibly catchy and charming, the song is bound to put a smile on your face. The lyrics are endearingly simple, inviting you to set aside hate and darkness and catch a ride towards happiness and unity.
After his wildly successful music career in the 70’s, Yusef, then known as Cat Stevens, took his life in a new direction. Between 1977 and 1978, he retired from music, converted to Islam, and changed his name to Yusuf Islam. He mostly stayed out of the spotlight until 2001, when the whole world experienced the shock of 9/11.
He had reservations about returning to music, but the war in Afghanistan sparked a new importance to him. He felt that, “the world needed to see at least one non-violent Muslim on TV,” so he picked up a guitar and began to share his message of peace and love. In October of 2001, Yusef played “Peace Train” publicly for the first time in 20 years, hoping to bring light and comfort to the world at a time when it was needed most.
Songs About Peace in the World
Let’s kick this section off with a great song by Alicia Keys.
We Are Here by Alicia Keys
In 2014, headlines were filled with news about the Gaza War, outbreaks of Ebola, and rising gun violence. Pregnant with her second child, Alicia Keys said she couldn’t help but “think about the world I’m bringing my baby into.” Wishing to channel her despair into something positive, she wrote “We Are Here.” A piano driven mid-tempo with heartfelt lyrics, the song discussed the distressing world events while encouraging listeners to band together in peace and love.
After the song’s release, Keys launched the We Are Here Movement, which partnered with non-profit organizations in an effort to create lasting change. Despite the song’s message and intentions, some critics weren’t a fan. Billboard criticized the song, calling its earnestness, “embarrassing.” But perhaps it is the critics themselves who need to take the lyrics to heart, because as Keys put it, “our souls are brought together/so that we could love each other.”
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What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye
A classic hit by a legend, Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” calls attention to devastatingly relevant topics. The opening track on the 1971 album of the same name, both the song and album were responses to the war and heightening violence.
Written partially by Al Cleveland and Renaldo Benson, the song was originally inspired by a police brutality incident Benson witnessed. They brought the song to Gaye, hoping it would bring him a bit of comfort following the death of his longtime music partner Tammi Terrell. Gaye was initially hesitant to record the song as a solo artist but decided to after rewriting portions of it.
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Imagine by John Lennon
A song that has become synonymous with world peace, John Lennon’s “Imagine” is a look into an alternate world. The song describes a world where we have nothing to fight over and are all living together in peace. Underneath the surface, “Imagine” asks an uncomfortable set of questions:
Can we learn to embrace each other with religion, politics, and borders dividing us?
What would the world look like without those divisions?
Could we really live in harmony, or would we still find something to fight over? Does the only path to true peace involve sacrificing individuality?
All of these questions are of course left unanswered, since no one, including Lennon, could answer them. But the lyrics challenge you to identify the areas of your life where you could cultivate more peace, love, and acceptance.
Although you can indulge yourself in a moment of relief when listening to the song, you can’t help but walk away feeling a pang of insignificance. Lennon’s murder in 1980 has underlined the song’s message and heightened the push-pull between hope and despair. But there is genuine hope in the song, and if Lennon’s cynical soul found a way to believe in it, so can you.
Ironically, the most encouraging line in the song comes from a place of criticism. The chorus begins with the lyrics “you may say I’m a dreamer / but I’m not the only one.” Offering solidarity and comfort to those who are also desperate for change, those lyrics serve as a gentle pushback to naysayers and an invitation to take action.
In a world of destruction, believing in the potential for peace feels like a lonely road. But this song serves as connector for those who are trying to break barriers and build bridges. Seemingly becoming more relevant with every passing day, “Imagine” is a reminder that things can change, if only we will work collectively to allow it.
Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth) by George Harrison
While lesser known than his fellow Beatle’s hit, George Harrison’s “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth)” is a plea for peace in this world, not an “imagined” one. Reflecting Harrison’s turn to spirituality, the lyrics ask for divine intervention to bring light and strength. Swapping out Lennon’s melancholy piano for a cheerier slide guitar solo, the track opted for a more traditionally joyful take on the “peace and love” theme.
Released on Harrison’s 1973 album Living in the Material World, the song stemmed from a period of time that seemed anything but serene. “Give Me Love” is the opening track on the album, immediately followed by “Sue Me, Sue You Blues,” a song about the Beatles’ tumultuous lawsuits.
Themes on the album flip back and forth between Harrison’s spiritual quests for love and light and his frustrations about greed and fame. Between the war, the ongoing lawsuits with his former bandmates, and the pressures of fame, it’s no surprise that Harrison skipped past looking to individuals to bring peace and instead sang out to a higher power.
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Blowin’ in the Wind by Bob Dylan
If you’ve ever been to a peace rally, watched Forrest Gump, or been in the vicinity of anyone with a harmonica, then you are familiar with Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.” The classic Dylan tune has been famously covered numerous times, featured in popular books and movies, and is considered to be one of the greatest protest songs of all time.
The song was released in 1963 on the aptly titled album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. Much like “Imagine,” the song’s lyrics are structured as straightforward rhetorical questions instead of flowery statements. Asking questions thought to be unanswerable, Dylan’s lyrics challenge war, violence, and injustice.
A 2003 SFGATE article poked fun at both the continuing use of “Blowin’ in the Wind” and its rambling nature, asking “how many times must they sing the same song before there’s a new song to sing?” The article points out the lack of popular modern peace and protests songs — something that is reflected on this list, which mostly contains songs from the 60’s and 70’s.
But although the repetitive nature of the song, combined with Dylan’s rough and nasal voice, may start to grate on you after 60 years, it lyrically remains all too relevant. It’s hard to find new words for a peace anthem when the answers to Dylan’s questions are still “Blowin’ in the Wind.”
A Change Is Gonna Come by Sam Cooke
Regarded as one of the most influential songs of the civil rights movement, “A Change Is Gonna Come” is a promise for a brighter future. The song was partly inspired by the previously mentioned Bob Dylan hit “Blowin in the Wind.” Cooke loved the song and performed a more rousing rendition of it live in concert on multiple occasions.
Reflecting on the inspiration behind “A Change Is Gonna Come,” Cooke’s younger brother L.C. Cooke stated that “Sam always said a Black man should’ve wrote ‘Blowin’ in the Wind,” so he set out to write a competing anthem. Cooke took the spirit of Dylan’s freewheeling hit and used it to give voice to a fresh wound.
In 1963, Cooke, his family, and his band were denied a room at a Holiday Inn in Shreveport, Louisiana. Cooke had a reservation, but the front desk insisted that he could not enter and that there were no vacancies. While leaving the hotel, his car’s horn started going off, and the employees at the Holiday Inn called the police. Cooke was arrested and detained for “disturbing the peace.” Three months later, he recorded, “A Change Is Gonna Come,” referencing the incident in the lyrics “somebody keep tellin’ me ‘don’t hang around.’”
The song is truly beautiful – it’s hard to find another word to describe it. Between Cooke’s breathtaking voice, the complex string arrangements, and the captivating lyrics—it’s easy to understand why the song became a civil rights anthem. But Cooke himself did not live to see the song’s legacy blossom.
Two weeks before it was released as a single, Cooke was fatally shot. A bittersweet parting gift to the world, “A Change Is Gonna Come” is still as powerful now as it was 60 years ago. The world is still waiting for change, but Sam Cooke left us with hope that it will arrive one day.
Songs About Peace and Love
It’s only right to kick off this section with a classic by Bob Marley.
One Love/People Get Ready by Bob Marley & the Wailers
With a legacy as one of the most famous “peace and love” songs of all time, “One Love/People Get Ready” is bound to bring you joy. The song contains an interpolation of “People Get Ready,” a soul and gospel track released in 1965 by the Impressions. “People Get Ready” was released shortly before Martin Luther King Jr. led a campaign in Chicago, the Impressions’ hometown.
The song quickly caught on across the civil rights movement and was added to church songbooks in Chicago. The same year, Bob Marley & the Wailers released the first version of “One Love.” The original version of the song was much faster than the later recording, lacking the laid-back energy of the later track, but still equally catchy.
A second attempt was included in “All In One,” a 1970 melody of The Wailers’ earlier works. But it wasn’t until 1977 that The Wailers released the now famous version of the song. That easy-going but uplifting version has become one of Bob Marley and the Wailers’ greatest hits. Crediting the Impressions for the use of their hit song, this version was named “One Love/People Get Ready,” carrying forward a piece of American civil rights history into one of the most famous peace songs.
If you’re looking for memorable songs about unity, look no further than this excellent track.
When times get dark, and the world feels quite bleak, it’s imperative to find and enjoy various songs about peace. Whether a song is simply discussing seeking inner peace, or a song has a bold spirit that aims for equality, loving your fellow man and world peace, hopefully the various songs in today’s article gives you a bit of hope that tomorrow will indeed be a brighter day.
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