Disease, poverty, and abuse are just a few of the causes. While songs like “We Are The World” or “Do They Know It’s Christmas” had the sole purpose of raising awareness, there are many others, some from unexpected bands and artists that tackled tough issues as well.
Some of these causes might hit close to home. Even if you don't have the resources to write a check today, you can arrange to help out after you're gone by donating money or assets from your estate. It's also common to see "in lieu of flowers, please donate to..." in obituaries and death notices allowing mourners to give as well. (For more info on this, check out our How To Give to Charity After You Die article.)
For those of you who haven’t championed a cause, maybe some of these songs will inspire you. Or maybe they’ll just get stuck in your head for a while. (We’re looking at you, Phil Collins!)
Soul Asylum, "Runaway Train"
Cause: Missing Children
Standout Lyric: “Can you help me remember how to smile? Make it somehow all seem worthwhile.”
Tidbit: Released in 1993, this video featured the names and photos of 36 missing children, 26 of which were located.
Related Charities: National Center for Missing & Exploited Children ; Child Find of America
Phil Collins, "Just Another Day In Paradise"
Standout Lyric: “She calls out to a man on a the street, he can see she’s been crying. She’s got blisters on the soles of her feet, she can’t walk but she’s trying.”
Tidbit: Collins, like many on this list, has been criticized for being a rich rockstar exploiting a cause for his own gain. This just proves how critics are sad people with no hearts.
Related Charity: National Alliance to End Homelessness
Poison, "Something To Believe In"
Cause: Loss, Veterans, Homelessness, Poverty, Disillusionment (Poison really covers a lot of ground here.)
Standout Lyric: “I drive by the homeless sleeping on a cold dark street, like bodies in an open grave. Underneath the broken old neon sign, that used to read ‘JESUS SAVES.’"
Tidbit: When Poison wants to confront social injustice, they go big. Just like their hair. The song also honors lead singer Bret Michaels’ late friend and security guard James Kimo Maano, who's mentioned in the song.
Related Charity: Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors
Pat Benatar, "Hell Is For Children"
Cause: Child Abuse
Standout Lyric: "Love and pain become one and the same in the eyes of a wounded child."
Tidbit: Pat Benatar wrote this song in 1980 after reading an expose on child abuse in America. In the video above, she says that they play this song every show “in solidarity for all the children at risk and for all the survivors of abuse so that you know you have a voice and that people do listen and someone does care.” This song still gives us chills!
Related Charity: Prevent Child Abuse America
Bruce Springsteen, "Born In The USA"
Standout Lyric: “End up like a dog that’s been beat too much, ‘till you spend half your life just covering up.”
Tidbit: Lots of politicians have attempted to use this song for their campaigns, but The Boss shot them all down. He was doing those politicians a favor because they apparently never listened to the lyrics. While “Born in the USA” has a patriotic chorus, the rest of the song is about how horribly America treats its war veterans.
Related Charity: Operation Homefront
Living Colour, "Open Letter To A Landlord"
Cause: Housing, Slumlords
Standout Lyric: “Now you can tear a building down, but you can’t erase a memory.”
Tidbit: Best known for the song “Cult of Personality,” Living Colour’s “Open Letter To A Landlord” is a personal and powerful message for those dealing with their neighborhoods being neglected then destroyed.
Related Charity: Legal Aid Society
Depeche Mode, "People Are People"
Cause: Intolerance, Hate
Standout Lyric: “I can't understand, what makes a man. Hate another man, help me understand.”
Tidbit: Such a simple message. Seriously, you have to be pretty thick to not understand. Good going, Depeche!
Related Charity: Anti Defamation League
Billy Joel, "Allentown"
Standout Lyric: “Well we're waiting here in Allentown, for the Pennsylvania we never found.”
Tidbit: Like “Born in the USA,” “Allentown” is another song often thought of as a celebration of American, when it’s really shining a light on how the loss of factory jobs destroy blue collar towns. We blame Billy Joel’s smooth pipes for making something so sad sound so good.
Related Charity: The United Way
Joni Mitchell, "Big Yellow Taxi"
Cause: Environment, Gentrification
Standout Lyric: “Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you've got ‘til it’s gone.”
Tidbit: According to Songfacts.com, in a 1996 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Mitchell said she wrote this song after checking into a hotel in Hawaii, opening her curtains and seeing beautiful green mountains in the distance...and a parking lot as far as the eye could see on the ground.
Related Charity: The Conservation Fund
Elvis Presley, "In The Ghetto"
Cause: Poverty, Crime
Standout Lyric: “And his mama cries...”
Tidbit: This song was written by Mac Davis, who also wrote “A Little Less Conversation.” In 2007 Lisa Marie Presley recorded a version of this song to benefit The Elvis Presley Charitable Foundation, which helps homeless families.
Related Charities: Children’s Defense Fund ; Catholic Charities
Midnight Oil, "Beds Are Burning"
Cause: Reparations, Environment
Standout Lyric: “The time has come, to say fair's fair. To pay the rent, to pay our share.”
Tidbit: Lead singer Peter Garrett proved his activism wasn’t just a pop star fad and pursued a career in politics serving as the Australian Labor Party member of the House of Representatives from 2004-2013.
Kelly Clarkson, "People Like Us"
Standout Lyric: “People like us, we've gotta stick together. Keep your head up, nothing lasts forever.”
Tidbit: Kelly Clarkson won the first season of American Idol in 2002. Feel old? We sure do.
Related Charity: Kidpower
Red Hot Chili Peppers, "Under The Bridge"
Cause: Drug Addiction
Standout Lyric: ""Under the bridge downtown, I gave my life away."
Tidbit: According to Wikipedia, lead singer Anthony Kiedis "wrote the lyrics to express feelings of loneliness and despondency, and to reflect on narcotics and their impact on his life."
Related Charity: Partnership for a Drugfree America
Temple of the Dog, "Hunger Strike"
Standout Lyric: “I don't mind stealing bread, from the mouths of decadence.”
Tidbit: This was the first collaboration of two powerhouse lead singers from the ‘90s -- Chris Cornell, Soundgarden and Eddie Vedder, Pearl Jam. The song has a Robin Hood, rob-from-the-rich and give-to-the-poor quality, but with a grungy Seattle edge that gets it stuck in your head for days.
Related Charities: Action Against Hunger ; Food for the Hungry
Sarah McLachlan, "Angel"
Cause: Abused and Abandoned Pets
Standout Lyric: “In the arms of the angel, fly away from here.”
Tidbit: This song might not have been specifically about rescuing pets, but when that commercial comes on TV late at night...and those little sad puppy and kitty faces in cages stare back...ok...we gotta go…<sniffle>
REM, "Everybody Hurts"
Cause: Suicide Prevention
Standout Lyric: “If you think you've had too much of this life, well hang on.”
Tidbit: This song has been re-recorded for other causes but was specifically written as an anti-suicide anthem for teenagers.
Related Charities: American Foundation For Suicide Prevention
Bruce Springsteen, "Streets of Philadelphia"
Standout Lyric: “Ain't no angel gonna greet me. It's just you and I my friend.”
Tidbit: The Boss makes the list twice, this time contributing to the Philadelphia soundtrack and winning the Oscar for Best Original Song in 1994.
Related Charities: American Sexual Health Organization ; Foundation for AIDS Research
Dixie Chicks, "Goodbye Earl"
Cause: Battered Women; Domestic Abuse
Standout Lyric: “Well, the weeks went by and spring turned to summer, and summer faded into fall. And it turns out he was a missing person who nobody missed at all.”
Tidbit: “An estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner every year,” according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. That means there are too many Earls out there who don’t face Dixie justice.
Related Charity: National Coalition Against Domestic Violence