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Morning Song – Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)

December 11, 2015

(One in a series of songs that Rolling Stone left out of its 2013 “reader’s poll” of the “10 best protest songs of all time”.)

Among the many flaws in Rolling Stone’s list of top protest songs is the implicit assumption that protest songs contain a heavy dose of self-righteousness and finger-pointing.  (And there’s a lot of self-righteousness in that list.) But, as a former pastor of ours used to say, “Be careful about pointing your finger at others, because when you point one finger you’ve got three fingers pointing right back at you.” (Try it.)

And there’s no self-righteousness in what is arguably the “Best Protest Song – Environmental Division”* of all time: Marvin Gaye’s sumptuous “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)”.  “Mercy Mercy Me” is a straight out blues song…in line with Ralph Ellison’s classic definition:

“The blues is an impulse to keep the painful details and episodes of a brutal experience alive in one’s aching consciousness, to finger its jagged grain, and to transcend it, not by the consolation of philosophy but by squeezing from it a near-tragic, near-comic lyricism.”

But Marvin wraps that blues impulse—his hushed keening over the wanton destruction of the natural world—in a lush, dream-like, psychedelic haze of strings, percussion, and backing vocals that also make “Mercy Mercy Me” the most romantically danceable protest song* ever.  In doing so he creates a “protest” song that radically and powerfully expands the notion of what constitutes a protest song…so much so that the doyens of Rolling Stone can’t even recognize it as such.

Oh mercy, mercy me
Ah things ain’t what they used to be
What about this overcrowded land
How much more abuse from man can she stand?

*But not good enough (apparently) for Rolling Stone.


From → Music

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