Dirty Water

I’m thoroughly disgusted with the governor of Michigan and his handling of the water situation in Flint.  He has failed the people of his state and should be impeached immediately.  How many people have been poisoned by the lead in the water there?  It will probably take years to add up the damage.  Wouldn’t it have been nice to hear the republican presidential candidates speak up about this already?  Fat chance.

It got me to thinking though about songs that tackle environmental issues, specifically the older ones that just dealt with pollution.  Remember the good old days, when it was just pollution, and not climate change, that was in the news?  When this powerful commercial was all over the airwaves?

Okay, here we go.  Let’s start off with some lesser known songs.  In this underrated gem from Tull, Ian gets serious about the environment.  It opens with this cheery verse:

There’s the stillness of death on a deathly unliving sea,
and the motor car magical world long since ceased to be,
when the Eve-bitten apple returned to destroy the tree.

My favorite line is the following:

The natural resources are dwindling and no one grows old,
and those with no homes to go to, please dig yourself holes.

Yikes, shoot me now, that’s depressing.  Still, that was pretty forward thinking for 1971.

Next up is another deep cut, this time from the Moody Blues.  The key line in this song, and the one that has always stuck with me, is this:

Look at progress,
Then count the cost,
We’ll spoil the seas
With the rivers we’ve lost.

What a great lyric there by their drummer, Graeme Edge. One of that band’s strengths was that they had 5 strong songwriters.

Something must have been in the air and water in 1970 because even Zeppelin got in the act.  In this deep cut from the great, under-appreciated,  Zeppelin III, they sing the following:

And yesterday I saw you standing by the river,
And weren’t those tears that filled your eyes,
And all the fish that lay in dirty water dying,
Had they got you hypnotized?

Talk about under-appreciated, Spirit was definitely an under the radar band that never received the level of popularity that their talents deserved.  I was happy to hear their great song, “I’ve Got a Line on You”, in season two of Fargo.  Here, in their hit, Nature’s Way, they lay it on the line:

It’s nature’s way of telling you
Something’s wrong

It’s nature’s way of telling you, summer breeze
It’s nature’s way of telling you, dying trees


1970 was a banner year for these types of songs.  This list wouldn’t  be complete without Joni Mitchell’s mega hit, Big Yellow Taxi, and her iconic line, “pave paradise and put up a parking lot”.  Every line in this song is great.

Hey farmer, farmer
Put away that DDT now
Give me spots on my apples
But LEAVE me the birds and the bees

For me though, the song hinges on her amazing line, “Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone”, which could apply to anything, including her “old man”.  There’s a dated phrase!


Marvin Gaye chimed in in a big way with Mercy Mercy Me.  Every line of the song applies to this conversation.  It’s hard for me to pick a favorite but here it is:

Woo mercy, mercy me, mercy
Ah things ain’t what they used to be, no no
Oil wasted on the ocean and upon our seas
Fish full of mercury


Bringing the conversation into the 80’s, The Pretenders gave us their fantastic song, “My City Was Gone”, in 1982. Welcome back to Ohio, Chrissy!  These are some biting lyrics.

I went back to Ohio
But my pretty countryside
Had been paved down the middle
By a government that had no pride
The farms of Ohio
Had been replaced by shopping malls
And Muzak filled the air
From Seneca to Cuyahoga Falls


Much like with our discussion of great hand clapping songs, there are just too many great songs about polluting the environment to list in one post.  Maybe we’ll revisit this with another list soon.  If you have a favorite, please comment(and btw, a big thanks to the readers who add their comments.  It really adds to this blog and I appreciate it).


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