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It is well known fact that the society receives vital information by the means of popular culture and pieces of art. One of the most popular agents of culture is media, and the most frequently used mode is music, which is considered to be the link between significant themes of social problems and the public. Today, the social issue of environmental problems in popular culture through music lyrics will be analyzed. The environment is global theme that sometimes annoys each individual’s mind. “Music is one of the most powerful media to communicate environmental messages to billions of people worldwide – irrespective of race, religion, income, gender or age”. (Music and Environment Initiative, 2011) Moreover, this is the chief reason of issue choice. In my opinion, studying the environmental problems is principal, as humanity has to pay more attention on the planet changes as well as on the consciences of our “consumer” attitude to the nature.

In order to write the analysis of how this social problem is highlighted in music there has been chosen the next environmental songs from the last few decades:

1. Joni Mitchell – Big Yellow Taxi

2. Jack Johnson – Gone

3. Marvin Gaye – Mercy, Mercy Me

4. Johnny Cash – Don’t Go Near the Water

5. The Talking Heads – Nothing But Flowers

First, it should be mentioned that the findings in the sources of the United Nations Environment Program web site, article “Music and Environmental Initiative” and from web recourse of the Greenblog, article “The mass media and our environment” are very helpful in better understanding of the chosen environmental problem. The first article is organized in a form of observation and survey. It is based on the great work of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and other partners, who are all the participants of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). The aim of the UN Music & Environment Initiative is to leveraging the influence of music in addressing the environmental problems to the planet. The objectives of this program are to impart the public to respect for the environment and to promote about the problems of the Planet by means of the powerful voice of music that is very popular among all age categories and nations. An entertainment industry is also used for “greening” purposes. (Simon Leufstedt, 2010)

The article “The mass media and our environment”, that is written as a content analysis, raises the question of the role that mass media plays in perceiving and reacting to the environmental problems around. People see the environmental problems to the benefit of the mainstream media owners. (Media Tend To Doomsay When Addressing Environmental Issues, 2009)

The society can get relevant information about environment from the corporate mainstream media that represents democracy in its work. The key finding of the article proves that music plays a vital role in this issue, as songs usually illustrate what happens in the world.

Joni Mitchell wrote “Big Yellow Taxi” in Hawaii in the 70’s. The author was impressed by nature with beautiful green mountains but the mar of a paradise was “a parking lot as far as the eye could see” (Joni Mitchell, 1970).

Therefore, the main idea of the song is linked with human’s desire to live with all modern conveniences to the detriment of the nature. The issue is underlined in these lines:

“They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”

“They took all the trees put 'em in a tree museum.”

“Give me spots on my apples but leave me the birds and the bees.” (Joni Mitchell, 1970)

In Jack Johnson’s “Gone” the effect of human consumption on the environment is described. He underlines that people are so conscious about their appearance and convenient surrounding, that even have forgot about the true treasure of life.

“Look at you out to make a deal

You try to be appealing but you lose your appeal

And what about those shoes you’re in today

They’ll do no good

On the bridges you burnt along the way.” (Jack Johnson )

Marvin Gaye in “Mercy, Mercy Me” that was written in 1971, cries about the worsening of the Earth and how “things aren’t what they used to be.” (Marvin Gaye, 1971)

“What about this overcrowded land;

How much more abuse from man can she stand?”

“Poison is the wind that blows from the north and south and east;

Oil wasted on the ocean and upon our seas, fish full of mercury;

Radiation underground and in the sky;

Animals and birds who live nearby are dying”. (Marvin Gaye, 1971)

Johnny Cash is also very disappointed about the changes that have happened with the Planet. In “Don’t Go Near the Water”,he writes about the pollution of water:

 “When it gets down to the cities then the water turns into a dirty grey;

It's poisoned and polluted by the people as it goes along its way;

Don't go near the water children see the fish all dead upon the shore;

Don't go near the water cause the water isn't water anymore.” (J. Cash)

The Talking Heads in “Nothing But Flowers)” (1988) describes the same problem of the world with technology as in the song of Joni Mitchell “Big Yellow Taxi)”. The difference is that they present a dream about the world where there is “nothing but beautiful flowers!” (The Talking Heads, 1988)

To make a conclusion, the analyzed songs are similar to the described environmental problem of the Earth as they are all addressed to the audience of all ages and sex, all countries and continents. The issue of ecological disaster is universal, that is why is crucial. The articles that were mentioned above, help to give musical pieces of art the highest value as they represent the situation in the world that has occurred Moreover, the information is addressed to the publicity in order to give nourish for thinking. The songs are overwhelmed with metaphors and euphemisms that emphasize on the importance of the problem and makes songs stuck in people’s mind.  The analysis is helpful and relevant in the study of American Popular Culture as it underlines that everyone must be a part of solving the problem.

Ray Charles The Jazz Age
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