I've only scratched the surface of Dorian Lynskey's 540-page tome, 33 Revolutions Per Minute: A History of Protest Songs, From Billie Holiday to Green Day, but it's already clear that this is one music-history project worth devouring, and will be a constant reference source. Among the early highlights is the way Lynskey takes the songs outside the pop-music silo and mines his subject for sharp bits of social commentary.
Consider the following from the epilogue:
I began this book intending to write a history of a still vital form of music. I finished it wondering if I had instead composed a eulogy. The failure of protest songs to catch light during the Bush years leaves one wondering what exactly it would take to spark a genuine resurgence. The reason for this apparently terminal decline, I believe, lies as much with listeners as with artists.Also from the epilogue:
This process has unfolded alongside a waning of faith in hands-on protest. Placards and sit-ins have given way to charity wristbands and Facebook groups: armchair gestures which appease consciences without inviting risk or struggle. Naomi Klein decries what she calls "the stadium rock model of protest -- there's the celebrities and then there's spectators waving their bracelets. it's less dangerous and less powerful." The failure of the massive marches against the Iraq war to affect policy led many to doubt the efficacy of the old-fashioned demonstration. Who would be compelled to write, in George Melly's words, "songs for the barricade" when there are no barricades?