Earth Day Anthems: Songs to celebrate our amazing, damaged planet

Tunes to remind us that our world is still worth saving

Harry Cockburn
Environment Correspondent
Thursday 21 April 2022 17:44 BST
Please enjoy The Independent’s Earth Day Anthems responsibly
Please enjoy The Independent’s Earth Day Anthems responsibly (Getty)

It’s "now or never" to stop runaway climate change devastating the one planet in the universe we can call home, the UN has said.

Despite more than half a century of increasingly dire warnings, emissions of climate-altering greenhouse gases are still rising.

The fear of what the future holds, and the unending human fascination with the natural world in all its awesome power and glory, has meant that even as the situation continues to worsen, our species has turned to art to make sense of the unfolding crisis.

This Earth Day, writers for The Independent have selected some songs which relate to the natural world and help remind us that the environment is worth protecting.

Four Seasons by Antonio Vivaldi (1725)

Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons may seem an obvious choice, given the subject matter. But these four violin concertos were considered a revolutionary compositional conception when first performed in the 1720s. Why? Because Vivaldi aimed to directly write from the sounds of nature, including passages designed to evoke the sounds of water, of flies buzzing, of frozen landscapes, of storms, of carousing hunting parties, and even sections in which he tried to get the violins to sound like a dog barking.

Furthermore, though the Four Seasons has no vocal accompaniment, Vivaldi also wrote sonnets to go with the music. Either that, or he wrote the music to go with his sonnets, it remains unclear.

Enjoy this excerpt from Spring:

Springtime is upon us.

The birds celebrate her return with festive song,

and murmuring streams are

softly caressed by the breezes.

Thunderstorms, those heralds of Spring, roar,

casting their dark mantle over heaven,

Then they die away to silence,

and the birds take up their charming songs once more.

Harry Cockburn, environment correspondent

Raindrop Prelude No15 in Db Major by Frederic Chopin 1839

This piece gets its nickname from a repeated note that beats throughout like pattering rain and so the beauty of nature is heard in music.

Zoe Tidman, reporter

Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell (1970)

More than half a century after Joni Mitchell released Big Yellow Taxi it seems much of the world is still failing to heed the warning that ‘you don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone.’

Many of Mitchell’s lyrics could have been written today, and while the dystopian image of all the world’s trees being put in a tree museum may not have yet come to pass a tree museum was opened in Switzerland in 2010

Saphora Smith, climate correspondent

Mercy mercy me (the Ecology) by Marvin Gaye (1971)

“This is a beautiful, haunting, yet uplifting song by the immortal Marvin Gaye, from his greatest album. I chose it because it is astonishing to hear such a perceptive, contemporary piece of work - that was written several decades ago now.

"It shows clearly how long these issues have been in the air. We sometimes make the mistake of thinking that the ecological cause is something new. Marvin Gaye tells us, in his inimitable way, the opposite.”

Professor Rupert Read, climate campaigner

The Last Resort by The Eagles (1976)

Shout out to my mum and dad for making The Eagles’ seventies masterpiece Hotel California the soundtrack to my childhood. And while the eponymous title track gets all the glory the final song on the album, The Last Resort by Don Henley and Glenn Frey, is a powerful message about environmental destruction.

As Henley told Rolling Stone back then: "The gist of the song was that when we find something good, we destroy it by our presence — by the very fact that man is the only animal on earth that is capable of destroying his environment... We have mortgaged our future for gain and greed."

At the time the song was written, America was facing something of reckoning from the fallout of its booming post-WW2 economic prosperity. Decades of leaded gas and diesel from the millions of new cars hitting highways, and unchecked industrial growth, were poisoning America’s air, land, and water.

The youth-driven, anti-Vietnam War movement seized on environmental action, and ragtag events and protests were drawn under the "Earth Day" banner in 1970. In the years that followed former president Richard Nixon established the Environmental Protection Agency, and introduced key environmental legislation including the Clean Water, Clean Air and the Endangered Species Acts.

Despite the gains, the climate crisis and the vast ongoing destruction of the natural world gives this song a haunting prescience – and to me, remains a powerful call to action. As Henley sang, half a century ago: “Cause there is no more new frontier/We have got to make it here.”

Louise Boyle, senior climate correspondent

Everybody Loves The Sunshine by Roy Ayers Ubiquity (1976)

In a better mood when it’s sunny? Me too. And this song captures it perfectly.

I love this happy song by Roy Ayers, which is simply about how everything is better with a bit of sunshine. Perfect to play on a summer’s day.

Zoe Tidman, reporter

Let It Dive by And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead (2004)

The climate crisis evokes a lot of different emotions. Rage often arises when we see the actions of the profit-blind fools who are driving us to the edge of ecological ruin, and it’s hard not to feel despair and helplessness as politicians and the pliant media let them off the hook.

Another emotion that arises is a sense of sad resignation over where humanity is heading in the coming decades. Let It Dive by the excellently-named Texan band And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead is a masterpiece of gloomy acceptance about the dying embers of a romance.

But with lyrics like: “Grieve, but not grieve together, mourn with nothing to say, gone are those times forever, lost as those sweet warm other days,” it feels horribly apt when applied to a dying planet.

Another emotion that the climate crisis can conjure up is the hope that arises from seeing the courage and fighting spirit of climate activists and environmentalists. This hope is reflected in the timid optimism of the final verse of Let It Dive: ‘There will always be something there, as long as one of us goes on living.’

Sam Webb, reporter

Teignmouth by Patrick Wolf (2005)

Routinely described as an "eccentric troubadour", Patrick Wolf gained a cult following after the release of his early albums Lycanthropy and Wind in the Wires, both of which grappled with humanity’s interaction with the natural world.

One of the most moving songs from Wind in the Wires is Teignmouth, a poetic feast summoning rivers, spirits, galleons and lost sea birds delivered with soaring melody.

Harry Cockburn, environment correspondent

Back to the Earth by Jason Mraz (2014)

Aside from his truly beautiful voice, Mraz reminds us of the importance the earth holds and how we’ve been damaging it, rather than handling it with care.

The chorus, “Back to the earth/back to work” is a reminder of the responsibilities we hold as humans to do more for our planet. Mraz puts importance on how we should pause for a moment, step away from the chaos and be one with the earth – which is truly a remarkable thing.

Faiza Saqib, junior audience editor

Oh, What A World by Kacey Musgraves 2018

Sure, the world is quickly filling up with plastic and becoming a warmer, more inhospitable place to live. But the reason that’s such a bummer is because of how great Earth really is – full of incredible life and places to see.

This song is the rare environmental anthem not focused on destruction, but instead on the joys and wonders of our home planet.

Ethan Freedman, climate reporter

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