This working list is preliminary at best. David Ingram’s The Jukebox in the Garden: Ecocriticism and American Popular Music Since 1960 (Rodopi 2010) is a good place to go further. I have a copy of the book if anyone would like to follow this tradition in more detail.
Enjoy the brilliant social satirist Tom Lehrer’s “Pollution” from his 1965 album That Was the Year That Was:
Like lambs to the slaughter
they’re drinking the water
and breathing . . . the air!
Listen to Joni Mitchell singing “Big Yellow Taxi” live from her 1969 album Ladies of the Canyon:
Hey, farmer, farmer
Put away that DDT now
Give me spots on my apples
But leave me the bird and the bees
Now listen to Counting Crows’ version of “Big Yellow Taxi
Think about songs and silence. Consider paving paradise and parking lots. Mark Stoll mentions Counting Crow as he traces some of of the musical legacy of Silent Spring in Popular Culture:
Silent Spring has inspired an increasing number of popular songs as time goes on. Some songs have a harder rock edge. Scottish rock band Primal Scream’s first album, Sonic Flower Groove of 1987, featured “Silent Spring,” which complained that we were standing by while Mother Earth died. Experimental rock band Pere Ubu’s 1998 album Pennsylvania featured “Silent Spring” and the heavy metal band Probot released a bitter “Silent Spring” on its 2004 album.
Several tributes have been non-vocal instrumental pieces. Tony O’Connor mixed music and sounds of the rainforest for his “Silent Spring” on his 1991 album Rainforest Magic. The Eagles’ Glenn Frey released an instrumental “Silent Spring” on Strange Weather in 1992 and the British rock group Yes recorded “Silent Spring” on their 1994 album Talk.
Recently politically minded songwriters have honored Carson and her book. In 2004, Emma’s Revolution, a politically radical duo singing protest songs in the tradition of Pete Seeger, released One × 1,000,000 = Change, with “Silent Spring,” in homage to Carson.
Blackbird Raum, a green anarchist band from Santa Cruz, California, has also written and performed “Silent Spring.” Bolivian popular rock singer Grillo Villegas sings “Primavera Silenciosa,” mourning ecological destruction and demanding, “La primavera silenciosa / debe volver a cantar” (the silent spring / must sing again). The song appeared on the 2006 compilation album Contigo Avanzar.
Jazz musicians have frequently honored Silent Spring. On her 1963 issue-oriented album Here’s Lena—Now!, jazz great Lena Horne sang, “Not a leaf is heard to murmur / Not a bird is heard to sing,” in “Silent Spring,” written for her by E. Y. Harburg and Harold Arlen. Jazz singer Carmen McRae recorded Allan Paul Shatkin’s angrier “Silent Spring” in 1971. In 1999, Belgian composer Nathalie Loriers’s jazz trio released an album entitledSilent Spring. Ninety-year-old jazz pianist and environmentalist Marian McPartland performed her composition A Portrait of Rachel Carson in 2007 with the University of South Carolina Symphony Orchestra under Donald Portnoy.
Silent Spring has also inspired classical music. In 1976, English composer James Brown wrote “Silent Spring” for voice and piano, with words by V. C. Staples. For the 50th anniversary of Silent Spring, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra honored the city’s native daughter by commissioning Pulitzer Prize–winning composer Steven Stucky to write Silent Spring, an orchestral tone poem. Director Manfred Honeck led the symphony at the work’s world premiere on 12 February 2012, and at its New York premiere on 26 February at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall.
Heavy Metal! Grillo Villegas! Lena Horne! Marian McPartland! The Silent Spring Exhibition is a resource that will help you further consider how writing about nature and culture can catch the cultural winds like a California brush fire in September.
Selected Soundtrack of Environmentalism
Pete Seeger God Bless the Grass (1966)
This album by Pete Seeger focuses on environmental issues and offers inspiration and admiration for nature. The songs advocate awareness of the environment and appreciation for the splendor of nature (“God Bless the Grass”). “My Dirty Stream” for example, supports an environmental organization Seeger formed in 1966 called Hudson River Sloop Clearwater (aka Great Hudson River Revival or Clearwater Festival) that sought to clean up the heavily polluted Hudson River. The liner notes include a message written by then Supreme Court Justice William Douglas.
Malvina Reynolds God Bless the Grass
The Beach Boys, Surf’s Up (1970)
David Axelrod, Earth Rot (1970)
Marvin Gaye, What’s Going On (1970) Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology)
New Riders of the Purple Sage, Garden of Eden (1971)
Michael Jackson, HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I (1995, Music Video 1996) Earth Song
Ellis Paul, Ballad of Chris McCandless, from The Speed of Trees
Greg Brown, Two Little Feet
Eddie from Ohio, Candido and America