Arts, Culture & Media

Global Hit

1968 student uprisings in cities all over the world sought to change the prevailing social and political orders. Behind all of them were songs that helped fuel the movements. Collectively, the songs form a sort of soundtrack to the heady idealism of the moment. 40 years on, The World's Gerry Hadden gives us some samples, some better known than others. He begins in France.

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In Paris in May 1968 this bouncy little number became one of the songs that kept up student morale as they threw up street barricades and fought with police.

Its 5 o'clock, is the title and so goes the chorus. Paris is waking up, sang Jacques Dutronc. But students and workers re-interpreted 'wake up' to mean 'rise up', and they did for a violent month. They called for repeal of harsh labor laws and changes to a rigid society where women couldn't wear pants to work or even open a bank account. Old-fashioned morality, patriotism and a new consumerism had left a generation feeling empty. Spanish ethnomusicologist Silvia Martinez says music helped amplify that longing, in France and elsewhere.

She says, in the most intense or violent moments in history messages delivered through popular music have much more force. The music acts as a kind social glue, she says, uniting people behind a cause.

The cause in Spain? To end the oppressive dictatorship of General Francisco Franco. One song symbolized the movement, "El Vent," by the folk singer Raimon.

General Franco, a hard-core nationalist, had banned Spain's regional languages, such as Basque and Catalan, from schools. So Raimon penned this protest song�in Catalan and Valencian. It became a musical slap in Franco's face.

Franco would hold on to power for another 7 years. But El Vent helped sprout a linguistic revival. Today in Catalonia, it is Spanish that's barely taught in public schools. Raimon remains a revered figure, at least among those on the political left.

In the US 1968 was all about ending the war in Vietnam. And there were plenty of protest anthems... by Phil Ochs, Donovan, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan. That same year the movie version of the anti-war musical Hair came out. It promised nothing less than a new age.

But of course that dawn never arrived. And 40 years on, even some of the most iconic songs of the era deliver very different messages.

In 2005 Ford used Aquarius as part of its ad campaign to try to sell its cars.

One of the leaders of the French student protests has written a book called Forget 68, arguing that clinging to the past has become a way to avoid today's problems. The ethnomusicologist Martinez says the same is true with music.

She says, that spirit of rebellion against the status quo is present in every generation. So instead of asking, What happened to those old songs from 1968? We should be asking what are the songs the curent generation is using to change things today.

For The World I'm Gerry Hadden, in 2008.

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