The Most Prophetic Rock 'n' Roll Song Ever?


Column by Douglas Herman.

Exclusive to STR

Everybody knows pop music was a lot better 40 0r 50 years ago, right? But like most urban legends, this one is both true AND false too. Sprinkle a string of saccharine words and phrases together in any repetitive, random order--Baby, baby, I love you, love me, heart, hurt, tears, smiles, always, forever, never, together, baby--and anyone can devise a hit song for whichever young generation. For every troubled, heart hurt teenager forever baby, of either sex or sexual persuasion, clever composers can write a top pop song. The Sixties and Seventies were no different than today.

In 1970 I was stationed at Lackland Air Force base, Texas. My two best friends were former musicians. Mike Carroll from Pasadena, Texas said he played bass for ZZ Top before they were famous, and before Mike enlisted to escape the draft. Frank Tesalona, from Brooklyn, said he sat in sessions on the saxophone with a group called Brooklyn Bridge. We chuckled at fellow airman Dean Kastran, formerly of The Ohio Express, who shared our barracks, 1251. How could you, we teased him, sing those horribly syrupy love songs? “We laughed all the way to the bank,” Dean replied, with a smile, at our snide comments.

We were hip but without being hippies. We read Soul On Ice, Catch 22 and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Record albums – LPs - passed back and forth between the dorm rooms of the barracks. Jethro Tull, Santana and Quicksilver Messenger Service going one way and Marvin Gaye, Sam & Dave and The Temptations going another. Muscle cars roared in the parking lot. Every race, color and creed lived together in the barracks. We partied on base and off base. I kissed my first Mexican girl in San Antonio, and my first black girl, Riva Shropshire, an officer trainee, there at Lackland AFB. In quieter moments, Mike and I listened to James Brown croon Baby It’s a Man’s World over and over again, while we nodded in agreement to the lyrics. On weekday evenings, everyone listened to pop songs, while we tried to figure out this thing called life.

Like a lot of servicemen, stateside or overseas, we escaped with drugs, alcohol and music. Some of my friends dropped acid (LSD) and others smoked some of that horrible Tex-Mex weed. I recall nearly killing myself two or three times while driving drunk or stoned. We went to a lot of concerts there in San Antonio, some more memorable than others. We saw Cat Stevens before he changed his name, and Jimi Hendrix, before he went to the heavenly hall of fame. Like most old hippies, I look back at the songs of that era and say: Music was better back in my day!

Songs Sung For Posterity

After watching an old road movie again of that era, Easy Rider, I wondered what the most lasting, prescient or prophetic rock n roll song might be. Everyone remembers the songs from that movie, especially Born to Be Wild. But I thought other songs were better able to reflect the mood of the country, and served as the social justice sound track of that Boomer generation.

For example, a song from that same movie, Wasn’t Born to Follow, captured the elusive freedom of the open road (and our mindset), and probably helped sell a lot more motorcycles too. Watch that scene from the movie and you might agree.

Forty years later, while making my little Indy feature film, “Caution to The Wind,” I became, by default, the music editor. I wanted to include some wonderful pop music in the movie, so I succumbed to a delusion of grandeur. I decided to burn a CD of road songs that I thought would fit certain scenes in the movie, and might appeal to a wide range of viewers. Like Going Up To The Country by Canned Heat or Living In The USA, by the Steve Miller Band. No matter that I couldn’t afford any of the songs I liked. Not one. My budget was so microscopic, I could barely afford a cover band.

Lyrics Lasting Into The Next Century

Listening to lyrics then, I wondered if any of these old rock songs carried a prophetic message applicable today. Barry McGuire’s only hit song, The Eve of Destruction, seems as pertinent today as it was 50 years ago. Maybe more so. I heard the song sung recently at an open mike night and the message seemed valid, especially if you substituted Chicago for Selma. “Think of all the hate, there is in Red China, now take a look around you boy to blood-red Chicago” has an updated, contemporary ring, don’t you think?

Even Living in The USA still sounds current to me, especially given the social justice warriors of today. What has changed in America since this was written and sung nearly 50 years ago?

I see a yellow man, a brown man
A white man, a red man
Lookin’ for Uncle Sam
To give you a helpin’ hand
But everybody’s kickin’ sand
Even politicians
We’re living in a plastic land
Somebody give me a hand!

So many good songs were recorded then. Great songs. Thousands more provided the necessary diversion to the millions of Boomers, kids faced with raging hormones AND the possibility of being drafted to fight and die in the war in Vietnam.

But only a very few songs carried a message across the decades. The Rolling Stones’ Satisfaction? Maybe. The Beatles’ Imagine? Certainly very pertinent today. But one song struck me as especially powerful, although its background wasn’t in a huge bloody protest battle against the war in Vietnam, although For What It’s Worth did become an anti-war anthem.

There’s something happening here
What is is ain’t exactly clear
There’s a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware

When George Orwell wrote 1984, it was meant as a Cold War warning, not as a playbook for the police state. When Buffalo Springfield’s Steven Stills wrote that song, it was simply meant as a statement against a curfew in Hollywood, believe it or not, rather than a Kent State protest. Yet every stanza of that song resonates even more today than it did then.

There’s battle lines being drawn
Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong
Young people speaking their minds
Getting so much resistance from behind

I wonder if American parents during the Sixties, who had lived, suffered and endured through the Great Depression and World War II, looked askance at we pampered hippie protestors the way I now look askance at the spoiled, social justice warriors of today?

What a field day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly say, hooray for our side

Not much has changed has it? Except the so-called Antifa warriors want safe spaces and exclusivity for their own groups. The complete polar opposite of what we kids were trying to do then, it seems. Besides trying to stop a very REAL fascist war.

Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you’re always afraid
Step out of line, the man come and take you away

At least that part hasn’t changed. Except in Berkeley, California where the man – cops – were ordered to stand down, allowing all sorts of mayhem by the Antifa social justice warriors.

I’m certain that you’ve got several other song examples in mind, just as pertinent. All art is subjective, and music especially. I just don’t believe Beyonce, Lady Gaga or Pit Bull will have anything to say to the next generation or two that will seem prescient in 50 years, but I could be wrong. I often am.

Addendum. Barry McGuire is still alive and singing. Dean Kastran sings for a Christian group. Those of us old enough to remember, can only hope and pray that the eve of destruction is postponed far into the future, and the song never becomes prophetic.

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Douglas Herman's picture
Columns on STR: 149

Award winning artist, photographer and freelance journalist, Douglas Herman can be found wandering the back roads of America. Doug authored the political crime thriller, The Guns of Dallas  and wrote and directed the Independent feature film,Throwing Caution to the Windnaturally a "road movie," and credits STR for giving him the impetus to write well, both provocatively and entertainingly. A longtime gypsy, Doug completed a 10,000 mile circumnavigation of North America, by bicycle, at the age of 35, and still wanders between Bullhead City, Arizona and Kodiak, Alaska with forays frequently into the so-called civilized world of Greater LA. Write him at Roadmovie2 @


Alex R. Knight III's picture

What a cool column, Doug!  :-)  I knew you were Air Force around that time in Texas, and that you saw Hendrix down there.  :-)  I had NO idea your roomies hailed from ZZ Top, the Brooklyn Bridge, and the Ohio Express!  That's almost uncanny coincidence.
My dad was Air Force at that time too (1962-1975) -- would've been stationed here in the northeast by then, though.  And I guarantee he never saw Hendrix.  :-)
 I agree the Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth" is one of the enduring tunes of relevancy.  I'll also nominate Quicksilver Messenger Service with "What About Me?" ("Most of what I do believe is against most of your laws!")
I missed the 60s for the most part -- I only remember the 70s, as things were kind of winding down, but even then it was a fun time.  I do doubt we'll ever see anything like that confluence of people, things, talent, and good vibrations again.  

Douglas Herman's picture

Thanks for your wonderful words, Alex.
Yeah, we were young and dumb and full of cum, and on the run. Or something like that.
I had two of the first QMS albums back then and loved their instrumental guitar pieces best. Most of us who lived thru the 60s missed 'em too, Alex. Good Vibrations? NOW that was a cool song, great inits own way.
Enjoy yer posts on FB BTW. 

Mark Davis's picture

Great article, Doug; very enjoyable. There is so much great music from that era. I remember listening to songs on the radio, but played albums at home on the turntable. Too many great ones to pick a true favorite, but Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd, Exodus by Bob Marley and Aqualung by Jethro Tull probably got the most plays on both sides because every song was great on all three.

jd-in-georgia's picture

This is a very good article. One could debate this topic peacefully all day long. One could add at least a dozen more songs to this list. It would be a challenge to add any song that might be pertinent composed after 1998. The point is that music is still a definitive part of our culture.

I think it was Joe Perry who said in an interview, "today's music is plugged into some business model algorithm." I cannot be sure of the exact quote but the sentiment is right on. The quest for gold supercedes genuine creativity. Pop music has become way too homogenized. Even in the early days of pop music in the late 50s and early 60s, the music sounded similar but one could at least distinguish one band from another.

Of course, state educational systems putting arts and music on the outer margins of the budget are not helping nurture budding musicians either.


Douglas Herman's picture

Thanks Mark,
    Loved your picks. Oddly, the songs I played OVER & OVER again back in the day, weren't really the most this or that, only the most fitting (somehow) for the moment.
If that makes any sense.
Rock On-!

Douglas Herman's picture

JD in Georgia,
Excellent insight JD.