There are a number of songs written and/or performed by animal activists that are, at times, overt with their animal rights intentions, while other songs may be a little more subtle. Many of these activists were vegetarian or vegan at the time of the recording and/or writing, or perhaps they adopted more plant-based diets as a result of their participation in these songs. Noted activists like Paul McCartney, Morrissey, and the late Prince have turned their attention to various animal-related subjects, such as animal testing, commercial whaling, and factory farming. The songs listed below are only 10 examples of tunes with inspiring lyrics about animal rights.
1. Crosby & Nash: “To the Last Whale”
Source: Greeneyed Cat/YouTube
Crosby & Nash’s 1975 album, “Wind on the Water,” features the song “To the Last Whale…”, which is actually comprised of two separate compositions on side two: “Critical Mass,” an a cappella song performed by David Crosby; and the title track of the album, which is on side one. The album as a whole — which marked their second album together — consists of darker, more personal themes. “To the Last Whale” is about a cause that was dear to the duo: the slaughter of whales. The song begins with a full 90 seconds of “abstract a capella tones,” followed by a minute of keyboard strikes overlaid with various whale calls. Then, Crosby & Nash both sing about beached whales on the shore. Rolling Stone claims that the song “struggles to stay afloat in its own ponderousness.” And, yet, the lyrics are powerful, including: “Over the years you have been hunted / By the men who throw harpoons / And in the long run he will kill you / Just to feed the pets we raise.” The song also makes the powerful statement that “it’s not that we don’t know” about the plight of commercial whaling; rather, “It’s just that we don’t want to care.” Neither David Crosby — who recently passed away — nor Graham Nash was active in the realm of animal rights.
2. Jefferson Airplane: “Panda”
The song “Panda,” by Jefferson Airplane, is from the band’s self-titled album — which was their 8th and final album. It contains lyrics that are overt in their description of wild pandas‘ predicaments, such as: “He lives all alone / But the bamboo forest knows him / Now his land is taken by man / He’s got nowhere left to go.” These lyrics express sympathy for pandas whose habitats and food sources have been taken from them, and the song was surprisingly written after the departure of lead singer Grace Slick, who is a known animal activist. Slick claims she is vegan, though she admits to not being a strict vegan, per se. Regardless, her animal activism has been widespread, including promoting vegetarianism in a PETA advertisement around the time of the Woodstock Festival’s 30th anniversary. She has also donated a portion of royalties from the band’s song “White Rabbit” to PETA’s anti-cruelty campaigns against Procter & Gamble.
3. Linda McCartney & Carla Lane: “Cow”
Source: Linda McCartney Foods/YouTube
The late Linda McCartney — who was the first wife of Sir Paul McCartney — collaborated with television writer Carla Lane on the song “Cow,” which “deals with the last days of a cow under sentence of death.” The innocent vibe of the song inspired many of the McCartneys’ friends to follow their lead and adopt vegetarian diets. Linda, in particular, did what she could to “bring vegetarianism into the dietary mainstream” of society, with the goal of making people think more generally about the cruel treatment of animals. The song was on Linda’s album “Wide Prairie,” which was released in 1998, and the lyrics include: “Placid creature / Standing in your June field / With one more day of grazing / Before the slaughter truck.” Like the McCartneys, Lane was an avid animal activist who often worked alongside Linda to rescue animals. Linda, for her part, was active with PETA, the League Against Cruel Sports, among others, and created the company Linda McCartney Foods, a UK-based company that specializes in vegan and vegetarian food.
4. Paul McCartney: “Looking for Changes”
Former Beatle Sir Paul McCartney, who has been a vegetarian for nearly 50 years, has written a number of songs over the years that could be considered relevant to animal rights — but perhaps none so obvious as 1993’s “Looking for Changes.” This song is focused on issues related to vivisection (i.e. animal testing), with lyrics such as “I saw a rabbit with its eyes full of tears / The lab that owned her had been doing it for years / Why don’t we make them pay for every last eye that couldn’t cry it’s own tears?” “Looking for Changes” was featured on McCartney’s album “Off the Ground,” and he said that the song was “inspired by a montage video McCartney saw of animals being treated cruelly” in labs. He actually went so far as to show a truncated version of the montage at the end of his concerts, which understandably shocked critics and fans alike. McCartney had aimed to write a “protest song,” something he’d wanted to do for quite some time but had been wary of making that decision. Sir Paul continues to fight for animals, participating in various PETA campaigns and advertisements, as well as his recent focus on ending cosmetic testing in Europe. In 2019, McCartney teamed up with PETA to release a new music video featuring “Looking for Changes” to advocate for the end of vivisection.
5. Prince: “Animal Kingdom”
Prince, the late singer-songwriter — who was also a talented multi-instrumentalist — was a noted vegan and animal activist whose song “Animal Kingdom” is focused on the numerous aspects of veganism. In the song, Prince explains why he doesn’t drink cow’s milk, pointing out that humans are the only species “that nurses past maturity by drinking the breast milk of other species.” Other notable lyrics include, “Who told us we should eat the swine? / You can bet your final money it damn sure wasn’t no friend of mine.” “Animal Kingdom” was featured on Prince’s 21st album, “Truth,” and was never actually performed live. Prince, who was an outspoken animal rights activist, became a vegetarian in the 1980s and once said, “To eat a tomato and then replant it for your nutrition as opposed to killing a cow or a pig for your meal is reducing the amount of suffering in the world. Besides, pigs are too cute to die.” In 2000, Prince received the Humane Society‘s Genesis Award for the liner notes for “Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic.” His liner notes included: “If this jacket were real wool it would have taken 7 lambs whose lives would have begun like this…” At that point, he goes on to describe how wool is made, and ends with the phrase, “respect all of God’s creatures.”
6. The Smiths: “Meat is Murder”
The Smiths’ song “Meat is Murder” was written by lead vocalist Morrissey, who is a notable vegan and animal activist. The song features lyrics such as, “The flesh you so fancifully fry is not succulent, tasty or kind / It is death for no reason, and death for no reason is murder.” The song holds nothing back, even going so far as to feature the sounds of cows in a slaughterhouse, and is not an easy listen by any means. Morrissey even went so far as to ban his bandmates from having their pictures taken while consuming meat, and once, he was able to convince a TV show to air slaughterhouse footage during the dinner hour. In 2016, PETA decided to use “Meat is Murder” as the basis for a new video game, in which players click before various animals get killed; the song is featured in the game as a “chiptune rendition.”
7. Macka B: “Health is Wealth”
Source: VP Records/YouTube
Macka B, a reggae artist, has released a number of animal rights- and/or vegan-inspired songs, including “Health is Wealth.” This song, in particular, focuses on the health benefits of a plant-based diet, and includes the lyrics: “Haffi stop eat too much animal / And then you will see / You start operate at a different frequency / Your mind and body / Get in tune to the elements / And treat them accordingly.” Macka B, who has been vegan for more than 20 years, frequently raps about vegetables and other plant-based foods, thereby garnering the attention of such celebrities as Tracee Ellis Ross and Naomi Campbell. At one point, Vogue even referred to him as making plant-based foods look “cool.” The artist prides himself on self-care, saying that “you gotta look after yourself. If you love yourself, you’ll give yourself only the good things in life.” The British-born Jamaican artist has also made numerous appearances at Vegfests, where he has performed his other notable vegan tune, “Wha Me Eat.” In explaining his focus on promoting veganism, he said, “When people realize how tasty vegan food is they’re amazed. We need to campaign about how vegan food is good for both health and the environment.”
8. Olivia Newton-John: “Silent Ruin”
The late Australian actress and singer Olivia Newton-John, who last year passed away due to cancer, performed the song “Silent Ruin,” which was written for a documentary called “The Last Whale.” While the original lyrics coincided with the documentary’s focus on the effects of commercial whaling, Newton-John opted to change the lyrics so that they could apply to all animals. The rather serious tone of the song does include some hopefulness in the form of these lyrics: “Oh, I dream of a time in the future when we can re-nurture the damage we’ve done / For although there’s a dark side to all human nature, our true selves are born in the sun.” Newton-John deeply cared about animals, her good friend Nancy Gould Chuda said, and that she was often surrounded by dogs, cats, and horses. One time, Chuda said, Newton-John helped rescue a calf, and the late actress-singer continued to advocate for all animals and their habitats throughout her life, including working closely with wildlife organization Animals Asia. In 2021, Newton-John adopted a plant-based diet — with the encouragement of her daughter, Chloe Lattanzi, who is vegan — in hopes of fighting breast cancer. Around the same time, she and her husband, John Easterling, founded the Olivia Newton-John Foundation Fund, which sponsors research into plant medicine to fight cancer.
9. The Pretenders: “I’ll Stand By You”
Source: Vivienne Westwood/YouTube
You may be surprised to learn that “I’ll Stand By You,” the popular song by the 80s band The Pretenders, was originally intended to be an anthem for animal rights; this is according to guitarist and lead singer Chrissie Hynde, who is vegetarian and wrote the song with Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly. Audience members at The Pretenders’ concerts also noted how Hynde would often dedicate the song to the animals. The powerful lyrics include, “I’m a lot like you / When you’re standing at the crossroads and don’t know which path to choose / Let me come along ‘cause even if you’re wrong, I’ll stand by you / I’ll stand by you, won’t let nobody hurt you.” Hynde has been an outspoken animal rights activist, working actively with PETA to advocate for animals and for cruelty-free diets. She once appeared on a billboard that said “I’m hatin’ it,” in regards to McDonald’s’ treatment of birds. While she once owned a vegan restaurant, she now will consume milk and cheese from her slaughter-free farm.
10. Morrissey: “The Bullfighter Dies”
Source: Louder Than Bombs/YouTube
After leaving The Smiths, Morrissey went on to a solo career, in which he continued to sing about animals and veganism. One such song, “The Bullfighter Dies,” was featured on his “World Peace is None of Your Business Album,” and essentially involves Morrissey celebrating a matador being gored to death by a bull. There is also a spoken-word version of the track — which is only two minutes long — and Spin called the song an “impassioned, wordplay-filled observation” in which Morrissey claimed that “we all want the bull to survive.” In 2015, he expressed elation upon learning that matador Karla de los Angeles was gored to death in a bullring in Mexico City, saying that, because “there is no such thing as bullfighting,” matadors like de los Angeles simply want to kill animals who pose no threat to them. Morrissey was outspoken in his belief that matadors like her deserved to receive “the very worst,” and the “very worst is their rightful due.” He often works with PETA to promote animal rights and veganism, and has been quoted as saying such things as when he complained about the carnivorous food at Live Earth: “Serving meat and dairy products at an event to combat climate change is like selling pistols at a gun control rally.”
If you’re already vegan or vegetarian, and have eliminated animal products and byproducts from your life via food, clothing, toiletries, and the like, then why not extend this to your listening habits? You can search on Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora, etc. for animal rights and/or vegan-centric playlists and songs that inspire you. Support as many animal-friendly artists as you can, and try to avoid attending concerts, festivals, and the like that serve meat. If you or someone you know is passionate about animal rights and/or veganism, encourage them to write about these issues, as it’s a great way to combine one’s passion with one’s talent.
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