In honor of Earth Day, here are some songs about environmentalism

April 22 is Earth Day. The annual event has been held since 1970 to demonstrate support for environmental protection. You can find Earth Day events in your area by clicking here.

Environmentalism – or just appreciation for nature – is a theme that’s expressed in lots of popular songs.  

Here’s a list of some environmentalism-themed songs in honor of Earth Day. 


John Denver – “Sunshine on my Shoulders” 

Denver – aka Henry John Deutschendorf Jr.- was one of the U.S’s best-selling artists of the 1970s. His songs frequently expressed a love of nature. “Sunshine”, which went to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1974, was inspired by a desire for spring. “I wrote the song in Minnesota at the time I call ‘late winter, early spring’. It was a dreary day, gray and slushy. The snow was melting and it was too cold to go outside and have fun, but God, you’re ready for spring,” Denver said of the song. “You want to get outdoors again and you’re waiting for that sun to shine, and you remember how sometimes just the sun itself can make you feel good. And in that very melancholy frame of mind I wrote ‘Sunshine on My Shoulders’.”

You can learn “Sunshine on my Shoulders” in the Fret Zealot app here.

Joni Mitchell – “Big Yellow Taxi” 

It’s been since covered by Amy Grant and The Counting Crows with Vanessa Carlton, but this 1970 was inspired by the singer-songwriter’s first trip to Hawaii. Mitchell told The Los Angeles Times in 1996: “I wrote ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ on my first trip to Hawaii. I took a taxi to the hotel and when I woke up the next morning, I threw back the curtains and saw these beautiful green mountains in the distance. Then, I looked down and there was a parking lot as far as the eye could see, and it broke my heart […] this blight on paradise. That’s when I sat down and wrote the song.” 

The Beach Boys – “Don’t Go Near the Water” 

The pioneers of the California sound have lots of songs that reference the ocean, but 1971’s “Don’t Go Near the Water” puts an environmentally-concerned spin on the theme, with lyrics like “Oceans, rivers, lakes and streams/Have all been touched by man/The poison floating out to sea/Now threatens life on land”. 

Johnny Cash – “Don’t Go Near the Water” 

The Man in Black had a track with the same name three years later on his 1974 album Ragged Old Flag. In the song, the narrator laments the pollution of natural waterways and tells his son that they can no longer eat the fish they catch from a stream. 

Marvin Gaye – “Mercy Mercy Me” (The Ecology) 

“Things ain’t what they used to be/Where did all the blue skies go?/Poison is the wind that blows/From the north and south and east”, Gaye sang on this 1971 track.  The song came from Gaye’s concept album What’s Going On, which tells a narrative from the point of view of a Vietnam veteran and explores poverty, drug abuse, and war.

Louis Armstrong – “What a Wonderful World”

Ending the list on a positive note is American jazz great Louis Armstrong’s 1967 single, which includes the lyrics “I see trees of green/Red roses too/I see them bloom/For me and you/And I think to myself/What a wonderful world”. Armstrong recorded the track overnight following a midnight show in Las Vegas, wrapping around 6 a.m. 

You can learn “What a Wonderful World” on the Fret Zealot app.


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