What Types of Protest Music Are People Buying at Record Shops in the Age of Trump?

 Timothy Saccenti
Run the Jewels

Nothing amps up a street protest like a blood-rushing, revolutionary soundtrack. And with hundreds of thousands of Americans taking to the streets over the first two weeks of the Trump administration to speak out against President Trump's controversial immigration order and rallying for women's rights, there has been a rush on finding the perfect songs, or songs, to get feet and minds moving.

While acts like Bob Dylan and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young helped fuel the revolution of the 1960s, and everyone from U2 to Common and Anti-Flag have helped amp up rebels over the past two tumultuous decades, Billboard called a number of independent records shops around the country to find out what music people are seeking out to keep their minds right during this tumultuous transition to the Trump White House.

A common denominator, from sea-to-shining-sea, were a pair of albums thriving in part because they represent some of the finest work by their respective artists, but also because they are packed with provocative lyrics and songs that appear to speak pretty directly to the tenor of the times: A Tribe Called Quest's We Got it From Here... Thank You 4 Your Service and Run the Jewels' Run the Jewels 3.

B-Side Records, Madison, Wisconsin

"We're definitely moving a lot of the Tribe and Run the Jewels albums, but we also sold a copy of Tom Morello's [2011 EP] Union Town since the inauguration, which is one we didn't really sell much of before," says one of the store's buyers. The 8-song album from the Rage Against the Machine guitarist features such songs as Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land" and Ralph Chaplin's "Solidarity Forever," as well as Morello originals "Union Town," "A Wall Against the Wind" and Merle Travis' coal miner ballad "Sixteen Tons." 

Amoeba Records, Los Angeles

"It's a bit hard to measure because there are so many protest songs on so many records that we've seen interest in, but we are definitely playing more songs like CSNY's 'Ohio' in the store the past couple weeks," says owner Marc Weinstein. "That always gets a big reaction, and no question people are tuned in to that kind of thing now. But we're also definitely selling a lot more Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Billy Bragg catalog titles." 

Rough Trade Records, Brooklyn, New York

"We sold out of all half-dozen copies of See Red Women's Workshop Feminist Posters 1974-1990, as soon as we got them, which was surprising since it's a pretty pricey ($35) import book of feminist posters," says Ski, who handles inventory at the shop. He also noticed RTJ selling briskly, and says the shop has moved four copies of The Essential Bob Dylan since Trump's inauguration, a noticeably higher number than usual. The latter contains such iconic folk protest albums as: "Blowin' in the Wind," "The Times They Are a-Changin'," "Maggie's Farm," "I Shall Be Released" and "Subterranean Homesick Blues." 

Manager George Flanagan says the Tribe album is selling well because it's great, but also seemingly because several songs, like "We The People," have a prescient message about our current state of affairs. A pair of 7" singles are also (relatively speaking) flying off the shelves, including "Fucked Up Donald" by long-running Canadian punks D.O.A., which has sold a healthy dozen copies in the past few months, necessitating a series of re-orders. (Flanagan says that while that might seem modest, it's a high number for a relatively obscure 7" single in such a short time.) Also exceeding expectations is a Dead Ending's aggro 7" "Ivanka Wants Her Orange Back," which has sold at least a half dozen copies.

The store has always had a robust protest book section, but Flanagan says he's been trying to been up the offerings lately, and he's noticed sales have picked up recently. One title that's doing especially well is Dennis Johnson's collection of manifestos from a number of leading progressive writers, WHAT WE DO NOW: Standing Up For Your Values in Trump's America, which features contributions from NAACP president Cornell William Brooks, Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune, McSweeney's publisher Dave Eggers and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, among others.

Human Head Records, New York

Dylan is perennial seller at this Brooklyn shop, and 45 specialist Phil Lembke says definitely he's seen more albums by the folk icon going out the door over the past month, as well as ATCQ's latest. He's also noticing more conversation at Human Head about Trump and his policies, which has inspired the staff to play songs such as Gil Scott-Heron's "Winter in America" in the store, as well as songs by Afro-beat legend Fela Kuti, in order to create awareness among patrons.

"I'm also a DJ," Lemke says, "and I've noticed other DJs playing stuff like the Honeydrippers' 'Impeach the President,' a Nixon-era funk song that nobody really played during the Obama administration." 

Dearborn Music, Detroit

"We cater to everybody, and Run the Jewels is doing well, but some punk things have really been selling," says music buyer Paul Sternberg. The store has repeatedly sold out of its copies of "Ivanka Wants Her Orange Back," with Sternberg saying the aggro track has "really energized" buyers, leading to a series of re-orders that have already run out again, a rare scenario for a topical song ("a tribute to America's new fearless leader") by a little-known band.