How can you list songs about rebellion without listing every rock song ever? Rock music is all about rebellion, as was the jazz it came from and the spirituals and work songs that gave birth to jazz. But we’ll try. Here are the best songs about rebellion, and whether you’re fighting against social norms or just your mom and dad, there’s a song here for you.
1. “Rebel Rebel” by David Bowie
Song Year: 1974
Universally hailed as the greatest glam rock song of all time, David Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel” took the rebellious themes and ideas from the 1960s and updated them, adding androgyny, makeup, and attitude.
It was also Bowie’s farewell to the glam movement he had helped create. Bowie, like Prince after him, was constantly reinventing himself, and “Rebel Rebel” saw Ziggy Stardust ride into the sunset. And that guitar riff? That’s Bowie playing it himself.
2. “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party)”
Song Year: 1986
Rebellion makes countries out of disgruntled colonies and destroys Death Stars, but it’s also a mainstay of our teenage years. The Beastie Boys immortalized teenage rebellion in (“You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party).”
Also, they were kind of making fun of that whole party-all-the-time attitude, but fans never seemed to notice. It landed in the top 20 on charts worldwide, reaching number seven in the US.
3, “F*ck tha Police” by N.W.A.
Song Year: 1988
There’s not much in the world that’s more rebellious than standing up to cops, especially in the wake of racial profiling and disparities in arrest rates across racial lines. N.W.A. dropped “F*ck the Police” in protest of police brutality.
These days, the song borders on quaintness, but in the late-80s, suburban parents were freaked out by it.
4. “Sunday Bloody Sunday” by U2
Song Year: 1983
For almost thirty years, the Troubles brought civil war to Northern Ireland, resulting in violence and bloodshed from the 1960s to the last years of the 20th century. “Sunday Bloody Sunday” is a protest song against the sort of sectarian violence that caused the Bogside Massacre in January of 1972, where British soldiers killed 14 unarmed civilians.
The song remains one of U2’s biggest hits and is a staple of the band’s live shows. Frontman Bono spent years explaining that the song did not extoll violence but rather castigated those who perpetuate it.
5. “War” by Edwin Starr
Song Year: 1970
The US war in Vietnam engendered many protest songs, each calling for a rebellion against the country’s participation in the destructive conflict. Originally recorded by the Temptations, “War” was considered too risky for the group, as label execs feared it would alienate some of the group’s fans.
So Edwin Starr recorded the much more familiar version we all know today. The song’s powerful message questions the point of destruction.
6. “Another Brick in the Wall (Part II)” by Pink Floyd
Song Year: 1979
From Pink Floyd’s legendary album and film The Wall, “Another Brick in the Wall (Part II) was the middle section of a three-part composition. Songwriter Roer Waters wrote it to rebel against the British education system of his time.
He believed that teachers were more concerned with keeping students quiet and acquiescent. Teaching them anything of import was only a peripheral concern. Having a children’s chorus of English students sing on the track was a nice, rebellious touch.
7. “Get Up, Stand Up” by Bob Marley and the Wailers
Song Year: 1973
Co-written by Peter Tosh, Bob Marley’s seminal “Get Up, Stand Up” was inspired by a visit Marley made to Haiti, where he was dumbstruck by the poverty and hardship the people there endured.
This song contends that rebelling against the status quo is the only thing you can do when you’re down and out. Marley sings that God isn’t going to come down to right all the wrongs, so it’s up to the wronged to make changes.
8. “Killing in the Name” by Rage Against the Machine
Song Year: 1992
Another song protesting police brutality, “Killing in the Name” links members of the Los Angeles Police Department with white supremacy. And that’s just in the first verse.
Inspired by the 1991 police beating of Rodney King, “Killing in the Name” ends with singer Zack de la Rocha shouting that he will not do what he’s told, especially if the instructions come from any agent of a law enforcement system he sees as inherently flawed.
9. “My Generation” by The Who
Song Year: 1965
Guitarist and songwriter Pete Townshend said that “My Generation” was about drawing a line between the generation that fought WWII and the subsequent Baby Boomers. He felt the older Brits had helped save the world but refused to acknowledge or help his generation.
But the sentiment was anything but new. Everyone’s grandparents denigrate the musical tastes, clothing trends, and social mores of the youth of their day, and those youth rebel against it.
10. “Rebel Yell” by Billy Idol
Song Year: 1983
Inspired by Billy Idol taking a drink of Rebel Yell whiskey, “Rebel Yell” became a signature song for the star. Since a rebel yell was associated with the Confederacy in the American Civil War, Idol decided to change what a rebel yell was in the context of his song.
It became the cry of a woman who wanted him over and over during a one-night stand. What’s the song rebelling against? Who knows for sure? But a list of songs about rebellion would be incomplete without this 1980s classic.
11. “What’s Going On?” by Marvin Gaye
Song Year: 1971
As the 1960s drew to an end, protest songs were still big, and social upheaval was rampant. Cue Marvin Gaye, who released “What’s Going On?” It was his response to the world around him, allegedly asking himself how, with the world in its crazy state, he could keep singing love songs.
The song is about love and understanding but with its repeated chorus, it questions what it’s all about and where we are going as a society. It doesn’t explicitly call for change, but that’s what it’s after.
12. “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy
Song Year: 1989
“Fight the Power” is not a song rebelling against police, but rather about the abuse of power. Written for Spike Lee’s seminal 1989 film Do the Right Thing, “Fight the Power” echoes the racial tensions at the forefront of the film.
Power imbalance causes police brutality and institutionalized racism, the song says, and the call or rebellion against it is right there in the title.
13. “God Save the Queen” by the Sex Pistols
Song Year: 1977
The Sex Pistols, right at the beginning, equate Queen Elizabeth II with fascism, and British authorities were unhappy with this development. The song was a call for change in how the people of England were treated by their government, and UK radio stations quickly censored it.
Naturally, it became an arguably bigger hit than if they’d ignored it.
14. “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’” by Judas Priest
Song Year: 1982
Judas Priest’s signature song, “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’” embodies the spirit of independence and rebellion that the band lived by and that governed the mindset of heavy metal.
The genre itself was a rebellion of sorts against pop music’s veneration of singers. Heavy metal guitarists began making sounds and creating chord progressions that set them apart as accomplished musicians. Singing a song about rebellion in a musical form that was, in itself, a rebellion? That’s pretty metal.
15. “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival
Song Year: 1969
Sure, the Vietnam War was at its height when “Fortunate Son” came out, but it wasn’t an outcry against that conflagration. Rather, it pointed out the disparities between classes in America. That those disparities often made it so that the scions of society didn’t have to go to war while regular Joes got sent to the jungle was just part of the message.
Rebelling against these class distinctions was part of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s message in the song— that if things don’t change, how can anything get better?
16. “Imagine” by John Lennon
Song Year: 1971
One of the most-covered songs in the world, “Imagine” is often interpreted as encouraging people not to believe in God. That’s not the case at all. It is an extremely rebellious song that asks the listener to turn his back on societal norms and expectations.
Why? Because the way we’ve been doing things isn’t working all that well. If we all rebelled against the status quo, maybe we could make that world we’ve so far only imagined.
17. “Bad Reputation” by Joan Jett & the Blackhearts
Song Year: 1980
Joan Jett has always been pretty hardcore. Who better to tell the world that she doesn’t care what you think about her?
In polite society, reputation is all-important, but Jett sings that she doesn’t care about hers in this song, a Generation X anthem if there ever were one.
18. “Rehumanize Yourself” by The Police
Song Year: 1981
Rebelling against the things that rob us of our humanity is somewhat esoteric, but that’s what “Rehumanize Yourself” is about. There are references to police officers who become different people when they don their uniforms, and there’s the factory worker who can’t see the result of his labor.
As technology advances, we get increasingly isolated and less empathetic. The Police were singing about rebelling against this tendency and making a concerted effort to reclaim one’s humanity.
19. “Nelson Mandela” by Special A.K.A.
Song Year: 1984
The saga of Nelson Mandela, a political prisoner of apartheid policies in South Africa for decades, is familiar worldwide.
This bouncy, horn-driven ska song demands the release of the man, and though “Nelson Mandela” was banned in South Africa, citizens there still heard it and drew hope from it. The song was a global hit.
20. “Little Red Wagon” by Miranda Lambert
Song Year: 2015
Not every rebellion song is aimed at governmental entities or regimes. Sometimes, rebellion comes in the form of ending a bad relationship. That’s the case for “Little Red Wagon,” in which Miranda Lambert decries her significant other for the way he mistreats her.
He tries to remake her in the image he wants her to project, but she’s not having it. If you didn’t know that Lambert isn’t the kind of woman you should try to make do anything she doesn’t want to, “Little Red Wagon” alone should give you all the information you need.
21. “For What It’s Worth” by Buffalo Springfield
Song Year: 1966
Steven Stills wrote “For What It’s Worth,” not in response to Vietnam but to a confrontation with police on the Sunset Strip.
The incident started as a protest against a city ordinance instituting a curfew, but things got out of hand. Stills’ song became a protest anthem, though it asks not for overt rebellion but an examination of where we were going as a society.
22. “Redneck Woman” by Gretchen Wilson
Song Year: 2004
Another entry in the I’m-the-way-I-am-and-you-can-just-like-it class of songs, “Redneck Woman,” Gretchen Wilson’s debut single and only number-one hit finds the singer letting everyone within earshot know that their ideas of how a woman is supposed to act are irrelevant to her.
She lists the things so-called “normal” women say, do, and like, and then explains how none of those things are for her.
23. “Bad Example” by Pistol Annies
Song Year: 2011
Another song about rebelling against what society expects from a proper woman, “Bad Example” finds the three women of Pistol Annies singing that they are happy to be the ones other people’s mothers warned them about.
The gist is that if people like us aren’t around, who will the upright citizens be able to point to and say, “Don’t be like them”?
24. “Sixty Eight Guns” by The Alarm
Song Year: 1984
Despite the mention of weaponry in the title, “Sixty Eight Guns” is actually about the rebellion of youth. As adolescents look for their way in life, they rebel against their parents, society, and any norms they can find.
“Sixty Eight Guns” couches this rebellion in audience-friendly, singable-at-the-top-of-your-lungs music from a Welsh band that fought hard to rise from poverty into a signed recording act.
25. “Break the Rules” by Charli XCX
Song Year: 2014
About a desire not to go to school, “Break the Rules” is definitely aimed at teenage listeners, but the sentiment from Charli XCX is universal. Haven’t we all had the desire, at least once, not to follow along with what we’re supposed to do?
It was a top-40 hit in several countries, though its showing in the US was less than stellar.
26. “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud, Part 2” by James Brown
Song Year: 1968
During the racial unrest of the 1960s in America, James Brown’s exhortation to Black audiences to be proud of who and what they were was rebellious. The Godfather of Soul insists that skin color has nothing to do with much of anything, and African-Americans had every right to be who they were and live like they wanted to live.
He explicitly demands that African-Americans get the chance to do things their way, a pretty radical idea at the time.
27. “Secret Life Of Tigers” by N.E.R.D
Song Year: 2017
While “Secret Life of Tigers” reads like the dissatisfied rant of a teenager whose parents are bumming them out, songwriter Pharrell Williams said that it’s a look at the conservative mindset many parents try to foist on their children.
The secret life of tigers, he says, represents the struggle of the youth to throw off the oppression of the elders who hold different values.
Top Songs About Rebellion, Final Thoughts
If you’re looking for rebellion, music is a terrific place to start. There are songs about rebellion against society, parents, significant others, and all sorts of other things. Finding a song about rebellion is easy. Finding the right one for you takes some work because there are so many great ones out there.