“You Say You Want a Revolution,” Animal Farm?

February 7, 2014 — 1 Comment

There are waves from England that reach America’s shores.

There are literary waves.
George Orwell’s Animal Farm was published in America in 1946.

There are musical waves.
The Beatles came to America in 1964.

George Orwell used satire as a commentary on Communism in the USSR and the rise of Stalin in his allegory Animal Farm.

John Lennon used the lyrics in the song Revolution as a response to the increase of protests against the Vietnam War, specifically student riots in Paris in May of 1968.

Satire, politics, protests….so many connections. Why not share them in class?
Why not share the Beatles’ song Revolution while students read Orwell’s Animal Farm?

“Revolution”

You say you want a revolution
Well you know
We all want to change the world
You tell me that it’s evolution
Well you know
We all want to change the world
But when you talk about destruction
Don’t you know you can count me out

Don’t you know it’s gonna be alright
Alright, alright

You say you got a real solution
Well you know
We don’t love to see the plan
You ask me for a contribution
Well you know
We’re doing what we can
But if you want money for people with minds that hate
All I can tell you is brother you have to wait (Revolution lyrics continued…)

After we read first chapter of Animal Farm aloud in class, I played the video of the Beatles performing the song Revolution. For some, this was the first time they had ever heard the song; for some, this was the first time they had seen the Beatles perform.

After watching the video, I posted an assignment to use the power of music – “to write a song for your cause.” The directions given to the students were:

You say you want a Revolution….?
Well, you have to write your song!! (for extra credit)

Step 1: Identify your cause. What makes you angry? What do you see as a problem in society? What is your Pet Peeve? What would you like to change about your world? This can be something big or little.

Step 2: The power of music! To persuade people to join your revolution, (like Major’s Beasts of England) you have to write a song.

Step 3: Share your lyrics, and we will join you in song (karaoke tunes preferred)

Their protest songs came in. In their songs the students protested: homework, English class (*sigh*), the school parking lot ban on underclassmen, bad weather, cafeteria food, Twilight movies, dirt clods in the hallways from steel-toed boots, the ban on cupcakes in class, and (and there were several of these), Justin Bieber.

While their songs were unlikely to inspire a revolution, they did appreciate the power of music in communicating a message. Their reactions to their own songs of protest were positive, but they admitted that their songs did not have the same power as the Beatle’s Revolution. They recognized Orwell’s statement on the power of song in Animal Farm “The Beasts of England” sung at the end of Chapter One. That song (sung to the tune of My Darling Clementine) was a take-off on the famous socialist anthem, The Internationale:

Beasts of England, Beasts of Ireland,
Beasts of every land and clime,
Hearken to my joyful tidings
Of the Golden future time.

Soon or late the day is coming,
Tyrant Man shall be o’erthrown,
And the fruitful fields of England
Shall be trod by beasts alone…….(continued )

 “…The singing of this song threw the animals into the wildest excitement…. And then, after a few preliminary tries, the whole farm burst out into Beasts of England in tremendous unison….” (Ch1:Orwell)

Orwell was demonstrating how the lyrics in a song could motivate. The student protest songs, however, were more entertaining than motivating. The Beatle’s song Revolution is both entertaining and motivating, a song written four years after their momentous arrival in America.

From the moment the Beatles disembarked from Pan-Am flight 101 on February 7, 1964, they were a force in American music. Yet, according to TIME magazine’s story, Beatlemania Begins: The Beatles First U.S. Visit to Play Ed Sullivan, the Beatles were surprised by how their music had made thousands of frenetic fans:

Just before 1:30 p.m., Flight 101 taxied to a stop outside the terminal and the aircraft door popped open. An explosion of cheers and screams rang out as the crowd stormed forward….

“We heard that our records were selling well in America,” George [Harrison] noted, “but it wasn’t until we stepped off the plane … that we understood what was going on. Seeing thousands of kids there to meet us made us realize just how popular we were there.”

Their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show (February 9) featured a set list that set fans shrieking:

  • All My Loving 
  • Till There Was You (Sue Raney cover)
  • She Loves You 
  • I Saw Her Standing There 
  • I Want to Hold Your Hand

Those five songs began the domination of pop music charts, coined the term “Beatlemania”, and changed the culture of a generation. The Beatles proved the power of music, so our protest song assignment capitalized on student awareness of this power. The students shared what they would protest if given the opportunity. They had a chance to make connections between two genres, between a set of music lyrics and a set of lyrics from a novel-both of which were penned by Englishmen.

This was also an opportunity for me to highlight the Beatles. Students watched and listened to a recording of the “Fab Four” who created a revolution in music here in America; they saw those “lads from Liverpool” who invaded America from England many Yesterday’s ago.

One response to “You Say You Want a Revolution,” Animal Farm?

  1. 

    Having kids write their own songs of protest is so smart and engaging. Have you seen this TED talk by the girl who got Hasbro to change the color and marketing campaign for the Easy-Bake oven? (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cTK_cJVryIc&list=PLJicmE8fK0Eh88ix1co6RG4pDcRjpaPj4&feature=c4-overview-vl) Maybe your students will be encouraged to take their ideas a step further.

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