The best songs about freedom are a varied bunch. But that’s simply because freedom is a concept that can be interpreted in so many different ways. Singers have been singing about free will, freedom of choice, freedom from slavery, and so much more since the beginning of song itself. Indeed, look into any musical genre and you’ll be quickly overwhelmed by the number of great songs about freedom. In this feature, we’ve highlighted just a few of the best.
Bob Marley and the Wailers – Redemption Song
Bob Marley and the Wailers’ “Redemption Song” was first written in 1979, when the reggae singer-songwriter received his cancer diagnosis. Some of the song’s lyrics were pulled from Jamaican activist Marcus Garvey’s speech “The Work That Has Been Done,” specifically the line, “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery/None but ourselves can free our minds.” It’s a poignant reminder that folks must take control of their own life.
Bob Dylan – Chimes of Freedom
Bob Dylan’s “Chimes of Freedom” details a couple taking shelter during a lightning storm. But the actual song’s influences are a bit more mysterious: Some have perceived it to be influenced by poet Arthur Rimbaud, while other biographers view it as a response to John F. Kennedy’s 1963 assassination. Whatever the inspiration, it’s one of the best songs about freedom ever written.
Scorpions – Wind of Change
“Wind of Change” is a power ballad by Scorpions, that was inspired by the band’s visit to the Soviet Union, during the peak of reforms taking place. The song is also associated with the Berlin Wall, with the German band memorably performing the tune at a 10th-anniversary celebration of its fall in 1999.
Neil Young – Rockin’ in the Free World
After Neil Young learned that his 1989 concert in the Soviet Union would be canceled, he came up with one of his biggest songs: “Rockin’ in the Free World.” Lyrically, it critiques the then-president, George H.W. Bush, and his administration’s policies. Young, of course, has never been shy about making political statements or speaking about social injustice. The song went on to reach No.2 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Tracks chart.
Common feat. John Legend – Glory
In 2014, rapper Common teamed up with singer-songwriter John Legend to write and record “Glory” for the soundtrack of the film Selma. The movie is about the 1965 Mississippi protest marches from Selma to Montgomery for racial equality. One of the most powerful messages of the song is that it’s not just activists and heroes that can create a better world. It’s also folks from everyday life that speak up when they see something wrong. “Glory” went on to win Best Original Song at the 87th Academy Awards in 2015.
Nina Simone – I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free
A jazz song originally written by composer Billy Taylor, “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free” was recorded by Nina Simone in 1967 for her 13th studio album, Silk & Soul. The track became closely associated with the Civil Rights Movement.
Kelly Clarkson – Miss Independent
The lead single from her 2003 debut album, Kelly Clarkson co-wrote “Miss Independent” alongside Christina Aguilera, Rhett Lawrence, and Matt Morris. The themes of the song deal with the tension that comes with balancing independence and love.
Sam Cooke – A Change Is Gonna Come
Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” was released in 1964 via RCA Records. Cooke famously wrote the song after been turned away from staying the night at a Louisiana motel. Decades later, the song still maintains its influential status as one of the iconic human rights songs of the 20th century.
Elton John – Philadelphia Freedom
Elton John’s “Philadelphia Freedom” was written by John and Bernie Taupin. It was loosely inspired by his friend, tennis star Billie Jean King, who played for the Philadelphia Freedoms. Released in 1975 as a single, it marked the fourth of John’s No.1 US hits during the 1970s.
Christina Aguilera – Fighter
“Fighter” by Christina Aguilera is an empowering song about freedom from her fourth studio album, Stripped. A blend of rock and R&B elements, Aguilera pulled inspiration from “November Rain” by Guns N’ Roses. It has since been certified as a Gold single by the RIAA and sold over a million copies in the US alone.
Lynyrd Skynyrd – Free Bird
Released as part of their 1973 debut album, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird” is one of classic rock’s most memorable songs. Co-written by band members Allen Collins and Ronnie Van Zant, the song’s opening lyric was inspired by a quote from Collins’ girlfriend. Van Zant also went on to describe the longing for personal freedom as “what this country’s all about” in interviews.
Kid Rock – Born Free
The 2010 lead single from his eighth studio album of the same name, Kid Rock’s “Born Free” is a country rock song about just casually living life. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney used it as his campaign music, with Kid Rock performing it at several stops along the way. He also played it live at the Thanksgiving day football game for the Detroit Lions in 2010.
Tom Petty – Free Fallin’
Released in 1989, Tom Petty’s hit song “Free Fallin’” was written and recorded in just two days, as the first finished song for his debut album. Its opening acoustic guitar riff is among the most iconic in 80s rock. The song has maintained popularity over the decades, though, mainly through some memorable appearances in TV and movies. During an interview with Billboard, Petty and co-writer Jeff Lynne explained that they were inspired by driving on Ventura Boulevard in LA.
George Michael – Freedom! ’90
This tune from George Michael’s Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 largely concerned Michael’s time in pop juggernaut Wham! While the lyrics referenced Michael’s efforts to break from his bubblegum pop past, the song has been taken up by others since its release, most notably the LGBTQ community.
Beyonce feat. Kendrick Lamar – Freedom
Beyoncé teamed up with Kendrick Lamar in 2016 for her anthem “Freedom,” which appears on her sixth studio album, Lemonade. The hit single received a nomination for Best Rap/Sung Performance at the Grammy Awards in 2017. Given the song’s political themes and calls for racial justice, it saw a resurgence in streams during the George Floyd movement in 2020.
John Lennon – Imagine
“Imagine” by John Lennon appears as the title track from his 1971 album. Lennon’s best-selling solo song, it has a simple message: Imagine world peace. The song was produced with Phil Spector, and prior to Lennon’s passing, he revealed his wife Yoko Ono contributed greatly to the song’s lyrics. Since its release, it has sold over 1.7 million copies in the UK alone.
Whitney Houston – Try It On My Own
Whitney Houston’s “Try It on my Own” was recorded for her fifth studio album, 2002’s Just Whitney. In early 2003, it was released as the third single, and is a ballad about aiming for independence. The song’s music video was directed by David LaChapelle, and parodies the news that was surrounding Houston. It was officially certified gold for selling 25,000 units in September 2003.
Queen – I Want To Break Free
Written by Queen’s bassist John Deacon, their song “I Want to Break Free” detailed fighting oppression. It became especially popular in South Africa, where it reportedly became something of a theme song for those fighting the apartheid government. Still, the song’s music video featured the band dressed in drag, which led to minimal airplay on MTV. “It was a measure of the…thinking, MTV, that they…thought it was disgraceful, and didn’t show it, and banned it,” said drummer Roger Taylor, who came up with the video’s idea.
Unknown – Keep Your Eye On The Prize
An influential folk song during the Civil Rights Movement, “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize” is based on the traditional spiritual song, “Gospel Plow.” While the song’s origins are relatively unknown, the lyrics are believed to be from Alice Wine, who was a member of South Carolina historical communities. However, as most folk songs do, the lyrics and arrangements have changed with each version.