Rebellion is seen as cool and edgy, but it’s a normal part of society. Teens go through rebellious stages with their parents, and sometimes, large-scale rebellion is necessary to make people’s lives better. But there are a million ways to be a rebel, from fighting the powers that be and protesting their actions to simply not conforming to the people around you. This huge span makes it easy to write all manner of songs about rebellion, and in this article, we’ll cover the 31 best and most rebellious tracks around.
1. Another Brick In The Wall – Pink Floyd
Another Brick In The Wall was a three-part composition from their rock opera album The Wall in 1979. It was a protest song centered on corporal punishment and abuse in schools, specifically boarding schools. The members had been victims and witnesses to this type of behavior while growing up, allowing them to have firsthand experience with the subject matter. Part two of the track was released as a single and topped the charts in 14 countries. Among the greatest songs of all time, it is chock full of iconic lines and quotable moments.
2. Killing in the Name – Rage Against the Machine
Rage Against The Machine are known for their punk anthems of protest and, well, raging against the machine that is tyrannical government. Killing In The Name is perhaps their most legendary single, coming from their 1992 self-titled debut album. It was inspired by the beating of Rodney King during the 1992 Los Angeles Riots but serves as a tirade against the ills of American society.
Lines like “Some of those that work forces are the same that burnt crosses” connect the police departments to the Ku Klux Klan. But you don’t get much more rebellious than repeatedly yelling “Fuck you I won’t do what you tell me.” A song full of righteous fury that rages against the military-industrial complex, advocates for extreme countermeasures, and is the epitome of 1990s punk. It doesn’t get much better.
3. Fight the Power – Public Enemy
The Civil Rights Movement didn’t end with Brown v. Board of Education, any of the Civil Rights Acts being signed, nor when segregation was formally ended on a federal level. It has been an ongoing fight against institutionalized racism that has gone on through our modern era and has been propelled by acts of rebellion.
Public Enemy captured that fight in their song Fight The Power in 1989, encouraging listeners to fight against systemic racism and social injustice. The topics they covered included things like poverty, police brutality, and even cultural appropriation.
4. Fuck Tha Police – N.W.A.
N.W.A.’s single Fuck Tha Police isn’t just a hip hop classic, it’s one of the best rap songs of all time. First released in 1988, it’s a powerful track that confronts police brutality and institutionalized racism, making no apologies along the way. It was a song rebelling against the powers oppressing Black people and got the group in some hot water in the political sphere. However, the influence of this rebellious protest anthem has lived on to become a staple of hip hop culture and one of the most important singles of the era.
5. Sunday Bloody Sunday – U2
Sunday Bloody Sunday was inspired by the events of the Bloody Sunday Massacre in Northern Ireland that saw unarmed protestors shot and killed by British troops. A tragedy unto itself, U2 framed their most beloved protest song around the event. It serves as an anthem of humanitarian movements, justice, and anti-war ideals. Ever since the band released the track in 1983, it’s been one of the most influential rock songs of all time and a staple of socially conscious rock music for more than four decades.
6. American Idiot – Green Day
American Idiot is one of the most iconic songs that Green Day ever released. It was originally inspired by America’s entry to the war in Iraq, a direct response to comments made by then-President George W. Bush after the September 11 attacks. It questions the ideals of America and why it was necessary to go to war at all, essentially serving as a rebellion against those ideas and calling them out for being idiotic in nature.
7. Imagine – John Lennon & The Plastic Ono Band With The Flux Fiddlers
The world is fraught with confrontation. Whether that be on a large scale such as two countries going to war or two people fighting for an edge over the other, it’s a societal norm for most. But what if that didn’t have to be the case?
John Lennon’s song Imagine asks us to imagine a world without divisions, war, and conflict for just a moment. It doesn’t have the angry rebellious nature of many tracks on this list, but it was one of the most prestigious protest songs against the Vietnam War. And anything asking us to go beyond societal expectations and norms is rebellious in one way or another.
8. War – Edwin Starr
There’s a very simple message at the heart of Edwin Starr’s song War, and it’s that war is a violent and pointless thing. Even if you’ve never heard the track all the way through, the refrain in the chorus that asks “War, what is it good for?” and replies “Absolutely nothing” is one of the most iconic lines of all time. It became his best-known song and a classic of both the soul and funk genres, eventually turning into one of the foundational tracks of conscious music and anti-war protests.
9. We’re Not Gonna Take It – Twisted Sister
We’re Not Gonna Take It is a glam rock rebellion anthem aimed at everyone and everything. It was universal, allowing it to relate to teens rebelling against their domineering parents or adults fighting the powers that be in an effort to live a better life.
10. You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’ – Judas Priest
Every good rebellion playlist has a song that instills resolve. You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’ is the epitome of f*** around and find out, telling listeners that if you think the singer will just lay down and take it, you’ll find out quickly how untrue that is. It was an attitude Judas Priest had as a band when faced with challenges, but it serves as an incredible song about rebellion and the strength to go on when challenged.
11. Duality – Slipknot
People are generally encouraged to not give in to their darker side, with intrusive thoughts mostly being pushed to the edges and ignored. But inside every person is both a light and dark side and the side that grows is the side we feed. This philosophy is the basis for Slipknot’s song Duality, though this introspective single encourages listeners to embrace their inner demons rather than ignore them. Humans are complex creatures with multiple facets to their being, but at least considering the darker side is a rebellion all its own.
12. Break Stuff – Limp Bizkit
Break Stuff was released on Limp Bizkit’s 1999 album Significant Other and is one of the best songs to throw on when you want to rebel against everything, no matter what it is. It focuses on being overwhelmed by societal expectations and issues in life, with the singer eventually being pushed to their breaking point where they’re ready to lash out at the world around them and start breaking stuff.
It has always been a staple track for their live shows and remains one of the highlights of the 1990s nu-metal scene that combined alternative rock and hip hop deliveries.
13. Revolution Will Not Be Televised – Gil Scott-Heron
Revolution Will Not Be Televised is a music poem from Gil Scott-Heron during the 1960s that has been quoted by many in the time since it was written. He penned it just as the Civil Rights Movement in the US gained momentum, attacking how apathetic the media was and how most people didn’t understand the seriousness of the changes going on around them. Rather than throw out cheap advertising slogans, it was time for people to stand up and rebel against the powers that be to make meaningful changes.
14. The Anthem – Good Charlotte
Sometimes, rebelling is just not allowing your thoughts and actions to conform to those around you. Being an outsider sucks, but there’s still songs out there for you if you are. Good Charlotte’s single The Anthem is the perfect example of this. It’s an anthem to those who want more from life and don’t want to go with the flow. Rebelling can be as simple as not doing what’s expected of you in society, and embracing that road is the real message behind this track.
15. Give It All – Rise Against
Give It All is one of Rise Against’s most beloved songs. Originally recorded for their 2004 album, it eventually turned into a hard punk rocker that was the first single from their third album. A breakthrough single for them, it was an anthem of giving everything you’ve got for what you believe in, regardless of the odds.
16. Get Up, Stand Up – Bob Marley
Anything worth doing isn’t going to be easy, and there will always be people who think differently than you. Bob Marley was an innovator and a free-thinker who promoted peace and unity throughout much of his music. But not all rebellion is the result of peaceful protest.
Sometimes, it’s important to be willing to fight for what you believe in. Get Up, Stand Up is a rallying cry for those who feel like they have to stand up for what they believe against all odds. It remains a classic of the reggae genre and one of his most recognizable tunes today.
17. Born In The U.S.A. – Bruce Springsteen
Born In The U.S.A. might seem like an odd choice for a list of songs about rebellion thanks to its upbeat tune, but most of the lyrics focus on dealing with the aftermath of the Vietnam War, especially for veterans of the conflict who came home to little support. The catchy chorus is actually meant to be ironic, discussing the hardships faced by those who served their country rather than just a patriotic anthem that celebrates the US. It serves as a rebellious protest track, challenging American society and its values at its core.
18. What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye
There were plenty of protest tracks released regarding the Vietnam War, and we’ve covered several already. But Marvin Gaye’s song What’s Going On deserves a slot on this list as well. He released it in 1971 and tackled topics like poverty, war, and environmental issues, delivering a single that reflected the confusion of many in the US in the aftermath of the social upheaval and conflict surrounding the war.
It was the title track of one of the first concept albums to ever be released as well, but its rebelliousness came as something that just questioned what the heck was even going on and why it was that way at all.
19. Sabotage – Beastie Boys
Sometimes, rebellion can be about going against a single person. And while the Beastie Boys single Sabotage is a fictitious rant about their manager being the worst person of all time, it remains one of the most relatable rebellion songs of all time. It’s been thought of as one of their best tracks since its release, perfectly blending punk and rap in a way only they can.
20. My Generation – The Who
There’s always tension between generations, with older folks wanting young people to behave the way they expect them to and younger people feeling like their elders just don’t understand them and the changing times.
The Who captured this sentiment beautifully in their rebellious anthem My Generation. It focuses on the gap between age groups, letting out all the pent-up frustration of younger people who don’t feel understood by those who came before, even calling on them to go ahead and fade away already. To this day, it remains the most enduring song from their 1960s part in the British Invasion.
21. Anarchy in the UK – Sex Pistols
The 1970s were tough for Britain, as the government in power faced strikes and economic depression. With everything about the future looking grim, it’s no wonder that younger generations were drawn to punk music that raged against the prospects offered to them.
Sex Pistols were one of the best bands at the time talking about real issues there, with Anarchy In The UK being one of their most memorable offerings. Rather than simply strike or protest for change, the song calls for literal anarchy to force real changes to be put in place.
22. Rebel Rebel – David Bowie
Rebel Rebel was the lead single of David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs album and has been labeled a proto-punk track. This one seems to be all about teenage rebellion and angst, evidenced by the protagonist of the song having their mother in a tizzy and how wild they’ve let themselves go, from hair to behavior. It’s a track about rebelling against societal expectations and living your best life, and despite coming in 1974, reflects the views of many in the modern-day younger generations.
23. I Fought The Law – The Bobby Fuller Tour
I Fought The Law was originally written and recorded by Sonny Curtis of The Crickets, but it was later popularized by The Bobby Fuller Tour. It’s one of the most famous songs in music history, featuring numerous covers of the track including one version by The Clash.
It focuses on the plight of a prisoner who rebelled against the law for the heck of it, fighting against those in power by doing whatever they wanted. While singing, the narrator is serving out their punishment of breaking rocks, something that used to be employed at prisons.
24. Bad Reputation – Joan Jett & The Blackhearts
One of the simplest and most basic forms of rebellion is to live your life without caring what others think of you. You’ll face pressure to conform, and in some ways, you may have to make compromises. But fully leaning away from expectations can earn you a bad reputation. That’s exactly what Joan Jett was singing about in her song Bad Reputation, though it’s meant to encourage you to stop caring if other people are going to judge you. The best thing to do is what you want.
25. Alright – Kendrick Lamar
Alright is one of the best modern rebellion songs you’re going to be able to find. It focuses on rebelling against things like systemic racism and poverty, as well as police brutality and oppression. But it isn’t a rage-fueled downer of a track. Instead, it carries an uplifting message for communities and individuals who face these problems daily, offering strength, hope, and encouragement.
26. Rebel Girl – Bikini Kill
The Riot Grrrl movement as a whole was a rebellion against stereotypes in the music industry and society, turning gender norms on their head. Bikini Kill remains one of the most famous girl groups of the era, and Rebel Girl is one of their most enduring hits. It mainly focuses on rebelling against the heterosexual tropes of pop music, giving a voice to lesbian and feminist people in the industry.
27. Zombie – The Cranberries
Zombie is one of the most famous and covered songs of all time. The original version by The Cranberries was inspired by an IRA bombing in Warrington town center that killed two children and turned public opinion against the rebel group. This just proves that sometimes you have to rebel against rebels.
It served as an outrage cry against the violence that surrounded the Troubles in Northern Ireland as a whole. According to legend, the lead singer Dolores O’Riordan even ripped up a massive check given to her that requested she write a less political song.
28. Nelson Mandela – The Specials
Nelson Mandela is one of the most famous rebels of all time. A peaceful activist who protested against the apartheid system in South Africa, he was jailed in 1962 by the country’s ruling white party on conspiracy charges. During his 27-year stint in The Clink, his unwavering messages inspired millions and ultimately helped remove the system entirely. The Specials recorded a song during that time that helped get his name out to the world, focusing on the injustice of his sentence and treatment.
29. People Have The Power – Patti Smith
Rebellions can only catch fire if people wake up and realize that they have the power to enact change. Many people live in a world where they have no control and higher powers rule over their lives with little to no chance for them to do anything about it. That’s why rebellious songs like People Have the Power by Patti Smith are so important. They serve as vital reminders that your life is in your own control, you just have to remember that you can do something about it.
30. For What It’s Worth – Buffalo Springfield
Many people consider For What It’s Worth to be an anti-war protest song. But it was actually inspired by events during the Sunset Strip curfew riots in Los Angeles in 1966. The band was the house band at the famous Whiskey A Go Go during the riots that followed crowds of young people being cited for loitering around outside. It served as an anthem of rebellion for civil rights that were being infringed, namely the new laws being imposed on people at the time.
31. Renegades of Funk – Rage Against the Machine
Renegades Of Funk was originally written and recorded by Afrika Bambaataa and Soulsonic Force in 1983. Rage Against The Machine remade the song in 2001. But if you’re looking for a song that lists many of the most iconic rebels in history, this is it. Renegade figures like Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Beastie Boys, and many others are all listed in the track as being important rebellious figures in one way or another.
As a contributing writer for Music Grotto, Dakotah writes and produces professional music/media content. He works closely with editorial staff to meet editorial standards and create
quality content for the Music Grotto website. Dakotah is passionate about music in a wide variety of genres, from hip-hop to country and lo-fi to metal, and he enjoys creating music pieces for Music Grotto.