Songs About Places 2022: Songs of Protest

An annual list of songs about the places we call home, the places we miss, and the places we visit. In 2022, one of the most conspicuous songs about places took a stand on an ongoing moral crisis.

Read Time: 4 minutes

December 27, 2022, 5:00 AM PST

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

A group of protests with signs and drums walk down the street.

Extinction Rebellion and Just Stop Oil protest in London in October 2022. | JessicaGirvan / Shutterstock

You might have missed the discussion about the year’s biggest protest song.

Leave it to a band called Chat Pile, accurately described by music blogs as “stuttering noise rock with heavy sludge and occasional death metal influences” and “a dilapidated shack of sludgy violence,” to broadcast a direct challenge to the collective morality of the planet’s richest country by calling out the ubiquity of homelessness.

The song, titled “Why,” repeats the titular incantation for an effect that feels a little like the band holding our collective heads in place, forcing us to see and acknowledge the problem, not allowing anyone to look away until we answer for our failures.

Here's the first verse:

Why do people have to live outside
In the brutal heat or when it's below freezing?
There are people that are made to live outside

Later in the song, the lyrics make a more human connection to the experiences of homelessness.

Why do people have to live outside?
I couldn't survive out on the streets
Why do people have to live outside?
I couldn't survive out on the streets
I've never had to push
All my shit around
In a shopping cart
Have you?
Have you ever had ringworm?
Have you ever had to live outside?
I don't wanna live outside

An estimated 500,000-plus people to live in homelessness on any given day. That number is certainly an undercount. President Biden and the mayors of the two largest cities in the country recently issued dramatic policy proclamations intended to help lower these numbers and right the moral balance of this country. Given how little regard we collectively as a nation have shown the most vulnerable among us up to this point, it’s enough to suspect it won’t be enough.

While some critics have described “Why” as embarrassingly earnest, and a YIMBY could find fault with the vacancy truthing in the first verse (“Why do people have to live outside/When there are buildings all around us/With heat on and no one inside?/Why?”), I’m willing to forgive these foibles for the rare expression of brutal honesty—the point of the song stands, regardless, which is to confront, rather than avoid, the truth. This is rock ’n’ roll serving its higher purpose.

“Why” is also just one of the most conspicuous manifestations of a blockbuster year for songs about places. Like in years past (see lists from 2021, 2020, 2019, and 2018, for example), I collected songs about places throughout the year and supplemented my collection with selections from various end of the year “best of” lists, such as best albums lists provided by Bandcamp and The Quietus and the best songs list from Pitchfork.

Interestingly, both The Quietus and Pitchfork topped their lists with a description of the power of place in music. For The Quietus it was the album I love You Jennifer B by the band Jockstrap (the song “Concrete Over Water” is featured in the playlist below, but the album includes a few additional songs about places). For Pitchfork, the song “Belinda Says” by the band Alvvays conjures up “vivid scenes,” such as “a warm vodka cooler chugged behind a hockey rink” and “a forlorn move to the countryside soundtracked by Belinda Carlisle’s ‘Heaven Is a Place on Earth.’”

Back to Chat Pile—the band attracted plenty of attention for the album that debuted “Why” from their hometown press in Oklahoma City. The band makes a direct connection between their hometown and their music. In the great tradition of bands from Memphis, Detroit, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and New York City, among others, the music of places is a music of social protest.

I found it exceedingly easy to absolutely stuff this playlist with songs about places in 2022. I will add to the playlist as I discover more songs about places in the coming weeks and months, but for now, here are 139 songs, running for over nine hours, about places.

The playlist opens with songs that I think fit a narrative about music and place and wanting the world to be better while recognizing how it falls short, before genre hopping a little through various genres of rock, hip hop, pop, and EDM. I conclude the playlist with a stretch of instrumentals—because place doesn’t always need to be sung with words.

James Brasuell

James Brasuell is a writer and editor, producing web, print, and video content on the subjects of planning, urbanism, and mobility. James has managed all editorial content and direction for Planetizen since 2014 and was promoted to editorial director in 2021.

Chicago Commute

The Right to Mobility

As we consider how to decarbonize transportation, preserving mobility, especially for lower- and middle-income people, must be a priority.

January 26, 2023 - Angie Schmitt

Green bike lane with flexible delineators and textures paint in Hoboken, New Jersey

America’s Best New Bike Lanes

PeopleForBikes highlights some of the most exciting new bike infrastructure projects completed in 2022.

January 31, 2023 - PeopleforBikes

Sharrow bike markings on black asphalt two-lane road with snowy trees

Early Sharrow Booster: ‘I Was Wrong’

The lane marking was meant to raise awareness and instill shared respect among drivers and cyclists. But their inefficiency has led supporters to denounce sharrows, pushing instead for more robust bike infrastructure that truly protects riders.

January 26, 2023 - Streetsblog USA

A tent covered in blue and black tarps sits on a downtown Los Angeles sidewalk with the white ziggurat-topped L.A. City Hall looming in the background

L.A. County Towns Clash Over Homelessness Policies

Local governments often come to different conclusions about how to address homelessness within their respective borders, but varying approaches only exacerbate the problem.

February 3 - Shelterforce Magazine

Rendering of mixed-use development with parks and stormwater retention on former Houston landfill site

A Mixed-Use Vision for Houston Landfill Site

A local nonprofit is urging the city to consider adding mixed-use development to the site, which city officials plan to turn into a stormwater detention facility.

February 3 - Urban Edge

Aerial view of downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin at sunset

Milwaukee County Makes Substantial Progress on Homelessness

In 2022, the county’s point-in-time count of unhoused people reflected just 18 individuals, the lowest in the country.

February 3 - Urban Milwaukee

Write for Planetizen

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.