13 Songs About Poverty And Hard Times

Written by Dan Farrant
Last updated

Music, as art, often reflects the truths of the human condition. One of the unfortunate realities of the human experience is financial hardship.

Those who have felt the stress and pain of it have found many songs to relate to. Notably, these tunes sensitively discuss and illuminate poverty as a theme. They also show us the realities of what it’s like to be poor.

Below you’ll find 13 songs about poverty and hard times. We believe these are the ones that best address the issue. Enjoy reading!

1. “Another Day In Paradise” By Phil Collins

First, we have “Another Day In Paradise,” a song over three decades old but with lyrics that are just as relevant today. The song leads into Phil Collins‘ soothing voice, which utters the iconic first lyrics, “She calls out to the man on the street/Sir can you help me?”

This is a song that talks about being poor in the lyrics. It follows an unknown woman bearing the scars of poverty as she seeks help from indifferent bystanders. She calls out to people who “pretend” they cannot hear her. The chorus juxtaposes her situation with “another day in paradise.”

Collins is juxtaposing people in need with those that can provide. The song remains resonant because the woman’s situation is felt by populations today. They call out to neighbors, governments, and others who turn a deaf ear.

2. “Like A Rolling Stone” By Bob Dylan

If you’re looking for an iconic song, be sure to listen to Bob Dylan‘s “Like A Rolling Stone.” It is a masterpiece of storytelling through implication. The song is from the perspective of someone who knows “Miss Lonely.” She used to “laugh about everybody that was hanging out” but now finds herself in their situation.

Dylan’s lyrics imply that someone robbed Miss Lonely blind. It forces her into life on the streets and forces her to resort to less-than-ideal means to pay her rent.

“Like a Rolling Stone” is over 50 years old. But it still retains its power to compel the listener because of its atmospheric organ and guitar arrangement. And of course, there are powerful, poetic lyrics, even if Bob Dylan’s voice is an acquired taste.

3. “Atlantic City” By Bruce Springsteen

From the jump, Bruce Springsteen‘s “Atlantic City” is a heavy, heartbreaking exploration of poverty. It is narrated by someone who “has debts that no honest man can pay.” The song touches on urban crime plaguing the northeastern United States before the main character reveals his own story.

He has tried to save money but is collapsing under the weight of poverty. He discusses the nature of life and death as he tells the story of buying two tickets to Atlantic City with his lover.

Further, the song mentions poverty compelling a man to do unlawful things. The implication is that he has decided to leave for Atlantic City to take on a job for the mob. Poverty has left him with no choice.

4. “The A Team” By Ed Sheeran

Don’t let this song’s upbeat sound fool you. It handles some very dark subject matter, such as addiction, delusion, and broken dreams. But Ed Sheeran‘s thoughtful lyrics in “The A Team” balance these difficult topics perfectly.

Sheeran wrote this song when he was 18 after he performed a gig at a homeless shelter. It led him to create the song’s main character, “Angel.” She was a woman who shared with Sheeran her experience as a homeless woman addicted to Class-A drugs.

Most of us know someone who struggles with addiction. There are people like “Angel” who are trying to get back together but are pressed down by the weight of bad luck and for whom “the air is too cold” to fly.

5. “Fast Car” By Tracy Chapman

Are you familiar with Tracy Chapman? Then you know that her brand of alternative rock was always lyrically strong. However, she outdid herself with 1988’s “Fast Car.” In this song, the narrator seeks “a ticket to anywhere” and an escape from her alcoholic father.

The song follows her relationship with her significant other, with whom she runs away. But their relationship declines. They end up in a similar situation: making ends meet and wanting to escape once again.

Numerous artists have covered this song because of its universality. It reflects some of us who yearn to escape dead-end jobs and difficult circumstances.

6. “Fortunate Son” By Creedence Clearwater Revival

Not a usual pick among songs that discuss poverty. But Creedence Clearwater Revival‘s “Fortunate Son” is among the most iconic rock songs ever written.

Our narrator defiantly yells, “It ain’t me! It ain’t me! I ain’t no senator’s son, no!” in the song’s chorus. To better understand this, let us go back to 1969 when John Fogerty wrote the song. He tells us he comes from the class of society that could not avoid service in the Vietnam war through connections in the government or among the rich.

Simple and blunt in its execution, “Fortunate Son” points out another aspect related to poverty that still rings true today. When the rich wage war, it is the poor who go and do the fighting.

7. “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)” By Jay-Z

This is a song that talks about the hard life in the title. American rapper Jay-Z‘s “Hard Knock Life” uses one of the most perfectly placed samples in musical history. You’ll hear children’s voices singing “It’s the hard knock life for us” in the chorus. This came from the Broadway play Annie.

Jay-Z tells us the story of his American dream in the song that made him a superstar. He sheds light on the realities of life in New York City’s ghetto. These include circumstances that black people have to face in urban environments.

Jay-Z sets this song apart with something that is less present in many tunes about poverty: hope. He raps about how determination got him through his childhood and to his current success.

8. “Do They Know It’s Christmas” By Band Aid

The songs “Do They Know It’s Christmas” may be more related to a specific season, but that does not make it any less touching. Bob Geldof assembled some of the most popular musical acts to raise money for the Ethiopian famine of 1983-1985. Geldof organized Live Aid concerts and was the frontman of Boomtown Rats.

This song remains popular because the lyrics point out the truth of the holiday season. That we forget about the poor, struggling, and suffering once the Christmas lights go up.

There is a whole world out there that does not “feel” the Christmas spirit. And so the song implores that you “spare a thought this yuletide for the deprived.”

9. “If There’s A God In Heaven” By Elton John

This song by Elton John may be less strong as a work of storytelling. But the question contained in the lyrics still resonates with the listener.

“If There’s a God in Heaven” deals with hungry children as a result of poverty. John touches on this in the very first verse before asking, “If there’s a God in heaven, what’s he waiting for?”

The question points out the injustices children and poor people are led into every day. It equates these people to “lambs” led to the slaughter. Its powerful imagery and John’s voice make this song a classic in handling this challenging, depressing subject.

10. “Even Flow” By Pearl Jam

It’s remarkable how Pearl Jam‘s lead vocalist Eddie Vedder never shied from a challenge. That’s evident in the fact that “Even Flow” is about an illiterate homeless person.

The story’s protagonist “rests his head on a pillow made of concrete.” He prays to a God that has never helped him. The song also shows just how much society misunderstands those who are in deep poverty.

Times may have improved since 1992 in Vedder’s native Seattle. But the city’s homeless population still suffers. People would do well to have the empathy that the song’s narration demonstrates.

11. “I Need A Dollar” By Aloe Blacc

Many of us have been in a situation where we were in dire need of help. Most especially financial help. Aloe Blacc wrote “I Need a Dollar” after his company fired him from his job as a business consultant.

The world around him was “falling down.” He thought about other people in the same and even worse situations. He managed to capture the feeling perfectly through this song, and it became an instant hit. Much of the general public knew what it felt like to “need a dollar” and to work themselves to the bone.

Luckily for Aloe Blacc, he never had to get another job again and could dedicate his life to music, bringing us several great songs beyond this one.

12. “Is This The World We Created?” By Queen

If there was someone who never shut his eyes to the world around him, that was Queen‘s lead vocalist Freddie Mercury. With this song, he opened other people’s eyes to the plight of others after he saw a documentary about poverty in Africa.

Instead of simply telling a story, Mercury invites listeners to take responsibility for their fellow men. He asks rhetorical questions such as, “Is this the world we created?” and “Is this what we’re living for today?”

Far from making the public feel accused, the song played to cheers at Live Aid when Queen played it for an encore. He wanted to remind fans again of the poverty plaguing many people worldwide.

13. “The Borders” By Sam Fender

With this song coming out in 2019, “The Borders” is a spiritual successor to those of Springsteen and Dylan. Sam Fender‘s inspiration came from his own life when his parents separated when he was just eight.

The song’s story follows two young men growing up “like brothers” in Northeast England. They are from families that “don’t have a penny” between them. It shows how poverty has created a cycle of anger, violence, and broken relationships.

“The Borders” has become a staple on this young star’s setlists, with crowds yelling, “We don’t have a penny between us, holding up this tin that we live in.”

Summing Up Our List Of Poverty Songs

As our list of songs showed you, being poor is something we don’t want to happen to us. Unfortunately, it is a reality that many people face. And it makes us feel bad that many of them find it difficult to get out of the situation.

Anyway, we hope you enjoyed this look at our choices for the best songs about poverty. We like to think that these ones touch on this topic beautifully, using different musical styles to go with the lyrics.

As you listen to these songs, we also hope you find it in your heart to spread kindness, especially to the ones who need it the most.

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Dan Farrant, the founder of Hello Music Theory, has been teaching music for over 15 years, helping hundreds of thousands of students unlock the joy of music. He graduated from The Royal Academy of Music in 2012 and then launched Hello Music Theory in 2014. He plays the guitar, piano, bass guitar and double bass and loves teaching music theory.