1969 | Rock
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"If there's a man who is down and needs a helpin' hand, all it takes is you to understand and to pull him through, ah hah. -- Seems to me we got to solve it individually, ah ah and I'll do unto you what you do to me."
- Written by Felix Cavaliere and Eddie Brigati. The song hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 & #14 on the R&B charts.
- Writer Dave Marsh included it as number 237 in his book Heart of Rock and Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles of All Time.
- The 5th Dimension recorded "People Got to Be Free" in 1970 with Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come." The medley hit #60 on the Billboard Pop Singles chart.
- Dionne Warwick also had a notable cover version of it.
THE HOT TAKES
You've probably heard this song many times. It's a smooth jam, and of course the major point here is absolutely true. There's a beautiful nugget hiding in here, that is about as libertarian as it gets: "Seems to me, we got to solve it individually, and I'll do unto you what you do to me." To say it another way, the individual human beings on this earth have to adopt the mindset that freedom is valuable. what complicates matters in the real world is that people want to be free themselves, but rarely extend this same desire to those around them. I'll be grossly oversimplifying here, but imagine how many people you have encountered that "believe in freedom," but then follow that with "BUT..." More than a few, right? Republicans fall into things like favoring freedom of association, but wanting a strong military funded by taxes. Democrates make the same mistakes, supporting freedom for drug use but believing in major welfare programs, which are again funded by taxes. It's not "freedom" to be on the hook for the price tag of programs you don't use. Let's join The Rascals and aim for a world where individuals believe in freedom for all.
“All we got to do to be free is love one another, man!” It’s a sentiment you hear expressed in a lot of songs from a certain era and from the neo-hippies, and bernie bros of today. The thing is, lack of love is not the problem. The problem is people won’t stay out of other people's business and often portray robbing the haves as the loving thing to do for the have nots. I would say, all we got to do is leave people alone to live their lives as they see fit and encourage people to help those in their own communities of their own free will. That’s real love. If you want to define it that way, then I’m down.
This song does get it right when it says we have to solve it individually and “learn to live together” which I take as the idea that we have to negotiate our own peace with our neighbors. We are more than capable of doing that, but most have just never learned the skills because they have been told for a long time by the government that they are helpless without them. Well we are capable and we don't need them to manage every aspect of our lives.
So this song objectively sounds best pumped out of some 1990s Dodge Caravan speakers and wrapped in the glow of nostalgia. It will always sound that way to me so...lucky. Childhood camping trips aside i'm always excited to go into the way back machine and see some of the lyrics to these pop gems that may have been forgotten and are realistically from before my time. This particular number i like because on the surface it has a flower childish hippie vibe but has some key moments in the lyrics where it gets away from collective responsibility. I think this is a distinction that many people lose with libertarians. I don't believe there are truly that many brutalists out there salivating over a Mad Max styled dystopia. Quite the contrary. Benevolence is alive and well amongst us. We simply don't approve on violence being the core funding mechanism, perhaps. The inclusion of that tiny word "individually" makes all the difference in meaning for this song. I personally think we should help those around us and revel in our communities voluntarily. This is a task that can only be carried out by individuals acting in concert.