The song was originally written and sung by John Hanlon for a two minute advertisement by New Zealand Fibreglass to promote home insulation. It was part of a wide campaign in the early 1970s lobbying to make home insulation mandatory, and of course the company would benefit by having its home insulation products installed in every new home. It was possibly a brave move by the company, as two minute commercials were extremely rare at that time (still are) and only 10 seconds of the advertisement actually promoted their insulation product, glass fibre Pink® Batts®.
Electricity demands were rising rapidly at that time and the nation had historically built hydro power stations to meet the growing energy needs of the country. Dams, while a renewable resource, destroy much of the local natural environment by flooding vast areas of land. We were running out of rivers that were considered socially acceptable to dam, and insulation of homes was seen as a means of slowing down the ever increasing growth in electricity demand.
The advertising jingle proved so popular that it was released as a single and rose to #5 in the New Zealand hit parade in 1973. Hanlon made a condition of its release that all the profits from the song be donated to environmental causes. The song was then adopted by opponents of the Lake Manapouri hydro power scheme.
Today it’s remembered by most Baby Boomers, of which I am one, as a protest song – younger generations are probably unaware of it’s existence, and for those who are aware, it;s just another NZ folk song. Few remember that it started life as an advertising jingle for home insulation.
It’s odd, looking back to those days, that we young adults were very much into protests. It’s not just a 21st century phenomena that many today’s youth believe it is. We were just as idealistic as they are. In fact I venture that today’s youth is rather tame when compared to the youth of my generation. Among the causes we campaigned against were the Vietnam war and wars in general, gender inequality, nuclear weapons and testing, and in this country nuclear energy, Apartheid and sporting contacts with South Africa, destruction of the environment, whaling, to name just a few. Meanwhile in America and Britain, demonstrations against racial inequality frequently turned into highly destructive riots.
We were a generation with very high ideals, but somewhere along the way, we have been distracted by the needs of providing for self and family. As a generation, I feel were were, and possibly still are, more liberal and slightly more left leaning than the more recent generations. Perhaps it’s a false perception, but I feel that today the world is becoming more conservative, less tolerant than the sixties and seventies, has made definite a lerch to the right, and partisanship is very much more pronounced.
Back to the song Damn The Dam, written and sung by John Hanlon
Damn The Dam, Music and lyrics by John Hanlon, sung by John Hanlon, 1973
Leaf falls to kiss the image of a mountain, the early morning mist has ceased to play. Birds dancing lightly on the branches by a fountain of a waterfall which dazzles with its spray Tall and strong and aged, contented and serene, a kauri tree surveys his grand domain, and for miles and miles around him, a sea of rolling green. Tomorrow all this beauty won't remain. Damn the dam cried the fantail, as he flew into, as he flew into the sky. To give power to the people all this beauty has to die. Rain falls from above and splashes on the ground, goes running down the mountain to the sea. And leaping over pebbles makes such a joyful sound, such as Mother Nature's meant to be. I have grave reflection, reflection of a grave. Trees that once lived green now dead and brown. The homes of tiny animals and little birds as well, for the sake of man's progression have been drowned. Damn the dam cried the fantail, as he flew into, as he flew into the sky. To give power to the people all this beauty has to die. Damn the dam cried the fantail, as he flew into, as he flew into the sky, Damn the dam cried the fantail, as he flew into, as he flew into the sky. To give power to the people all this beauty has to die...