By Andy Baker
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With every war, there are songs. Music and war have always had an intimate bond. For Many, music provided a source of hope, sanity and pleasure amidst the horrors of war. For those of us who never served in the military, songs even become the way we remember a war. The images from Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now always pop into my mind when I hear the song “The End by the Doors”. The Vietnam war came at a time when rock music was peaking in popularity. At the same time, this was a first time in US history that the population was so divided on the decision to deploy troops.
With this came a plethora of music in protest of the actions abroad. Unparalleled outpourings of poetry were set to music by the foremost composers of the day. This was the first war in which GIs listened to antiwar and protest songs while fighting in the conflict. Frank Zappa was known to say that the young were not loyal to flag, country or doctrine, but only to music.
In previous wars, the music had always been a source of strength, support and unification. Music succeeds in telling the real stories of the people fighting the wars. Something the Television seems to controlled and censored to do.
Some of my favorite songs related to war:
“Ohio” by Crosby Stills Nash and Young, this anthem was written by Neil Young in reaction to the shootings at Kent State University in May of 1970 while students protested the war in Vietnam. Young was inspired by photos of the incident in Life Magazine.
“Man in Black” by Johnny Cash refers both to Cash’s tendency to wear black at live shows and to the tumultuous times in which the song was created, implying the Vietnam War.
“Orange Crush” by R.E.M. refers to the chemical defoliant Agent Orange used in the Vietnam war. Singer Michael Stipe said that the song is about a young American football player leaving the comforts of home for the war in Vietnam. Just as Stipes father had done.
“Born in the USA” by Bruce Springsteen traces the working class origins of a man sent from a small town to fight in the Vietnam war, only to return to face many hardships as a veteran. The anthemic chorus contrasts strongly to the desperate narrative of the verses which is said to reflect the social and economic siege of the American blue collar communities.
“Sunday Bloody Sunday” by the band U2 is the opening track from their 1983 album titled War. This song describes a protest in Derry Ireland where British troops shot and killed unarmed protestors and bystanders who were there to rally against imprisonment without trial.
“Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival’s lyrics argue that it is the fathers of the fortunate sons—”senators,” “millionaires”—who got America entangled in Vietnam, but it is the sons of the powerless—disproportionately poor, black, and brown—who have to pay the ultimate price.
“Imagine” by John Lennon encourages listeners to imagine a world without the need for military, in a world that is only peaceful and free from life attached to material possessions.
“War Pigs” by Black Sabbath, voted in the top 10 metal songs ever speaks out against the rich who made decisions to send the poor to war.
“Mother” from Pink Floyd’s the Wall tells a part of the story of an alienated rock star named Pink. The lyrics reveal the reason for this alienation is because of an overprotective single mother who lost her husband, Pink’s father in World War 2. The listener learns of the overprotectiveness of Pinks mother, who is helping Pink build his wall to protect him from the outside world.
“War” by Edwin Starr was one of the most popular anti war songs ever written. Upon its release in 1970 it held the number 1 position on the charts for 3 weeks. This song was originally recorded by the Temptations, but later was decided by Motown records that this could alienate them from some of their more conservative fans and it was re-recorded by Edwin Starr. It was the most successful song of his career.
“Masters” of War by Bob Dylan. The lyrics for this song prove again the genius of Dylan. His approach oh this protest was to go after the entire military-industrial complex that Dwight D. Eisenhower had warned us about in his famous farewell address speech from the oval office.
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Masters of War
Come you masters of war You that build the big guns
You that build the death planes
You that build all the bombs
You that hide behind walls
You that hide behind desks
I just want you to know I can see through your masks
You that never done nothin’
But build to destroy
You play with my world
Like it’s your little toy
You put a gun in my hand
And you hide from my eyes
And you turn and run farther
When the fast bullets fly
Like Judas of old
You lie and deceive
A world war can be won
You want me to believe
But I see through your eyes
And I see through your brain
Like I see through the water
That runs down my drain
You fasten all the triggers
For the others to fire
Then you sit back and watch
When the death count gets higher
You hide in your mansion
While the young people’s blood
Flows out of their bodies
And is buried in the mud
You’ve thrown the worst fear
That can ever be hurled
Fear to bring children
Into the world
For threatening my baby
Unborn and unnamed
You ain’t worth the blood
That runs in your veins
How much do I know
To talk out of turn
You might say that I’m young
You might say I’m unlearned
But there’s one thing I know
Though I’m younger than you
That even Jesus would never
Forgive what you do
Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good?
Will it buy you forgiveness
Do you think that it could?
I think you will find
When your death takes its toll
All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul
And I hope that you die
And your death’ll come soon
I will follow your casket
By the pale afternoon
And I’ll watch while you’re lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I’ll stand o’er your grave
‘Til I’m sure that you’re dead