The Greatest Songs About War & Peace
It's one of the most important days on the Australian calendar today, Anzac Day, a time to remember and thank the women and men who have served this country, and for those who gave their lives to protect our freedoms.
But the reasons for war can often be controversial, and musicians have led the charge for peace and against war on a number of occasions. We take a look at some of the greatest and most beautiful songs about war and about peace.
Lest we forget.
For What It’s Worth by Buffalo Springfield (1967)
Composed by the one and only Stephen Stills, this song was directed mainly, but not exclusively towards, the war in Vietnam. It was written to represent the rising turbulence between adolescents and ‘the man’ (the Police) when Pandora’s Box, a club on Sunset Strip, was closed down.(The closing of said box is said to have started the ‘Sunset Strip Riots.’) It has been speculated in the past that the song was written about the 1970 Kent State shootings, but those people obviously can’t read a calendar.
Eve of Destruction by Barry McGuire (1965)
Poor old P. F. Sloane wrote this one and asked the Byrds to record it as a kind of ‘Dylanesque’ ballad, but they turned it down. Barry McGuire came along, recorded and released it, and surprisingly made quite a hit of it. The lyrics warn of an oncoming apocalypse due to violence and the desensitising of the human race. It’s been said that this little ditty is the epitome of protest songs, encapsulating the frustration felt by young Americans during the Cold War, Vietnam and the Civil Rights Movement.
Zombie by The Cranberries (1994)
Anyone who grew up in the nineties knows this song like the back of their hand. Written by Dolores O’Riordan about the ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland, the song , annoying as it is, explores the harrowing effect war has on children. The video clip includes footage of actual British troops patrolling the border of Northern Ireland. They were told they were being filmed for a documentary.
Peace Train by Cat Stevens (1971)
Possibly one of the most famous anti-war songs ever, Stevens admits it is a song that has made him a lot of money. Catchy and upbeat, it could almost bypass you as a protest hymn. After he converted to Islam, Stevens (now known as Yusuf Islam) was quoted as saying, “’Peace Train’ is a song I wrote, the message of which continues to breeze thunderously through the hearts of millions. There is a powerful need for people to feel that gust of hope rise up again. As a member of humanity and as a Muslim, this is my contribution to the call for a peaceful solution.” I’ll have whatever he’s having.
I was only 19 by Redgum (1983) If you were born and bred in Australia you’ll have heard this song. Probably one of THE most recognisable for several generations of Aussies, it was written by John Schumann after he heard of the experiences of Vietnam War from veterans, namely his brother-in-law. The song takes a journey from experience of joining up, being a young digger in the throes of battle, and coming home to find no-one wants you. To this day, all royalties from this song go to the Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia. The Herd introduced it to a new generation of Australians when they covered it for Triple J’s like a version in 2005.
War Pigs by Black Sabbath (1970)
‘War Pigs’ is an anti-war song in so far as anyone can decipher from Ozzy Osbourne’s muddled lyrics. It was composed in 1970, borne from the renovation of a song that was originally titled ‘Walpurgis’ and contained lyrics dealing with the witches’ Sabbath. Reworked as the ultimate teenage war protest anthem, the opening number on Black Sabbath’s album ‘Paranoid’ and is one of their best songs.
Fortunate Son by Creedence Clearwater Revival (1969)
A Creedence classic! Sound tracking the Vietnam War, it seems to be included in any film set during the Vietnam War or the conflict’s aftermath (Forrest Gump anyone?) “Some folks are born/Silver Spoon in hand”, ruminates on those lucky enough to have the influence to escape the draft.
We Shall Overcome by Joan Baez (1963)
Originally a protest song during the Civil Rights Movement in the USA, this seminal tune soundtracks just about any protest movement of the 20th Century. Adopted by Baez in 1963 when she led a crowd of 300, 000 in singing it at Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington, possibly her most famous performance of this particular song was at Woodstock in 1969. Baez’s husband David Harris, a well-known anti-Vietnam protestor was jailed for draft resistance prior to this performance, and she paid tribute to him during her set.
Give Peace a Chance by The Plastic Ono Band (1969)
Written by John Lennon during his ‘Bed-In’ honeymoon with Yoko Ono, this song quickly became the American anti-war anthem of the era. Trivia fact! Because the Beatles had not broken up at the time of song composition, old mate Paul actually got a credit for the song. One of the most widely-known Lennon songs, it was sung by half a million demonstrators in the nation’s capital on Vietnam Moratorium Day in 1969.
Masters of War by Bob Dylan
There could be no other number one. Unfortunately, thanks to Sony, there is no footage on the internet of Bob actually singing this, so we gave you the next best thing – Pearl Jam covering it. Bobby D was interviewed about this song the day before 9/11 and said that it, “is supposed to be a pacifistic song against war. It’s not an anti-war song. It’s speaking against what Eisenhower was calling a ‘military-industrial complex’ as he was making his exit from his presidency. That spirit was in the air, and I picked it up.” Still talking in riddles then.
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