War. It’s something that all of us has had to deal with in some form, whether now or millennia ago – the dark side to humanity. Such a dire subject that’s touched everyone (soldiers and their families, citizens forced to flee their countries, even those who merely see pictures of war on their television screens from the safety of their own home) has of course had a major effect on art. Art is a carrier for strong emotions, I think we can all agree, and what other subject can bring on such a varied assortment of emotions than war?
“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.” -MLK
As a form of protest, as a way of speaking out about the injustices of war, and also a way of thanking soldiers for what they and their families give up, singers have made some of the most iconic works. You know some of them by heart surely, the Vietnam covering ‘Gimme Shelter’ by The Rolling Stones (“it’s just a shot away” anyone?), ‘What’s Going On’ a track by Marvin Gaye on an incident of police brutality against protestors of war, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s ‘Fortunate Son’, and let us not forget ‘Imagine’ by John Lennon. The next five songs go through the connection of war, music, and it’s impact on us.
1. Lucky Man – Emerson, Lake & Palmer
“A bullet had found him, his blood ran as he cried / No money could save him, so he laid down and died.” From progressive rock group Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s 1970 self-titled debut, ‘Lucky Man’ details the tale of a privileged man who has everything one could ask for and goes to war and dies. While the lyrics are quite simple, the song’s echoing Moog synthesizer make the words all the more haunting, leaving an impact.
2. Us And Them – Pink Floyd
“God only knows / It’s not what we would choose to do.” The lyrics to ‘Us And Them’, written by Pink bassist Roger Waters for the 1973 blockbuster ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ album provide a commentary on the senselessness of war. Those eleven words sum up warfare with a sort of tired sarcasm, that’s at once defeatist and hopeful, something most can surely find relatable. In addition to ‘Us and Them’, Pink Floyd was known for their scathing critiques on society, with albums such as ‘The Wall’ (mainly inspired by Waters’ father’s service and ultimately death in World War II) and ‘Animals’ – a LP taking inspiration from George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ novella.
3. Hammer To Fall – Queen
“What the hell are we fighting for.” I’m slightly prejudiced in adding this song to the list, as I feel every article should include Queen, but get this – it actually relates to the matter at hand. Off of their 1984 ‘The Works’ album, ‘Hammer To Fall’ the track was written on the paranoia of having a bomb dropped during the Cuban missile crisis. Guitarist and songwriter Brian May stated on the song: “The mushroom cloud thing was for me [a] very real part of my childhood through the Cuba crisis. We thought the bomb was about to drop, and I used to have dreams about that.”
4. Orange Crush – R.E.M.
“We are agents of the free / I’ve had my fun and now it’s time to serve your conscience overseas.” A reminder of what soldiers had to go through in Vietnam, R.E.M.’s ‘Orange Crush’ was released in 1988 off their sixth album, ‘Green’. Singer/lyricist Michael Stipe’s father served in the the Vietnam War, and the song details a football player leaving home to fight.
5. Zombie – The Cranberries
“Another head hangs lowly / Child is slowly taken / And the violence, caused such silence / Who are we mistaken?” The intro to The Cranberries 1994 hit single, ‘Zombie‘, is almost uncomfortably confronting. Written about the violence of the clashes between Ireland and the UK, and in memorial of two boys who were killed in an IRA bombing, the track forces us to think about the costs of war.