Because there always seems to be some war or another going on, these ten best rock songs about war are always timely. Rock music has always been anti-establishment, so naturally it has produced a seemingly bottomless amount of anti-war songs. If you want pro-war songs, go elsewhere, like maybe a Toby Keith album.
- “War” Edwin Starr. What is war good for? Absolutely nothing. At least, according to this song performed by Edwin Starr. It’s somewhat surprising that the pre-eminent Vietnam War protest song came not from hippies but from Motown, but maybe it took something a little edgier than the flower children could provide to get the point across.
- “Sunday Bloody Sunday” U2. U2 have never shied away from political songs, and this song about war is both one of their most political and one of their best. It was inspired by the Bloody Sunday massacre in Northern Ireland, during which British troops shot and killed thirteen protesters, and is a call for an end to the sectarian violence that plagued Northern Ireland for so long.
- “With God on Our Side” Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan wrote more than a few anti-war songs in his day, but this one is perhaps his most effective. It is a song deflating the false sense of righteousness and piety held by so many during times of war and the unwavering belief that their cause is just.
- “Ohio” Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Written in reaction to the Kent State shootings in 1970, this song was inspired by the sense of outrage that the band and many others felt toward not only the Vietnam War, but the government’s attempt to suppress protests against it.
- “Give Peace a Chance” John Lennon & the Plastic Ono Band. All John Lennon was saying was “Give peace a chance.” There isn’t much to the song beyond that message, but coming from one of the most famous musicians in history it at least reached a few ears.
- “Born in the U.S.A.” Bruce Springsteen. It is certainly ironic how often this song has been misused as a jingoistic, “Go America!” anthem by those who never actually paid attention to it. But with lyrics like “Got in a little hometown jam so they put a rifle in my hand, sent me to a foreign land to go and kill the yellow man,” there is a definite anti-Vietnam War meaning to “Born in the U.S.A.”
- “Us and Them” Pink Floyd. This song is a bit more subtle than some of the other tracks on this list, but it is a song about war nonetheless. Specifically, it deals with how ordinary men are merely cogs in the war machine. “God only knows it’s not what we would choose to do,” go the lyrics.
- “If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next” Manic Street Preachers. This song is a warning to all who would look the other way as their government wages wars in their name. Today it’s someone else looking down the barrel of a rifle; tomorrow it’s your own children.
- “One” Metallica. Based on the novel “Johnny Got His Gun” (the film adaptation of which was used as the basis for the song’s music video), this Metallica song is about a World War I soldier who lost the use of both his limbs and his senses and thus was trapped inside his own mind. It’s a pretty horrific story, and an effective cautionary tale about the possible outcomes of military violence.
- “B.Y.O.B.” System of a Down. System of a Down trick you into thinking you’re hearing a song about partying and then BAM! They slyly turn it into an anti-war message. “Why don’t Presidents fight the war? Why do they always send the poor?” Why indeed.
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