MUSIC

7 of the Best Anti-War Songs

The best protest music transcends time and is always relevant. Today, we need it more than ever.

This morning, Donald Trump authorized a drone strike at Baghdad International Airport that killed Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, Iran's top security and intelligence commander.

Since this action, which The New York Times described as a "serious escalation," the United States has been preparing for potential retaliation.

This event feels like a turning point in the midst of endless conflict between the United States and Iran, a flashpoint that has everyone waiting with bated breath. It's impossible to say at this point whether the strike will merely mark a continuation of previous conflicts or if it will launch a full-blown World War III, but for fear of the latter, some people have been turning to age-old mechanisms of coping with war and fighting for peace: anti-war protest songs.

The history of American war protests is intertwined with music. From Bob Dylan to Bob Marley, from Joan Baez to Jimi Hendrix, anti-war protests of the 1960s marked a glorious ascendance of protest songs, but many of them had their roots in the past, either in gospel or blues or from somewhere else, some undercurrent of defiance.

Many of the greatest protest songs are applicable across movements, accessing a core of anger and solidarity, and that's what each of these songs does. War has never ended; it's only moved and shifted. These songs remind us that the struggle is an age-old one.

  1. Masters of War — Bob Dylan

Very few artists are as synonymous with protest music as Bob Dylan, and "Masters of War" is one of the most damning songs of all of his work. It was written in 1963 as a protest against the nuclear arms buildup of the early 60s, and it's ultimately a treatise against the military industrial complex and all the forces that profit off the deaths of others. "You hide in your mansion / while the young people's blood / flows out of their bodies and is buried in the mud," he sings, one of the most searing lines in protest music.

Bob Dylan - Masters of War (Audio) www.youtube.com


2. War Pigs — Black Sabbath

Black Sabbath's vehement, sprawling f*ck you-ballad to everyone making money off war. The song was the opening track on the album Paranoid, and its original title was "Walpurgis," which references April 30th, a traditional feast day sometimes referred to as the "witch's Sabbath," a holiday with roots in the 8th century. It was released as a protest to Vietnam and the draft but has endured as an anthem to rage at the futility of pointless war.

BLACK SABBATH - "War Pigs" (Live Video) www.youtube.com


3. Redemption Song — Bob Marley

Few voices captured the fear of war and spun it into something like hope as well as Bob Marley. "Redemption Song" is timeless and of its time. With lyrics inspired by Pan-Africanist speaker Marcus Garvey, it speaks to a very specific and universal feeling. It's the last song on Marley's last album, written in 1979 when he was already suffering from cancer, and the stripped-down acoustic version is a mix of pain and faith.

Bob Marley - Redemption Song (from the legend album, with lyrics) www.youtube.com


4. Zombie — The Cranberries

"Zombie" is so catchy that it's easy to forget what it's about, but it was written about the casualties that occurred during the 1993 IRA bombing in Warrington, England as part of the ongoing war between England and Ireland. Dolores O'Riordan wrote the song in 1993, and its release—along with a music video that showed children playing war games and clips of British soldiers—resulted in a ban from the BBC; the video later garnered over a billion views and the song became a protest anthem.

The Cranberries - Zombie (Official Music Video) www.youtube.com


5. Jimi Hendrix — All Along the Watchtower

This cryptic song was written by Bob Dylan, but even Dylan began covering Jimi Hendrix's version when it came out in 1968. The song might be about Vietnam, Armageddon, or the crises of meaning that these kinds of events open up, but its true power is in the sound and the power of Hendrix's guitar skills, perfectionism, and ability to distill centuries of oppression into sound.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience - All Along The Watchtower (Audio) www.youtube.com


6. People Have the Power — Patti Smith

Patti Smith just turned 73, but her song "People Have the Power" is timeless and still resonates just like it did when it was released in 1988. Inspired by the radical spirit of the 1960s, it has since been used in protests everywhere from Greece to Palestine.

Patti Smith - People Have The Power www.youtube.com


7. We Shall Overcome

This song is likely descended from a gospel hymn by Reverend Charles Albert Tindley, who wrote the original version in 1900. The first version of the song as it is today was sung by Lucille Simmons, who was leading a cigar worker's strike in 1945. It was popularized by artists like Pete Seeger and became a seminal song of the Civil Rights Movement when it was performed by Guy Carawan. Then it was used by folk singers like Joan Baez at rallies and concerts of the 1960s. The song's mutability and applicability to so many movements reveal more about what all these movements have in common than anything else—a desire for freedom, equality, and peace, and a faith in the people's ability to get there.

We Shall Overcome www.youtube.com