Machine Gun from Jimi Hendrix came up on my iPod the other day, and it reminded me of some of my favorite anti-war songs. The guitar stoccato of Machine Gun and the haunting lyrics put Jimi’s anti-war anthem near the top. I have two or three live versions and they are all frightening – Jimi’s riffs capture the violence that I imagine that my step-dad and others were experiencing in ‘Nam. It was often played alongside his Star Spangled Banner which is another classic masterpiece. During each of the sections where there are explosives in the air, Jimi unleashes static and fire from his axe. I think there is little doubt to his technical prowess, but what is impressive here is the emotion that he infuses into the songs.
Give Peace a Chance always reminds me of John and Yoko and their Love-in. I have never really been a real Yoko fan, but she certainly had an incredible pacific effect on John. In reading the Beatles biography by Bob Spitz, I learned that the early John Lennon was quite the hell-raiser and would have liked the Beatles to become the world’s first punk band. Although it is Paul that sang the hardest song of the Beatles – Helter Skelter – we get that edgy Lennon voice on Twist and Shout. Anyway, once he met Yoko, his wings got clipped quite a bit, and his style also mellowed out. There are still some great songs in there (Cold Turkey, Wheels…) but Give Peace a Chance is probably one of the greatest anthems that he wrote. The endless chorus reminds us of Hey Jude and other seemingly interminable Beatles songs and the chant-like aspect of it reminds us of some of the Indian-influenced works. Nevertheless, I appreciate the passion of John’s rants (“everyone’s talkin’ about) in the background. Too bad that it took another 3 or 4 years for the government to listen.
Disposable Heroes by Metallica is a blistering attack from the trenches of thrash on perhaps the greatest metal album ever, Master of Puppets. The desperation of the poor cannon fodder and the careless, condescending attitude of military command is blisteringly described by both Kurt’s shredding and James’ vocal attack. The perspective changes to the trench in the slower middle section but, of course, it is too late and, besides, “I was born for dyin!!!”. With all the inherent violence in their music, there is an underlying rejection of the pointless violence in the world and particularly on the battlefield. Perhaps another obvious example of this is “One” on And Justice for All.
Talking World War III Blues is a haunting early Dylan song about the sword of Damocles of nuclear descruction and yet the complete absurdity of living under that threat. Dylan’s misquotes of Abraham Lincoln is classic and particularly his rebuttal “I’ll be in your dream, if I can be in yours” is fantastic. I guess, the thing I appreciate the most about this is the tongue and cheek aspect and how – since we can’t do anything about it at all – Dylan just shrugs it off. There are other songs that are a bit more radical, but this one at the age of only 23 has always been a particular favorite.
War News Blues by Lighting Hopkins is another excellent song sort of like the previous ones. Here Lightning hears about the threats of nuclear war on the radio, but his life and that of those around him is so chaotic that he has a hard time really worrying about it. He is going to “dig me a hole, deep down in the ground” so that he can jump down in it should the alarm go off. I have always love the Texas blues of Lighting and this short song is one of the best off of his 1951 classic, Sings the Blues.
Roger Waters has always been quite outspoken and perhaps went a little far with his 1992 project Amused to Death, his third solo album following the epic Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking and the excellent Radio K.A.O.S. Despite the poor reviews that it received from the critics and its poor sales, I bought it because I have always appreciated Roger’s wit and sarcasm. In The Bravery of Being Out of Range, he picks up the rage I mentioned from Master of Puppets and ironises about the generals in the gulf war. It is not his greatest song, but the lyrics are definitely worth-while.