Ani DiFranco sings Pacifist’s Lament from her 2017 album, Binary.
SONGS OF WAR, PEACE AND PROTEST
We need them to make right an unacceptable wrong
“War can’t give life. It can only take it away.”
That’s Edwin Starr singing from his famous 70s hit War protesting the Vietnam war. “War. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing,” he growled. The 60s counterculture raised its collective fist to his potent anthem. The dissent made the conflict unpopular and helped end it.
There’s no shortage of songs about war, peace and protest. And there’s no shortage of wars waged on our beleaguered planet killing innocent millions.
Last week longtime friend and activist Marc Allain wrote me from Quebec: “I would like to propose … a list of favourite anti-war/peace songs. Could use some these days.”
We need songs about war, peace and protest. Why? Because we want to right an unacceptable wrong. We’re compelled to lay bare war’s ugly truths and make our grief and anger known. We hope for a contagious sharing of sanity and peace to quash the idea that violence is an okay response to conflict. We have to express our unequivocal rejection of war.
As Margaret Mead said: “Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Thanks to readers
A number of Kurated readers responded to the call for contributions to make this playlist. Thank you. Your choices shaped today’s 36-song collection and led me to other songs featured here.
A special thanks to Marc Allain who spent considerable time helping with the song selections.
Notes on a few of the songs
(Editor’s Note: Songs highlighted in blue link to lyrics)
The 36 tracks on the Songs of War, Peace + Protest playlist reflect the varied tastes of Kurated readers combined with my penchant for presenting songs you may not know including little known versions of some you know well.
Songs you may not have heard before include Joni Mitchell’s Fiddle And Drum, Choose Love by Angelique Kidjo, Pacifist’s Lament by Ani DiFranco, We Are Here by Alicia Keys and Waiting On A War by Foo Fighters
Little known versions of songs you might know include Pete Seeger’s acapella version of Where Have All The Flowers Gone (on Spotify. The version on YouTube features banjo too), Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings’ This Land Is Your Land, Cat Power’s What The World Needs Now and Johnny Cash’s live version of Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream.
A number of these songs are new to me. But I was also surprised to learn that tunes I’ve known for decades had war-related themes. Those include the Rolling Stones’ masterpiece Gimme Shelter, Wooden Ships by Crosby, Stills and Nash and the Cranberries’ powerful Zombie.
Fiddle and Drum is a tune written by Joni Mitchell. Her only version online is a fuzzy live take. American supergroup Perfect Circle offers a beautiful rendering.
Lebanon’s Fairuz sings Sanarjiou in Arabic. Now in her late 80s, she is called The Voice of Lebanon and an advocate for immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers who strive to balance their lives before and after crossing borders.
Koolulam, the organization behind the song One Day, organizes mass singalongs around the world with the aim of building unity and solidarity.
Veteran Vancouver band The Fugitives are featured in two songs – The Next Man Who Dies and Bombed Last Night – from their superb 2020 album The Trenches which combines lyrics written by WW1 soldiers and the band’s original melodies. The Fugitives offer moving and sensitive work on the entire album.
Foo Fighters’ David Grohl was inspired to write Waiting On A War after a conversation with his daughter Harper in 2019. “Last fall, as I was driving my daughter to school, she turned to me and asked ‘Daddy, is there going to be a war?'”
Other songs whose lyrics may be of interest include: Where Is The Love, by Black-Eyed Peas and Justin Timberlake, War by Edwin Starr, What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding? by Nick Lowe and Elvis Costello, On With The Song by Mary Chapin Carpenter, Masters of War by Bob Dylan and The Partisan by Leonard Cohen.
28 October 2023