#7. “I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-To-Die Rag”.
Although recorded by Country Joe and the Fish, it was Joe McDonald’s solo acoustic version at the 1969 Woodstock Music and Arts Festival that brought the song world-wide attention.
Rousing the 300,000 odd festival goers with his infamous F chant Joe’s song was a no-holds-barred cynical exhortation to American parents to “be the first on your block to have your boy come home in a box”.
#6. “Civil War”.
This song began as a Slash instrumental before Axl Rose added lyrics and together, Guns N’ Roses finalised it in Melbourne, Australia in 1990. The song condemns war as “feed(ing) the rich and burying the poor”.
In an interview Axl Rose replies that the memory of attending a peace march with his mother when he was 4 years old helped meld the lyrics. At the end of the song Axl Rose can be heard poignantly asking “what’s so civil about war anyway?”
#5. “Peace Train”.
In 1971 this was Cat Stevens’ first US Top 10 hit and became one of his best known songs. Stevens later converted to Islam, changed his name to Yusuf Islam and became a recluse. However, during the Iraq War he commented that “Peace Train is a song I wrote; the message of which continues to breeze thunderously through the hearts of millions”.
Coming out of seclusion, Stevens performed the song live at the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony.
#4. “Universal Soldier”.
Buffy Sainte-Marie supposedly wrote this song in a Toronto coffee house in 1964 and recorded it. It was not until Donovan recorded and released it in 1965, though, that it gained any popularity.
With it’s claim that the universal soldier could be anyone of us, “a Catholic, a Hindu , an Atheist, a Jain, a Buddhist and a Baptist and a Jew”, Sainte-Marie’s song reminded us that we are all implicated in the machinery of war. And so, we all have responsibility for seeing the end of war.
“Rachel?” I hear you ask, “what’s that song?”. It’s not frequently played but I have put it at #3 because of it’s ability to bring the harsh realities of war right into our safe homes. The song tells the story of a family gathering around to read a letter from their daughter. Rachel is a nurse in a war (most interpretations assume the Vietnam War) and tells the sorry tale of her “bandag(ing) their blinded eyes, ma”, whilst around her men are “dying like flies” and children have “aching feet (and) nothing to eat”.
Written by an English song-writer (Roger Froggatt) it was the Australian, Russel Morris, who made it famous. Morris’ version pulls at the heart strings, it is almost as if you are one of the family listening to the letter being read. It is almost with familial relief that you hear Morris sing at last “Rachel’s coming home, Rachel's coming home”.
In a nice contradiction to the harsh realities mentioned in the lyrics the video of Morris singing this song chose to have him singing with a simple backdrop of flowers opening.
Simply titled, powerfully sung and orchestrated, this song was originally vocalised by The Temptations for Motown Records. Motown kept getting requests for the song to be released as a single. Norman Whitfield (one of the co-writers along with Barrett Strong) selected Edwin Starr as the vocalist for the release.
Starr’s vocals had much greater intensity than those of The Temptations and the song remained at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts for three weeks in September and October 1970.
The song got a makeover in 1986 when Bruce Springsteen again took it to the Top 10. Springsteen played it live for a few years. He resurrected it in 2003 as a protest against the Iraq War.
Echoing the line in Country Joe’s song (#7) about a boy coming home in a box the song describes war as being “a friend only to the Undertaker”. The writers and Starr repeatedly ask “War, what is it good for?” and end up with the simple answer “Absolutely nothing”.
#1. “Give Peace A Chance”.
Number One because of it’s anthemic qualities. With it’s simple lyrics and catchy tune “Give Peace A Chance” has been sung at countless anti-war marches and demonstrations around the world.
|John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Bed-in for Peace|
(Amsterdam and Montreal 1969)
It has shaped history also. Yet, without a simple question from a journalist the song may never have been written. The journalist asked John what he hoped to achieve by staying in bed. John’s answer became the line we all now know: “All we are saying is give peace a chance”.