War Songs

Blogging has been lite lately, but in response to Phil's subtle nudges, I've decided to offer up my own list of war songs.  I'm approaching this from a more general angle of "war songs" as opposed to songs that are strictly anti-war.  These songs are not necessarily supposed to reflect any particular personal views of war–they just happen to be drawn from the general body of music that I grew up listening to.  That said, there are most certainly some common themes.  

As a general rule I will list songs by song title and then artist.  Some of these will probably be songs/bands that many people are familiar with, but others less so (as an aside, it was almost a sport in high school to seek out rare and obscure records–not because the music was particularly good, but that's how you win, duh).

  1. The Trooper — Iron Maiden: (Song link)  Everything about this song is amazing–the narrative, the guitar work–everything.  The guitar riffs in particular are simply classic.  But aside from the musical component, the lyrics are especially good, as they tell a graphic and coherent story.  Furthermore, this story takes us back a ways to a time when we're talking about fighting with muskets and cavalry charges.  I mean just look at the imagery!
  2. Aces High — Iron Maiden: (Song link)  Yes, another Maiden joint.  They're fantastic.  Anywho, unlike the Trooper, Aces High is all about dog fights.  The guitar work is again phenomenal, having this sort of frantic quality to it that matches up with the song's lyrics quite well.  The chorus serves as a nice foil to the rest of the song and gives the listener a sense that they are almost soaring through the air.  
  3. World War II — English Dogs: (Song link)  The English Dogs made a transition shortly after this song toward more of a punk-metal style, some of which is available on the iTunes.  Nowhere near the more poetic and technical styling of an Iron Maiden tune, this song has nevertheless always stuck with me.  I think what's always fascinated me about this song is the context in which it was written.  During the early to mid 1980s many other English punk bands were (as the song suggests) singing about the perils of nuclear war and the impending nuclear apocalypse.  This seems sort of obvious given the backdrop of the Cold War at the time.  Alternatively, this song points out that World War II was a pretty hellish experience, and in so doing, sort of asks the question, "what more do you want?"  
  4. War Ensemble — Slayer: (Song link)  This is probably one of their more aggressive/famous songs, and the connection is pretty obvious.  Their lyrics are also incredibly graphic, which I think is appropriate given that war is a pretty miserable thing.  We don't need to experience it directly to know that it's not something that we should seek out for enjoyment.  That said, we're surrounded by music, movies, video games, etc., that try to find the poetry or excitement in an otherwise hellish experience, and I think this song speaks to the far darker aspects of war.  Like Iron Maiden, but in a totally different way, old-school Slayer has a way about them when it comes to evoking a particular type of imagery.  Honorable mention should also go to "Hallowed Point" (Song link) which is also on the Seasons in the Abyss album.  While this song is not directly about war, I think it definitely relates quite closely.  
  5. Generals — GBH: (Song link)  Another song that has stuck with me for a long time.  This song speaks to a few different points, but I think the most important of them are these ideas of the exploitation and manipulation of the common foot soldier, and asking these questions about why/how an individual is told to fight.  The song ends by raising these questions of the human costs that are incurred, and combined with the chorus, I think does a successful job at linking these themes of serving some abstract and higher cause with the aforementioned micro-level themes of the human suffering and costs (of those on the winning side, might I add).  
  6. Let's Start a War — The Exploited: (Song link)  This speaks to some of the same themes as the previous song, but I think it more directly speaks to the different costs that are incurred by members of different classes in society.  I've never been a huge fan of the Exploited, but this is another song that I've always remembered.
  7. Viva la Revolution — The Adicts: (Song link)  Not so much about war in an interstate sense, but more about social upheaval and civil conflict.  Still, a great song and perhaps appropriate given the current state of things around the world.  This band was a great one in large part because of their style–they drew heavily on clockwork orange imagery for the band's (and especially the lead singer's) look.  While not as graphic as the other songs, this was just a really fun one. 

I'm sure there are probably some songs that I'm leaving out, so this list may be revised if I think of anything.  My thanks to Phil for the idea–I had a lot of fun thinking about this idea and sifting through my music collection.  And as I mentioned before, some of these songs don't necessarily have a particular message about war itself, but when you comb through this stuff it just reminds you how influential warfare has been in shaping the musical world.

Michael Flynn

About Michael Flynn

Michael Flynn is currently an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at Kansas State University. He received his Ph.D. in Political Science from Binghamton University in 2013. His research focuses on the political and economic determinants of foreign economic and security policy, security issues, and state repression.

3 Replies to “War Songs”

  1. Hey Phil,
    Thanks. I liked that song by a perfect circle in particular. I remember hearing a couple of their songs a few years ago but not a whole lot. I agree that he has a pretty cool voice. He sounds like a pretty interesting guy from what I read about him (that he happened to attend a military academy was fitting given the theme here).
    I also reposted some links for the actual songs. Should have done that in addition to the lyrics in the first place.

Leave a Reply