I have a huge love of music, and have wanted to fuse my love for it with politics for a long time. I’ve always been a huge classic rock and somewhat a heavy metal fan. However, as I recently started collected vinyl, I’ve come to appreciate certain albums and genres even more. Certain bands have come to grow on me, and I’ve listened to songs I probably never would have if I hadn’t bought the whole album.
I was recently listening to Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Fortunate Son, and I thought of all the great songs that were based on war. Conflict and politics can produce great music. The two have motivated some of the greatest artists to ever live to produce some of the greatest music ever produced. This article will focus solely on classic rock and a little bit of heavy metal. Here’s a list of some of the best conflict-based songs.
Black Sabbath – War Pigs/Luke’s Wall
The song begins with Tony Iommi’s slow, deliberate, and almost evil guitar. For those who don’t know the secret behind Sabbath’s evil sound, Tony Iommi accidentally cut off three of his fingertips while working at a factory in Birmingham, England. He made three small prosthetics for himself. However, he had to tune his guitar lower than normal because the tension was too much for his fingers. War Pigs, the first track on their most popular album Paranoid, starts off slow with the echo of air raid sirens in the background, reminding their listener that they’re in Vietnam. Some of the lyrics include, “Generals gathered in their masses, Just like witches at black masses, Evil minds that plot destruction, Sorcerers of death’s construction.” The song is fervently anti-war, as most of these songs are, but it’s an awesome song and one of Black Sabbath’s most popular.
Black Sabbath – Electric Funeral
Yes, another Black Sabbath song. Electric Funeral starts of with a “doom and gloom” distorted riff that is a great introduction to the B side of the album. The song is off of Paranoid, released in 1970. It mostly deals with nuclear warfare and the consequences of an all out nuclear war with the Soviet Union. Although the song doesn’t explicitly mention the U.S.S.R., it can be inferred from historical context. When this album and song were recorded, it was the peak of the Cold War and Brezhnev was the leader of the Soviet Union. The threat of nuclear war loomed heavy on the world, and this song conveys perfectly the horrors of potential destruction. Some of the lyrics include: “Reflex in the sky warn you you’re gonna die, Storm coming you’d better hide from the atomic tide, Flashes in the sky turns houses into sties, Turns people into clay, radiation minds decay.” This song is a bit on the heavier side, but it’s still a great listen.
Creedence Clearwater Revival – Fortunate Son
This song is perhaps one of the most recognizable given that it’s included in almost every single Vietnam movie ever produced, and for a good reason. This song is specifically about the Vietnam war, and focuses in on how rich young men were able to avoid the draft while poorer young Americans had to go fight. The lyrics back this up, saying: “Some folks are born made to wave the flag Ooh, they’re red, white and blue, And when the band plays ‘Hail to the chief’ Ooh, they point the cannon at you, Lord, It ain’t me, it ain’t me, I ain’t no senator’s son, son, It ain’t me, it ain’t me; I ain’t no fortunate one, no.” Listening to this song, you feel like you’re riding in a Huey towards the jungles of Vietnam, and because of its good sound and political message, it has stood the test of time.
The Rolling Stones – Sympathy for the Devil
This song isn’t so much related to war as it is to politics in general. Mick Jagger is the lead singer, and the song is in the viewpoint of the devil. Mick Jagger sings about suffering at the hand of man throughout history and other politically motivated topics. This one may be a bit of a stretch. But it is typically played, along with Fortunate Son, during scenes of Vietnam movies. Many may think of this tune when they think of politics and conflict, and because of that, it made my list. It’s also one of the Rolling Stones’ most recognizable and played songs.
Dead Kennedys – Holiday in Cambodia
This song by the Dead Kennedys is another good example of conflict influenced music. First off, the band’s name refers to the Kennedy curse, which documents those in the Kennedy family who were killed or died. The song was released in 1980, in the middle of Pol Pot’s reign, so in my interpretation, it refers to his murderous Khmer Rouge rule. The song lyrics directly mention Pol Pot, and also say “Well, you’ll work harder, With a gun in your back, For a bowl of rice a day, Slave for soldiers, Till you starve, Then your head is skewered on a stake.” The rest of the song makes allusions to living under a totalitarian regime.
Judas Priest – Electric Eye
This song is off of Judas Priest’s most popular album Screaming for Vengeance. Produced in the heat of the Cold War, the song is mainly about secret surveillance in the name of security. Many have said it reference’s George Orwell’s novel 1984. Others have said the song is merely a comment on the growing surveillance state. The song has aged well, especially with the NSA debacle in recent years. Some of the lyrics include, “Up here in space, I’m looking down on you, My lasers trace, Everything you do, You think you’ve private lives, Think nothing of the kind, There is no true escape, I’m watching all the time.”
Sex Pistols – God Save the Queen
When people think about politically influenced music, this song is one of the first they think of. Off of the album Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, the song bashes the English monarchy. It is a play off of the national anthem, also titled God Save the Queen. The song is a comment on how the band believed the middle class were being mistreated under Monarchic leadership. The song is brash, bold, and unapologetic. It drives the message home with Johnny Rotten’s loud vocals and distorted riffs. Also included on the same album is the song Anarchy in the UK, which is pretty self-explanatory.
While I don’t agree with the message of nearly all of them, they are still great songs that prove my original point. Conflict and politics produce good music, regardless of their left-leaning messaging.
Stay tuned for part 2, which will feature bands like Metallica, Megadeth, Iron Maiden, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, and more.