The War in Vietnam has long been the source of anti-war and protest songs. From Bob Dylan to the Beatles, a number of notable music artists penned tunes that criticized the involvement in perhaps the least supported war by the American public. The following are a sampling of the some of the best anti-war/protest songs that were released during that era. A comprehensive list of songs about the Vietnam War can be found here.
1. Imagine (1971) – John Lennon’s solo masterpiece was more than just a song in protest of the Vietnam War, it was an emphasis for world peace to “imagine all people living life in peace” in a world without religion, countries, possessions, greed or hunger. The song is generally regarded as one of the greatest songs of all time and listed as #3 on Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 greatest songs and listed on the Songs of the Century by the Recording Industry Association of America.
2. Blowing in the Wind (1963) - This song was written and recorded by a then 21-year-old Bob Dylan as the United States escalated their involvement in the Vietnam War. It gained greater prominence when it was re-recorded by the folk trio, Peter, Paul and Mary and became one of the most famous protest songs to come out of the 60s as well as an anthem for the African-American Civil Rights Movement.
3. Born in the USA (1984) – The Bruce Springsteen single from the biggest selling album of 1985 was written to be a song about the troubles of a working class man forced into the Vietnam War but was also largely considered to be a patriotic song. It was so popular that the Reagan administration asked to use it as part of the reelection campaign but Springsteen, a strong liberal, nixed the idea.
4. Give Peace a Chance (1969) – Recorded during the famous “Bed In” in Montreal, this John Lennon composition was another anthem to the anti-war movement and his first hit single after he left the Beatles. Although there is no mention of the Vietnam War in the lyrics, it was sung across the country during the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam, which was one of many anti-war protests that swept the country during the 60s and 70s.
5. For What It’s Worth (1967) – Although this Buffalo Springfield hit was not meant to be an anti-war song, many listeners embraced it during the Vietnam War particularly with lyrics like “there’s battle lines being drawn, nobody’s right is everybody’s wrong, young people speaking their minds, getting so much resistance from behind.” The song, written by Stephen Stills who later gained enormous fame with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, was inspired by clashes between police and young people in Hollywood, California, whose participants included actors Jack Nicholson and Peter Fonda.
6. War (What is It Good For?) (1969) – This Vietnam protest song by Edwin Starr says it loud and clear “war, yea, what is it good for, absolutely nothing!” It was a #1 hit in 1970 and was later performed by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band during their tour of 1985.
7. Eve of Destruction (1965) This song written by a 19-year-old P.F. Sloan, was made famous by Barry McGuire and contained the lyrics “you’re old enough to kill, but not for voting, you don’t believe in war, but what’s that gun you’re toting” and “you can bury your dead, but don’t leave a trace, hate your next door neighbor, but don’t forget to say grace.” It was the #1 song in America around the time the United States entered the war.
8. I-Like- I’m-Fixing-to-Die-Rag (1967) – One of the most memorable moments of the Woodstock Music and Art Fair of 1969 near Bethel, New York, was Country Joe MacDonald’s solo performance of his blatantly obvious anti-Vietnam War song with the chorus of “and it’s one, two, three what are we fighting for? Don’t ask me I don’t give a damn, next stop is Vietnam.”
9. The Unknown Soldier (1968) – This anti-war song was Jim Morrison and the Doors contribution to their opposition to the Vietnam War. The Unknown Soldier is likely in reference to the Tomb of the Unknowns military memorial at Arlington Cemetery and the song contained a sequence that resembles a military funeral honors ceremony complete with a firing party.
10. Orange Crush (1988) – This song by the alternative rock band R.E.M., who just split up last year, was in reference to the government’s use of the controversial herbicide known as Agent Orange to remove trees and dense foliage that the Viet Cong would use during the Vietnam War. Many diseases were later found to be associated with the herbicide including diabetes, heart disease, Parkinson’s, prostrate cancer and lung cancer.