The boom of popular music in the 20th century had a major impact on popular culture. According to Dennis Simon, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University who changed social standards and events during the 1960s, artists were made to be more expressive and comment on the issues surrounding them, one of which was war. Many songs contained the Vietnam War as a subject or inspiration, some examples are John Lennon’s call for peace in ‘Give Peace a Chance’ and Creedence Clearwater’s more vitriolic ‘Fortunate Son’. Anti-war songs followed for decades to come. Sometimes the message is not so obvious that the war only threatens, when it comes to Cold War protest / pop song, ’99 Hot Air Balloons’. Other times, the message hits you in the head, as in Green Day’s random single ‘Vacation.’ Here is a selection of some of the many anti-war songs ever written.
‘Give peace and chance’
In the summer of 1969, John Lennon, leader of The Beatles, made a bold statement with the release of ‘Give Peace a Chance’. At the time, John and his wife, Yoko Ono, were involved in a ‘Bed-in’ peace demonstration. When asked by a reporter what he and his wife wanted to achieve through this, he replied: ‘All we say is give peace a chance.’ It became the singing point for the lyrics, padded together with references to journalists, musicians and other famous people. The song reached number 2 on the UK charts. 15, 1969 Pete Seeger and Peter, Paul and Mary led people to sing the song during a massive protest in Vietnam in Washington.
Creedence Clearwater Revival, a southern rock band whose lyrics reflected home values, released a single in 1969 – at the height of the war – that reflected problems facing the working class. Two of the Prohibition’s members, John Fogerty and Doug Clifford, had been drafted into the Vietnam War. When they were released, they released ‘Fortunate Son’ on their album, ‘Willy and the Poor Boys’. As John Fogerty explained, the song expressed dissatisfaction with the views of Washington’s elites and the happy sons of politicians and social elites who would never have to consider going to war. The only version reached # 13 on the charts.
’99 Hot Air Balloons’
In the case of 99 Hot Air Balloons, a cold war protest single by German singer Nena, the anti-war sentiment is masked by the song’s a confusing name and a bubble melody. The concept behind the song came about when Nensa’s guitarist Carlo Karges noticed that balloons released at a Rolling Stones concert resembled spacecraft and wondered what could happen if they moved across the Berlin Wall into Soviet territory. The song describes this situation, as 99 balloons float in the air and trigger the apocalypse. The single reached # 1 in the UK and # 2 in the US.
Green Day took the chance in 2004 with their politically charged album, American Idiot. Released at the height of the Iraq war, the American idiot charts the world, driven by singles like ‘Holiday.’ While other pop songs loomed over love, in ‘Holiday’, Green Day made direct references to George W. Bush, dead soldiers, the war and France’s refusal to support the war. Billie Joe Armstrong, the band’s lead singer, often introduces the song at concerts by saying ‘This song is not anti-American, it’s anti-war!’ It reached number 19 on the Billboard Hot 100.