Pop music and the battle joined

April 2, 2003


With a handful of notable exceptions, the pop music world's response to 9/11 was slow in coming. So, too, was any musical reaction to the buildup for the war with Iraq.

In recent weeks, though, with the start of fighting in the Middle East, the situation has changed dramatically. The Internet has been flooded with anti-war songs from major rock artists, while radio has made hits of a few pro-war tunes from country giants.

You aren't likely to hear the anti-war songs on the airwaves: Many country radio stations banned the Dixie Chicks after singer Natalie Maines criticized President Bush, and the always-controversial Madonna has decided not to release the video for her new single, "American Life," because of an already notorious ending in which she tosses a hand grenade at a "W" look-alike.


1 Bob Dylan, "Masters of War"

2 Jimi Hendrix, "The Star-Spangled Banner"

3 Buffalo Springfield, "For What It's Worth"

4 Edwin Starr, "War"

5 Black Sabbath, "War Pigs"

6 Robert Wyatt/ Elvis Costello, "Shipbuilding"

7 Pink Floyd, "Corporal Clegg"

8 Metallica, "One"

9 Naked Raygun, "Managua"

10 Dead Kennedys, "Holiday in Cambodia"


Here is a look at some of the major pop tunes about the war in Iraq, as well as the Web sites where many of them are available.


Not surprisingly, this veteran leftist folk-punk rose to the occasion on the subject of Iraq, though he could have used a slightly stronger hook to drive his points home.

Sample lyric: "Now I ain't no fan of Saddam Hussein/Oh, please don't get me wrong/If it's freeing the Iraqi people you're after/Then why have we waited so long?"


With Rage Against the Machine, de la Rocha was often didactic, if not downright boneheaded. Here, backed by one of the most innovative sample artist/DJs in the electronic underground, he is simply incendiary. Who'd have thought he'd outdo his former bandmate Tom Morello in Audioslave?

Sample lyric: "I curse at murderous men/In suits of professionals who act like animals/This man child, ruthless and wild/Who gonna chain this beast back on the leash?"


A quiet and vocal-heavy acoustic tune in the old-school folkie protest-song vein, this is easily the most poignant track that the forefathers of alternative rock have recorded in a decade.

Sample lyric: "If hatred makes a play on me tomorrow/And forgiveness takes a back seat to revenge/There's a hurt down deep that has not been corrected/There's a voice in me that says you will not win."


Another spare acoustic ditty written in the form of a letter to the president, this offering from everyone's favorite Hoosier is slightly less successful than R.E.M.'s song because Mellencamp's voice just isn't as expressive an instrument as Michael Stipe's.

Sample lyric: "What is the thought process to take a human's life?/ What would be the reason to think this is right?"


This is the punk hip-hoppers' angriest and most energetic song in quite some time, an inspired and bitingly sarcastic diatribe about the current political situation.

Sample lyric: "Mirrors, smoke screens and lies/It's not the politicians but their actions I despise/You and Saddam should kick it like back in the day/With the cocaine and Courvoisier/But you build more bombs as you get more bold/As your mid-life crisis war unfolds."


A major hit on country radio, this tuneless pro-war ditty matches the Kravitz song (see below) for sheer opportunism. Docked extra points for rhyming "bin Laden" with "forgotten."

Sample lyric: "I hear people saying we don't need this war/I say there's some things worth fighting for/What about our freedom and this piece of ground/We didn't get to keep 'em by backing down."


A predictably simple black-and-white pro-war morality tale from a predictably simple croonin' cowboy. But at least it's not as bad as the Darryl Worley hit.

Sample lyric: "If everyone would go for peace/ There'd be no need for war/But we can't ignore the devil/He'll keep coming back for more."


Madonna yanking new video

Madonna has decided not to release "American Life," a video that was set to debut Friday on VH1.

Shot by director Jonas Akerlund in February before the start of the war in Iraq, the clip is said to depict the former Material Girl tromping along a fashion runway with dancers dressed in military fatigues.

These scenes are intercut with images of war, and one of several alternate endings finds Madonna tossing a hand grenade at President Bush.

In another finale, someone catches the grenade before it can hurt anyone.

The song is not anti-war, but anti-materialism, Madonna says. The lyrics include the lines, "I tried to stay ahead, I tried to stay on top/I tried to play the part, but somehow I forgot/Just what I did it for and why I wanted more."

In a statement Tuesday, the singer said she decided it would be inappropriate to air the video out of respect for American troops.

But music industry sources said it's likely that VH1, MTV and other mainstream video outlets were reluctant to air the clip in light of the current political climate.

Madonna told MTV that although she considers herself a pacifist, she is conflicted about U.S. military action in Iraq.

"Saddam Hussein is a guy we just want to get rid of," she said. "So there's a part of the video where I'm carving 'Protect me' into the wall, and you could almost feel like I want to go there and kick some ass and protect all those beautiful children and innocent families and people that have been tortured for years.

"But do I have the solutions? No. Do I have the answers? No. I'm just completely freaked out by what's going on there, just like everybody else."

"American Life" is the first video from her new album of the same name, which is due April 22.