15 Moving Anti-War Lyrics in Classic Rock

If you’ve been watching the news, you probably know what Putin’s been up to, mobilising Russian troops, and as a result there are many Russians scrambling to get out. Russians have been trying to get out since the invasion in February. I like watching Russian/Former Soviet Union content creators, as someone fascinated with Russia and Russian culture, and one of my favourites, NFKRZ explains it really well:

As always, I am anti-war. Putin should not have invaded. He should have left Ukraine alone. I am also no fan of NATO. I wouldn’t say I’m pro-any country here. I am just against war. In related classic rock news, Roger Waters made anti-war comments, and his tour dates in Poland have been cancelled. Not to get into too much detail about my political views, but I do find myself agreeing a lot with Roger Waters on politics, but I think he does sometimes ignore bad things these countries that do not like the US/UK/EU do – giving way too much benefit of the doubt to the Russian government and Chinese government, for example. I am critical of the US/UK/EU governments as well as Russia’s and China’s government, but I also don’t think sanctioning ordinary citizens of Russia is right. The world certainly didn’t do that to the US when the US started wars and American politicians did war crimes in the global south, so why the double standard? There’s a debate right now in Europe on whether to take Russian refugees. I support taking in Russian refugees. I support Russian draft dodgers, no matter what their reasons for dodging the draft – that’s one of the bravest things you can do. Think of it this way: imagine if Canada refused to take in American draft dodgers during the Vietnam War. Canada did the right thing then. It’s our turn to do the right thing for Russians who are anti-war, as well as Russians who are marginalised. Do not forget that Russia is a homophobic country and gay and bisexual people get discriminated against there. LGBT people who live in homophobic societies need our help.

Now let’s talk classic rock. The classic rock era of the 60s-80s was a golden age of protest music and many musicians expressed their anger at the establishment through their music. In rock and roll you’ll find a lot of anti-war songs and in this blog post I’ll share 15 of my favourite anti-war lyrics in classic rock. I guarantee at least a few of these will be very poignant, especially when thinking of current events.

1. “Gruppa Krovi” – Kino

Translated to English:

“My blood type is on my sleeve.

My serial number is on my sleeve.

Wish me now some luck in the fight.

Wish me… I won’t stay in this field of green. I won’t stay in this field of green.

Wish me now to be lucky.”

Of course I had to start this blog post with a Russian anti-war song. Viktor Tsoi may have died over 30 years ago, but his legacy lives on and he’s one of Russia’s most adored rock stars. His face was on a postage stamp in the late 90s and in Moscow, there’s a Viktor Tsoi wall, a place I would love to visit if I ever make it to Russia. Even though I don’t speak Russian, I can definitely hear the emotion. At the end of the day, a lot of those soldiers don’t want to be there. They’d rather be playing video games or sports, not fighting a war. They just want to be home with their loved ones. They don’t want to come home in a casket.

There’s also a couple clips of Viktor Tsoi speaking English in an interview and you can see in these clips his anti-war sentiment and his desire for change. It’s no wonder Kino were part of the soundtrack for the political changes at the end of the Cold War:

Fact: Viktor Tsoi did make it to America in the late 80s, thanks to Joanna Stingray – wife of his bandmate Yuri Kasparyan, and an American fan requested Kino record a version of their anti-war signature song “Gruppa Krovi”, in English. The song’s title translates to “Blood Type”. You can listen to the English version here, but I think the best version is the original Russian.

2. “Some Mother’s Son” – The Kinks

“Some mother’s son lies in a field
Back home they put his picture in a frame
But all dead soldiers look the same
While all the parents stand and wait
To meet their children coming home from school
Some mother’s son is lying dead”

Another favourite anti-war song. This one always brings a tear to my eye. The lyrics paint a picture of the realities of war. I say this way too often, but it’s true, Ray Davies is one of classic rock’s best storytellers and his songs really hit different, very relatable. The sad sound of this song is incredibly appropriate and makes it stand out among the many anti-war songs of the 60s. It is true, no matter what country someone is from, all dead soldiers look the same. There are no true winners in a war. Both sides lose lives, and those soldiers are some mother’s son… or daughter nowadays. These lyrics make me think of those videos where the families say goodbye to their loved ones, not knowing if they’ll see them again.

3. “Fortunate Son” – CCR

“Some folks inherit star-spangled eyes
Ooh, they send you down to war, Lord
And when you ask ’em, ‘How much should we give?’
Ooh, they only answer, ‘More! More! More!'”

Going from one sibling group to another. Don’t be fooled by the upbeat nature of this song, this is an angry song that talks about the realities of war, the class issues around it. There’s always money for a war. The working class are always the ones fighting the wars that rich people start. No one in the government ever questions the cost of war and they’re all too eager to throw their money at a war that only causes destruction, but when it comes to spending taxpayer money on things that help the taxpayer, the government suddenly turn into Mr Krabs.

4. “Out in the Fields” – Gary Moore & Phil Lynott

“No flag, no uniform ever stopped the bullet from a gun”

There’s a lot of parallels between Russia vs Ukraine and UK vs Ireland, which is why in Ireland you will see a lot of support for Ukraine. Irish people see a lot of themselves in Ukrainians and that what the Russians are doing isn’t too different from what the UK did in Northern Ireland. Similar message in these lyrics to “Some Mother’s Son”. At the end of the day we’re all human. Why are we fighting? Who is benefitting? The rich. The military industrial complex. Capitalism thrives when people are divided.

5. “War Pigs” – Black Sabbath

“Politicians hide themselves away
They only started the war
Why should they go out to fight?
They leave that role to the poor

Time will tell on their power minds
Making war just for fun
Treating people just like pawns in chess
Wait ’till their judgment day comes, yeah!”

Just Black Sabbath speaking the truth, similar message to “Fortunate Son”. Written during the Vietnam War, but no matter what year it is, the lyrics still are accurate. The heavy metal guitars and sirens are very fitting too.

6. “Goodbye Blue Sky” – Pink Floyd

“Did, did, did, did you see the frightened ones?
Did, did, did, did you hear the falling bombs?
The flames are all long gone
But the pain lingers on”

Roger Waters is one of the best anti-war voices in classic rock and The Wall is a masterpiece and an album that is even better live with all the visuals, something every classic rock fan has to see. His father died in WWII and he never got to know him, no doubt that made him a staunch pacifist. The message of this song is spot on: even after a war is over, there are still long lasting effects and trauma.

7. “Ohio” – CSNY

“What if you knew her
And found her dead on the ground
How can you run when you know?”

One of the most famous anti-war photos is of a teenage runaway Mary Ann Vecchio screaming in front of victim Jerry Miller’s dead body. The photo, taken by John Filo, won a Pulitzer Prize. Vecchio screamed “Doesn’t anyone see what just happened here? Why is no one helping him?” The Kent State massacre has a few classic rock connections: Devo member Jerry Casale, Chrissie Hynde, and Neil Young. The first two were at the protests, witnessed the shooting, and knew the victims, and then Neil Young wrote one of the most famous anti-war songs “Ohio”, after seeing photos of the shooting in a magazine. The B-side, “Find the Cost of Freedom”, written by Stephen Stills, is also an anti-war song with some lyrics that hit hard: “Find the cost of freedom buried in the ground. Mother Earth will swallow you. Lay your body down.” War is just not worth it.

8. “Butcher’s Tale (Western Front 1914)” – The Zombies

“And the preacher in his pulpit
Sermoned ‘Go and fight, do what is right’
But he don’t have to hear these guns
And I bet he sleeps at night

And I…
And I can’t stop shaking
My hands won’t stop shaking
My arms won’t stop shaking
My mind won’t stop shaking
I want to go home
Please let me go home
Go home”

Who said The Zombies didn’t write songs with a political message? A song that illustrates the hypocrisy of politicians and religious leaders. They aren’t the ones who have to fight the war. It’s the working class people and they’re not interested in fighting a war that only serves the interests of a few privileged people. Even though it takes place in WWI, the lyrics are true about any war.

9. “Little Boy Soldiers” – The Jam

“Come on outside – I’ll sing you a lullaby,
Or tell a tale of how goodness prevailed.

We ruled the world – we killed and robbed,
The fucking lot – but we don’t feel bad.

It was done beneath the flag of democracy”

One of The Jam’s more complex songs with multiple movements and a great anti-war message. The lyrics have multiple themes: the government don’t care about you, they’ll say whatever they think will earn them votes and abandon their promises, at the end of the day a lot of people will just give into the government and not resist – they’ll fight the rich man’s war, the people are brainwashed by the government and the media about war, and all the lives lost in war. When you look at war memorials and military cemeteries, it’s so shocking and sad how young these soliders were when they died. That’s something to think about. These people had whole lives ahead of them, cut short by rich politicians who have never met a war they didn’t like.

10. “The Fiddle and The Drum” – Joni Mitchell

“And so once again
Oh, America my friend
And so once again
You are fighting us all
And when we ask you why
You raise your sticks and cry and we fall
Oh, my friend
How did you come
To trade the fiddle for the drum”

What makes this song special is that Joni Mitchell sang it a cappella and she has the point of view of being a Canadian in America. She has a beautiful voice! Decades later, the lyrics became especially relevant again when rock band A Perfect Circle covered the song around the time of the Iraq War. The thing I hate most about America is the imperialism and how it acts like the world police. Certainly doesn’t endear people to America, and it’s really sad. I hate having to try to distance myself from my birthplace. I shouldn’t have to explain the actions of the elites just because I was born on the same patch of dirt as them. American foreign policy affects us all because like it or not, the US is a world superpower.

11. “Army Dreamers” – Kate Bush

“What could he do?
Should have been a rock star.
But he didn’t have the money for a guitar.
What could he do?
Should have been a politician.
But he never had a proper education.
What could he do?
Should have been a father.
But he never even made it to his twenties.
What a waste —
Army dreamers.”

War really is a waste and it’s an issue that affects the young, especially those from less privileged backgrounds. Reminds me of that Lord Farquaad quote from Shrek, “some of you may die but it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make”. Go beyond “Running Up That Hill” and you’ll find so many great songs in Kate Bush’s discography.

12. “The War Drags On” – Donovan

“Last night, poor Dan had a nightmare it seems
One kept occurrin’ and reoccurrin’ in his dreams
Cities full of people burnin’, screamin’, shoutin’ loud
And right there overhead, a great orange mushroom cloud”

This song talks about the Vietnam War and the destruction it left in the country. This lyric in particular talks about PTSD. Not only do people end up physically disabled because of war, it has a huge impact on mental health. If you like Bob Dylan’s protest songs, you’ll like this one.

13. “I Ain’t Marching Anymore” – Phil Ochs

“It’s always the old to lead us to the wars
Always the young to fall
Now look at what we’ve won with a saber and a gun
Tell me is it worth it all?”

True back in the 60s and true today. We really do live in a world run by rich old people. Young working class people are really not represented in the government. It’s brave to refuse to serve in the military.

14. “Masters of War” – Bob Dylan

“Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good
Will it buy you forgiveness
Do you think that it could
I think you will find
When your death takes its toll
All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul”

Bob Dylan has written quite a few anti-war songs. This one is from his 1963 album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. In the early years he wrote protest songs before moving onto other topics and evolving as an artist and songwriter.

15. “Yours Is No Disgrace” – Yes

“Death defying, mutilated armies scatter the earth
Crawling out of dirty holes, their morals, their morals disappear”

Wait, you’re telling me Yes wrote an anti-war song? I thought all they did was write about mountains, nature, fairies, and nerdy prog rock stuff! Listen closely to the lyrics. Who says prog rock can’t be political? The great opening track from The Yes Album. As always great musicianship from the band. Their early 70s albums are my favourites.

Now it’s your turn… What are your favourite anti-war lyrics in rock and roll? Have your say in the comments section below!

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