I'm spending some time this month rehearsing for an annual charity show (playing keyboards in the pit band), so my thoughts have turned back to music. Here's my question: where have all the political songs gone, and especially songs about war and peace? I'm not saying there aren't any (see below), but this genre doesn't seem to cast the same shadow it once did.
Back in the folk era (for younger readers, that means the late 50s/early-to-mid 60s), songs about war and injustice were staples of popular culture here in the United States. Think of Pete Seeger's "Where Have All The Flowers Gone?" or Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind," or Phil Ochs' "I Ain't Marching Anymore." At about the same time, the all-time genius of political musical satire, Tom Lehrer, was writing scathingly funny songs about a range of foreign policy topics, including nuclear proliferation ("Who's Next?"), NATO's multilateral force ("The MLF Lullaby"), liberal interventionism ("Send the Marines!") and even nuclear Armageddon ("So Long, Mom!"). And don't forget Barry McGuire's "Eve of Destruction" (written by P.F. Sloan), an apocalyptic jeremiad that hit #1 on the Billboard charts in 1965 and contains references to nuclear war, Red China, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and congressional fecklessness.
By the late 1960s, fueled by Vietnam, songs about war were legion. Off the top of my head, there's Donovan's "Universal Soldier," the Animals' "Sky Pilot," CSNY's "Ohio," and "Wooden Ships," John Lennon's "Give Peace a Chance," and "Imagine," Edwin Starr's "War," and Kenny Rogers' "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town." Even Glenn Campbell's pop hit "Galveston" (written by Jimmy Webb) has a Vietnam theme. There were a few songs on the other side too, most famously Sgt. Barry Sadler's "Ballad of the Green Berets."
My main point is that some of these songs were big hits, selling lots of copies and getting lots of airplay. And satire wasn't entirely gone either, with Country Joe and the Fish's "Feelin' Like I'm Fixin to Die Rag," and Randy Newman's brilliant "Political Science," which dates from the early 1970s but could have been written for George W. Bush.