Are Anti-War Songs Still Present and Evolving From the 1960's?

Are Anti-War Songs Still Present and Evolving From the 1960’s?

From the existence of mankind, music has been used efficiently as an artistic medium to entertain, and in many cases influence, listeners. This statement is distinctly evident in America ranging from the early sixties to present times wherein a great diversity of anti-war songs were produced. “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “War Pigs,” and “Mosh” are all representations of anti-war songs from different decades. The three songs follow a very versatile musical structure reflecting the expansion of freedom of speech throughout America as time progresses.

“Blowin’ in the Wind” was produced by the folk-rock legend Bob Dylan in 1962. The sixties in America were eventful times: The civil rights movement made its strongest advances following the assassination of Martin Luther King (“Violence” 1), America and the Soviet Union engaged themselves in the chess-like Cuban missile crisis, and the Vietnam conflict had reached its apex of contention by 1968. Through the friction of the decade arose Bob Dylan, who began performing at local clubs in New York until he was publicly recognized by the New York Times. Dylan released his first official album soon after in 1962, and is eventually instated into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989. Bob Dylan still remains as a notable foundation of modern Rock and Roll (“Bob Dylan”).

The instrumental elements of “Blowin’ in the Wind” are heard as peaceful and methodic; consisting of a pacifistic harmonica, prevalent acoustic guitar, and Bob Dylan’s calming voice. The music of the song stands in contrast to its lyrics which addressed charged political issues at the time, namely war. Dylan has constructed his song this way to display his anti-war message in a less controversial, indirect manner. He does not appear to attack the issue of war; he simply expresses his opinion of it by asking a series of rhetorical, fill in the blank, questions to a very easy melody. Dylan does this to conform to the social constraints on freedom of speech in music at the time. If Dylan would have used a harder beat or a more direct anti-war message, his song would have been banned from a great deal of air time.

The lyrics of “Blowin’ in the Wind” are undisputedly anti-war, but in such an indirect and peace loving style, it seems as if the song itself is uncontroversial. This point is illustrated effectively by the lines “Yes, ‘n’ how many times must the cannon balls fly / Before they’re forever banned?” (Lines 5-6) and “Yes, ‘n’ how many deaths will it take till he knows / That too many people have died?” (Lines 13-14) The lines mentioned do not state war is the issue being addressed; the listener is forced to mentally excavate the implicit messages being conveyed by Dylan. Even after the messages have been indirectly interpreted by the listener, they are worded in a rhetorical question format, weakening the aggressiveness of the arguments further. The listener can recognize the strict censorship of radio stations in the sixties by solely observing Dylan’s carefully worded arguments throughout this song.

Following every rhetorical question asked during the song, Dylan lends the solution to each as “The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind, / The answer is blowin’ in the wind.” (Lines 7-8) These lines can be interpreted as the answer is out there, provided the listener thinks and recognizes it. Instead of outright saying the answer to war is peace, Dylan leaves a large shade of gray for the listener to interpret what he is trying to say. This follows the precedence of utilizing indirect persuasion throughout “Blowin’ in the Wind” due to the restriction of speech during the sixties.
With the end of the sixties came the seventies, wherein America became a country of reformation and acceptance. Environmentalist, feminist and gay rights movements all dramatically progressed through greater public support. (Gillis) With social confinements being pushed back, the definition of the First Amendment was broadened, giving birth to the English band, Black Sabbath. The group was brought together in 1968 and set out to produce nearly unprecedented heavy metal, pseudo-gothic music which pushed the boundaries of society’s accepted music. Black Sabbath hit their peak in 1971 with the release of the popular Paranoid album, which began with the song, “War Pigs.” The band is still currently together and producing music; they represent a cornerstone of heavy metal music (Ruhlmann).

The sound of “War Pigs” primarily consists of heavy electric guitar and a resounding speed drumming. The music is interpreted as angry and aggressive, fueling a more direct anti-war message communicated through its lyrics. Black Sabbath is attempting to make their point equivalently through their music as they are through their lyrics. As the seemingly indefinite Vietnam conflict raged on and the anti-war sentiment towards it grew more hostile, the songs relating to the war also became more combative, as manifested in “War Pigs.” Thus censorship on the radio has been weakened and freedom of speech, furthered.

Throughout “War Pigs,” Black Sabbath makes a great deal of supernatural references in their lyrics. Examples would include: “Day of Judgment, God is calling,” (Line 21) and “Satan, laughing, spreads his wings.” (Line 24) The song states the politicians responsible are going to be condemned by God and given to Satan for the wrongs they have committed on earth. “War Pigs” states religion is a means of ultimate punishment for those who support the war. Using religious references in such an unsympathetic way generates even more probable social problems regarding the song, yet it was still never banned from radio stations. This could only be possible if the issue of freedom of speech through America has been distended. Black Sabbath uses vivid imagery regarding war throughout their song as demonstrated by the lines, “In the fields the bodies burning / As the war machine keeps turning.” (Lines 5-6) The lyrics regard human corpses being burned as the war progresses. “War Pigs” uses disturbing imagery to clearly display the horrific elements of war, and forces a more straightforward message in doing so. A song with such imagery of war was only given air time because of America’s regression from the Vietnam Conflict during the seventies. Support for the war had slumped to a miniscule value which granted opportunity for the first amendment to be more widely accepting as demonstrated by the public acceptance of “War Pigs.”

Thirty years following the seventies, America enters the starting decade of the new millennium. Governor George W. Bush of Texas has taken the presidency, a highly controversial war in Afghanistan and Iraq has begun, and Society has changed its general outlook on many issues from years past, lending way to an even greater freedom of speech throughout America. No musical artist of the time represents this freedom greater than Marshall Mathers, or better known by his stage name, Eminem. A short week previous to the 2004 presidential election, Eminem released a song entitled “Mosh,” which outright debases America’s current executive administration as well as indicts them for wrongly going to war in Iraq (Sisario 1). The song was banned from many radio stations and only a heavily censored version of the video was ever played on MTV (O’Keffe 1).

The introduction of “Mosh” begins with a group of children reciting the United States’ pledge of allegiance. The two most effective ways to provoke resistance in a person are to either alter their monetary income or to endanger their family. This song touches on the issue of family values in America and includes kid’s voices to instill a feeling of President Bush endangering children in the listener. Using children as a blatant element of persuasion would not be accepted in past times, and thus indicate an amplified right to freedom of speech.

Temporarily neglecting the lyrics of “Mosh,” the musical components of the song are also incredibly controversial. After the introduction, a medley of war sounds is played in the background, resembling the auditory ambience of the Iraq war. Following the warfare noises is a simple marching drum rhythm which continues throughout the entirety of the song. The drum beat is very rallying, much like an army’s percussion band. Eminem uses this background music in an attempt to directly gain support for his lyrical arguments; and because of this the music of “Mosh” is delivering an overtly anti-war message by itself making the song more contentious.

The lyrics of “Mosh” are substantially straight forward, consistent of lines such as, “Stomp, push, shove, mush, Fuck Bush, until they bring our troops home.” (Line 41) Not only is profanity being used, but it is being used to insult the President of the United States, during a time of war and before a presidential election. Even though only a censored version of the song was ever played publicly, an artist being allowed to produce a song with the lines “Fuck [President of the United States]” without their career being destroyed as an aftershock reveals an incredibly tolerant right to freedom of speech which was not available during earlier times in America.

“Blowin’ in the Wind,” “War Pigs,” and “Mosh,” clearly expose a correlation between the progression of time and the inflation of the right to freedom of speech in America. Had “Mosh” have been released in the sixties, not only would Eminem have not received any air time, but he would have probably been branded as a traitor and executed. Likewise, had “Blowin’ in the Wind” been released in our current decade, it would have not been recognized as a controversial song, period. Due to the three songs representation of the changing issue of freedom of speech, it is just to assume that newer and more controversial songs will continue to appear in the future with only a small degree of censorship remaining. However, censorship will always be present in the United States because a full right to freedom of speech and an ordered government cannot successfully co-exist.

Works Cited

Gillis, Charles. American Cultural History 1970-1979. 02 July 2004. Kingwood College Library. 21 April 2006

O’Keefe, Derrick. “Eminem vs. Bush: “Mosh” video a call to arms for the MTV generation.” Seven Oaks Magazine 30 Oct. 2004: 1.

Ruhlmann, William. Black Sabbath Biography. 2005. All Media Guide, LLC. 20 April 2006 <>

Sisario, Ben. “Arts, Briefly; Eminem Sets Sights on Bush.” New York Times 27 Oct. 2004: 1.

The Biography Channel: Dylan, Bob (1941-). 2004. A&E Television Networks. 20 April 2006

“Violence Erupts After Assassination of King.” The Post-Crescent 05 Apr. 1968: 1-3.