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The 10 Best War Songs Ever Written

Almost every generation in America has its own war, and its own war songs with it. While most American audiences will never experience war first-hand, they can get a sense of what the fight is about through art, photography, and music.

For those who fought, war songs aren’t just songs to nod their heads in, they’re songs about our lives. We lived it, we survived it and we are happy to still be here to enjoy the music. In no particular order, here are our picks for the 10 best war songs ever written.


Released in 1989 from their fourth studio album “…And Justice for All”, Metallica’s thrash metal single “One” depicts a First World War soldier seriously injured by a landmine in action and left in a vegetative state. Unable to communicate with the outside world, the soldier is trapped within and desperately tries to communicate his suffering to the outside world via Morse code. Metallica frontman James Hetfield said the anti-war film Johnny has his gun shares similar themes, which is why the band used footage from the film for the song’s official video.

‘War Pigs’

Written by English heavy metal band Black Sabbath, the now legendary single “War Pigs” was not originally intended to be an anti-war song specifically. Originally titled “Walpurgis,” the single was more of a broad statement against evil, according to Black Sabbath bassist and lyricist Geezer Butler.

“It wasn’t about politics or government or anything. It was Evil itself. So I said “generals gathered in masses / just like witches at black masses” to make an analogy. But when we brought it to the record company, they thought ‘Walpurgis’ sounded too satanic. And that’s where we turned it into “War Pigs”. But we didn’t change the lyrics, because they were already finished.

“Masters of War”

Released on May 27, 1963, Bob Dylan’s Cold War protest song “Masters of War” is a painful and angry statement to those responsible for the Cold War as well as the military-industrial complex. In the album notes, American historian Nat Hentoff quotes Dylan: “I’ve never written anything like this before. I don’t sing songs that hope people will die, but I couldn’t help it with this one. The song is some kind of deletion […] any idea what you can do? »

“All Along the Watchtower”

Is it really a war movie if Hendrix isn’t in it?

Did you know that Jimi Hendrix served in the US Army? The fact that one of the greatest guitarists of all time was also a veteran is almost as interesting as the fact that one of his most recognizable songs – as well as one of the most popular war songs of all time – “All Along the Watchtower” was not written by him.

Although originally recorded by Bob Dylan in 1967, “All Along the Watchtower” didn’t achieve its now legendary status until Jimi Hendrix covered the song in his own style. Dylan would have liked Hendrix’s cover and played it like Hendrix did for years afterwards.

‘Fortunate son’

A strong statement against the Vietnam War and the political climate of the 1960s, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s rock hit “Fortunate Son” also struck at the class inequality prevalent in America at the time.

CCR frontman John Fogerty said, “’Fortunate Son’ wasn’t really inspired by any one event. Julie Nixon was dating David Eisenhower. You’d hear about that senator’s or congressman’s son who got a reprieve from the army or a top job. in the military. They seemed privileged and, like it or not, these people were symbolic in the sense that they were unaffected by what their parents were doing. They weren’t affected like the rest of us.


Originally written as an anti-Vietnam War soul song of Norman Whitfield and Barrett strong in 1969, the single “War” was first recorded by The Temptations but was later pulled and re-recorded with Edwin Starr as vocals out of concern to alienate some of The Temptations’ more conservative fans.

Recognized as one of the most popular protest songs of all time, Starr’s performance of “War” hits harder knowing he served in the U.S. military for three years, not by choice.


Alice in Chains singer Jerry Cantrell wrote this grunge hit for his father, Jerry “Rooster” Cantrell Sr., a U.S. Army veteran who fought in the Vietnam War. Cantrell wrote the song from his father’s perspective, saying of the song:

“It was the beginning of the healing process between my father and me from all the damage Vietnam had done. It was my whole perception of his experiences there.


The Irish Anti-War Song”Zombie” was written by lead singer of alternative rock band The Cranberries Dolores O’Riordan in tribute to Johnathan Ball and Tim Parry – two children killed in the 1993 IRA Warrington attacks.

“There were a lot of bombs going off in London and I remember one time when a child was killed when a bomb was placed in a bin – that’s why there’s this line in the song, ‘A child is slowly taken’ We were on a tour bus and I was near where this happened so it really hit me – I was quite young but I remember having been devastated that innocent children were being dragged into this sort of thing. So I guess that’s why I was saying, ‘It’s not me’ – that even though I’m Irish, it wasn’t not me, I didn’t. Because being Irish was quite difficult, especially in the UK where there was so much tension,” O’Riordan reminded years later.

‘Give me shelter’

Written by rock royalty the Rolling Stones and featuring singer Merry Clayton, the 1969 classic “Gimme Shelter” covers a litany of dark subject matter like war, crime and fear.

On “Gimme Shelter,” Rolling Stones singer Mick Jagger said in a 1995 interview with rolling stone magazine:

“Well, it’s a very harsh, very violent time. The Vietnam War. Violence on screens, looting and burning. And Vietnam was not war as we knew it in the conventional sense. The problem with Vietnam is that it wasn’t like World War II, and it wasn’t like Korea, and it wasn’t like the Gulf War. It was a real bad war, and the people didn’t like it, people opposed it, and people didn’t want to fight it. […] It’s kind of a doomsday song, really. It’s the apocalypse; the whole disc is like that.

“Carry On”

A veteran himself, the Man in Black Johnny Cash wrote the anti-war song “Drive On” after he sent a letter to George HW Bush protesting the Gulf War.

“Going on doesn’t mean anything, it’s a phrase they used a lot in Vietnam when I was there,” Cash said.

Whether it’s paying tribute to those killed in action every day or simply loving the color, there are multiple stories as to why Cash always wore black – he clarifies the age-old question in this interview.

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