14 of the Best Protest Songs of the '60s and '70s

By Anonymous

14 of the Best Protest Songs of the '60s and '70s

The Vietnam war was a dominant musical theme in the '60s and '70s. Anti-war songs were much in evidence at the Woodstock festival in 1969, and were an integral part of virtually ever anti-war protest march and rally.
Many of these songs were banned from mainstream radio stations, but found the perfect audience on the the so-called "underground" or "alternative" FM stations that played the albums that became what we know today as classic rock.
I think these are some of the best examples of the many anti-war protest songs of the era. You're invited to add yours to the list.

"2 + 2 = ?" - The Bob Seger System

All I know is that I'm young and your rules they are old
If I've got to kill to live
Then there's something left untold
I'm no statesman I'm no general
I'm no kid I'll never be
It's the rules not the soldier
That I find the real enemy
Allmusic calls it "a ferocious antiwar song." Released as a single in 1968, then included on The Bob Seger System's Ramblin' Gamblin' Man in 1969, "2+2=?" speaks unflinchingly from the perspective of someone whose high school buddy went to Vietnam and is now "buried in the mud" in "foreign jungle land."
Listen to "2+2=?"

"21st Century Schizoid Man" - King Crimson

Blood rack barbed wire
Politicians' funeral pyre
Innocents raped with napalm fire
Twenty first century schizoid man
The lead track on King Crimson's 1969 debut album, In the Court of the Crimson King made a powerful ani-war statement using a series of disconnected phrases which, taken together, formed an image of the Vietnam war: a conflict started and perpetuated by politicians, in which many innocent civilians died.
Listen to "21st Century Schizoid Man"

"Bring 'Em Home" - Pete Seeger

Watch a live performance of "Bring 'Em Home"

If you love your Uncle SamBring 'em home, bring 'em homeSupport our boys in VietnamBring 'em home, bring 'em homeIt'll make our generals sad, I knowBring 'em home, bring 'em homeThey want to tangle with the foeBring 'em home, bring 'em homePete Seeger is one of those artists who crossed genre lines with his strong anti-war sentiments, and was welcomed with open arms on the "alternative" stations that would play songs mainstream radio wouldn't touch. "Bring 'Em Home" is just one example of many anti-war protest songs written and/or recorded by Seeger.

"Draft Resister" / "Monster" - Steppenwolf


Listen to a live performance of "Draft Resister"
Listen to a live performance of "Monster"

Don't forget the draft resisters and their silent, lonely pleaWhen they march them off to prison, they will go for you and meShame, disgrace and all dishonor, wrongly placed upon their headsWill not rob them of the courage which betrays the innocentSteppenwolf didn't shy away from tough subjects like drugs ("The Pusher") or street violence ("Gang War Blues") and, they took on two of the most controversial anti-war sentiments. "Draft Resister" was on their 1969 album, whose title song took a few more swings at those they blamed for the war:We don't know how to mind our own business'cause the whole world's got to be just like usNow we are fighting a war over thereNo matter who's the winner, we can't pay the cost'Cause there's a monster on the looseit's got our heads into the nooseAnd it just sits there, watching

"Eve of Destruction" - Barry McGuire

Watch a live performance of "Eve of Destruction"

You're old enough to kill but not for votin'You don't believe in war, but what's that gun you're totin'And even the Jordan river has bodies floatin'But you tell me over and over and over again my friendAh, you don't believe we're on the eve of destructionHad it not been for the hastily written (by P.F. Sloan) and hastily recorded (in one take) "Eve of Destruction" Barry McGuire's musical legacy may well have consisted solely of having once been one of the anonymous voices in the ensemble folk group, The New Christy Minstrels. It turned out that the time (late 1965) was right for the lyrically and vocally powerful warning about war's destructive results.

"Find the Cost of Freedom" / "Ohio" - Crosby Stills Nash & Young

Crosby Stills Nash & YoungEasy Rider

Listen to a live performance of "Find the Cost of Freedom"
Listen to "Ohio"

Find the cost of freedomBuried in the groundMother Earth will swallow youLay your body down"Ohio" was the A-side, "Find the Cost of Freedom" the B-side of a single in 1970. Stephen Stills orginally wrote the haunting "Find the Cost of Freedom" for the movie but it didn't make it onto the soundtrack. Neil Young wrote "Ohio" after student protesters were shot and killed by National Guard troops at sn anti-war rally at Kent State University.Tin soldiers and Nixon comingWe're finally on our ownThis summer I hear the drummingFour dead in Ohio

"Fortunate Son" - Creedence Clearwater Revival

Listen to "Fortunate Son"

Some folks are born made to wave the flagThey're red, white and blueAnd when the band plays "Hail To The Chief"They point the cannon at youCCR's 1969 recording of John Fogerty's "Fortunate Son" was released as the war in Vietnam was dominating every TV and radio newscast, and the thoughts of virtually every draft-eligible American male. The title referred to those few young men whose families were sufficiently politically connected so as to avoid either combat duty or the draft altogether. The lyric is delivered from the perspective of the large majority: those who were not "fortunate sons" and who had gone (or would be going soon) to war.

"Give Peace a Chance" / "Imagine" - John Lennon

Watch a live performance of "Imagine"

Everybody's talkin' 'boutBagism, shagism, dragism, madism, ragism, tagismThis-ism, that-ism, ism ism ismAll we are saying is give peace a chanceAll we are saying is give peace a chanceJohn Lennon took a "soft sell" approach, avoiding the graphic images of war or scathing attacks on politicians that were common in Vietnam-era protest songs. "Give Peace a Chance" was Lennon's first solo single, released in 1969. Two years later, "Imagine" was the title song on his second solo album. From then until now, both songs have endured as the most widely recognized anti-war anthems.Imagine there's no countriesIt isn't hard to doNothing to kill or die forNo religion, tooImagine all the peopleLiving life in peaceWatch a live performance of "Give Peace a Chance"

"Handsome Johnny" - Richie Havens

Richie HavensWoodstockMixed Bag

Hey, look yonder, tell me what you seeMarching to the fields of VietnamIt looks like Handsome Johnny with an M15Marching to the Vietnam war, hey marching to the Vietnam war electrified the crowd at in 1969 with his soulful rendition of "Handsome Johnny" after it first appeared on his third album, in 1967. The song was the brainchild of Louis Gossett, Jr. (before a became an Oscar-winning actor) who co-wrote it with Havens.Watch live performace of "Handsome Johnny" at Woodstock

"I Ain't Marching Anymore" - Phil Ochs

Phil Ochs
Listen to a live performance of "I Ain't Marching Anymore"

It's always the old to lead us to the warIt's always the young to fallNow look at all we've won with the saber and the gunTell me is it worth it all> literally made a career out of writing and singing protest songs. "I Ain't Marching Anymore" is one of his best known (along with "Draft Dodger Rag," "War is Over" and "There But For Fortune" to name just a few.) In all, Ochs recorded eight albums of what he called "topical" songs between 1964 and 1975, before committing suicide at age 35 in 1976.

"I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-To-Die Rag" - Country Joe and The Fish

Come on mothers throughout the land
Pack your boys off to Vietnam
Come on fathers, and don't hesitate
To send your sons off before it's too late
And you can be the first ones in your block
To have your boy come home in a box
Joe McDonald's solo performance of his biting satire at Woodstock wasn't planned. He was on stage filling time while acts who were scheduled to perform tried to make it through the massive traffic jams to get there. When "I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-To-Die Rag" (written in 1965 and released in 1967) was featured in the Woodstock film and its soundtrack in 1970, it became a fixture in the anti-war protest songbook, and one of the songs for which Country Joe and The Fish were best known.
Watch live performance of "I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-To-Die Rag" at Woodstock

"Masters of War" - Bob Dylan

Dwight EisenhowerFreewheelin' Bob Dylan

You that never done nothin'But build to destroyYou play with my worldLike it's your little toyYou put a gun in my handAnd you hide from my eyesAnd you turn and run fartherWhen the fast bullets flyBob Dylan took dead aim at what President had dubbed the "military-industrial complex" consisting of the military, Congress, and weapons manufacturers. "Masters of War" appeared on the album in 1963 and as America's involvement in Vietnam over the next few years grew, so did the popularity of the song with anti-war protesters.Listen to "Masters of War"

"Universal Soldier" - Donovan

Donovana 2006 interview
Watch a live performance of "Universal Soldier" by Donovan

He's the universal soldierAnd he really is to blameHis orders come from far away no moreThey come from here and there and you and meAnd brothers can't you seeThis is not the way we put the end to warWritten and recorded by Buffy Sainte-Marie for her 1964 debut album, "Universal Soldier" became a hit after 's version was released as a single the following year. It became one of the best known entries in his catalog of what he called (in ) "the songs of social change, civil rights, peace, brotherhood, and a great nuclear cloud hanging over the late 50s and the early 60s."Watch a live performance of "Universal Soldier" by Buffy Sainte-Marie

"War" - Edwin Starr

Listen to "War"

Life is much to short and preciousTo spend fighting wars these daysWar can't give lifeIt can only take it awayWar, what is it good for?Absolutely nothing!Already a successful R&B artist with songs like "Agent Double-O-Soul" and "Oh How Happy," Edwin Starr crossed genres in a big way with "War." The song, an instant hit when it was released in 1970, is still one of the best known war protest songs of the era. Bruce Springsteen's 1986 cover had nearly as much chart success as the original.