When were the first protest songs about Iraq?
January 6, 2009 10:20 AM   Subscribe

How long did it take artists (especially musicians) to begin producing new protest or anti-war songs about the invasion of Iraq in 2003?

I'm trying to figure out the "lead time" for anti-war music in my generation.

How long between the beginning of the Iraq mess (whenever you consider that starting, be it March, 2003 or somewhat before) and the production of new music that puts the artist on record as strongly opposing that particular war. I'm looking for music that has the following characteristics:
  • Unambiguously condemns the war in Iraq, or pointedly condemns war in general in such a way as to make it timely (e.g. Masters of War, clearly about both war in general and Vietnam in particular)
  • Committed to a widely released album (i.e. not a concert bootleg, and not an album recorded by an unknown band with no following before or after). Bonus points for original material rather than covers.
Many thanks.
posted by Hildago to Media & Arts (27 answers total)
Mr. Lif's 'Home of the Brave' (lyrics) appeared on an EP released in June 2002.

There are probably earlier examples, though. And it's more of a 9/11 song than an Iraq war one. And whether Lif's an unknown with no following, and whether a Def Jux EP is a widely-released album, well, that's not for me to judge.
posted by box at 10:30 AM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This looks like a good place to start.
posted by Lotto at 10:31 AM on January 6, 2009

Passchendaele by GoodBooks (released on Columbia in their 2007 album Control) also fits.
posted by Lotto at 10:33 AM on January 6, 2009

Best answer: Bobby Conn's The Homeland was released in January 2004. Here's "We Come in Peace".
posted by hydrophonic at 10:50 AM on January 6, 2009

I've got 3 albums that are each entirely protest albums or have significant protest songs:

Neil Young, Living With War
Ted Leo, Living With The Living
Pearl Jam, Pearl Jam

They all came out in 2006.
posted by mkultra at 11:04 AM on January 6, 2009

These scarce outliers aside, it took until mid-2006 for Neil Young to say "where the fuck is all the protest music, goddammit?" and release his own anti-war album.

Personally, I'm pretty disappointed with the social conscience of today's musicians. But then I think back to the last Bush War and there wasn't much musical outcry then, either.

I think the right wing has done a fantastic job in recent years raising the despondency of American dissenters to previously unkown heights.

Kudos, you despair-sowing jackasses.
posted by Aquaman at 11:06 AM on January 6, 2009

Bright Eyes' 2005 single, "When the President Talks to God."
posted by kirkaracha at 11:12 AM on January 6, 2009

Artists were mentioning the war in lyrics before it even officially started, since Bush was telegraphing his intention to invade from Sept. 12, 2001 onward.

The Eminem Show (May 2002) -- Square Dance
yah you laugh till your muthafuckin' ass gets drafted, while you're at band camp thinkin' the crap can't happen
till you fuck around, get an anthrax napkin, inside a package wrapped in saran wrap wrapping
open the plastic and then you stand back gasping, fuckin' assassins hijackin' Amtracks crashin'
all this terror America demands action, next thing you know you've got Uncle Sam's ass askin'
to join the army or what you'll do for their Navy. You just a baby, gettin' recruited at eighteen
You're on a plane now, eatin' their food and their baked beans. I'm twenty-eight, they're gonna take you 'fore they take me
Crazy insane or insane crazy? When I say Hussein, you say Shady

posted by junkbox at 11:28 AM on January 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Steve Earle's "John Walker's Blues" touches on anti-Muslim attitudes and the war in Afghanistan. It's an original piece and appears on "Jerusalem" (released 9/24/2002). Garnered a fair amount of backlash, IIRC. Earle took a whack at the war in Iraq in 2004 with another original song, "Rich Man's War" ("The Revolution Starts Now," 8/24/2004).

"Jimmy joined the army ‘cause he had no place to go
There ain’t nobody hirin’ ‘round here since all the jobs went down to Mexico
Reckoned that he’d learn himself a trade maybe see the world
Move to the city someday and marry a black haired girl
Somebody somewhere had another plan
Now he’s got a rifle in his hand
Rollin’ into Baghdad wonderin’ how he got this far
Just another poor boy off to fight a rich man’s war "
posted by MonkeyToes at 11:31 AM on January 6, 2009

Trans Am's Liberation came out in early 2004.
posted by xbonesgt at 11:54 AM on January 6, 2009

About 15 minutes, based on the musicians I know. It sometimes takes years for a song to make it on to an actual recording, though.
posted by restless_nomad at 12:25 PM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

If song intros count, 10 days before the invasion took place.
posted by Joe Beese at 12:39 PM on January 6, 2009

Travis' 12 Songs came out in October 2003, and had two protest songs on it, "The Beautiful Occupation" and "Peace the Fuck Out."
posted by hermitosis at 12:57 PM on January 6, 2009

Best answer: Sleater-Kinney has a song called Combat Rock that came out in '02.


They tell us there are only two sides to be on
If you are on our side you're right if not you're wrong
But are we innocent, paragons of good?
Is our guilt erased by the pain that we've endured?
Hey look it's time to pledge allegiance
Oh god I love my dirty Uncle Sam
Our country's marching to the beat now
And we must learn to step in time
Where is the questioning where is the protest song?
Since when is skepticism un-American?
Dissent's not treason but they talk like it's the same
Those who disagree are afraid to show their face
Let's break out our old machines now
It sure is good to see them run again
Oh gentlemen start your engines
And we know where we get the oil from
Are you feeling alright now
Paint myself all red white blue
Are you singing let's fight now
Innocent people die, uh oh
There are reasons to unite
Is this why we unite?
If you hate this time
Remember we are the time!
Show you love your country go out and spend some cash
Red white blue hot pants doing it for Uncle Sam
Flex our muscles show them we're stronger than the rest
Raise your hands up baby are you sure that we're the best?
We'll come out with our fists raised
The good old boys are back on top again
And if we let them lead us blindly
The past becomes the future once again
posted by yellowbinder at 1:16 PM on January 6, 2009

Response by poster: I'm having trouble getting lyrics for some of the albums mentioned, but thanks for the contributions so far.
posted by Hildago at 1:19 PM on January 6, 2009

Not early at all, but Black 47 came out with the album "Iraq" this year. According to the liner notes, a lot of the songs were either based on or derived from letters from fans serving in the area, so that may explain the delay. Not a bad set of recordings, but you have to appreciate Black 47's use of a verbal truncheon rather than a scalpel in regards to protest songs.
posted by elendil71 at 1:34 PM on January 6, 2009

One Beat, the Sleater-Kinney album that contains the song that @yellowbinder mentions, is pretty politically charged throughout. One Beat is also probably the most accessible introduction to Sleater-Kinney. Another song from the album, Far Away, goes like this:

7:30am nurse the baby on the couch
then the phone rings
"Turn on the T.V."
watch the world explode in flames
and don't leave the house
And the sky overhead
is silent, waiting
Clear blue holds its breath
And the heart is hit
in a city far away
but it feels so close
Don't breathe the air today
Don't speak of why you're afraid
(Standing here on a one way road
and I fall down,
no other direction for this to go
so we fall down)
And the president hides
while working men rush in
To give their lives
I look to the sky
and ask it not to rain
On my family tonight

You can stream the whole album here.
posted by strangecargo at 1:50 PM on January 6, 2009

Billy Bragg's The Price Of Oil came out in 2002, and you can't really go wrong with Billy Bragg as far as protest/social consciousness goes.
posted by pdb at 1:54 PM on January 6, 2009

You didn't specify Western or Iraqi artists.

Iraqi artists actually started producing protest works well before the invasion…under threat of death for failure to comply.
posted by dinger at 1:59 PM on January 6, 2009

For the life of me I can't find a release date for Brett Dennen - The Holidays Are Here & We're Still At War. Its at least a couple of years old.

I think a couple of songs off of American Hearts by AA Bondy could be considered protest songs. It came out last year.

Paris - What Would You Do? came out in 2003.

Immortal Technique - Bin Laden came out in 2004.

Jefferson Pepper - Christmas In Fallujah came out in 2005.
posted by Sailormom at 2:20 PM on January 6, 2009

Response by poster: Dinger, good point. For this question, I'm specifically looking for western artists (western world, that is). I don't want to limit it to American artists, but artists who rely on public opinion in the U.S. for album/ticket sales are my ideal examples. The Dixie Chicks would be exactly what I'm looking for, except in their case it wasn't exactly a song.

To come right out with it, I'm basically looking for evidence against what Aquaman said above. I've tended to agree with this sentiment since the war started: it seemed like mainstream artists waited until public opinion shifted against the war to release anti-war songs (precisely when those songs were needed least). I'd like to be proven wrong though, and there have been some good counter-examples so far.
posted by Hildago at 2:23 PM on January 6, 2009

Yep, kirkaracha's recommendation of "When the President Talks to God" by Bright Eyes is a good one. In 2005 it was released free on iTunes (it's still available as a free iTunes Plus download). The song was also attached to the European single "First Day in My Life" and played live on Motion Sickness, all in 2005.

A few lyrics: "When the President talks to God / Do they drink near beer and go play golf / While they pick which countries to invade / Which Muslim souls still can be saved? / I guess God just calls a spade a spade / When the President talks to God."

Also, the 2005 album Set Yourself On Fire by Canadian band Stars has two good anti-Bush songs: "He Lied About Death" and "Celebration Guns."

"He Lied About Death" lyrics: "What gives you the right? / To fuck with our lives? / A devil born in paradise / A liar loves to lie / Keep watching your back / Killers always have killers on their tracks."

"Celebration Guns" lyrics: "Then the next day / How will you know your enemy / By their colour or your fear? / One by one / We can cage them in your freedom / Make them all disappear." The band has said this song is mostly about Guantánamo Bay.

Oh, one last one: "16 Military Wives" by the Decemberists on 2005's Picaresque. Here's a video.

Lyrics: "Because America can / And America can't say no / And America does / If America says it's so / It's so."

So, yeah, all four songs came from 2005. Maybe if they had been from 2003 that election would have turned out differently, huh?
posted by Sfving at 2:25 PM on January 6, 2009

Sorry, that should be "First Day of My Life," not "First Day in My Life."
posted by Sfving at 2:30 PM on January 6, 2009

Best answer: Saul Williams did "Not In My Name" in May 2003. He also released both tracks, and all the remixes, along with all of the promotional art, for free, on a website (which is now gone.) This seems to be the lyrics.

I got him to sign my physical copy of it, which I feel pretty cool about.
posted by paisley henosis at 7:06 PM on January 6, 2009

Oh, there is also a video.
posted by paisley henosis at 7:08 PM on January 6, 2009

I think the reason we don't know of a lot of protest songs is that for most Americans, it would have been a very unpopular sentiment back in 2003. We didn't know then what we know now, and though some wondered, the majority were still reeling from 9/11.

The record companies would also surely discourage such things, I mean, look what happened to the Dixie Chicks. There were dissenting voices, but as we've seen here they were few and far between, and mostly from bands the average person isn't exposed to.

It's still happening, too. I saw Sheryl Crow last summer and she made a point to tell the audience to call up the radio stations to request Gasoline. She implied that it wasn't getting much support from the industry.

(As a side note, I have to disagree with the notion that One Beat is Sleater-Kinney's most accessible album. My bet would be on Dig Me Out or All Hands on the Bad One, although I started with the Hot Rock, so anything's possible.)
posted by yellowbinder at 8:42 PM on January 6, 2009

March of Death, a single-song collaboration between Zach de la Rocha (lead singer of Rage Against the Machine) and DJ Shadow, was released in 2003 (iirc very close to the start of the Iraq war), and explicitly criticises Bush's policies wrt the Middle East/Iraq. I don't think Zach is one to bite his tongue over speaking out on political issues. The link goes to the web site set up by the artists for a free download of the song.
posted by chronic sublime at 3:46 AM on January 7, 2009

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