War is hell. And musicians have been writing about it as far back as the Civil War (probably longer, but we have trouble grasping anything that happened before the camera was invented). Things really picked up in the '60s, when the Vietnam War dropped into Americans' laps and an entire anti-war movement coincided with the hippies' peace-and-love aesthetic. Unfortunately, since then there hasn't been a shortage of wars, which have kept many artists busy documenting the horrors on the battlefront and at home. Both are represented in our list of 5 Great Lyrics About War.
"It takes a second to say goodbye / Push the button and pull the plug / Say goodbye."
How quickly can the human race be wiped off the planet by a nuclear war? Mere seconds, according to U2, who frame their entire third album around the subject of war (that's its title). 'Seconds' plays on Cold War fears, but it could have been written about any war over the past 100 years. The maritime rhythm and chanting female soldiers in the middle of the song drive home the point.
"Hear the sound of the falling rain coming down like an Armageddon flame / The shame, the ones who died without a name."
This anti-war song comes early in Green Day's rock opera 'American Idiot,' taking aim at the government and big-money corporations responsible for the Iraq War. The Christian right are also in Billie Joe Armstrong's target in the bombs-away 'Holiday.'
The Clash, 'Straight to Hell'
"Me got photograph of you and mamma-san / Lemme tell ya about your blood, bamboo kid / It ain't Coca-Cola, it's rice."
The Clash look at the aftermath of the Vietnam War and its effect on the thousands of illegitimate kids fathered by American soldiers. The displaced children face another kind of war -- one that will stay with them longer than the one that tore their homeland to pieces.
Pearl Jam, 'World Wide Suicide'
"Saw his face in a corner picture / I recognized the name / Could not stop staring at the face I'd never see again."
Pearl Jam's seething indictment of the Iraq War rages against the government machine. Eddie Vedder has said the song was influenced about Pat Tillman, the NFL star who was killed by friendly fire and whose fate was covered up by the Pentagon.
Tom Waits, 'Hell Broke Luce'
"How is that the only ones responsible for making this mess got their sorry asses stapled to a goddamn desk?"
Stuck somewhere in the desert fighting another man's war, Tom Waits' battle-scarred character surveys the scene around him and all he sees are broken men -- some literally. Things don't get much better when he returns home -- blind, missing an arm and hooked on meth. The horrors of war in four harrowing minutes.