The North West Bylines Team has come together to share songs that remind them of soldiers and war as a way to honour Remembrance and Armistice Day this weekend.
We’ve chosen ten songs with a mix of styles – although ended up with a mostly rock theme!
Wrong Side of Heaven – Five Finger Death Punch
The band itself is American, but within the YouTube video for Wrong Side of Heaven, it is clear that the band care about veterans. The video follows a veteran between scenes of war and being homeless in the streets, with overlaying text highlighting key issues for veterans including high divorce rates and the high number of homeless veterans in the US – 300,000. That stat was from 2014, today it is thought to be 40,000+, and in the UK the number is approximately 4,000 (as of 2020).
In conjunction with the lyrics, the song becomes quite emotional with the pain of being alone despite trying to get help:
“Arms wide open
I’m no hero
And I’m not made of stone”
The lyrics also mention a sense of regret about decisions made:
“I heard from God today
And she sounded just like me
What have I become?
What have I done?
I saw the devil today
And he looked a lot like me
I looked away
I turned away”
All Together Now – The Farm
Now this is a song that a lot of people connect with football and any type of union of people. However the song is actually about the Christmas Truce between British and German soldiers when some of the soldiers on both sides laid down their arms on Christmas Day and played football. Like their fellow scouser, Paul McCartney’s Pipes of Peace (which covers the same truce), the song is about humans in conflict laying down arms and realising that there are more in common than they have which divides them.
“Countries’ borders were right out of sight
When they joined together and decided not to fight”
Always worth remembering that armistice means ceasefire, a cessation of violence.
Run to the Hills – Iron Maiden
The lyrics of Run to the Hills remind me of greed, and is about white colonisers fighting (and winning against) Native Americans, and enslaving them – from the perspective of a Native:
“White man came across the sea
He brought us pain and misery
He killed our tribes, he killed our creed
He took our game for his own need
We fought him hard, we fought him well
Out on the plains we gave him hell
But many came, too much for Cree
Oh, will we ever be set free?”
Emerald – Thin Lizzy
I think this song is interesting because it refers to the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland and the start of English colonialism within this country. The last two lines really hits home the message that sometimes war is about taking territory:
“Down from the glen came the marching men
With their shields and their swords
To fight the fight
They believed to be right”
Emerald and Run to the Hills are both two songs that make us question whether these sorts of ‘landgrabs’ are worth the many sacrifices and deaths it leads to.
We Were Men – Theory of a Deadman
I think this song represents the PTSD aspects of war that often aren’t talked about. In a 2018 study, it was estimated that 6% of 9,000 veterans have PTSD, but the number is likely to be a lot higher for all of the UK’s veterans.
“Woke up screaming in bed
The silence taunts me
It’s like I’m there again
But this nightmare calms me down
The fire licks my skin
I feel it burn away
Bullets stream overhead
My heart beats deafening
I’ve never been so afraid”
Some Mothers’ Son – The Kinks
It’s a brilliant and heartfelt tale told from the perspective of a mother about her son who has died on the battlefield. Written in 1969 off their concept album Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire), and at a time when many artists were attempting to write the best anti-war song, this track is neither anti or pro-war – it just paints a realistic picture of the sombreness of the battlefield. The lyrics are perhaps as powerful as the war poets from WWI. This verse has always stood out for me for its beauty, its innocence and its tragic conclusion:
“Two soldiers fighting in a trench
One soldier glances up to see the sun
And dreams of games he played when he was young
And then his friend calls out his name
It stops his dream and as he turns his head
A second later he is dead”
War Pigs – Black Sabbath
War Pigs is more about politics and shows the truth in its own rights about how politicians aren’t affected by war in the same way as the public. Several people have condemned soldiers for fighting but not the politicians that ordered them to fight in the first place – some soldiers receive punishment, but is the same true for politicians?
“Politicians hide themselves away
They only started the war
Why should they go out to fight?
They leave that all to the poor, yeah
Time will tell on their power minds
Making war just for fun
Treating people just like pawns in chess
Wait till their judgment day comes, yeah”
Universal Soldier – Donovan
One song that always reminds me of soldiers and war is the Universal Soldier as it refers to different conflicts across the world, but also has themes of responsibility in terms of war doesn’t exist without soldiers. However, the song does not mention that in some countries, drafts required men to fight and many did not have a choice. As an example, the US requires men to register for selective service within 30 days of turning 18.
“He’s the universal soldier, and he really is to blame
His orders come from far away no more
They come from here and there and you and me
And brothers can’t you see
This is not the way we put the end to war?”
Psycho – Muse
This band in general have quite a few songs about blind compliance, but Psycho really makes you think about soldiers being used as killing machines:
“Are you a human drone? (Aye, sir)
Are you a killing machine? (Aye, sir)
I’m in control, motherfucker, do you understand? (Aye, sir)”
It also reminds me of the expected relationship between soldier and officer – one that commands, and the other obeys:
“And you will kill on my command
And I won’t be responsible”
Bastille Day – Rush
I like this song because it is based on Bastille Day and the storming of the prison as part of the French Revolution. A few months afterwards, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen was born. Even though the other songs are more about wars, I think people often forget the ‘smaller fights’ that people have gone through to gain their freedom and stand up for their rights, and this song is, of course, an excellent throwback to French history.
These lyrics in particular show how freedom and justice were claimed after the execution of King Louis XVI and his wife Marie-Antoinette:
“And we’re marching to Bastille Day
The guillotine will claim her bloody prize
Sing, oh choirs of cacophony
The king has kneeled to let his kingdom rise”
We hope you enjoyed and thank you to all those that have served. We have not forgotten.
If you would like to donate to the Royal British Legion you can do so here.