The future of music

40 Best Songs About War & Anti-War Of All Time

September 27, 2023
songs about war

Explore the powerful realm of music’s reflections on conflict with our compilation of the best songs about war.

In this article, we journey through an array of poignant and thought-provoking songs that capture the harrowing and transformative aspects of warfare.

Whether you seek songs that resonate with the realities of battle or simply wish to delve into the profound emotional impact of war-themed music, our list is your guide to the most impactful compositions in this genre.

1. “Gimme Shelter” by The Rolling Stones

1969 saw the release of the single ‘Gimme Shelter‘, which was included on the album Let It Bleed.

It was written during a period when there was a great deal of social and political unrest. At the same time that there were racial tensions in the United States, the Vietnam War was also going on.

The level of stress that everyone was feeling at that time is conveyed via the song, which demonstrates that everyone thought that they were “just a shot away” from complete anarchy.

2. “I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die Rag” by Country Joe and the Fish

This sardonic sing-along is one of the songs that is most closely connected with the war in Vietnam.

It was written by Joe McDonald in 1965, but Vanguard Records decided not to include it on their first album.

The folksy music was popular enough that when Country Joe sang it alone at Woodstock, he got the whole crowd to sing along with him, despite the fact that it was never a huge hit.

3. “American Soldier” by Toby Keith

Toby Keith, a conservative country musician, wrote another song in the days immediately following the terrorist events of September 11, 2001, focusing this one on the difficulties faced by the average person who voluntarily serves in the armed forces of his nation.

The lyrics of the song relate to the tale of a reservist who, in order for his unit to report for combat duty, is forced to say goodbye to his wife and children.

Despite the eloquent sentimentality of the song in the midst of the politically charged context of the moment, this song received a significant amount of criticism from individuals who believed that the United States should avoid going to war in order to pursue those who attacked it, including reservists.

Despite this, the song has a lot of depth, and it shows appreciation for those who put their lives on the line to defend our country.

4. “Masters of War” by Bob Dylan

This anti-war song by Bob Dylan was written as a critique of the officials in charge of the country.

He holds political leaders responsible for the fact that conflicts break out and innocent people die while fighting in them.

The melody of the song is soothing, but the words are harsh as Bob laments how they conceal themselves in mansions and cause everyone to be afraid.

Despite the fact that this song was composed about the Vietnam War, it has been used to oppose other wars and conflicts over the years ever since it was published.

In his early career, Bob Dylan became famous for writing protest songs such as “The Times They Are a Changin” and “Blowin’ in the Wind,” both of which may be found in our list of songs about change.

5. “War” by Edwin Starr

Edwin Starr had been recording soul hit songs since 1965, including the top 10 “25 Miles,” but he was not widely regarded as one of the most talented soul singers in America until the latter part of the decade.

That shifted in 1970 when the protest song with anthemic lyrics “War” became the most popular song in the country.

It is widely recognized as one of the most effective and direct declarations ever made against the pointlessness of war, and it is regarded as one of the protest songs with the highest level of commercial success.

In 1986, Bruce Springsteen’s live performance of “War” made it into the top 10 of the pop charts.

The Temptations were the first group to record “War” for Motown, and it was included on their album “Psychedelic Shack” which was published in 1979.

The record company got emails from fans begging that the song be released as a single; however, Motown refused to comply out of fear that it might tarnish the group’s reputation in the public eye.

When Starr learned that there was a demand for a single, he immediately offered to record “War” for the Motown label owned by Gordy. The end product was a recording that was far more aggressive than the Temptations’ version.

“War,” garnered Starr a nomination for a Grammy Award in the category of Best Male R&B Vocal, and it was later inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame the following year in 1999.

6. “B.O.B” by Outkast

B.O.B” by Outkast features a high-tempo beat incorporating drum and bass rhythms, along with guitar riffs and organ backing.

Surprisingly, the song conveys a pro-war message.

Despite the fact that it was not a huge hit for the otherwise well-known rap duo, it is largely considered to be one of the best rap and hip hop songs of all time owing to the way in which its lyrics are put together and its beat.

7. “Love and War” by Neil Young

Neil Young writes songs that explore the complexities of love as well as combat.

It is unclear where he stands on the subjects, despite the fact that he is aware that they are both challenging matters on which many people have strong opinions.

When he sings, “I said a lot of things that I can’t take back, but I don’t really know if I want to,” it’s clear that he’s trying to figure out how he feels about something, and this song is about him attempting to comprehend those sentiments.

8. “The Unknown Soldier” by The Doors

Because of the dark and disturbing subject matter, many radio stations chose not to play “The Unknown Soldier”, which is likely why the album did not achieve the level of success that it deserved.

The lyrics relate to the story of a soldier who was killed while serving his country in the battle.

While he was away fighting and losing, life proceeded as usual back home; people continued to read the news and feed their children, and finally, everyone celebrated the end of the war without giving any consideration to the anonymous troops who had fought in it.

9. “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival

There were a number of well-known anti-war songs produced during the Vietnam War; but, this song by Creedence Clearwater Revival is among the most well-known.

This song makes fun of the reality that children from middle-class and lower-class families are the ones who are drafted and sent to war, rather than the children of affluent and privileged elite families, who are the ones who start wars and support them.

When the singer claims he’s going to war because he’s not the son of a senator or another member of the social elite who can always obtain a deferment against the draught, he is both upset and telling the truth.

According to the song’s lyrics, even if you sacrifice your life for your cause, the eyes of the warlords will not consider it to be enough.

10. “There is a War” by Leonard Cohen

Despite the fact that this song was released during the Vietnam War, the “wars” that are discussed in it are not necessarily about actual wars fought between countries but rather about “wars” fought between individuals.

Wars are fought between different racial groups, genders, and economic classes.

When Leonard Cohen says things like, “Pick up your tiny burden,” he may as well be implying that there are more significant, genuine wars that we should be focusing on rather than arguing with our neighbors.

11. “The Dogs Of War” by Pink Floyd

Without a doubt, Pink Floyd recorded one of the most popular songs with war in the title.

Although some of their other song lyrics are more directly related to the Vietnam War, “The Dogs Of War” expresses an uneasy feeling from the very beginning.

The song actually talks about corrupt politicians who use their power for military reasons.

12. “This Is War” by 30 Seconds to Mars

As 30STM claims at the beginning of the video, this is a song about peace.

The video then continues to show the horrors of war, and the song progresses to a rather hopeful chorus that would make you imagine a brand new world. A better world.

13. “Army Dreamers” by Kate Bush

Kate Bush rose to fame once again after her song “Running Up That Hill“ played an important role in the “Stranger Things“ show.

However, “Running Up That Hill“ is not the only song that Kate Bush should be appreciated for.

Her war-themed song “Army Dreamers” is actually about the effects of war and mothers who lost their young sons.

14. “You And Whose Army?” by Radiohead

Although this might not be the first war song that comes to mind (it’s actually not a war song at all), the meaning of this Radiohead track could easily be related to war.

Thom Yorke told Mojo magazine: “The song’s ultimately about someone who is elected into power by people and who then blatantly betrays them – just like Blair did.”

At the end of the day, only powerful individuals who decide to betray their people can start a war.

15. “Games Without Frontiers” by Peter Gabriel

Another fantastic song that is a criticism of government leaders is “Games Without Frontiers” by Peter Gabriel.

It’s about political games and decisions that affect people who have nothing to do with it. And that’s usually what wars are all about…

16. “Zombie” by The Cranberries

“This song’s our cry against man’s inhumanity to man; and man’s inhumanity to child.” – Dolores O’Riordan.

Did you know that The Cranberries’ biggest hit is a response to the IRA bombing in the Cheshire town of Warrington?

O’Riordan also explained: “When it says in the song, ‘It’s not me, it’s not my family,’ that’s what I’m saying. It’s not Ireland, it’s some idiots living in the past.”

17. “Spanish Bombs” by The Clash

Although it sounds almost cheerful, “Spanish Bombs” by The Clash clearly refers to the Spanish Civil War.

The song mentions historical events and facts. It’s like a history lesson in the form of a good song.

18. “Devils and Dust” by Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen’s “Devils and Dust” sounds gentle and emotional. And when you add in the meaning of the song, it becomes even more touching.

“Devils and Dust” is an anti-war song that refers to the Iraq War. It basically tells the story of a soldier suffering from emotional and spiritual struggles related to war.

See also: Songs About Soldiers

19. “Orange Crush” by R.E.M.

R.E.M.’s “Orange Crush” refers to Agent Orange, a harmful herbicide used by the US in the Vietnam War. It was used to ruin the plants so they could see the enemy more clearly.

Of course, you can imagine that Agent Orange causes health complications.

So, this is not a song about a soft drink but a rather powerful song about the destruction of war.

20. “How Does The Grass Grow?” by David Bowie

Another anti-war song by an iconic artist is “How Does The Grass Grow?” by David Bowie.

In the song, Bowie also speaks from the perspective of a soldier who has red eyes and a stone heart due to the horrible things he did and witnessed.

 “How Does The Grass Grow?” is not one of the most popular Bowie songs, but it definitely deserves attention.

21. “Stoned Love” by The Supremes

Don’t jump to any conclusions – “Stoned Love” refers to a specific kind of ‘stoned’ related to something strong and unbreakable.

Since it was released in 1970, the song clearly refers to the Vietnam War.

22. “Run To The Hills” by Iron Maiden

In essence, “Run To The Hills” by Iron Maiden is a song about the settlers who arrived in North America and started a conflict with the Native Americans.

The song entails several different perspectives, so it offers a unique way of depicting the historical conflict.

23. “Give Peace A Chance” by Plastic Ono Band

It’s hard to say something new about this song. It’s an anti-war anthem with a very clear message.

“Give Piece A Chance” by Plastic Ono Band was released in 1969, and it’s still one of the most popular anti-war songs about peace and freedom.

And it’s heartbreaking that the message of the song is still relevant today…

24. “War” by Bob Marley

But is there a more iconic and legendary artist who sings about peace and freedom than Bob Marley?

“War” was released on Marley’s album “Rastaman Vibration” in 1976.

The lyrics are based on a speech Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie gave before the United Nations, but the message is applicable to any conflict.

25. “One” by Metallica

Metallica’s “One” is an 8-minute epic journey about soldiers and the effects of war.

It seems like the destruction of war is a common topic in rock music, especially in the 70s and 80s. And that’s probably not surprising…

26. “Bombs Away” by The Police

Even The Police didn’t skip the topic of war.

Although “Bombs Away” doesn’t sound as somber or harsh as some other songs on this list, it’s clearly a song about the atrocities of war and the life of military officers.

27. “Borders” by M.I.A.

The British singer M.I.A. is known for tackling politics and social issues including warfare and immigration.

Her powerful song “Borders” directly refers to the refugee crisis, but it’s also a song about speaking up about world issues and standing up against violence.

28. “Soldier On” by The Temper Trap

There are many songs with a soldier in the title out there, and although“Soldier On” by The Temper Trap doesn’t depict the effects of war, it talks about staying strong and moving forward in life.

Nevertheless, the song is very captivating, thoughtful, and emotional.

29. “Soldier’s Poem” by Muse

Another soldier-related song is “Soldier’s Poem” by Muse.

Released on the band’s iconic album “Black Holes and Revelations”, the song is surprisingly calm and gentle.

But if you’re aware of the title of the song while listening to it, it suddenly becomes quite melancholic and powerful…

30. “Civil War” by Guns n’ Roses

Another rock song about war is “Civil War” by Guns n’ Roses.

The main theme of the song is civil war and the fact that it always feeds the rich and makes the poor poorer.

Either way, the song depicts what war actually means for people. They remind us that every war is horrible, unnecessary, and inherently corrupt.  

31. “Fun and Games” by Barenaked Ladies

Barenaked Ladies refer to war as “Fun and Games”. So, they decided to approach the topic in a satirical way.

Although the song has a rather uplifting and quirky vibe, it also feels a bit strange and uneasy, especially if you’re aware of what they’re talking about.

Nonetheless, “Fun and Games” is definitely one of the most interesting songs about war.

32. “War is Over” by John Lennon

“War is Over” is arguably one of the most popular Christmas songs.

And although it’s associated with that happy time of the year, the song has a clear anti-war message.

This unusual Christmas song also tackles the fact that if enough people want something to happen, it will. It’s a similar idea as “Imagine”, in fact.

33. “War Pigs” by Black Sabbath

War Pigs” by Black Sabbath is another famous song about the Vietnam War.

The song starts rather slowly and eventually picks up the pace. However, “War Pigs” certainly isn’t one of the most aggressive songs on this list.

On the contrary, Black Sabbath manages to deliver a message in a more effective way.

34. “1999” by Prince

Prince’s “1999” is a funky, groovy tune.

But if you pay attention to the lyrics, you’ll realize that things are far from groovy – the song talks about fears of a nuclear Armageddon.

The song was written during the height of the Cold War, so it’s clear that it’s not just another party jam.

On the other hand, “1999” could also be described as a song that encourages you to live in a moment and celebrate your life.

35. “Rooster” by Alice In Chains

Jerry Cantrell wrote this song for his father who served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. His nickname was Rooster.

It’s obviously a very personal song, but the sentiments it portrays can be relatable to anyone who knows someone affected by war.

The music video is directed by Mark Pellington, who also directed Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy.”

36. “Draft Morning” by The Byrds

Gentle vocals, war-themed sound effects, and compelling lyrics… That’s what “Draft Morning” by The Byrds is all about.

Sometimes calm, easy-going music about war can have an even stronger effect. It somehow becomes very melancholic and painful…

37. “Hammer To Fall” by Queen

Queen also tackled the theme of war in their music.

Hammer To Fall” presumably refers to the Cold War Era. But the guitarist Brian May clarified that the song simply talks about life and death.

Either way, the expression in the title refers to the moment when the war turns from cold to hot.

38. “Bullet In The Blue Sky” by U2

Of course, we didn’t forget about U2, a band that has at least one song related to war and peace in every album.

And “Bullet In The Blue Sky” is one of their most political songs.

It’s also very captivating and powerful… Almost hypnotic. It’s definitely one of their most interesting songs.

39. “People Have The Power” by Patti Smith

“People Have The Power” isn’t a typical song about war, but it conveys a powerful message: people have the power to change the world.

Patti Smith and her husband protested the Vietnam War when they were young, and they both contributed to the creation of this compelling anti-war track.  

Patti told NME: “I’ve seen people. I’ve walked in marches all over the world where people spontaneously started singing it..- and it’s so moving for me to see his dream realized.”

After all, in times of war, messages of peace and hope are essential.

40. “A Change Is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke  

Concluding this playlist with a classic, “A Change Is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke, aligns perfectly with the message of peace we’ve explored.

We all need a glimpse of hope, regardless of the type of wars we’re fighting.

And this is a perfect reminder that change might be around the corner…

Wrapping Up Our List of the Best Songs About War

As you can see, there are many powerful songs about war.

Some artists write somber and sentimental war-themed music, and others express their anti-war thoughts in a rather energetic way.

Nevertheless, anti-war songs always hit differently, and the importance of peace and freedom will always be one of the most meaningful themes in music. 

Similar Thoughts:

Vietnam War Songs

Songs About Freedom

Will Fenton

Will, the founder of MIDDER, is a multifaceted individual with a deep passion for music and personal finance. As a self-proclaimed music and personal finance geek, he has a keen eye for futuristic technologies, especially those that empower creators and the public.

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