Tag Archives: Tom Paxton

THE TOP TEN ANTI WAR SONGS

There hasn’t been a day since the invention of the phonograph record when the world has not been at war someplace.

We are told that the world stands on the edge of a precipice, and there is very little we can do so instead of a fallout shelter I’ve built a list of the ten best anti-war songs ever.

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Starting at number ten we have….

10. ‘The Ballad Of Penny Evans’ – Steve Goodman

The best ‘one guy with a guitar’ performer who ever lived, Goodman’s music was primarily in the ‘good times and more beer’ zone peppered with moments of genuine pathos but rarely political. On a 1973 album on the Buddha label he included a powerful acappella treatment of a song sung by a 21 year-old woman whose husband has been killed in Vietnam and whose rage against the government who sent him there can barely be contained:

“And now every month I get a check from an Army bureaucrat / And it’s every month I tear it up and I mail the damn thing back / Do you think that makes it all right, do you think I’d fall for that?”

In his clear voice, loud with anger, it’s an amazing performance.

9. ‘Jimmy Newman’ – Tom Paxton

Paxton’s ‘Talking Vietnam Pot Luck Blues’ about a young soldier’s discovery that everyone on both sides is smoking dynamite dope is almost as funny as this song about a hospitalized soldier’s slow realization that his friend has died during the night before they are scheduled to be shipped back home is emotionally devastating.

“Get up damn it Jimmy! They’re loading us next, and you’ve only to open your eyes.”

8. ‘And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda’ – Eric Bogle

An Irish songwriter’s story about a soldier returning home from the battle of Gallipoli in 1915. The song is in the voice of a soldier whose legs have been blown off

“I never knew there were worse things than dying”

who watches as all the people who’ve come to greet the returning soldiers turn away in silence as the injured are brought off the boat. There are a million or more ways to ruin this kind of song and Bogle avoids every one. The song’s been done by many people including The Pogues but this version is beautiful and heartbreaking.

7. ‘Machine Gun’ – Jimi Hendrix

All the elements of a great screenplay are here. New York City, New Year’s Eve, hours from the end of the 1960’s, The Fillmore East and the greatest electric rock guitarist in history is a black man, a former US Army paratrooper. Pressured by a growing black militancy, he’s fired his white British backing band and has formed his ‘Band Of Gypsys’ with Billy Cox (bass) and Buddy Miles (drums). He knows he has to address Vietnam somehow, and in the twelve minutes and thirty-nine seconds of ‘Machine Gun’ Jimi says as much about the war as John Coltrane said about God in ‘A Love Supreme’. Here’s the audio footage from that New Years Eve Fillmore show.

6. ‘Universal Soldier’ – Buffy Saint-Marie

This is the anti-war song that speaks an awful truth that we would really prefer to ignore: while we can point fingers at the presidents and generals all we want, it is the individual soldiers who feed the war machine. The fact that these are our sons and brothers and sisters and daughters (and fathers and mothers) makes it a horrible and ugly truth (and, who knows, maybe some truths are best turned away from) but the Lysistrata solution offered here is a hard one to ignore.

5. ‘Between The Wars’ – Billy Bragg

Billy Bragg was to Margaret Thatcher in the 1980’s what Phil Ochs was to Richard Nixon in the 1960’s. Far from his most vitriolic political song, ‘Between The Wars’ examines the British working-class experience with verses like

“I kept the faith and I kept voting / Not for the iron fist but for the helping hand / For theirs is a land with a wall around it / And mine is a faith in my fellow man / Mine is the green field and the factory floor / Theirs are the skies all dark with bombers / And mine is the peace we knew / Between the wars.”

4. ‘I Feel Like I’m Fixing To Die’ – Country Joe And The Fish

The archetypal 1967-San Francisco-LSD-hippie-band led by a psychedelicized and politicized US army vet, ‘Country Joe’ McDonald. I remember in 1968 or 1969 sitting behind a row of guys in Navy uniforms either on their way to or back from Viet Nam at a Country Joe And The Fish show in Philadelphia as they played this song

“Be the first one on your block to have his boy come home in a box.”

Watching them cheer every line was around the time I began to suspect that the world was, well… complicated. Bring back the draft and we’d have this again in twenty minutes, half hour tops.

3. ‘Masters Of War’ – Bob Dylan

The studio version from 1963 is brilliant, but the live-in-Italy version on 1984’s ‘Real Live’ with former Rolling Stones’ guitarist, Mick Taylor, on a distorted, almost heavy metal, lead guitar is 1,000 times angrier than Johnny Rotten ever was or will be. There’s a talk that the critic Griel Marcus gave to the Department of Rhetoric at the University of California, Berkeley called ‘Stories Of A Bad Song’ that is really worth reading.

“Come you masters of war, you that build the big guns / You that build the death planes / You that build the big bombs / Not even Jesus would forgive what you do / I hope that you die”

2. ‘What’s Going On?’ – Marvin Gaye

“Father, father, father we don’t need to escalate / You see, war is not the answer / For only love can conquer hate”

wasn’t the kind of rhyme one expected to hear in 1971 from a million-selling soul artist who had earned the title ‘Prince Of Motown’. The title track from an album that his label flatly refused to release at first, calling it commercial suicide, became the crown jewel in what Smokey Robinson still calls ‘the greatest album of all time’. This version is all the evidence of his incredible power over audiences anyone should require.

1. ‘I Ain’t Marching Anymore’ – Phil Ochs

In 1976 Phil Ochs, the best ‘Protest Folk’ songwriter of his (or maybe any) generation, hung himself at his sister’s home. The victim of the sort of clinical depression we now have the drugs to treat and feelings of despair in the aftermath of Watergate, the rise of disco and the failure of the 1960’s to live up to its grand promises of social change (let’s face it, if the 60’s had succeeded Nixon would have died in prison and Kissenger would have gone on trial). Put simply, any top-whatever-list of anti-war songs that doesn’t start with Phil isn’t worth the ether it’s printed on. The solo acoustic version on the 1965 album of the same name remains the finest two minute and thirty-two second lesson in the history of international conflict ever recorded on to a roll of magnetic tape.

To be honest, “best of” lists are almost always a bit of a sham and Bob Marley, Elvis Costello, The Clash, R.E.M., Edwin Starr, The Dead Kennedys, Sun Ra, Fred Small, Richie Havens, Neil Young and, OK, even the Sex Pistols are all absent here. But these ten songs collectively represent a diverse body of response to our shared history and any one you may not be familiar with is deserving of your time and attention.

First published on These Things Too. Thanks to Stan.

ALBUM REVIEW: THE TENBAGS- ‘Bags o’ Craic’ (2018)

Crusty punk troubadours from the middle of England playing Anarcho-Celtic-Punk ballads and rampaging through folk tradition!

Bags o’ Craic arrived at London Celtic Punk Towers towards the end of 2018 on a scruffy home made CDR with a basic photocopied cover and a couple of stickers that wouldn’t play on any of the CD players in my house or my laptop!! So it was with great relief that the band recently stuck it up on Bandcamp so I could finally get round to hearing it. Having checked them out on Facebook they seemed like they were a band i would be into and after a couple of listens this was confirmed!

The Tenbags a true Brummy mix of backgrounds including – Scottish, Irish, Jewish, Indian, Trinidadian, English, Italian, Roma Gypsy and Punk!! From left to right: Neil Harvey – Washboard and Guitar * Johnny (Kowalski) Noblet – GuitBanj and Voice * Niall Singh – Guitar and Voice and Poems * Benedict Davenport- Mandolin and Tenor Banjo * Sam-uendo – Fiddle.

Bags o’ Craic is twelve songs that fly past in an incredibly quick twenty-four minutes. Songs beloved by the folk snobs purists are stripped right down to basics and played without frills or flourishes which for many of these songs that is exactly how they were meant to be played when first written. The roots of The Tenbags lie in Niall and Ben’s meeting at Birmingham art school back in 2009. A shared interest in folk music thanks to Ben’s Irish background and Niall who had grown up obsessed with Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie and The Pogues before getting into Punk. Coming from a half Scottish/half Indian background he ingested the folk music from his Mam’s record collection and the Pogues from Celtic Supporting, Celtic-Rock loving Uncles!

The album kicks off with ‘The World Turned Upside Down’ a song originally penned by folk legend Leon Rosselson which tells the story of the Diggers (English radicals seen as forerunners of anarchism) rebellion on St. Georges Hill in Surrey in 1649.

“The sin of property we do disdain
No man has any right to buy and sell the earth for private gain
By theft and murder they took the land
Now everywhere the walls spring up at their command”

It has been recorded by several artists with perhaps Billy Bragg’s 1983 version the most popular. Here it is played fast with sparse backing of acoustic guitar, fiddle and mandolin with Niall’s vocals leading. These days their is such a market for Irish music that the temptation is to perfect and polish everything so that the pub cover gigs keep rolling in. This is a long way from the roots of Celtic-Punk and Shane could never ever have been accused of trying to croon his way through things and it is to Shane’s tradition that Niall continues. This is followed by a cover of ‘The Blackleg Miner/ You Made Your Bed’, a song that has recently been covered by Ferocious Dog and regularly features in their live set. From the mid 19th-century the song is set among the Northumberland pit villages and spits vengeance against strike breakers otherwise known as scabs to the miners and their families. A subject close to Niall’s heart as his family in Scotland were from the mining community, seamlessly flowing into the original track ‘You Made Your Bed. One of the best tracks here is the cover of Tom Paxton’s ‘Johnny Got a Gun’. The heartbreaking tale of a child who is bullied at school so gets the means to defend himself that ends in utter tragedy and contains one of the best lines I’ve ever heard.

“Johnny’s mum and dad still work long hours
And knock on the unit door
They sit with Johnny in the visitor’s room
And his feet don’t reach the floor”

Niall’s voice may not be the polished article but that is far from why The Tenbags are doing this and their is more emotion in this song than many of the albums that have featured on these pages over the years. Do yourself a favour and check out the great Tom Paxton’s version as well here. Next up is a spoken word piece ‘Banned From The Tesco’ where Niall spits out the words at us in just seventy seconds leading into a couple of covers of minor classics starting with the Crass song ‘Securicor’ and followed quickly by The Exploited’s ‘Alternative’ sounding as unlike Crass and The Exploited as you will ever hear. The Tenbags take the songs and breathe a life into them I would never have thought possible. That anarchic punk rock spirit shines through in the spoken word sections. These use to popular in Punk Rock, especially on Oi! compilations, but has all but disappeared these days so the thirty second angry anti-war rant ‘Grandad’ is both a blast to the past in subject matter and its very existence. The covers chosen here sound to me to have been picked very carefully and Bob Dylan’s  ‘When The Ship Comes In’ leads us into another anti-war rant in ‘Warlords’ before the album’s highlight hits the airwaves and in ‘Bella Ciao’ Niall perhaps comes as close here to singing in tune! The Italian anti-fascist anthem dates from the rice fields of the late 19th century but it was revived by the anti- fascist movement active in Italy during the Second World War with it’s lyrics updated. The next song also harks back to Crass in the albums second original track ‘The Man Who Spoke To God’. There follows a couple of minutes of silence which may be a nod to Crass and their problems with the song ‘Reality Asylum’or could be that the final song is meant to be a hidden track! The album comes to an end with the classic Irish traditional lament ‘The Parting Glass’. It was maybe too obvious to cover something that Shane was well known for singing but The Pogues did get round to singing ‘The Parting Glass’ and here The Tenbags keep it simple an play the song as it is meant to be played, slowly.

So an album that you will either be able to get past Niall’s style of vocals or not but as I’ve said we are in a scene where we worship a man who couldn’t sing for toffee so you should never let that put you off. The music is extremely well played and the arrangements sparse with the songs chosen far beyond ‘folks greatest hits’ and with some great and unusual and unexpected punk covers thrown in to. The energy and passion here is evident on every single track and with the band having made the album available for free download you have no excuse not to get a copy. Simply click where it says Buy Digital Album and this will take you to a page where you have the option to name your price where you can simply type in £0.00 and you will receive the link for your freed download.

(listen to Bags o’ Craic for free on the Bandcamp player below)

Download Bags o’ Craic  Name Your Price Download  Contact The Tenbags  Bandcamp  Facebook

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