Songs for Memorial Day

From Johnny Cash, John Prine, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Marley, Kinks, Byrds, Leonard Cohen and much more.

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Reprinted with permission from Greg Mitchell’s newsletter Between Rock and a Hard Place.

Fairly eclectic group, but here goes:

John Prine unveils “Sam Stone” in very early TV appearance.

A little-known early Joni Mitchell song, “The Fiddle and the Drum,” performed by A Perfect Circle.

Neil Young created the best (among the few) full albums protesting the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Living With War. Here’s the key cut, “Shock and Awe.”

The Byrds, after Gene Clark and David Crosby flew the coop, still produced a couple of great albums, and songs (originally penned by Croz) such as “Draft Morning,” here with an extended ending.

Emmylou Harris & Linda Ronstadt collaborated on the beautiful “1917,” by David Olney, as a woman takes pity on a soldier and sleeps with him.

Perhaps The Kinks’ greatest album from 1969, Arthur, explored World War II in three songs, including one that applies to all wars, “Some Mother’s Son.”

No one in our era wrote more anti-war songs than Phil Ochs – even the little-remembered U.S. invasion of Santo Domingo earned a fine tune. But several tackled more universal antiwar themes, such as “One More Parade.”

Also expressing a more timeless and universal message, the master Bob Marley denounced “War,” in this searing live performance in 1977.

Not specifically an “antiwar” song but a depiction of the sad treatment and fate that met even one of the most illustrious soldiers, Ira Hayes, the Native American who helped raise the flag in the famous photo on Iwo Jima. Johnny Cash was proud to do this Peter LaFarge classic and drew wide praise from Native Americans.

Jackson Browne’s “Lives in the Balance” offered a broad sweep in 1986, here live with Crosby, Nash and longtime collaborator David Lindley.

Iris DeMent with a haunting take on the Vietnam “Wall in Washington.”

Steve Earle, perhaps the best lefty troubadour/rocker of our time, explored “Rich Man’s War” at the height of our folly in Iraq.

Dire Straits reached a mass audience with the title track of their 1980s album “Brothers in Arms.”

As noted, there were few powerful songs protesting the Iraq War, but guitar ace Richard Thompson did deliver “Dad’s Gonna Kill Me” – Dad apparently being G.I. lingo for “Baghdad.”

Again, not precisely antiwar but a poetic depiction of resistance in France, Leonard Cohen’s early “The Partisan” – sung here, movingly, in Paris.

Sounds jaunty from Ry Cooder with Flaco Jimenez but check out lyrics during Iraq war: “Now Johnny ain’t got no legs and Billy ain’t got no face / Do they know it’s Christmas time this year? / Tommy looks about the same but his mind is gone / Does he know it’s Christmas time this year?”

Greg Mitchell is the author of a dozen books, including “Hiroshima in America,” and the recent award-winning The Beginning or the End: How Hollywood – and America – Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, and has directed three documentary films since 2021, including two for PBS (plus award-winning “Atomic Cover-up”). He has written widely about the atomic bomb and atomic bombings, and their aftermath, for over forty years. He writes often at Oppenheimer: From Hiroshima to Hollywood.