War war is stupid…

The Soviets and their nukes… On the other side there was Ronnie Reagan and his lover Thatcher ready to press that button… Ah the 80’s eh ? Good times.

I travelled to Moscow not long after the wall fell and met many Russians who I found out, unsurprisingly, that they didn’t want any of us dead. They too didn’t like this constant threat of nuclear war. The politicians and their constant posturing, all of us chuckled at the memories.

So the idea I had was to write something about that now infamous 1980’s anti-war song, as well as giving some mentions to other questionable tunes released on the same subject. With this I decided to ask via my @FootieAndMusic Twitter account for some suggestions of more war/anti war good or bad songs to add.

This is when the idea started to head south a bit quickly…

Turns out that there are many, many very decent songs done on the subject of war. (The majority against obviously). But that’s not going to stop me from my original mission ! I’ll still explore these weaker musical moments, but before that I will highlight the other submitted songs:

Jeremy S. the lead singer of Manchester band The Disappeared was first in with his suggestions for Edwin Starr – War and Barry McGuire – Eve Of Destruction and to a lesser extent:
U2 – Sunday Bloody Sunday.   I say to a lesser extent because the lyrics do reference war, the song was actually about the troubles. But – the single did come from the album War.

Then Darren Lewis and Fredorrarci both suggested: Robert Wyatt – Shipbuilding a song about the Falklands War.

Darren also pointed me towards a beautiful song which for the life of me I don’t know how I missed it now. I was there in the 1980’s. I thought I knew every anti-war song out there. But I didn’t and I’m thankful for him for telling me about The Faith Brothers – Easter Parade:

Continuing this thread it was Chris Ledger who told me that it wasn’t just the 80’s with some good anti-war songs, in the 90’s there was: Ocean Colour Scene – Profit In Peace and what’s this… in the Naughties there was Lee Ryan from the boyband Blue had a track on War Child album with the very listenable: Stand Up As People.

Hold on stop now. So many decent tunes. I’m about to give up on this now. You haven’t come here to read about these good efforts. Putting together a very nice song about the threat of war is easy enough, but doing a bad one… now that takes some talent…

Some more suggestions and now we are getting to the gritty:

– Fredorrarci reminded me about The Cranberries with their tanks and their bombs and their bombs and their guns… which was another song about the Troubles, but given a mention here because of that particular clumsy lyric.

@damon_th takes us further down the path with “ohohohwhoah we’re in the army now …” Extra notes: Noddy Holder shouting the Sergeant’s line: “Stand up and fight !” I also noticed that Laibach covered this track on an album called NATO which had a war theme.

Doctor KarlWe are still in the sensible territory but slowly going into the silly – and to steer us over that cliff here’s Nick Dunmore with two suggestions, both of which tick that terrible decision category. First there’s TV’s Nick Knowles with An Eye For An Eye – and secondly there’s this from Alan Fletcher (Dr Karl Kennedy in Neighbours) with Perfectly Comfortable (about the war in Iraq):

Are you happy now world leaders ? You made a daytime TV and a soap star sing.

But we now get back to the 80’s, to our era of the red scare and of bands with bouffant hair who asked Are you going to drop the bomb or not ?   That one like the Duran Duran song previously mentioned wasn’t actually about the subject of a holocaust, or was it ?

And so we come to the featured song – released in 1984 when the nuclear crisis was at it’s peak, as opposed to Culture Club, who were starting to decline. This single was from that difficult third album and although it sold well, the sales were disappointing compared to the first two. The band were pressured to release something to cash in on their success and the first single to be released from this album was also a cash in:

Despite the relative success of the single (it got to number 2 in the charts), the band have since disowned it.

So what inspired them to write this ? Why did they they release this song ? Was it because of another single released a few months earlier (May 1984) which stayed at the top of the charts for nine weeks ?

Frankie Goes To Hollywood, who had risen to notoriety thanks to producer Trevor Horn and DJ Mike Read, this single was the follow-up to the mega-selling Relax:

This song had everything. Partrick Allen and his voiceover from the Public Information Film. And in the video with a Ronald Reagan lookalike and Soviet Leader Chernenko (who in truth I didn’t recognise, because unlike Reagan this impersonator looked nothing like the real thing.) Both of them fighting each other one-on-one until the death. The spectators goading them on and betting on the outcome. The TV cameras, with Holly Johnson reporting live. This scene was perfect to me. If these people hate each other enough, if they want to destroy each other then do it this way. Kill yourselves, don’t include us in your pathetic games.

Ah but such pity it was fiction. Luckily for us the both sides held off and we can laugh about it now.


Sting ! Look what you started…

A couple of years back you knew that a reunion of The Police was on the horizon when Sting started playing the lute. Another puzzling moment was when he turned up in Paris with a bloke with a giant disc in his lip. They were there to raise awareness of the destruction of the Amazon rainforests, but sadly because everybody was distracted by that lip the message got a bit lost.

This wasn’t the first time that Sting has tried to raise awareness for an issue. He’s got a bit of history starting in 1981 with Amnesty International’s Secret Policeman’s Other Ball.
At the end of the show Sting and others performed a song:

In this grouping there was Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Phil Collins, Donovan and oh look… Bob Geldof and Midge Ure. It was probably the first time that individual musicians had banded together like this to aid a cause.

It wasn’t just by himself, with The Police they released the single Invisible Sun which sang about people living in war torn and impoverished countries. And hey look, just like Paul McCartney track mentioned previously, the BBC also banned this song.
This wasn’t the first time Sting had addressed a serious issue though. But that single became more famous than the 1980 album track called Driven to Tears.

After that there was the Band Aid contribution, which led to Live Aid, then in 1986 he took part in the Amnesty concerts A Conspiracy of Hope and again in 1988 with Human Rights Now!    
Then in 19… alright just stop it already ! We get the idea - he like to turn up for a cause.     He still does the concerts and all that, but it’s Bono’s mug we always bloody see nowadays.

Luckily though Sting does see the funny side of all this and spoofs himself in The Simpsons episode when he took part in the benefit song: We’re sending our love down the well. And even helped to dig a tunnel to get Bart out:

[Pan to hole, where Marge and Homer are watching Sting, topless, digging out of a hole in the wall. There is a wheelbarrow next to him. He gasps(…) for breath.]sting - the simpsons
Marge: “Sting, you look tired, maybe you should take a rest.”
[Sting stops digging and leans on his shovel.]
Sting: “Not when one of my fans needs me.”
[Stings continues to dig.]
Marge: “Actually, I don’t know if we’ve ever heard Bart play one of your albums.”
Homer: “Sssh…Marge! He’s a good digger!”

I want to go back though and give a mention for the bloke who looks like he has a frisbee caught in his mouth. The gentleman in question is Raoni of the Kayapo people of Brazil. He made a personal request to Sting, his wife and another to help them protect their land and culture. Never one to turn down a good cause (code>We’ve been over this !, he co-founded the Rainforest Foundation.

Were there any benefit concerts you are asking. Why yes there is – it’s a biannual event in fact.

But were there any albums or singles ? Actually not. He was beaten to the punch by another similar project, also set up around the same time and also by some musicians.

And this is where it starts to become uncomfortable viewing…

I’m not disrespecting their good cause or good intentions, but with the single, featuring many well known artists, and the video. It looks like a We Are The World parody:

But it didn’t end there… It looked like Chris Rea & Mr. Mister & XTC & Dave Gilmour & Brian Wilson & Joni Mitchell & Ringo Starr & Fish & Belinda Carlisle & Deborah Harry & Bonnie Raitt & Kate Bush & Little Steven & Jon Anderson & Sam Brown & Olivia Newton-John in the above video there felt sorry for some lesser known singers and there was another single:

This one included Ian Anderson & Joe Cocker & Carol Decker & Harold Faltermeyer & Herbie Hancock & Tommy Johnson & Chaka Khan & Stevie Lange & Sandra & Michael McDonald & Richard Page & Maggie Reilly & Jennifer Rush & Chris Thompson and…. Sting ! Look what you’ve done !
[Oh and there was an album too, featuring guess who.]

Still, I suppose it’s better to sing about the trees than trying to be one.

You’re about as easy as a nuclear war…

I am an 80’s throwback. Born in the mid 60’s but the period when music began to resonate with me was from 1981 onwards. Why that particular year ? I don’t know. On Top Of The Pops everybody was having fun, having a party. I wanted to be invited.

It was also around this period that I was only a year away from the harsh reality of Thatcher’s Britain – No parties, just the dole. But watching these bands on the telly, in their bright colourful clothes, with the ballons, with the streamers. It took you away from the grey world outside.

At that time I was living in Liverpool. Only a few months before with my best mate Walter, we sat on some steps and watched the Rialto burn.

As mentioned I wasn’t long for the unemployment line and soon became one of the 3 & half million signing on. Things were grim. Strikes, picket lines and where I lived – the riots. Switch on the TV, take your mind away…

The country was unhappy. Toxteth I witnessed. There was also Brixton and more.

History is slowly beginning to repeat itself with the Tory government (yes I know coalition but the Lib Dems are just puppets) with benefit cuts, cuts to the NHS, high unemployment and recession once again. An unpopular leader leading the country down another dark path.

These days there are many outlets to express our anger and frustration about the Tories, so the outrage is spread out and looks thin on the ground. Back then it was more concentrated. There were only four TV channels and everybody watching them. It was actually easier for some to get there word out. To vent their feelings, to raise those issues.

Music can reflect what people are thinking and feeling. The musicians like the rest of us suffered unemployment and then wrote about it. The most famous example in 1981 was The Specials with Ghost Town. A perfect reflection on the state of things. It captured the mood perfectly.

The Specials obviously weren’t the first with social commentary. This has been going on every since popular music began. But to me it seemed that in the earlier part of the 1980’s there was an increase in these type of songs.
There was easily enough material for the songwriters. Thatcher and her battles with everybody. The dockers, miners, steelworkers… even the unemployed. Lots of misery and poverty around but also the open, raw capitalist greed.

Many bands attempted to raise awareness of fascism, racism, politics and the constant threat of a nuclear war. Even the established and well loved artist Paul McCartney sang about giving Ireland back to the Irish. But the single was subsequently banned.
Other acts such The Police and yes, even Spandau Ballet also sang about that always touchy subject.

Every time a musical act does a take on one of these issues though, they are criticised. How dare these pop stars talk about politics. They should mind their own business.

The argument is always there whether they should get involved or stay out of it. The thing is that sometimes it works and sometimes not. There are a few instances when it became a force for good – such as with Band Aid and the eventual Live Aid concert. But sometimes the song becomes a bit of an embarrassment. The chart pop stars of the 80’s addressing a current plight somewhere. Their smooth, popular image then dented when they cry about war. It’s like a stand up comedian suddenly stopping midway through his act to do a slideshow on the African famine. Sometimes an uncomfortable for us to witness.

A sample of potential embarrassment was with this line in a song, which was met with much derision when first heard:

“Don’t say you’re easy on me, you’re about as easy as a nuclear war…”

It was a throw away line, with the original message of the song not about a holocaust, but of relationships.
The rest of the lyrics in the verse before that line:

“People stare and cross the road from me
And jungle drums they all clear the way for me
Can you read my mind, can you see in the snow
And fiery demons all dance when you walk through that door”

Jungle drumming, snow visions, mind reading and to top it off – the demons:

The line is remembered and brought much unwanted attention to Duran Duran. A fan mishead the lyic and wrote to Simon Le Bon to ask what “yo bad azizi” meant.

This inspired them to create an experimental B side for a single released in 1990:

From a potentially embarrassing lyric – another song. But they still didn’t compose this about the actual event of a nuclear war. It was just a riff on a letter they received. And as far as I’m aware Duran Duran have never done any protest songs, have never tried to raise awareness for the rainforests or poverty… or anything like that. Correct me if I’m wrong though.