A constant theme in this blog has been that places spark particular associations. Sometimes these can be so specific that everyone automatically makes the mental link. Can you think of Pisa without the Leaning Tower? (Here’s a tip that no-one has ever thought of.  When taking a photo of the Leaning Tower get a friend to stand in the perspective with their arm out so it looks as though they are holding the Tower up). Or Cheddar without the Gorge? They become defined by the association. As They  Might Be Giants put it:  “New York has tall buildings, New Jersey has its malls. Pisa has a leaning tower. Will it ever fall?” (Where Do They Put Balloons?) 

The same can apply on a wider scale to whole countries that have become inextricably linked in the mind and through songs  with a specific period of their history, usually to do with a war or conflict of some sort. Wars have  been a perennial topic in pop songs from the earliest days –one of record producer Joe Meek’s (see Holloway Road column)  first big successes was Lay Down Your Arms by Anne Shelton in 1956. In fact, the following wars and conflicts, amongst others, have been referenced in song:

Iraq Invasion: (Operation Iraqi Liberation -  David Rovics)
Yugoslav Wars ( Bosnia - The Cranberries)
Falklands War (Shipbuilding-Elvis Costello)
Vietnam War (See below)
Korean War (I Bombed Korea- Cake)
Spanish Civil War (Spanish Bombs-The Clash)
World War 1 ( Hanging In The Wire- P J Harvey)
Boer War (Two Little Boys - Rolf Harris)
Spanish-American  war (Galveston - Glen Campbell)
American Civil war (Billy Don’t be a Hero - Paper Lace)
American Indian wars (Soldier Blue - Buffy St Marie)
Crimean War (5 4 3 2 1 –Manfred Mann)
Napoleonic Wars (Waterloo - Abba)
Anglo-American War of 1812-15 (Battle of New Orleans - Johnny Horton)
English Civil War (Young Ned of the Hill-The Pogues)
Trojan War ( 5 4 3 2 1 - Manfred Mann)

In fact here is 54321: 2 wars,erudite lyrics, polo neck sweaters, glasses and  a beard, all in less than 2 minutes: intellectuals or what? (The follow-up, Hubble Bubble Toil and Trouble, threw in a bit of Shakespeare)

I have omitted a glaring instance :World War 2.  There have been pop  songs about it – Enola Gay by OMD for example - but they are surprisingly few. After all, the first wave of  British groups, the Beatles, Stones et al, were born during World War 2 and the second wave spent their formative years watching war films on TV and at the cinema and reading comics where Germans said things like “Donner und Blitzen, the Englisher is a schweinhund”. Yet few chose to look a few years back for musical inspiration ( true to retrospective  form the Kinks were an exception with Mr Churchill Says).  Maybe World War 2 was just too near and too big to sing about. Or maybe the War became mixed up with those figures of authority – parents, teachers, town hall officials, park keepers, policemen – that emerging pop music rebelled against. A stereotypical figure then was the Dad with pipe and slippers and steam coming from his ears watching a group like the Pretty Things on TV and saying, ‘I fought in the war for that lot’. Followed by ‘What they need is a bath, a haircut and music lessons’. The War seemed to the musical generation emerging  then a remote event.( I was initially startled when I recently read that some British tanks in World War 2 had pictures of Petula Clark on them as a mascot. How could that possibly be without a time warp? Then I realised that by the time of Downtown in 1964   Petula Clark had already had several careers: as the British Shirley Temple as a child film/radio actress   - hence the mascot photos –and success as  a singer in the UK and France, her first hit coming a decade before Downtown. Her Little Blue Man track was also ahead of its time ,a decade or so before pyschedelia.)

Some of these  examples above have left some countries marooned in a particular time period. The obvious example is Vietnam, which has a large number of songs about it but nearly all of which are about the Vietnam War and are  mostly   American , for obvious reasons. The only British ones  I  can think of are Eric Burdon and the New Animals’ Sky Pilot and  Paul Hardcastle’s 19, which was a hit years later in 1985. Yet it remains perhaps the most musically covered of all wars, partly as the peak years co-incided with pop music finding a political voice, though some -  like Springsteen’s Born in the USA – came well after the event. One of the most effective was Feel Like I’m Fixin' To Die Rag, first released by Country Joe and the Fish in 1967 and given later popularity through the acoustic version in the Woodstock film. Effective because of its sense of  the absurd, a singalong chorus that  anti-war demonstrators en route to Grosvenor Square and the American embassy could dance along to and lyrics that went deeper than its tune suggested. This aside however, Country Joe’s only brush with commercial success in the UK came  rather bizarrely in 1976 when the model Twiggy had a surprise hit with Here I Go Again, several years after the track had first appeared on a Country Joe album.

Another example is the former Yugoslavia, previously discussed in the column Lyla. Songs like Bosnia, or Dubrovnik is Burning, or Yugoslavia  leave  the region in the 1990’s just as Vietnam is left in the 1965-1975 decade. The song here from 2010 , however, Dubrovnik, by  Northampton group My First Tooth offers an escape of sorts, a song of poetic  imagery and hope: “Cannons calm from years of truce, after sad years of misuse, Dubrovnik poured into me, from castle to emerald sea”.  (The eery noise  at the beginning sounds like the musical saw again but I think it is singing). 

Dubrovnik is full of the past, of course. The recent past is there in the  new roof tiles replacing those smashed by shells, and in the photos of those killed in its siege. But it is the more distant past that fills the present, with the castle walls, bell-tower, alleyways and monasteries and a sense of entering a time machine as you pass through  the  city gates. And as you look out from the castle walls, there is the blue and emerald sea, timeless there for millennia.


  1. Hi Geoff - WOW! I think of all the columns you have posted, this made me crave the chance to visit the place you wrote about the most. I loved your last paragraph. One day you should write a travel book.

  2. Geoff, I saw this today and thought of you! It doesn't relate to this week's column (which I loved) but thought you'd like to read it anyway! - http://memerial.net/1464_how_to_get_there

  3. Geoff, I saw this today and thought of you! It doesn't relate to this week's column (which I loved) but thought you'd like to read it anyway! - http://memerial.net/1464_how_to_get_there

  4. Hello! Just discovered your blog. Thought you might enjoy my site, Pop Spots, where I trace and photograph exact Spots where famous events of Pop culture took place: http://www.popspotsnyc.com/

  5. Thanks for the link-that is fascinating. Have you done Fred Neil and Bleecker and Macdougal?!

  6. Your note about the Leaning Tower of Pisa photographs made me laugh... but look! I managed to think of something new to do with I went there! - http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-s1Rjbpmjf1M/T1JhtSC6fII/AAAAAAAAA8Q/TxLW_JeKVOA/s1600/pisa-leaning-tower-illusion.jpg

  7. I did something more original too at the Leaning Tower:)


  8. No, I didn't do that one yet - great idea though; thanks!

  9. People are so single-minded when they visit Pisa - here's a photo I took of all the people trying to take exactly the photo you describe; it was hilarious to watch them!


  10. Here's Where Do They Make Balloons? - great song! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4EiU9pTweyw (it's 'make balloons' not 'put balloons' - and actually asking where they MAKE balloons is a way more reasonable question than where they PUT balloons.... when you think about it:)

  11. Just a random thing I remembered when you said about Cheddar Gorge, The Troggs used Cheddar Caves as the backdrop for the band photo on their debut album "From Nowhere-The Troggs", which included "Wild Thing".

  12. Geoff, this is an incredible list of songs about war - truly fascinating!!

    What about the Dano-Swedish War of 1808-1809 though:)

  13. Geoff, I wrote this little piece about Vietnam War songs in case you would like to read it: http://faculty.buffalostate.edu/fishlm/folksongs/americansongs.htm

    I love your blog!

  14. There is also the Cold War (if that counts). For example, the Beatles' "Back in the U.S.S.R.".....?

  15. Yes, or another Cold War song is Heroes by David Bowie......

  16. The quintessential Cold War song has to surely be "99 Luftballons" by Lena!

  17. Another contender for the Spanish Civil War song category has to be "Jamie Foyers" by Ewan MacColl....

  18. I would add "If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next" by the Manic Street Preachers, to the Spanish Civil War list......:)

  19. For World War 1, how about "And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda" by Eric Bogle from the early 1970s?

    Great column Geoff!

  20. Geoff, you have no idea how helpful this week's column was! I am teaching a summer course for high school teachers on the literature/art/music of wars, and will be assigning all the songs you listed. And this week's column will be on the reading list too! THANK YOU!

  21. For World War II, I totally agree that it lacks the number of songs you might expect. There is "The Bob" by Bryan Ferry though, from 1972.....

  22. One WW2 song is "Corporal Clegg" by Pink Floyd....

  23. Here are a few more Fauklands war songs!

    "Another Man's Cause" – The Levellers (1992)
    "Como Estais Amigos" – Iron Maiden (1998)
    "Get Your Filthy Hands off My Desert" – Pink Floyd (1983)
    "Island of No Return - Billy Bragg (1984)
    "Let's Start a War... (Said Maggie One Day) - The Exploited (1983)
    "Mentioned In Dispatches" - Television Personalities (1985)
    "The Post War Dream" – Pink Floyd (1983)
    "Sheep Farming in the Falklands" – Crass (1982)
    "Spirit of the Falklands" – New Model Army (1982)
    "Where the Rose is Sown/ Come Back to Me - Big Country (1984)
    "Yes Sir, I Will" – Crass (1983)

  24. I guess “Reuben James” by Woody Guthrie is a WW2 song too?

  25. i thought of "Sullivan" by Caroline's Spine as another WW2 song?

  26. Wow, this could be describing MY dad!:

    "A stereotypical figure then was the Dad with pipe and slippers and steam coming from his ears watching a group like the Pretty Things on TV and saying, ‘I fought in the war for that lot’. Followed by ‘What they need is a bath, a haircut and music lessons’."

    FLASHBACK to my childhoood!

  27. Geoff, I think this is exactly right, the idea that there are few songs about WW2 because of what the war seemed to represent - the greatest generation but also those figures of authority – parents, teachers, town hall officials, park keepers, policemen – that emerging pop music rebelled against, as you put it so well.

    Although in England, those park keepers sound like they are kept busy by people burning park benches after graffiting on them, so I'm not sure they should be categorized with the rest of them, poor park keepers.

  28. Isn't the much simpler reason why there were unexpectedly fewer songs about WW2 (and so many more about Vietnam) because of the population shift? The soldiers drafted to fight in Vietnam were born during the massive baby boom that began in 1946. By 1960 the number of undergraduates in colleges and universities had doubled in twenty years to 3.6 million young men and women. And by 1964, seventeen-year-olds were the largest age cohort in the United States. And they wanted to buy and listen to music.....

  29. On the topic of Vietnam songs, African Americans contributed much of this music. Martha Reeves and the Vandellas released “I Should Be Proud” in 1970, the first anti-war song from the Motown label. It was followed a few months later by “War,” recorded first by the Temptations (not released as a single for fear of conservative backlash) and then rerecorded by Edwin Starr. More tender and soulful was Marvin Gaye’s plea for peace and love in “What’s Going On,” where “war is not the answer, for only love can conquer hate.” “In 1969 or 1970,” Gaye said, “I began to re-evaluate my whole concept of what I wanted my music to say. I was very much affected by letters my brother was sending me from Vietnam, as well as the social situation here at home. I realized that I had to put my own fantasies behind me if I wanted to write songs that would reach the souls of people. I wanted them to take a look at what was happening in the world.” Often people only remember Bob Dylan or Phil Ochs but black musicians released Vietnam war songs too......

  30. Surely an even simpler reason for the lack of WWII songs is the birth of rock and roll in the 1950s..... I think the electric guitar lends itself to war songs in a way that earlier instruments didn't so much........

  31. Cheers for this Geoff. '54321' was our first proper hit. It took 18 months or so of solid touring before we hit with that. And we were the Mann-Hugg Blues Brothers for a bit you know.

    A lot of that intellectual stuff you mention (glasses, erudite lyrics, polo neck sweaters, Shakespeare) was created by our manager, Kenneth Pitt. When we met him, he had this concept for Manfred Mann as a two-sided bohemian, intellectual/bubblegum music group. He was really the one responsible for the entire Manfred Mann group image from Abe Lincoln beards, black plastic glasses frames, matching suits and uniforms. Not to mention the group's "university" image. We probably would've never even thought about having an image and the whole shmazz was Ken's idea really. There were all sorts of jazz and bohemian touches in PR handouts and teenybopper fanzine articles. An article or press handout might say that a Manfred Mann member had been "studying Stockhausen" while another "spoke Latin and Greek" or was "fond of dried apricot". The fact we all had some university background which became a part of their image, courtesy of Ken.

    Geoff, what do you think of current British music? I'm worried about it. I like quite a lot of modern R&B and Hip-Hop, mostly American. I like Justin Timberlake and quite a lot of young pop/r&b acts from the States. But the British scene seems to have gone off the boil although the American is still going strong. There was a time in the 60s, 70s and 80s when British music was dominant, but not so these days. I think I put it down to the business here not taking chances and wanting a quick return.

    I still gig with the others, the Manfreds, if you want to come see us.

  32. That is fascinating about the British tanks in World War 2 with pictures of Petula Clark on them as a mascot (ie, before 1964). That would have confused me too, I wouldn't have thought that it was because of her acting career and/or early singing career. Here's Little Blue Man for anyone who doesn't know it!


  33. I play the drums in My First Tooth. Thank you very much for this column!

    The middle section of Dubrovnik where the vocals overlap is one of my two favourite moments on the record. Also, floor tom.

  34. This song you posted really grew on me, Geoff! At first I thought it was a bit cutesy and saccharine. Now it sounds beautifully melancholy, folky. Thanks for the introduction to this band, had never heard of them!

  35. Thanks for the suggestions and the link to your fascinating site, Lydia.

    Thanks too for the background to the intellectual image of Manfred Mann, Mike! It is great the Manfreds are still gigging. Here is another clip of Manfred Mann, with Mike Hugg the drummer resembling an Impressionist painter from the Paris Left Bank..

    I am not sure the lack of songs about WW2 is that rock and roll came after it, for rock songs of previous wars including WW1 are more common. maybe rock and roll was too soon after it though.

  36. Loved the column Geoff! Though I think there were more non-American songs about the Vietnam War than you give credit for.... there were some from France, the UK, Germany, Vietnam, New Zealand, and Australia.

    In the UK, for example, don't forget Mick Softley
    Songs for Swingin' Survivors (1965). On one track, "The War Drags On," Mick Softly drew attention to the objective of the USA - to spread democracy, and contain communism. However, he criticised their tactics and refered to the history of Vietnam, which had been occupied by Chinese, French, and US troops over many years:

    "They're just there to try and make the people free,
    But the way that they're doing it, it don't seem like that to me.
    Just more blood-letting and misery and tears
    That this poor country's known for the last twenty years,
    And the war drags on".

    I guess it's more folk music than rock and roll, and maybe you were largely talking about rock and roll?

  37. I agree with Nick - I think there were more non-American songs about the Vietnam War. How about Scottish folk singer Donovan's song "Ballad of a Crystal Man" from the album Fairytale:

    "Vietnam, your latest game,
    you're playing with your blackest Queen,
    Damn your souls and curse your grins,
    I stand here with a fading dream.
    For seagull I don't want your wings,
    I don't want your freedom in a lie".

  38. Yes, and for a French example of an song about the Vietnam War, there is the song by Colette Magney called "Vietnam 67" which attacked Robert McNamara:

    "With 400,000 men and bombers
    AWith 400,000 men and toxic gases
    Following the military defeat of political failure.
    Our peasants rose the wild bee in action
    We're still here
    McNamara then, the Geneva Accords
    McNamara then, you did nothing to
    Ho Chi Minh told you
    Vietnam 67
    We do not be intimidated
    Vietnam 67
    Long live the Vietnamese people".

  39. There is also a British ska anti-war song from 1966 called "Vietnam Cries U.S.A." which pleaded with President Johnson to stop the war. This was released on a rare, obscure reggae label called Halagala (# HG 30) formed by Terry Nelson in the 1960s - born in Guyana, he moved to London and wrote this song. He particularly drew attention to the mistreatment of African-Americans:

    "We don't want no war in this world Mr. Johnson
    So lets stop all this war in Vietnam
    You ask the Negroes...
    To live by your laws and obey...
    Mr. President, can you hear our pleas
    Mr. President, can you answer me
    Welcome home...to this good country...
    I've come to see you home,
    Home sweet home, welcome home,
    Some are crying, some are laughing"

  40. Sorry, I put the apostrophe in my name - Ka'mal - and it came out all weird on the name section above! Oh well, I guess I can't have my apostrophe on Blogspot!!

  41. There is the song "Por Vietnam" by Quilapayún, a Chilean band formed in the 1960s. This album denounced the war in Vietnam and then moved onto other political topics, such as the Spanish revolution and the death of Che Guevara:

    "The Black Eagles break their claws
    Against the heroic people of Vietnam.
    Black Eagle, and will fall,
    Black eagle and fall.
    Yankee, Yankee, Yankee...
    The guerrilla fighter will win"

  42. Donovan also did "To Susan on the West Coast Waiting (For Andy in Vietnam Fighting)":

    "You know I'd be there working at my craft
    Had it not been for the draft....
    Our fathers have painfully lost their way,
    That's why, my love, I'm here today,
    There will come a day,
    When Kings will know and love can grow,
    To Susan on the West Coast waiting,
    From Andy in Vietnam fighting"

  43. Laurel Aitken, born in Cuba in 1927, moved to Brixton, London in 1960 and then released the reggae track "Stop the War in Vietnam".......

  44. The track "'Hallå där bonde'", released in 1972, was an anti-Vietnam war song. Knutna Nävar were a Swedish group part of the Swedish Communist Party:

    "Hello there farmer,
    May I hide here?
    I come from Saigon with eight rifles,
    I stole them from an American,
    He thought I would shoot my own people,
    No, no communist,
    Go elsewhere...
    Do you remember when the imperialist,
    Carries French names?
    Now the weapons were
    Made in USA"

  45. Yes! For Australia, there is the track "Smiley" released in 1969 by Ronnie Burns (member of the pop group The Flies). It is written by Johnny Young, who based it on the Australian pop singer Normie Rowe, a conscript in the Vietnam conflict. Johnny Young said that "Before he left, he was really happy-go-lucky, fun-filled young fella. When he came back, he changed".

    You're off to the Asian War
    And we won't see you smile no more...
    No more laughter in the air
    Feel the tension in the air
    Where is love?"

  46. Cold Chisel released one of the first Australian post-Vietnam War songs - "Khe Sanh" which is named after the 1968 Battle of Khe Sanh between the US Marines and the North Vietnamese Army. Some Australian forces were directly involved, mainly through air cover.

    It is largely about a disillusioned Australian veteran:

    "I left my heart to the sappers round Khe Sanh
    And my soul was sold with my cigarettes to the blackmarket man
    I've had the Vietnam cold turkey...
    And it's only other vets could understand...
    How there were no V-dayheroes in 1973"

  47. So glad you mentioned Country Joe's song! When I think of ’60s protest songs, I think of this one, by Country Joe & the Fish. Not some of the sappier, more soulful songs. But this anthem to the absurdity of the moment. To be young and draftable in the mid-to-late 1960s was to live with the gamble that, one day, against your better judgment, you’d be wearing green and carry a rifle in the jungle. It was a time of serious debate, sober analysis and much study about why we were in Vietnam. Not that it mattered. So, sing along with Joe:

    ‘And it’s one, two, three, what are we fightin’ for?

    Don’t ask me, I don’t give a damn

    Next stop is Vietnam

    And it’s five, six, seven, open up the pearly gates

    Ain’t no use to wonder why, whoopee we’re all gonna die.........

  48. When I was young, I was obsessed with the Woodstock documentary. I’d sit and watch all three hours of it over and over again. And for me, the most important part of the movie is when Country Joe McDonald sings “Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die,” and near the end, he confronts the massive audience from the stage, calls them “fuckers”, demands they become a part of not just the song, but its movement. Its message. The Vietnam war was real. The music was real. The mud. The dead. All of it. GET UP. SING.

    And slowly the crowd begins rising to its feet, and at one point, the camera is behind McDonald, and you can see a massive field of people standing and singing and clapping. I cried every time I watched it. I was so overwhelmed, seeing all of those people get caught up in this song. As if they’d suddenly remembered something. As if they’d been reminded of their own power. We all have a power. And they had found the part in his song that belonged to them, too. This tiny hiding place they could slip into to make the words transcend. To make the song more than a song and the human more than human.

  49. That moment during Country Joe's song at Woodstock, especially where you see everyone stand up about 3/4 of the way through it after he shouts at them to sing better, is the moment - one of the only moments - when White Americans achieved a brief period of sanity. They do not sing songs like this anymore.

    From a non-white American

  50. Geoff, that's a fascinating idea that songs leave the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s just as Vietnam is left in the 1965-1975 decade.....

  51. Geoff, i think you might need to do a column on the musical saw as it keeps popping up over and over again!

  52. For another Dubrovnik song, there is Billy Sheets' song from 1982 "Weekend In Dubrovnik"

  53. Dubrovnik surprised me when I visited it. I always knew it was a city with a lot of history but I didn’t realize everywhere you turn you would be faced with Dubrovnik’s past. The focal point of the city is the walled old city and the seaside fort. Dubrovnik's history stares back at you from the buildings, homes and its cobblestone streets (especially around the waterfront). It's an incredible place.

  54. Geoff, you might like to have my list of all Vietnam songs: http://www.lasalle.edu/digital/Keesing/Vietnam_on_Record.pdf (it opens as a PDF).