Cold War Echoes: The Indomitable Influence of Music on Politics
The Cold War Dance: Music Meets Politics
Music and the power of words have been evident in the progress of humanity and society since long before many people can remember. Music has had the ability to lead revolutions, stop them from even happening, or even change people’s views on certain important issues. By mastering the art of music- the combination of employing complex words with unique sounds- artists have swayed people into believing things that they truly stand up for and believe. Politics and music are two completely different but intertwining subjects that have always been around. One silently steers the other as each works hand-in-hand with other movements to create something even more powerful than the former.
People using their platform as artists to connect their audiences with a movement they find bigger than themselves clearly displays why so many people find music to be so powerful. During wartime, politics in music become even more gargantuan in their significance because of the weight an artist holds on shaping people’s opinions and actions.
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Bob Dylan: A Cold War Call for Peace
Throughout the 1960s, the counter-culture movement in society influenced much that was occurring in the music world. The movement was propelled even further due to two major events that were happening in the United States: The Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War. One of the greatest examples of a war-related song from the 1960s was written by one of the best and most influential artists at the time, Bob Dylan. His song, “Blowin’ in the Wind,” written in 1963, can be considered one of the most influential songs ever.
The song has some of the greatest lyrics regarding war, peace, and civil rights. The lyrics and overall tone of the song make it extremely persuasive to the audience through the social and political realms. Some of the lyrics from the song specifically became well-known by the public and, in part, began to sway and influence the audiences on a deeper and emotional level that many politicians and other public figures could not.
Some of these famous lyrics include, “How many seas must a white dove sail/ Before she sleeps in the sand? “Yes, and how many years can some people exist/ Before they’re allowed to be free?”, “Yes, and how many times can a man turn his head/ And pretend that he just doesn’t see?” and “How many roads must a man walk down/ Before you call him a man.” This song clearly takes on a particular point of view. The song gears toward putting a stop to the violence that was a result of the war and furthering the civil rights movement so African Americans could be guaranteed their rights.
Creedence’s Stand: War & Class in the Cold War
This particular time in history was like a hotbed for anti-war and anti-violence as part of the counter-culture movement. Clearly, the Vietnam War struck a chord with many artists by the time, and since the music was genuine and relatable, it spread like wildfire through the youth. Dylan was the kind of artist who could put all of the frustrations the people around him had and synthesize them into a song. In addition to the stand and point of view taken on by Dylan, the song “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival takes another shot at protesting the Vietnam War, much like the lyrics and anti-war cries from Dylan, CCR (Creedence Clearwater Revival) aimed at accomplishing a similar goal.
After the lead singer for CCR was drafted to fight in the Vietnam War, he wrote the lyrics to this song and aimed criticism not only at the idea of fighting the war but at the tactics wealthy Americans used to make sure that themselves or their family members didn’t have to fight in the war. Not many artists mentioned the inequalities that lead some people to have a higher chance of fighting in war than others, which showcased even more parts of the war that the counter-culture movement wanted to stop. The dislike for war was garnering support from many artists, but few threatened to expose the backbone of the inequalities of war in American society until this song was released. CCR, like Dylan, expressed a tone that was completely against the war as a whole.
Timeless War-Inspired Lyrics Beyond Cold War
Many people also drew a connection between the discontent with the upper class and the war in general, although the lyrics in this song don’t explicitly prove this point. While this seems quite controversial, many Americans who were part of the Hippie Movement were content because it seemed like their voices were heard and taken to heart. The melody in the song is built up by the upbeat tone of two guitars and a consistent drum rhythm. In part with the raspy vocals, the upbeat tone and melody of the song create one of the most important protest songs against the Vietnam War.
Bob Dylan and Creedence Clearwater Revival are two examples of artists who have used their music to influence political change, specifically during the Vietnam War era. What makes both of these songs such good examples of politics in music is how they are purposely kept vague enough but powerful so that they still have an impact, even decades after their release. Bob Dylan may have had the Vietnam War in mind when he wrote, ‘Blowin’ in the Wind,’ but lyrics such as ‘How many years can some people exist/before they’re allowed to be free?’ are unfortunately still painfully relevant today. The lyrics to ‘Fortunate Son” are rather vague but extremely critical of executive authority when you look at them. “I ain’t no millionaire’s son, no, no/… I ain’t no fortunate one, no.”
“Star Spangled Banner”: Echoes Past Cold War
In addition to how a song discussing the negative aspects of war can unite a group of people together, a song advocating war and a feeling of patriotism for one’s country may also do the same. The national anthem of the United States, or the “Star Spangled Banner,” accomplishes just this. Written by Francis Scott Key in 1812, during a time when the US was at war for independence against Britain, the United States national anthem serves to represent the power of war and freedom and resembles the feelings the soldiers had worked so hard for to win the war. Although the typical artist and audience relationship wasn’t evident at the time due to the war that was occurring, Scott Key had written a song that united virtually every person who has called or still calls the United States their home.
With calling the US famously the “land of the free and the home of the brave”, Key praises all the soldiers who risked their lives to guarantee the US citizens a land to live on and thanks them for their services, calling them heroes for their bravery. In the second verse of the song, Key discusses the symbolism of the flag and what it meant for him to personally see the flag still standing during and after the conflict with the British.
In the third verse, the sacrifices made and the effect the British had on the Americans are sung. This is completed so the people do not forget what led us to this point, and the reason why we became independent remains clear. The final verse summarizes the overall feeling this song is meant to give off each time US citizens sing it. With singing the lines, “Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just/ And this be our motto- ‘In God is our trust,’” the feelings and emotions of pride for one’s country, victory, and freedom are expressed as the distinct purposes of the song.
The reason why this song about war is extremely powerful is because each time one recites it, the thoughts of what the troops had to go through and the imagination of war are so clear to the audience. Singing it brings the audience a feeling of patriotism, respect for each individual soldier who fought for their country both in current times and past times, and how each citizen should be proud to be a part of their country.
Music’s Power in Shaping Cold War Consciousness
The power of music and its connection to politics is undeniable. Music has united troops to persevere and keep fighting and to remember what they were working for. Music has also helped people remember why they shouldn’t fight anymore, why they should put down their weapons, and convince themselves there are better ways to solve the issues. But more than ever, music has opened people’s eyes to problems they didn’t even find relevant. If it were not for brave songwriters/ artists/ performers who were willing to risk everything about themselves to try and obtain what’s right for themselves or others, music would be nothing but a language spoken without any meaning.
- Anderson, B. (2006). Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. Verso.
- Dylan, B. (1963). “Blowin’ in the Wind”. On The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. Columbia Records.
- Fogerty, J. (1969). “Fortunate Son”. On Willy and the Poor Boys. Fantasy Records.
- Gitlin, T. (1993). The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage. Bantam Books.
- Jurek, T. Bob Dylan Biography & History. AllMusic.