The Soundtrack of Rebellion: Music and the Vietnam War

Protesters during the antiwar movement

Usually, music and academics never ever go together. However, I want to make an exception this week. For one of my history classes, I am writing about music and the antiwar movement during the Vietnam War. As much as we view music as a means of entertainment, over the years it has also served as the sound of protest, change, and revolution. Here are some popular songs from the time that you may not have known were part of the antiwar movement.

Pete Seeger- Waist Deep in the Big Muddy

We were knee deep in the big muddy but the big fool said to push on…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=24VOo7-ctKU

Early in the antiwar movement, folk music was the dominant medium of protest songs. One of the main figures of this era was Pete Seeger. Written in 1967, “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy” was one of the most well-known antiwar songs. Although it does not directly mention Vietnam, its fictional story is meant to criticize President Lyndon Johnson’s continued escalation of the conflict.

Country Joe McDonald- I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixing-To-Die Rag

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

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LBdeCxJmcAo

Although little known today, this song by Country Joe McDonald became the anthem of the antiwar movement. In 1969, it was performed at Woodstock amidst thunderous applause. Most importantly, it helped mark the transition from folk to rock as the main genre of protest songs.

Creedence Clearwater Revival- Fortunate Son

It aint me, it aint me, I aint no military son…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ec0XKhAHR5I

Although CCR’s famous song “Fortunate Song” does not directly mention Vietnam, it was an active presence in the antiwar movement upon its release in 1969. “Fortunate Son” was unique in that, rather than being directly an antiwar song, it was more anti-capitalist and anti-Establishment. At this point, rock and roll became the main genre for protest songs.

Ohio- Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young

Gotta get down to it soldiers are gunning us down…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HIKOpF08G5w

Perhaps more than any other song, “Ohio” directly challenged the current state of American society. The song was written in response to the Kent State shootings which took place in Kent, Ohio. “Ohio” makes direct references to President Nixon and was a powerful response to a terrible tragedy.

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