Memorial Day, first known as Decoration Day, originated in the North after the Civil War to commemorate fallen Union soldiers. By the 20th century the holiday had been extended to honor Americans who had perished in any US conflict. I’ve always been sympathetic to the argument that the best way to honor the fallen is to make every effort to prevent needless deaths in the future. That means engaging in combat and military strikes only as a true last resort.
In this vein, here are my Top Ten Memorial Day Songs. The list is highly debatable; songs about war and attendant suffering cut across musical genres. Though I proudly claim hippie roots, I’ve omitted clichéd classics like “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?,” “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Imagine,” and “Give Peace A Chance.” I’ve also given short shrift to an important sub-genre of heavy metal antiwar anthems like Motorhead’s “1916” and Metallica’s 1989 classic, “One,” and I’ve largely ignored the rich history of punk-rock odes to the insanity of war. Hopefully, this will spur people to make their own lists.
1. Loretta Lynn, Dear Uncle Sam
2. Bill Withers, I Can’t Write Left-Handed
3. Bob Dylan, Masters of War
4. Curtis Mayfield, We Gotta Have Peace
5. Joni Mitchell, The Fiddle and the Drum
6. The Jam, Little Boy Soldiers
7. Freda Payne, Bring the Boys Home
8. Bob Marley, War/No More Trouble
9. Eric Bogle, The Green Fields of France
10. Paper Lace, Billy Don’t Be a Hero
Bonus Track #1: Nick Lowe, What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love and Understanding
Bonus Track #2: The Pogues, And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda