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"War"
Single by Edwin Starr
from the album War & Peace
Released June 10, 1970
Format 7" single
Recorded Hitsville USA (Studio A);
spring 1970
Genre Psychedelic soul, funk
Length 3:28
Label Gordy
Gordy 7101
Writer(s) Norman Whitfield
Barrett Strong
Producer Norman Whitfield
Edwin Starr singles chronology
"Time"
1970
"War"
1970
"Stop The War Now"
1970
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"War" is a soul song written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong for the Motown label in 1969. Whitfield first produced the song — a blatant anti-Vietnam War protest — with The Temptations as the original vocalists. After Motown began receiving repeated requests to release "War" as a single, Whitfield re-recorded the song with Edwin Starr as the vocalist, deciding to withhold the Temptations' version so as not to alienate their more conservative fans. Starr's version of "War" was a number-one hit on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1970, and is not only the most successful and well-known record of his career, but is also one of the most popular protest songs ever recorded. Its power was reasserted when Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band took their rendition into the U.S. Top 10 in 1986.

Contents

Temptations' version and release debate

The Temptations' version of "War", featuring Paul Williams and Dennis Edwards on lead vocals, was much less intense than the Edwin Starr version. Williams and Edwards deliver the song's anti-war, pro-peace message over a stripped-down instrumental track, with bass singer Melvin Franklin chanting a repeated recruit training-like "hup, two, three, four" in the background during the verses.

The song was included as a track on the March 1970 Psychedelic Shack album, which featured the title track as its only single. The track's direct message, summarized by its chorus ("War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothin'!"), struck a chord with the American public and resonated with growing public opposition to the war in Vietnam. Fans from across the nation, many of them college students and other young people, sent letters to Motown requesting the release of "War" as a single. The label didn't want to risk the image of its most popular male group, and the Temptations themselves were also apprehensive about releasing such a potentially controversial song as a single. The label decided to withhold "War"'s release as a single, a decision that Whitfield fought until the label came up with a compromise: "War" would be released, but it would have to be re-recorded with a different act.

Edwin Starr version

Edwin Starr, who had become a Motown artist in 1968 after his former label, Ric-Tic, was purchased by Motown founder Berry Gordy, Jr., became "War's" new vocalist. Considered among Motown's "second-string" acts, Starr had only one major hit, 1968's number-six hit "Twenty-Five Miles", to his name by this time.

He heard about the conflict surrounding the debate of whether or not to release "War," and volunteered to re-record it. Whitfield re-created the song to match Starr's James Brown-influenced soul shout: the single version of "War" was dramatic and intense, depicting the general anger and distaste the antiwar movement felt towards the war in Vietnam. Unlike the Temptations' original, Starr's "War" was a full-scale Whitfield production, with prominent electric guitar lines, clavinets, a heavily syncopated rhythm accented by a horn section, and with Whitfield's new act The Undisputed Truth on backing vocals.

Upon its release in June 1970, Starr's "War" became a runaway hit, and held the #1 position on the Billboard Pop Singles chart for three weeks, in August and September 1970. It replaced "Make It With You" by Bread, and was replaced by another Motown single, "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" by Diana Ross.

Notable as the most successful protest song to become a pop hit, earning compliments from contemporary protester John Lennon, "War" became Edwin Starr's signature song. Rather than hindering his career (as it might have done for the Temptations), "War" buoyed Starr's career, and he adopted the image of an outspoken liberal orator for many of his other early-1970s releases, including the similarly-themed "Stop the War Now" from 1971. It and another 1971 single, "Funky Music Sho Nuff Turns Me On," continued Starr's string of Whitfield-produced psychedelic soul hits. After 1971, Starr's career began to falter, and, citing Motown's reliance on formulas, he departed the label in the mid-1970s.

Later in his career, after moving to the United Kingdom, Starr re-recorded several of his hits with British band Utah Saints. Starr's new version of "War" in 2003 was his final piece; he died on April 2 of the same year of a heart attack.

Starr won a Grammy in 1971 for ” War” for best R&B Male Vocal.[citation needed] In 1999, Edwin Starr's "War" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

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Chart position

Starr bought an extensive country house, Pooley Hall, on the outskirts of Polesworth in Warwickshire. Pooley Hall was built by Thomas Cockayne between 1506 and 1509 on the site of a much older house. It has an embattled tower with a stair turret, and is built of red brick with stone mullions and quoins. Though it is a highly unlikely story, there are said to be secret passages connecting Pooley Hall to Polesworth Abbey. It overlooks the Coventry canal and has its own landing stage.

Bruce Springsteen version

"War"
Single by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
from the album Live/1975-85
B-side "Merry Christmas Baby"
Released November 10, 1986
Format 7" single
Recorded September 30, 1985
at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
Genre Rock
Length 5:10
Label Columbia Records
Writer(s) Norman Whitfield, Barrett Strong
Producer Bruce Springsteen, Jon Landau, Chuck Plotkin
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band singles chronology
"My Hometown" (1985) "War"
(1986)
"Fire"
(1987)

"War" was performed in concert by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band in 1985, added to the set list for the final few shows of their lengthy Born in the U.S.A. Tour. Springsteen and his manager Jon Landau were looking for a way to make these concluding shows, taking place at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, a little different and special, and Landau suggested playing "War". A year earlier, he had suggested the same, as a loose protest against Reagan Administration foreign policy in Central America and elsewhere, but the band had been unable to come up with an effective arrangement. This time, however, they did. Springsteen taped the words of the song to his arm, prefaced the song with a spoken admonition not to blindly trust the government, leaders or anything else, and then he and the band performed a rock rendition.

Springsteen released the September 30, 1985 performance as a part of his 1986 box set, Live/1975-85. "War" was chosen as the first single from the set, and it was again a big hit, reaching #8 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The music video for the single was a straight concert filming of the same performance.

Springsteen continued to perform "War" regularly through his 1988 Tunnel of Love Express and Human Rights Now! Tours. He then retired it, until again performing it on his 2003 Rising Tour before and during the start of the Iraq War.

Chart position

Other versions

"War" was also covered by Tom Jones in 1971 & 1985.

"War" was covered by The Jam in 1982. A studio version featured as one of three extra tracks on the Just Who Is the 5 O'Clock Hero?, The Bitterest Pill (I Ever Had to Swallow), Beat Surrender 12" singles. It was also a live favourite.

"War" was covered by influential Canadian punk band D.O.A. on their 1982 12" EP War On 45.

"War" was covered by Frankie Goes to Hollywood on the 12-inch of their 1984 hit single "Two Tribes", and was included on the album Welcome to the Pleasuredome.

The trash-punk band Mace covered it on their 1987 album "The Evil in Good".

An episode of the television series Xena: Warrior Princess, "Lyre Lyre Hearts on Fire", includes a cover of "War".

"War" was remixed by Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, along with Henry Rollins, Tom Morello, and Flea, for the soundtrack to the film Small Soldiers. The song features new raps by Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, and a spoken word section by Rollins, while the chorus features the original vocal track by Starr.

Slovenian band Laibach included a cover of "War" on their 1994 album NATO. This version answers the question "War, what is it good for?" by listing what, in Laibach's opinion, war is good for: for example, science, religion, IBM, CNN, and various other large multi-national companies.

In February 2007, the Stop the War Coalition released a single of the song, attributed to Ugly Rumours — the rock band formed by former UK prime minister Tony Blair at Oxford University during the 1970s. The song reached no 6 in the UK music charts. The accompanying video featured a Blair look-alike as lead singer, and appearances by George Galloway and Lauren Booth as police officers arresting Blair.[1]

Rock band Pearl Jam has covered parts of the song in the breakdown of their own song 'Daughter'.

Blues singer Maria Muldaur covered the song on her 2008 album, Yes We Can.

The song was also sung by Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

Personnel

Edwin Starr version

Temptations version

Trivia

In the Seinfeld episode, The Marine Biologist Jerry tells Elaine that Tolstoy originally planned to name his Magnum opus, War and Peace "War, what is it good for?". When Elaine reiterates Jerry's erroneous claim to the renowned Russian writer Yuri Testikov (recently signed by Pendent Publishing) it adds to his fury towards Elaine's incessantly beeping pocket organizer, causing him to throw it out the window of their moving limousine.

In the video game Sam & Max Season 1, Episode 4, "Max For President", several Secret Service agents sing a song praising war. The lyrics include the phrase, "War, what is it good for? It's good for you, it's good for me! War, what is it good for? It strengthens the economy!" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5L2Gve7oh_4&feature=related

References

External links

Preceded by
"Make It with You" by Bread
Billboard Hot 100 number-one single (Edwin Starr version)
August 29 - September 18, 1970 (3 weeks)
Succeeded by
"Ain't No Mountain High Enough" by Diana Ross

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