Songs Protesting George W. Bush and the War in Iraq

A brief look at new protest songs

When George W. Bush announced the War in Iraq, I saw a lot of complaints in the blogosphere claiming so few musicians were writing new protest songs about the war itself, among other issues. But, of course, there were plenty of new songs that came out, that were written in protest to the Iraq War and which opposed the Bush administration. This list touches on just a few of the great new topical tunes out there.

"War in Iraq" - The George W. Bush Singers

George W Bush Singers. © George W Bush Singers

The George W. Bush Singers are probably one of my favorite discoveries in the last year. It's a chorus whose songs are all rather intricate arrangements built around actual quotes from George W. Bush. For example, they'll sample a sound byte of Bush saying something like, "I hope we're not headed to war in Iraq," and then they'll sing it in glorious harmony, backed by instruments that play anything from honky tonk to jazz and funk. If you want to laugh with your protest music, this is for you.

"Who's Gonna Build Your Wall?" - Tom Russell

Tom Russell. promo photo

One of the biggest issues in current politics is what to do about US immigration policy. Tom Russell came up with an exquisite response to the George W. Bush administration policy of building a border fence along the U.S.-Mexico border. In it, he sings, "Who's gonna build your wall, boys? Who's gonna mow your lawn? Who's gonna cook your Mexican food when your Mexican maid is gone?"

"God Bless This Mess" - Sheryl Crow

Sheryl Crow - Detours
Sheryl Crow - Detours. © A&M Records

Sheryl Crow's latest album, Detours, is a long-form editorial on current events and important topical issues. It all kicks off with this lovely little folk song about the War in Iraq. Toward the end, Crow sings, "The president spoke words of comfort with tear drops in his eyes / Then he led us as a nation into a war based on lies."

"Both Sides of the Gun" - Ben Harper

Ben Harper
Ben Harper. promo photo

Ben Harper has written a number of songs critiquing current politics and issues, but "Both Sides of the Gun" seems to best represent the sense of upset and frustration that so characterizes current events. In the song, Harper refers to Bush as a "One-dimensional fool in a three-dimensional world."

"Millenium Theater" - Ani DiFranco

Ani DiFranco - Reprieve
Ani DiFranco - Reprieve. © Righteous Babe

Ani DiFranco's 2005 release Reprieve was, in large part, a referendum on the Bush administration's handling of Hurricane Katrina and the War in Iraq. The title track was a biting poem championing the feminist movement, and then there was this scathing review of Bush's eight-year run. DiFranco sings, "First leak it out about the president, then stand up and shout impeachment."

"The Bush Boys" - The Mammals

The Mammals - Rock That Babe. © Signature Sounds

The Mammals don't mess around. Their lyrics are always scathingly clever, memorable, and inimitable. On this tune, though, the band just absolutely goes there with their great lyrics (and, also, fabulous instrumentation). The song: "You won't believe what the Bush boys bought / Hush little baby, don't you cry / daddy's gonng buy you an alibi."

"Homeland (I Want My Country Back)" - Greg Brown

Greg Brown - In the Hills of California. © Red House Records

This great song was something Greg Brown was pulling out at his shows but wasn't available on CD until 2005's. In Greg's most earnest, easy way, the final verse of this song says, "Blind engineer, war train on the track. Many, many a heart is sore. We want our country back; we want to feel at home here once more."

"Empire" - Dar Williams

Dar Williams
Dar Williams. photo by Kim Ruehl

This great protest song was featured on Dar Williams' 2005 CD, My Better Self. It snarkily accuses America of empiricism, tackling more specifically the notion of holy war and the Bush administration's policy on torture: "We'll kill the terrorizers and a million of their races, but when our people torture you that's a few random cases."

"War Makes War" - John Gorka

John Gorka - Old Futures Gone. © Red House Records

From John Gorka's 2003 Release Old Futures Gone (Red House). The entire album has a clear political bent to it, but "War Makes War" is the most obvious protest song on the record: "... war makes war; it doesn't make peace."

"Hey Ho" - Tracy Grammer

Tracey Grammer - Flower of Avalon. © Signature Sounds

This tune from Tracy Grammer's debut solo album Flower of Avalon addresses how children are taught from a young age to play at war as soldiers with plastic guns, perpetuating the war machine: "Wave the flag and watch the news, tell us we can count on you. Mom and dad are marching too; children, step in line."

"Line in the Sand" - Lucy Kaplansky

Lucy Kaplansky - The Red Thread. © Red House Records

Lucy Kaplansky has written some of the most fantastic songs of protest since 9/11, including her tribute to that day - "Land of the Living" - but this one, in particular, stands out: "Another bomb lights up the night of someone's vision of paradise but it's just a wasted sacrifice that fuels the hate on the other side."

"Commander" - Girlyman

Girlyman - Little Star. © Girlyman

This 2004 tune by folk-pop trio Girlyman is a scathing song about George Bush, God, and the war, and the ongoing triangle drawn by the media and the administration: "You may be commander but you don't believe it."

"We Will Not Be Divided" - Dan Bern

Dan Bern
Dan Bern. photo by Kim Ruehl

In old-fashioned folk style, Dan Bern included this one on his 2004 in-time-for-elections CD Anthems. It's a great sing-along that lists off all the organizations and communities throughout American history that stand as proof of the indivisibility of humanity: "From the halls of Montezuma to the coal mines of Beaver Falls, Socialist Workers,, Greenpeace, the Capitol Mall, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, United Fruit, the PTA, we will not be divided ..."

"No Bomb is Smart" - SONiA

Sonia - No Bomb Is Smart. © Sonia

This great song is from SONiA's 2004 CD by the same name but is now available in a dance mix. SONiA's band Disappear Fear is known largely for their catchy tunes about social issues, so it's no surprise that she's made this list. "No Bomb is Smart" embodies the values of protest in the clearest, most simple manner: "I'm not gonna watch this silently in pain."

"When the President Talks to God" - Bright Eyes

Bright Eyes - When the President Talks to God. © Saddle Creek Records

Like many of the protest songs emerging from this political climate, Bright Eyes' tune takes a look at George Bush's religious beliefs, raising interesting and important questions in this scalding topical tune: "When the president talks to God, do they ... pick which countries to invade ..."

"Bomb the World" - Michael Franti

Michael Franti - Everyone Deserves Music
Michael Franti - Everyone Deserves Music. © Reincarnate Music

Hip-hop/folk/reggae/funk/rock poet Michael Franti wrote "Bomb the World soon after 9/11, and it has become somewhat of an anthem in the protest communities, repeating the integral phrase, "You can bomb the world to pieces, but you can't bomb it into peace."

What's Your Favorite Protest Song?

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