Encouraging Peace: The Music of the Anti-Vietnam War Movement




Anti-Vietnam War Protest: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nl58QbpVLHw

John Lennon live, Give Peace a Chance: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AwNg4lHFj7I

Creedence Clearwater Revival, Fortunate Son: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ec0XKhAHR5I

The Beatles live, All You Need Is Love: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bOva-VJXJJQ

Edwin Starr, War: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=01-2pNCZiNk

Buffalo Springfield, For What It’s Worth: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aVgoOVl6cb4

Country Joe live at Woodstock, Anti-War Song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-7Y0ekr-3So


The Politics of Music in the 60s

The 1960s was a time of extreme political turmoil. Between the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War and its violent protesters, and the rise of feminism, the United States was near exploding with politics and opposing societal opinions. It was a hotbed of controversy, and music undoubtedly helped to shape societal feelings and moral during this time of intense instability. Sound helped to develop the political state of the 1960s via the anti-war sentiments of musical groups such as The Beatles and Bob Dylan, and the sounds supporting the Civil Rights Movement from James Brown and other artists of the time. Though sound and politics may seem like they belong in two completely different realms of society, they coincide much more than many people realize. Many factors certainly helped shape the politics of the 1960s, but it is undeniable that music was prominently involved.


Edwin Starr’s song War and the accompanying video portraying the bare-bones reality of what the war in Vietnam truly was clearly shows a large portion of society’s attitude toward the war during the 1960s and at the beginning of the 1970s, which was when this video was compiled. Songs like this one, which were not uncommon at the time, were basically propaganda against the war. They served not only to spread negative feelings towards war, but also to boost the moral and show support for those who were already protesting it. Through sound, musicians were able to influence the political world.

All You Need is…Music? Music and Changing Societies: How Do They Interact?

It is undeniable that popular culture, especially music, and societal feelings and opinions are two topics that are connected in some way. Whether this relationship is intimate or distant, or if changes in one affect the other, is a contested topic amongst historians and musical researchers alike, as well as, perhaps, a curious college student. The connection between these two critical parts of any culture is interesting to examine, as they can play off of each other in complex and subtle ways. Do controversial lyrics in music trigger a change in public opinions, or does the music reflect already existent and prominent ideas, simply giving the supporters an anthem or a boost in moral? Though this may seem like an endless cycle of questioning, similar to the “which came first, the chicken or the egg” debate, upon further examination, attention to details, and the investigation of the past, we can possibly begin to discern some patterns, or at least some more concrete theories of what this relationship actually entails.

A hotbed for observance of this mystery was the 1960s. A whirlwind of social and political controversies and changes, the sixties were a prime example of the playoff between popular music and societal opinions and actions. Surrounded by rising feminism, civil rights, and the Vietnam War, musicians threw their ideas out for the public to hear in the form of powerful lyrics and sentimental melodies. The Beatles, for example, wrote several obviously anti-war songs, such as Revolution and All You Need is Love, expressing the useless and destructive nature of war. Bob Dylan, too, expressed his discontent with society during the 1960s, as did many other revolutionary artists.

The question often asked once these observations are made is which sparked the other, similar to what Jaques Attali asks in his book Noise about whether music echoes or ignites political changes. This is an important issue to address, as if music can, in fact, shape public opinions, it could be used in powerful ways to manipulate society, for bad or good. For instance, if artists consistently wrote songs about the danger of global warming, perhaps the public would be influenced to believe more strongly that global warming must be addressed and then possibly take action to do so. It is imperative to explore this relationship between music and culture to discover how they interact because our current world is obviously full of controversy and struggling. If we can discover how music can be used to improve a society, we could take advantage of that opportunity now to better our state of affairs, as well as potential issues in the future. However, this may not be the case. It could very well be that songs written about modern societal issues are simply reflections of already-expressed discontent within the people in society. Although this answer is much less exciting and revolutionary than the first, it still would provide researchers with an explanation as to how these two aspects of culture interact.

I also plan to explore the less apparent messages songs can express through their instrumentation or melodic feel. Here is where my Eyerman/Jamison source will come into play, as it references how James Brown made no direct references to the civil rights movement in his music, he still managed to bring about new appreciation for black culture through his songs.

Another point of interest that I would like to bring up is how packed full of meaning and expression these songs were in order to convey messages about society and cultural problems of the 1960s, as opposed to how mindless today’s music is. The youth of today should recognize this and take action to improve modern music by appreciating the deep meanings writers have tried to convey in the past with their lyrics and musicality, as opposed to modern music, which consists of artists having songs written for them about boyfriends and pretty girls and then autotuning their voices and calling it their music. Perhaps the sad excuse for music nowadays can be connected to the deteriorating state of our world and societal values.

There is likely no definite answer to which aspect of culture, music or societal feelings, affects the other first. However, through research and looking at this interaction in a historical context, we might be able to gain a greater understanding of how we can use this relationship to benefit various cultures and the world as a whole. Maybe music is much more than something we blast into our ears while we run, or crank up while we dance at parties. There is a possibility that music is a tool, one that has yet to be tapped into that can do so much more for us than we ever imagined.

1. Barkhorn, Eleanor. “How Bob Dylan Changed the 60s, and American Culture.” Atlantic. 09 09 2010: Print.

“…all sorts of things were happening all around the world in the late 1960s, throughout the 1960s. And Dylan was very much a part of that. And his music was very much a part of that. It expressed what he wanted to express, but people caught onto it as an expression of what they were feeling, what they were thinking.”

Barkhorn, a journalist, obviously writes for the general public. She focuses on Bob Dylan’s contributions to societal changes in the 1960s, which has been untouched by the other sources. I enjoy her point in her article about how people, if they have an idea and hear said idea echoed in the lyrics of a popular song, can begin to believe in the idea even more strongly than they did originally, because now it is a part of popular culture, which proves to people that they are not the only ones with their ideas.

2. Eyerman, Ron, and Andrew Jamison. “Social Movements and Cultural Transformation: Popular Music in the 1960s.” Media Culture & Society. (1995): Print.

“…or it can be less obvious, as in James Brown’s musical revolution which, while not containing any direct references to the civil rights movement, helped bring about a whole new appreciation of black history and culture in conjunction with that movement.”

The two authors of this article search to explain how cultures change and what role music plays in making those changes that shape culture, especially in the 1960s. It is likely that these authors are aiming to convince historians or anthropologists that music and popular culture does indeed assist in causing some of these changes. This narrows the investigation of this influence down to the 1960s specifically, unlike some of my other sources. Seeing as my paper will focus on how the popular music of the 1960s worked with society to instigate changes in opinions or feelings, this source will help bolster that argument.

3. Neiger, Motti, Oren Meyers, and Eyal Zandberg. “Tuned to the Nation’s Mood: Popular Music as a Mnemonic Cultural Object.” Media Culture & Society. (2011): 974. Print.

“Popular music plays a significant role in the shaping of collective memory as well as in the establishment of national culture.”

These authors, all of whom are from Israel, focus on the songs played on the radio during the Holocaust, and how they were used to shape public feelings towards current events. They use this knowledge to deliver a message to those interested in music’s effects on societal feelings and how it can be used in certain situations to manipulate emotions and help to cause certain feelings to arise. Compared to my other sources, this quotation is interesting because it suggests that music plays a key role in the causation of change in a culture, whereas the others suggest that society and music play off of one another to cause change. I think this will provide another interesting view for me to explore in my paper.

4. Ramkissoon, Nikita. “All You Need is the Beatles.” Trespass Magazine. 12 02 2010: Print.

“When asked why his group, the Beatles, had not recorded any anti-war songs, John Lennon responded, “All our songs are anti-war.” His statement suggested that through their messages of peace, love and understanding, the Beatles were taking a stand against war in more general terms, which was much more appealing to mainstream culture.”

“They were, along with other bands of the time, active in anti-war efforts and this is echoed in their music being used as a basis for many revolutionary speeches, movies and plays…”

Ramkissoon, a writer for Trespass magazine, digs into the specifics of the Beatles’ influence on cultural opinions in the 1960s. She writes in a historical context, as she wrote the article in 2010. Her article appeals to a general musical audience with interest in her topic. This source focuses on the Beatles, which is a personally interesting aspect of my topic to me, as I have grown up listening to the Beatles and have learned extensively of their history from my father. I think including their messages in my paper, as well as these quotations which illustrate how powerful their messages were heard amongst the anti-war groups in the 60s, will add a strong argument for how influential music can really be on people’s feelings about a passionate topic.

5. Rosenthal, Rob. “Teaching a Course on ‘Music and Social Movements’.” Radical Teacher. 52 (1998): 16. Print.

“…much of the class becomes a debate over whether music can do anything beyond buoying the spirits of the converted…”

Rosenthal is a teacher who teaches a class concerning the effects of music on social movements. He writes for the general public to inform them about his class and what his goals are in exploring such a difficult-to-prove topic. Although it does not specifically concern the 1960s like some of my other sources, I think that this excerpt from his journal provides an interesting contrast for my paper in exploring whether or not music can really cause change, or if it just exaggerates opinions that already exist.

The Comfort of Monotony

To be comfortable, I believe people need some consistency in their daily routines. Especially after being thrown, mentally unprepared, into this completely new and unfamiliar university world, I searched for a pattern to establish within my everyday activities. However, this comforting monotony also has the tendency to numb the senses. I especially notice how little I listen to during my daily routine. I no longer notice the buzzing of cars as I wait at the Main Street crosswalk, which I used to enjoy when I first came to school, as it was new to me. This type of aural ignorance comes with time and being accustomed to the environment and the sounds it contains.

In my audiography Monotony, listeners get a sense of what sounds make up my now regular college routine. It opens with a short recording of the alarm sound I wake up to each morning for class, which is the tone entitled “Marimba” on the iPhone. This sound is a perfect example of when I would incorporate causal listening into my day. My roommate and I have the same alarm tone, so I always let the alarm go off for about three run-throughs to ensure that it is my alarm going off and not hers. I then realize my phone is the source of the incessant, vexing tune. Following my alarm is the sound of window shades being pulled open, and immediately after is the whistling of wind through the barely existent cracks in the windowpane. Once awakened by my alarm, I pull open the shades to give myself a view of outside, where I will soon venture, to motivate me. The wind whispering through the windows allows me to focus on the outdoors and use semantic listening to “interpret a message” of the wind as a “code or a language” [1] of the world outside my room inviting me to venture there. Then, in the next recording, my roommate coughs several times, which I often hear as I get up in the morning lately due to her sickness. This sound grounds me back to where I am, and reminds me that I still have some preparing to do before taking part in the outdoor pursuit that begins my sure-to-be busy day.

The next sound is my door slamming shut, representing me leaving my room and beginning my daily duties, followed by the grinding, mechanical drone of my laptop starting up as I open it. These two sounds incorporate semantic listening as well, as they both involve a message of starting something. The shutting of the door represents leaving behind one event and starting another, and the laptop, obviously, illustrates gearing up and getting ready for some research or writing.

Typing of keys on my laptop is the next sound on the playlist, which is meant to stand for my times in class during the five school days every week. I believe I use semantic listening again when hearing typing, as I interpret it as a representation of work and academic efforts since I type homework assignments and notes.

The last three sounds of the playlist represent the gradual closing of each day. Scrunching of snow under boots is next, which is representative of my finishing class and walking back to the dorms to unwind a bit before burying myself under readings and notes for the unfortunate hours of homework I will surely have that night. Although I listen to music as I walk, I often hear this sound in the silence between songs on my iPod, and it is one of my personal favorites. Semantic listening tells me that it is winter in Vermont, which is beautiful and spirited.

The running water of a shower follows, representing relaxation and cleansing of the stresses of class before returning to work. Next is a short clip of one of my favorite study songs, the third movement of Scenes from the Louvre, a classical piece by Norman Dello Joio. I often listen to classical music as I work because songs with words tend to distract me. For this music, I use reduced listening, because I hear it for what it is, and do not infer anything from it.

I arranged my playlist in chronological order because I believe that gives listeners more insight into my routine, as the point of a routine is that the events are normally done in a particular order. They experience the sounds in the order I do. Making this playlist, I realized how many sounds blend together into the soundscape background that makes up everyday life. Searching for these sounds to record caused them to be “perceived consciously rather than just being part of [my] auditory surroundings” [2]. However, the fact that these sounds can blend together into the background proves that I have established my niche here at UVM and gives me a sense of comfort and belonging in my environment.


[1] Chion, Michel. “The Three Listening Modes.” Trans. Array The Sound Studies Reader. Jonathan Sterne. New York, NY: Routledge, 2012. 48-53. Print.

[2] Horowitz, Seth S. “The Science and Art of Listening.” New York Times. n. page. Print.

The Sounds of Frederick Douglass’ Freedom

As the soundtrack designer for the documentary based on Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, I have included several sounds in the soundscape that correspond with certain moments of Douglass’ experience as a slave, as well as his journey to becoming a free man.

I open the film with the deliberate, rhytmic cracking of a whip, which would correspond with a scene of an army of slaves, clad in rough, burlap-like linen, trudging through a steamy field with hoes and shovels. The cracking comes from the slave driver in the field, who is shown a few seconds later, snapping the whip to remind the slaves of their sure fate if they so much as stumble. Clanking chains then become audible in between the bites of the whip, in addition to some shrieking cicadas. These sounds would, together, create an aural image of what the daily lives of many slaves were like, including Douglass. They regularly faced unbearable weather conditions, hideous beatings, and unjust measures used by slave owners to drive home the point that “horses and men, cattle and women, pigs and children, all [hold] the same rank in the scale of being” (Douglass 27). The owners did not want the slaves the feel the independence and freedom that comes with being human. They wished them to feel like beasts, like property. And in this, they almost always succeeded. In Douglass’ case, though he occasionally “wished [himself] a beast” (24), he refused to allow his sense of humanity to be completely taken away.

Following these sounds, I then introduce some piercing screams along with more violent whip cracking to correspond with a gory scene of Frederick Douglass being whipped into submission after attempting to make a runaway plan for himself and his friends. Although brutal and hard to listen to, these sounds were a relatively monotonous, expected note in the soundscape that was a slave’s daily life. Douglass, among many described whipping scenes in his narrative, tells of an instance where he watched his master “tie up a lame young woman, and whip her with a heavy cowskin upon her naked shoulders, causing the warm red blood to drip…” (33). This frightful scene, sadly, was quite average for a slave to witness on a weekly basis.

Sounds illustrating Douglass’ churning desire for freedom and journey of education then begin to swell into the soundtrack of the documentary. As Douglass is shown taking reading and writing lessons from the young white boys in Baltimore, where he would “…bestow [bread] upon the hungry little urchins, who, in return, would give [him] that more valuable bread of knowledge” (23). To correspond with scenes such as this, the voices of many small boys can be heard uttering words slowly, in a preschool-teacher-like fashion, and then Douglass’ deep, resonant voice follows, clumsily repeating those words. Beethoven’s famous classical piano piece Fur Elise floats and flutters throughout these educational scenes, bestowing an air of intelligence and class upon Douglass’ enlightenment process.

Douglass’ fight with Covey has no sounds besides the actual sounds of the fight, such as punches and grunts, to illustrate the pure, raw power of that moment in Douglass’ life. I would not include any dramatic music or low, brassy sounds, as they are unnecessary. The scene is dramatic enough to stand on its own. As the “turning point in [his] career as a slave” (43), it should have no distraction from the essence of its impact. Following the fight, Douglass’ journey north includes sounds of birds twittering cheerfully, leaves crunching in the woods, and some low, rumbling hymns in Douglass’ voice. These sounds contribute to showing the audience of this documentary the sounds Douglass likely heard as he picked his way carefully northward in his flight. The natural sounds of these free animals, taunting Douglass with their carefree noise, serve as a kind of motivation for him as he crept stealthily through the woods with nothing to comfort him but his own mind.

At last, once Douglass reaches the endpoint of his exhausting, both mentally and physically, life journey from slave to freeman, a lone, quiet trumpet solo glides simply in the background of the scene as Douglass takes in his new surroundings, unmarked by the slave owner’s whip or his own blood. The simplicity of the bright, brassy solo evokes both feelings of sadness and pride, both of which were likely felt by Douglass after his experience due to leaving his friends, yet fulfilling a space in him that had forever before been empty.