War (Edwin Starr song)

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Single by Edwin Starr
from the album War & Peace
B-side "He Who Picks a Rose"
Released June 10, 1970 (1970-06-10)
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(s) Norman Whitfield
Edwin Starr singles chronology
"Stop The War Now"
Sample of the song

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Song by The Temptations from the album Psychedelic Shack
Released March 6, 1970 (1970-03-06)
Recorded Hitsville USA (Studio A); 1969-1970
Genre Psychedelic soul
Length 03:11
Label Gordy
Writer Norman Whitfield, Barrett Strong
Producer Norman Whitfield
Psychedelic Shack track listing
"It's Summer"
"You Need Love Like I Do (Don't You)"

"War" is a counterculture era 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, with the label deciding to withhold the Temptations' version from single release 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 it is also one of the most popular protest songs ever recorded. It was one of 161 songs on the Clear Channel no-play list after September 11, 2001.[1]

The song's power was reasserted when Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band took their rendition into the U.S. Top 10 in 1986. It was also covered by Frankie Goes to Hollywood in 1984.

Temptations' version and release debate[edit]

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 did not 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[edit]

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 The Originals and 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. Billboard ranked it as the No. 5 song of 1970.[2]

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 earned a Grammy nomination in 1971 for "War" for best R&B Male Vocal.[3] In 1999, Starr's recording of the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

"War" was featured in the films Agent Cody Banks 2: Destination London, Gulliver's Travels, Small Soldiers as well as its soundtrack, Rush Hour, Rush Hour 3, and in the TV spot to Tropic Thunder.

The song is featured in The Simpsons episode "Treehouse of Horror VIII," in the segment "The Homega Man". After Springfield is attacked by a French nuclear weapon, Homer, seemingly the only person in the city not killed or mutated by the explosion, is seen dancing completely naked to the song in a church.

Starr's version of "War" is featured in a 2015 TV commercial for the Nissan Rogue.

A truncated version of Starr's original recording was used as the opening theme to the TV drama Family Law (1999 - 2002).

Chart position[edit]

Frankie Goes to Hollywood version[edit]

Frankie Goes to Hollywood released a version on the Welcome to the Pleasuredome album in 1984, under the title "War (...and Hide)".

Bruce Springsteen version[edit]

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 Hard rockArena rock
Length 5:10
Label Columbia
Writer(s) Norman Whitfield, Barrett Strong
Producer(s) Bruce Springsteen, Jon Landau, Chuck Plotkin
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band singles chronology
"My Hometown" (1985) "War"

"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[edit]


Edwin Starr version[edit]

Temptations version[edit]

Bruce Springsteen version[edit]

Frankie Goes to Hollywood version[edit]

Around the mid-80s, but before the song was brought again into favor after a live recording of Bruce Springsteen causing it to be once again a Top 10 hit, there was a more familiar version by Frankie Goes to Hollywood.

Other versions[edit]

Other artists who have covered "War" include Joan Osborne, Ljubljana, and the Beastie Boys.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


External links[edit]

Preceded by
"Make It with You" by Bread
Billboard Hot 100 number-one single (Edwin Starr version)
August 29-September 12, 1970
Succeeded by
"Ain't No Mountain High Enough" by Diana Ross