With God on Our Side
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|"With God on Our Side"|
|Song by Bob Dylan from the album The Times They Are a-Changin'|
|Released||January 13, 1964|
|Recorded||August 7, 1963|
|The Times They Are a-Changin' track listing|
"With God on Our Side" is a song by Bob Dylan, released as the third track on his 1964 album The Times They Are A-Changin'. Dylan first performed the song during his debut at The Town Hall in New York City on April 12, 1963. Dylan is known to sing the song only rarely in concert.
The lyrics generally address the notion of humans that God or some other higher power invariably sides with them and opposes those with whom they disagree, and thus they don't question the morality of wars fought and atrocities committed by their country. Dylan mentions several historical events, including the slaughter of Native Americans in the nineteenth century, the Spanish–American War, the American Civil War, World Wars I and II, the Holocaust, the Cold War and the betrayal of Jesus Christ by Judas Iscariot; the song made no explicit reference to the Vietnam War until live renditions in the 1980s, when an additional verse ran thus:
In the nineteen-sixties came the Vietnam War
Can somebody tell me what we're fightin' for?
So many young men died
So many mothers cried
Now I ask the question
Was God on our side?
Music critic Tim Riley once wrote: "'With God on Our Side' manages to voice political savvy mixed with generational naivete" as it "draws the line for those born long enough after World War I to find its issues blurry ('the reasons for fightin'/I never did get') and who view the forgiveness of the World War II Germans as a farce."
Controversy over composition
The melody of "With God on Our Side" is essentially identical to "The Patriot Game," a song with lyrics written by Dominic Behan and a melody borrowed from the traditional Irish folk song "The Merry Month of May". The opening verse is also similar to the second verse of Behan's song, in which the narrator gives his name and age. Behan chided Dylan publicly by claiming the melody as an original composition. Dylan's refusal to credit Behan's lyrical structure was the main issue at hand, and in response, Behan took the view that the provenance of Dylan's entire body of work must be questioned. Behan exercised the same folk tradition as Dylan in writing the song, having himself borrowed the tune from the traditional "The Merry Month of May".
In the introduction to the song at the Newport Folk Festival in 1963, Dylan had the following to say, "Yeah. You know, Jean Redpath sang a song here awhile ago which I heard Liam Clancy sing about two years ago and I was listening to her sing it and I thought that I never, uh, I thought I wrote this song called 'With God on Your Side'. And it must have somewhere stayed in the back of my mind hearing Liam Clancy singing 'The Patriot Game'."
Dylan was familiar with "The Patriot Game", having first been introduced to the song by Scottish folksinger Nigel Denver. Scottish writer and folksinger Jim McLean said he remembers Dylan asking him in late 1962: "'What does it mean, 'Patriot Game'?'...I explained – probably lectured him – about Dr. Johnson, who's one of Dominic's favorite writers, and that's where Dominic picked up [the] saying: 'Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.'"
The lyrics vary from one rendition to another whether sung by Bob Dylan or by others.
Oh my name it is nothin’
My age it means less.
The country I come from
Is called the Midwest
I’s taught and brought up there
The laws to abide
And that the land that I live in
Has God on its side
Oh the history books tell it
They tell it so well
The cavalries charged
The Indians fell
The cavalries charged
The Indians died
Oh the country was young
With God on its side
Oh the Spanish-American
War had its day
And the Civil War too
Was soon laid away
And the names of the heroes
l’s made to memorize
With guns in their hands
And God on their side
Oh the First World War, boys
It closed out its fate
The reason for fighting
I never got straight
But I learned to accept it
Accept it with pride
For you don’t count the dead
When God’s on your side
When the Second World War
Came to an end
We forgave the Germans
And we were friends
Though they murdered six million
In the ovens they fried
The Germans now too
Have God on their side
I’ve learned to hate Russians
All through my whole life
If another war starts
It’s them we must fight
To hate them and fear them
To run and to hide
And accept it all bravely
With God on my side
But now we got weapons
Of the chemical dust
If fire them we’re forced to
Then fire them we must
One push of the button
And a shot the world wide
And you never ask questions
When God’s on your side
Through many dark hour
I’ve been thinkin’ about this
That Jesus Christ
Was betrayed by a kiss
But I can’t think for you
You’ll have to decide
Whether Judas Iscariot
Had God on his side
So now as I’m leavin’
I’m weary as Hell
The confusion I’m feelin’
Ain’t no tongue can tell
The words fill my head
And fall to the floor
If God’s on our side
He’ll stop the next war
Dylan and Joan Baez performed the song as a duet at the Newport Folk Festival in July 1963 and July 1964, and their July 27, 1963 performance was released on Newport Broadside: Topical Songs at the Newport Folk Festival 1963 (Vanguard VSD-79144). The liner notes by Stacy Williams mention Dominic Behan's "Patriot Game", which Williams points out that Behan had borrowed from the traditional "The Merry Month of May". Another live recording of Dylan and Baez performing "With God on Our Side", recorded on October 31, 1964, can be found on the album The Bootleg Series Vol. 6: Bob Dylan Live 1964, Concert at Philharmonic Hall, released in 2004.
Dylan's performance of the song on the album Bob Dylan Unplugged, released in 1995, significantly omits verses about the Germans and the Holocaust, and the Russians and the Cold War, for unspecified reasons.
- Joan Baez included the song on her 1963 live album In Concert, Part 2 (recorded shortly after Dylan wrote it).
- Chad Mitchell Trio recorded it on their 1965 album Typical American Boys
- Odetta covered the song on her 1965 album Odetta Sings Dylan.
- In 1965, Manfred Mann covered the song on their The One In The Middle EP. The notes on the EP's sleeve state "In May 1964 Bob Dylan dropped in at London's Marquee Club to listen to the Manfreds, declaring them to be 'real groovy'. They returned the compliment with their performance of Dylan's controversial With God On Our Side."
- Ramblin' Jack Elliott released a cover on his 1970 album "Bull Durham Sacks & Railroad Tracks
- The Neville Brothers released a cover on their 1989 album Yellow Moon.
- Judy Collins released a cover on her 1993 tribute album Judy Sings Dylan... Just Like a Woman.
- Ramblin' Jack Elliott released a cover on his 1999 album The Long Ride.
- British band Half Man Half Biscuit released a parody of the song, titled With Goth On Our Side, on their 2000 album Trouble Over Bridgwater.
- Jonah Matranga has performed the song live on numerous occasions. It is available (with Matranga performing as onelinedrawing) on the compilation album Sound Relief, Volume One: From CA to NYC (released 2001 on the Sound Relief Records label cat. 631037060028) – the compilation was originally put together to benefit the United Way's September 11th Fund, but the proceeds went to assist the victims of Hurricane Katrina, as that disaster has occurred in the meantime.
- Buddy Miller performed the song on his 2004 album Universal United House of Prayer, adding an Irish dirge-like arrangement.
- In 2004, indie rock band Straylight Run covered the song.
- Burton Cummings covered this song and released it as a single in 2004.
- Minneapolis band The Brothers Frantzich recorded a version of the song on their album "Heartwing".
- Singer/songwriter Derek Webb has performed the song live on numerous occasions.
- Bon Iver covered the song for the first time on September 24, 2011 at McMenamins Edgefield in Troutdale, Oregon.
- Barb Jungr covered the song on her 2011 album Man in the Long Black Coat.
- In 2012, K'naan covered the song for the compilation, Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International.
Use in films and documentaries
- "With God on Our Side" plays over the closing credits of two films, Oren Jacoby's 2007 documentary on anti-Semitism, Constantine's Sword, and Oliver Stone's 2008 biography of George W. Bush, W.
- Shelton, Robert (1986). No Direction Home: The Life and Music of Bob Dylan. New York: Beech Tree Books. p. 213. ISBN 0-688-05045-X.
- Wilentz, Sean (2010). Bob Dylan in America. New York: Doubleday. p. 70. ISBN 9780385529884.
- Nick Guida. "Nigel Denver at theBalladeers – Scotland". Theballadeers.com. Retrieved 2012-03-15.
- http://www.bobdylan.com/us/songs/god-our-side. Missing or empty
- Sleeve notes from The One in the Middle E.P., HMV 7EG 8908, released 18 June 1965