With God on Our Side (song)
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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 address the tendency of nations, tribes, or societies to believe that God will invariably side with them and oppose those with whom they disagree, thus leaving unquestioned 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 traditional Irish folk song "The Merry Month of May", which was also used by Dominic Behan in his song "The Patriot Game". The opening verse is also similar to the second verse of Behan's song, in which the narrator gives his name and age. Behan criticized Dylan publicly by claiming the melody as an original composition. 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 melody.
Incidents of censorship
Anthony B. Herbert, Vietnam War veteran and psychologist, reported an incident related to Joan Baez's 1963 recording of "With God on Our Side" in a 1984 interview with David Barsamian:
I was called to Vietnam [in 1968] from the Middle East…While I was in Spain [en route], I bought some Joan Baez records. I went to my room in the Bachelor Officer's Quarters to listen to [them]…There was a knock on the door. It was an individual in civilian clothes. He asked me my name and rank. I just looked at him. I was [then] a major [US Army].
He asked, "[Are] those Joan Baez records?"
I said, "Yeah".
He said, "She's like anti-military…"
He said, "No, you’ll have to leave the building. That's anti-military music." She was singing "[With] God on Our Side", I think, at the time.
I said, "I think I agree with [the lyrics]. I’m not anti-military, and I agree with what she's singing in her songs." 
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.
A rare post-1960s performance of the song, recorded on November 4, 1975, with extra lyrics, was included on the bonus disc in the box set The Rolling Thunder Revue: The 1975 Live Recordings (2019). Conversely, 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
- Wire Train released a cover on their 1985 album Between Two Words
- 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.
- Used several times in Ken Burns' The Vietnam War. An instrumental version featuring David Cieri is also used.
- K'naan's version of the song was used during the ending credits in Michael Moore's 2018 film Fahrenheit 11/9.
- 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.
- Herbert, 1984. p. 1(transcript)
- Sleeve notes from The One in the Middle E.P., HMV 7EG 8908, released 18 June 1965
- Herbert, Anthony B. 1984. "The Vietnam War: Atrocities and Coverups" (Program #HERA002. Recorded in Boulder, Colorado on August 12, 1984) https://www.alternativeradio.org/products/hera002