War

Music by Norman Whitfield, lyrics by Barrett Strong, 1970

"War" was released on the Temptations' 1970 album Psychedelic Shack and then, more famously, recorded by Edwin Starr later that year. The lyrics do not refer to any war in particular, but what war was being fought in 1970 that most listeners would have automatically understood as the subject of the song?

The intensity and rawness of this recording is squarely in the tradition of soul music, a style seen as predominantly African American. Why would this antiwar message have resonated with many African Americans? How was the African American community disproportionately impacted by the Vietnam War?

Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown Records, was hesitant to release such an explicitly political song. Why do you think he was hesitant?

Compare and contrast the message of "War" with the message of "Menominee Veterans Song." What do you think shaped these very different views of the war?

"War" performed by Edwin Starr on Motown Legends: War —Twenty-Five Miles, © 1995. Available on Itunes, Spotify, and YouTube.

 

For more information, visit Edwin Starr's official website.

Rights have not been secured to reprint the words for this song. Please consult this online source

https://www.oldielyrics.com/lyrics/edwin_starr/war.html

Norman Whitfield (1940–2008) was a songwriter and producer known for having contributed to the development of the Motown sound and the subgenre known as psychedelic soul in the late 1960s. Barrett Strong (b. 1941) is a lyricist who wrote many of the lyrics for the songs sung by the Temptations and other Motown groups. Whitfield and Strong collaborated on many of the best-known Motown hits, including the Temptations' psychedelic hit, "Ball of Confusion" (1970).

Edwin Starr album cover

Single cover for "War."

"War" was originally written for the Temptations and included in their album Psychedelic Shack. When fans lobbied for a single release, it was decided that the group's reputation might be marred by what was considered a potentially controversial song. Edwin Starr (1942–2003), who had served in Vietnam as a military advisor, volunteered to sing it. Starr had had a modest hit in 1968 with "25 Miles," but was still mostly unknown before the success of "War." The song resonated with the antiwar sentiments of the Vietnam War-era and reached number one on the charts in the summer of 1970.

For more on Motown, see "I Was Born this Way," "Love Child," "Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology)," and "What's Going On?" in this unit.