Song of the Day: War in Music (Day Seven). “Generals Gathered in Their Masses, Just Like Witches at Black Masses”.

1970 was a busy year for rock band Black Sabbath.  In February, they released their debut self-titled album, following it up in September of the same year with their second album ParanoidParanoid has come to be regarded as one of the most quintessential and influential albums in heavy metal history and features several of Black Sabbath’s signature songs, including the title track, Iron Man and opening track, the anti-war anthem, War Pigs.

In 2006, in Black Sabbath:  Doom Let Loose:  An Illustrated History, a book by Martin Popoff, drummer Bill Ward recalled performing an early version of what would become War Pigs as early as 1968 at The Beat Club in Switzerland.  During their early period, the band were often required to play several sets in one night but because of the limited amount of material at their disposal, would perform lengthy jam sessions to fill out the sets.  In conversation with Wes Orshoski for Billboard in 2002, guitarist Tony Iommi confirmed that War Pigs did indeed originate from these live jam sessions:  “We were playing this club in Switzerland, it was the early days and of course, there were about five people there.  So we used to get bored and start making up stuff.  And we used to do a long jam.  And that’s when I came up with War Pigs”.

War Pigs criticises those who wage and carry out war but keep their distance through fear of getting their hands dirty, a case in point at that current time, the United States and the ongoing war in Vietnam.  In Carol Clerk’s 2002 book Diary of a Madman:  Ozzy Osbourne:  The Stories Behind the Songs, vocalist Ozzy Osbourne states that the band “knew nothing about Vietnam.  It’s just an anti-war song”.  However, bassist and War Pigs lyricist Geezer Butler told Martin Popoff for the 2006 book Black Sabbath:  Doom Let Loose:  An Illustrated History that War Pigs is “totally against the Vietnam War, about how these rich politicians and rich people start all the wars for their benefit and get all the poor people to die for them”.

War Pigs was originally titled ‘Walpurgis’ and dealt with the witches’ Sabbath.  Walpurgis Night is the English translation of Walpurgisnacht, a German name for the night of the 30th April, the eve of the feat day of Saint Walpurga, an 8th century abbess in Germany.  In German folklore, Walpurgisnacht, also referred to as Hexennacht, literally translated as “Witches’ Night”, is believed to be the night of a witches’ meeting on the Brocken, the highest peak in the Harz Mountains.  The Harz Mountains lay between the rivers Weser and Elbe in central Germany.

Butler explained to Noisecreep in 2010 that “Walpurgis is sort of like Christmas for Satanists.  And to me, war was the big Satan.  It wasn’t about politics or government or anything.  It was (about ) evil.  So I was saying ‘Generals gathered in the masses, Just like witches at black masses’ to make an analogy.  But when we brought it to the record company, they thought Walpurgis sounded too satanic.  And that’s when we turned it into War Pigs.  But we didn’t change the lyrics, because they were already finished”.  Whether accidentally a song about the horror and destruction of war or not, what is true is that War Pigs is now an essential part of the anti-war song genre.

With the opening lines of War Pigs, “Generals gathered in their masses, Just like witches at black masses”, Black Sabbath, in a leftover element from when the song was named Walpurgis, compare the meeting of witches with meetings between politicians where wars such as the Vietnam War are conceived.  Think here of the War Room scene in Dr Strangelove: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964).

In the following lines, “Evil minds that plot destruction, Sorcerers of death’s construction”, the song tells of the way in which the generals, through their plotting of destruction, serve only to cause death through lengthy conflict as their primary purpose.

Following this, the lines “In the fields the bodies burning, As the war machine keeps turning” refer to thousands upon thousands of deaths of civilians and soldiers caused by the US’s bomb and napalm air-strikes on Vietnam.  “Death and hatred to mankind, poisoning their brainwashed minds” continues the song, telling of how little regard the masters of war have for human life.

In the song’s second verse, we find the lyrics “Politicians hide themselves away, They only started the war, Why should they go out to fight?  They leave that role to the poor” which speak of the upper class politicians’ exploitation of the seemingly expandable lower classes in order to carry out tasks in the war that the politicians do not want to.

The following verse starts with the line “Time will tell on their power minds”, where the band tell of how those who start wars will eventually get their comeuppance for causing countless numbers of deaths.  “Making war just for fun, Treating people just like pawns in chess” continues the third verse, condemning draft into the US army where soldiers were treated like pawns, low powered chess pieces routinely sacrificed in order to achieve a tactical or strategic purpose.   The final line of verse three, “Wait ‘til their judgement day comes” reiterates the idea of comeuppance talked of in the opening line of the verse, this time introducing the biblical idea of Judgement Day.

These lines and the lines “Now in darkness world stops turning, Ashes where the bodies burning, No more war pigs have the power” in the fourth and final verse are a prelude to the aforementioned Judgement Day where the war pigs will be punished.  This judgement Day arrives in the next few lines of the song, “Hand of God has struck the hour, Day of judgement, God is calling, On their knees the war pigs crawling, Begging mercy for their sins”, where we find the war pigs begging to be admitted into heaven, but as we see in the last line of the verse, “Satan laughing, spreads his wings”, they are destined to end up in hell for their terrible sins, with Satan amused at the politicians’ pleas for forgiveness.

War Pigs was also the original title of the song’s parent album.  However, the band’s record company, Vertigo Records, allegedly changed the name to Paranoid due to fear of backlash from supporters of the ongoing Vietnam War.  Additionally, the first single from the album, Paranoid, reached number 4 in the UK singles chart and the record company felt that the album would be easier to sell if it was named after the successful single.  Despite the fact that the album was, in part, renamed Paranoid in a shrewd marketing move made by the record company, it was actually a brilliant move.  At the time in which Paranoid was released, the Cold War, of which Vietnam was a proxy-war, was in full swing and paranoia regarding the nuclear bomb was rife.

In his 2010 autobiography I Am Ozzy, Osbourne says of the album’s name change:

“Paranoid went straight to number four in the British singles chart and got us on Top of the Pops – alongside Cliff Richard, of all people.  The only problem was the album cover, which had been done before the name change and now didn’t make any sense at all.  What did four pink blokes holding shields and waving swords have to do with paranoia?  They were pink because that was supposed to be the colour of the war pigs.  But without “War Pigs” written on the front, they just looked like gay fencers.  “They’re not gay fencers, Ozzy”, Bill told me.  “They’re paranoid gay fencers””.

Song of the Day: War in Music (Day Five). “They Killed the President”.

“We start from different ideological positions.  For you to be a communist or a socialist is to be totalitarian; for me no … On the contrary, I think socialism frees man”.

– Salvador Allende.

El President, from the 1998 album White Magic for Lovers, is a collaboration between Drugstore and Thom Yorke, singer of Radiohead.  The song, released as the second single from the album and, much due to Yorke’s involvement, reached number 20 in the UK singles chart, giving Drugstore the biggest hit of their career.   El President tells the story of the death of the democratically elected Chilean President Salvador Allende during the 1973 Chilean coup d’etat.  The coup was a watershed moment in both the Cold War and the history of Chile.  Following an extended period of social and political unrest between the conservative-dominated Congress of Chile and the socialist President Salvador Allende, together with economic warfare ordered by US President Richard Nixon, Allende was overthrown by the armed forces, led by Commander-in-Chief Augusto Pinochet, and national police.

Up until the 1960s, Chile had been known for its stability in Latin America, particularly compared to its neighbours.  This all change when Chile began to be affected by the Cold War and Chile became part of the Alliance for Progress.  The alliance was meant as a way to keep socialistic revolutions from taking hold in Latin America.  However, the Alliance for Progress was scorned by a majority of the countries that signed it, including Chile.  At this time, the president of Chile was Eduardo Frei.  Frei was endorsed by the Johnson administration and sought to pass radical reforms.  However, as Chile became more industrialised, the more Labour unions demanded higher wages.  Due to the Labour unions’ dissatisfaction with the wages that they received, prices and inflation soared.  The Chilean youth adopted a Leftist view and started to protest against the government with Labour unions, with both leaning towards Chile’s Communist Party.

In 1970, the Socialist Party won the presidency.  New president Salvador Allende promised the people of Chile a republic and said that he would make the working class more equal.  Meanwhile, in America, President Nixon, in conversation with his advisors, namely Henry Kissinger, scorned Allende and wanted him out of power.  The viable method of removing Allende would be by way of a Chilean military uprising.  Kissinger sent a cable to the CIA office in Chile saying that agents were to continue instigating a military coup.  However, this wasn’t entirely necessary as after three years, the Chilean people were standing against the president.  Allende nationalised the copper industry and other industries as well as freezing prices and raising wages in order to stop inflation.  During these reforms, the CIA was busy running propaganda against the president.

By 1973, the Chilean Congress and Judiciary stood against Allende, claiming that his government went against the Chilean constitution.  On September 11th 1973, shortly before the capture of the Palacio de La Moneda by military units loyal to Chilean Army leader Augusto Pinochet, President Salvador Allende made his famous farewell speech to the Chilean people on Radio Magallanes.  The President spoke of his love for Chile and his deep faith in the future.  He continued to tell of how much he was committed to Chile, so much so that he refused to take the easy way out or be used as a propaganda tool by those he referred to as “traitors”.  Throughout his radio broadcast, gunfire and explosions could be heard clearly in the background.

Shortly afterwards, an official announcement was made declaring that Allende had gone to war with an AK-47 rifle.  The rifle was reportedly given to Allende by Cuban leader Fidel Castro and bore a golden plate engraved with the words, “To my good friend Salvador from Fidel, who by different means tries to achieve the same goals”.

What happened next has been the subject of much speculation.  At approximately 1.50pm local time, Allende ordered the defenders of the La Moneda Palace to surrender.  In response, the defenders formed a line from the second floor, down the stairs and onto the Morande street door.  The President walked along the queue, from the ground floor up the stairs, shaking hands and thanking each of the defenders personally for their support in that difficult moment.

The President went into the Independence salon, located in the north-east side of the Palace’s second floor.  At the same time, Doctor Patricio Guijon, a member of La Moneda’s infirmary staff, was on the second floor of the palace recovering his gas mask as a souvenir.  Guijon heard a noise and opened the door of the Independence salon in time to see the President shoot himself with the AK-47 rifle.  At the other side of the salon, Doctor Jose Quiroga; Arsenio Poupin, a member of the cabinet; Enrique Huerta, a palace functionary; two detectives from the Presidential security details and various Presidential Security (GAP) members were able to either see the moment of death, or arrive a few seconds afterwards, attracted by the noise.

Despite these witnesses to Allende’s apparent suicide, many of Allende’s supporters have always upheld the presumption that he was killed by the forces staging the coup.  On the 28th September 1973, just two weeks after Allende’s death, Fidel Castro told the Cuban crowd in Havana’s Plaza de la Revolucion that Allende had died in La Moneda wrapped in a Chilean flag, firing at General Pinochet with Castro’s rifle.  Castro continued to tell his version of events to the Cuban people for the next few decades.  In his 1975 book The Murder of Allende and the end of the Chilean way to socialism, Robinson Rojas agreed with Castro’s version of events and claimed that Allende was killed by Pinochet’s military forces whilst defending the palace.

Despite the speculation as to what actually happened to Allende, the end of the military junta in Chile in 1988 and different testimonies becoming available in news and documentary interviews have made the verdict of suicide the more accepted version of events.  Members of Allende’s immediate family have never disputed that killed himself.  However, there are some who still argue that Allende was murdered, including Chilean doctor Luis Ravanal, who in 2008 published an article in El Periodista magazine claiming that Allende’s wounds were incompatible with suicide.  In response to the article, Isabel Allende, the daughter of the President said that the correct version of events was suicide.

In January 2011, a Chilean judge opened an investigation into the death of Salvador Allende, as well as hundreds of other possible human rights abuses committed during the 1973 coup which brought Augusto Pinochet to power.  In May of the same year, Allende’s remains were exhumed by order of the Chilean court in furtherance of a “criminal investigation into the death of Allende”.  On the 31st May 2011, shortly before the autopsy had been completed, Chile’s state television reported that a top-secret military account of Allende’s death had been discovered in the home of a former military justice official.  The 300 page document was only found when the house was destroyed when the house was destroyed by the 2010 Chilean earthquake.  Following a review of the document by two forensic experts, findings revealed “that they are inclined to conclude that Allende was assassinated”.

The results of the autopsy were officially released in July 2011.  Medical experts who conducted and reviewed the autopsy results confirmed that Salvador Allende had died from self-inflicted gunshot wounds, indicating that Allende had died after shooting himself with the AK-47 given to him by Fidel Castro.  The report continued to tell of how Allende had died from two gunshot wounds fired from the rifle, which was held between his legs and under his chin.  The rifle was set to fire automatically.  The bullets blew out the top of his head and killed him instantly.  The conclusion made by the forensics team was unanimous, stating “We have absolutely no doubt” that Allende committed suicide.

On Drugstore’s El President, singer and songwriter Isabel Monteiro, in a duet with Thom Yorke, upholds the belief that Allende was murdered by Chilean armed forces in a US-backed coup:  “I’ve seen the masterplan, Kill the president, They killed the president …”

The song tells the tale of the arrival of military advisers, fighter jets and bombs to carry out the coup, “It came from the skies, In all shades of green”, with the “green” being camouflage.  The song goes on to tell of Allende’s refusal to surrender and his final address to the nation in the lines “I’m not giving in, All the people understand, ‘Cause they all fell down and prayed, I know …”

Further to this, the song criticises the West’s involvement in the coup with the lines, “We can always justify, We can measure up your dreams, I know; I’ve seen the masterplan”.  And of course, we all know what happened due to this masterplan:  Democracy died along with Allende and Chile, under the new rule of Augusto Pinochet between 1973 and 1990, became a hotbed of repression, torture, forced disappearance, and for many Chileans, exile.

Propelled by Ian Burdge’s stunning cello playing, dramatic piano interludes and Daron Robinson’s strummed acoustic guitar, El President is a brief but beautiful retelling of the events of the 1973 Chilean coup d’etat.  The song was coupled with an equally wonderful video featuring Monteiro and Yorke singing the song in a small room whilst the rest of Drugstore are projected on the walls around them.

Note at the end of the video, upon Yorke singing the line “I’m just a man”, he points two fingers, symbolising a gun, to his head, perhaps inferring that Allende’s death was suicide.  Therefore, what the song is saying is that even if it was suicide, he was still driven to it by the events of the 11th September 1973, the Chilean army and the US.

Song of the Day: War in Music (Day Four). “I’ve Got My Spine, I’ve Got My Orange Crush”.

Orange Crush, the first single taken from REM’s sixth album Green (1988), takes its inspiration from the chemical defoliant Agent Orange, manufactured by Monsanto Corporation and Dow Chemical for the US department of defense.  It was used in the Vietnam War (1st November 1955 – 30th April 1975) as part of the USA military’s herbicidal warfare program, Operation Ranch Hand, between 1961 and 1971.

Orange Crush is one of REM’s most political songs.  Singer Michael Stipe explained in an appearance on the TV show Last Call with Carson Daly that the song is about a young man from America who played football but left to serve in Vietnam.  During the Green Tour to accompany the album, Stipe often started the song by singing “Be all you can be … in the army”, a reference to the US Army’s recruitment slogan from 1980 to 2001.

REM were already no strangers to producing overtly political songs.  Take for example, the song Exhuming McCarthy from their previous album, Document (1987), which makes an explicit parallel between the red-baiting of Joe McCarthy’s time and the strengthening of the sense of American exceptionalism throughout the Reagan era, particularly in the Iran-Contra affair.

The Iran-Contra affair was a political scandal which occurred during the second term of the Reagan administration (1983 – 1988), in which senior administration officials secretly facilitated the sales of arms to Iran, which was the subject of an arms embargo.  It was hoped that the sales of arms would secure the release of several US hostages and the money would fund the Contras in Nicaragua.  Contra militants based in Honduras were waging a guerrilla war to topple the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) revolutionary government of Nicaragua.  Under the Boland Amendment, the name given to the US legislative amendments between 1982 and 1984 aimed at limiting the US government assistance to the Contra’s militants, further funding of the Contras by the government had been prohibited by Congress.  Another motivation on the part of some officials was to press for renewed ties with the Islamic Republic. The argument for developing ties with Iran was based on the traditional Cold War concern that isolating the Khomeini regime could open the way for Moscow to assert it’s influence in a strategically vital part of the world.

In 1950, McCarthy had become the most visible face of a period of intense anti-communist suspicion inspired by the tensions of the Cold War.  McCarthy made claims that there were large numbers of Communist and Soviet spies and sympathisers inside the federal government and elsewhere.  The term ‘McCarthyism’ was coined in 1950 in order to refer to McCarthy’s practices and was soon applied to other anti-communist pursuits.  The song includes a sample from Joseph Welch’s rebuke of McCarthy from the Army-McCarthy Hearings on the 9th June 1954:  “Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator … You’ve done enough.  Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?  Have you no sense of decency?”

The Vietnam War was highly significant in the Cold War.  Neither the United States of America nor the Soviet Union could risk all-out war against each other, with the nuclear military of each nation being too great.  However, when it suited both, the United States of America and the Soviet Union had client states which would carry on the fighting on their behalf.  In Vietnam, America actually fought, meaning that in the Cold War ‘game’, the Soviet Union could not.  However, to support the Communist cause, the Soviet Union armed China, a fellow Communist state.  In turn, China would equip the North Vietnamese who fought the Americans.

Other REM songs to deal with the subjects of communism, war and politics include The Flowers of Guatemala from the band’s 1986 album Life’s Rich Pageant.  In the song, the flowers cover the graves of the people killed by the US-backed military regime in Guatemala.  In 1954, the US government backed the Guatemalan coup d’etat which overthrew the democratically elected government.  This government was then replaced by a fascist dictatorship.  The coup d’etat laid the foundations for the Guatemalan Civil War, which ran from 1960 to 1996.  The Civil War was fought between the government of Guatemala and various leftist rebel groups supported chiefly by ethic Mayan indigenous people and Landino peasants, who together made up the rural poor.  The government forces of Guatemala have been condemned for committing genocide against the Mayan population of Guatemala during the Civil War and for widespread human rights violations against civilians.  The Flowers of Guatemala is about the violent right-wing government in Guatemala and the devastating effect it had on the Guatemalan people.  In The Flowers of Guatemala, “Amanita” refers to the genus of several exceptionally deadly mushrooms, including one commonly known as the ‘Destroying Angel’, serving as a metaphor for the US as a destructive force, a ‘destroying angel’.

For the Green album, the band explored political matters and their condemnation of the US government still further.  The album’s opening song, Pop Song ’89 sets the scene for the political subject matter incorporated into the album with the lines, “Should we talk about the weather?  Should we talk about the government?”

The song World Leader Pretend uses war imagery as a metaphor for the war of self-doubt that the singer wages on himself:  “I sit at my table and wage war on myself, It seems like it’s all, it’s all for nothing, I know the barricades, And I know the mortar in the wall breaks, I recognise the weapons, I’ve used them all”.

On Orange Crush, the theme of war on the Green album takes a literal turn and further explores the subject of Communism first addressed on Exhuming McCarthy.  The US government viewed its involvement in the Vietnam War as a way of preventing a Communist takeover of South Vietnam.  This was part of a wider containment policy, with the stated aim of stopping the spread of communism.  The North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong were fighting to reunify Vietnam under communist rule.  They viewed the conflict as a colonial war, fought initially against forces from France and then America, and later against South Vietnam.

Of Orange Crush’s lyrical content, the song opens with its chorus and the reoccurring motif “Follow me, don’t follow me”, referring to the frequent situations in the Vietnam War where one soldier was sent ahead of his troop in order to check for danger or ambush.  “Follow me”, therefore, is a cue for the troops behind the leading soldier to advance on his position.  Alternatively, the command “don’t follow me” means to cease movement and observe.

The lyric “I’ve got my spine, I’ve got my orange crush” refers to the assurance that soldiers fighting in Vietnam were given that Agent Orange would have no effect on them.  However, on returning home, the soldiers experienced an array of illnesses ranging from several forms of cancer to their wives suffering miscarriages.  Another effect of Agent Orange was Spina Bifida in the children of soldiers exposed to the chemical.  Therefore, in this line, the soldier says “I’ve got my spine”, believing that he is unaffected by the chemical and that his children won’t be affected either.  With the lyric “I’ve got my orange crush”, the soldier may also be referring to the ability to call upon air attack measures in the event that whilst being sent ahead of his troop, he runs into trouble.

The following line, “Collar me, don’t collar me” is a further reference to Spina Bifida.  The deformation of their spine caused by their fathers’ exposure to Agent Orange meant that they were often required to wear a special brace, or “collar”.  This line refers to the uncertainty of deformation and the fact that the father of the deformed child was unsure about the negative effects of the chemical.

“We are agents of the free” is a play on the word ‘agent’ in Agent Orange but also alludes to the American ideology of spreading democracy throughout the world.  The Vietnam Conflict was a war against Communism and this line finds the soldier taking the stance of somebody freeing the Vietnamese from the evils of Communism.

In the line “I’ve had my fun and now it’s time to serve your conscience overseas”, we find the soldier telling of how after having his fun playing football whilst living in Suburbia and living the American Dream, he now feels it is his duty to serve his country in the war.

Following this, “Over me, not over me” finds the soldier on the battlefield intoning that he hopes the pilot of the aircraft above him to drop the Agent Orange further ahead of him as opposed to on top of him.  The next line, “Coming in fast, over me” refers to the aircraft about to deploy the chemical flying quickly above him.

After two choruses, the first line of the verse, “High on the booze, In a tent” tells of how the soldier and his comrades pass the time in their tent drinking, whilst the following line, “Paved with blood” adds a dark twist, with the tent most probably being covered in blood from the fighting.  In this verse, the soldiers repress the atrocities that they have seen on the battlefield by finding enjoyment in alcohol.  The “Nine inch howl” that the soldier refers to is the sound of artillery firing, with “nine inch” being the artillery barrels.  In the following line, “Brave the night”, the soldier is hoping to make it through the night as the Viet Cong were known for setting traps and ambushes, whilst “Chopper comin’ in, you hope” refers to the soldier hoping for a helicopter (“chopper”) to come in and take him home, away from the battle.

The songs middle section is spoken by Stipe through a megaphone, an element of the song which worked to great effect when played live.  The singer has said that this part of the song is merely a series of random thoughts sewn together.  Despite Stipe’s assertion that these lines are nonsense, they do have significant connections to war, and specifically Vietnam.

Trying to make some sort of sense of the middle section, these lines appear to tell the story of the soldier arriving in Vietnam and being lost in a strange land (“We would circle and we’d circle and we’d circle”); fixing the army vehicles ready or warfare (“Stacked up all the trucks and jacked up and our wheels”); enjoying the beauty of Vietnam whilst not fighting (“It’s just like heaven here”) and finally heading home in the helicopter (“Then this whirlybird that I headed for, I had my goggles pulled off”), realising that after so long in Vietnam, he now knew the place like the back of his hand (“I knew every back road and every truck stop”).  Alternatively, If we were simply to see these lines as nonsense as Stipe suggests, they could be seen to denote the soldier suffering from shellshock, which is likely to cause him to have random flashbacks and mutter random occurrences.

The megaphone used in Orange Crush could be seen as significant to the subject matter of war in the song, perhaps being an allusion to the amplification of commands given over the noise of the battlefield or, more likely, to the way in which if negotiations between countries or parties are held through press releases and announcements, they are termed ‘megaphone diplomacy’.  The aim of ‘megaphone diplomacy’ is to force the other party into adopting a desired position.

Therefore, the use of the megaphone may refer to the war announcements made by the US and Vietnam through the media and the pivotal role that the media played in the Vietnam War.  At the beginning of the Second World War, television had gradually become familiar to the public but by the end of the war, it began to be manufactured on a large scale.  In the 1950s, only 9% of American homes owned a television, a figure which rose dramatically to 93% by the mid-sixties at the height of the Vietnam War.  A survey conducted in 1964 suggested that 58% of respondents received their news from television, making the medium the most important source of news for the American people during the Vietnam Conflict.

Additionally, the idea of the use of a megaphone is also addressed on the song Hairshirt, a song of self-repentance which compliments both Orange Crush and World Leader Pretend.  A hairshirt was a scratchy woolen undergarment worn by religiously repentant people between the 13th and 15th century, who believed that suffering brought you closer to God.  In Hairshirt, the lyric “I can swing my megaphone, And long arm the rest, It’s easier and better, To just beat it from the chest, Of desire” finds the singer pondering over the importance of the messages that he delivers in his lyrics and his significance as a songwriter.

Linking Hairshirt to Orange Crush, the use of music in war and other political matters has been highly significant over the years.  During the Vietnam War, music and particularly the protest song, was highly important, with artists such as The Doors (take for example, The Unknown Soldier from Waiting for the Sun, 1968) …

… and John Lennon (take for example, Give Peace A Chance, 1969) using their music to express their disdain for the conflict.

Orange Crush was obviously written long after the Vietnam War ended but deals with the after-effects of the conflict and the continuing damage caused to those who fought and their families.  Thus, Orange Crush proudly takes its place in the pantheon of songs addressing the conflict and of anti-war songs in general.

The Green album was both commercially and artistically a turning point for the band.  In a 1988 interview with Elianna Halbersberg for East Coast Rocker in November 1988, Peter Buck described Green as an album which didn’t feature any typical REM songs.  He described the band’s previous output as “Minor key, mid-tempo, enigmatic, semi-folk balladish things” and said for Green, the band “wrote major key rock songs and switched instruments”.   In conversation with the band’s biographer, David Buckley for the book Fiction:  An Alternative Biography (2003), Michael Stipe stated that he told his band mates to “not write any more REM-type songs”.  This was an experiment that REM would later repeat on the 1994 album Monster, a move away from the sound of the albums Out of Time (1991) and Automatic for the People (1992), which following the embryonic commercialism of Green, gained the band even further commercial success.

With the change of direction on Green, it is no surprise that REM’s war anthem Orange Crush was given the full rock treatment.  Orange Crush is an upbeat pop song full of jangling guitars which sound like the artillery fire talked about in the lyrics, complete with that middle section which places the listener in the centre of the battlefield and further compliments the images of helicopters deploying Agent Orange in the song and the intensity of battle.  Orange Crush, and the rest of the Green album, finds REM exploring sonic directions in order to paint pictures to accompany Stipe’s increasingly cinematic lyrics.  Bassist Mike Mills, in conversation with David Buckley, said of the Green album in conversation that it was an experimental record, resulting in an album which was “haphazard, a little scattershot”.  This haphazard and scattershot approach though is exactly what makes Orange Crush so wonderful and one of the many highlights of an often underrated and overlooked album in REM’s canon, with the, at first nonsensical sounding lyrical content conjuring up images of the confusion and mayhem on the battlefields of the Vietnam War.

When it came to producing a video for Orange Crush, REM turned to director Matt Muhurin, who is also responsible for videos for singles by U2, Queensryche, Metallica, Tracy Chapman, Tom Waits and Alice in Chains.  The video for Orange Crush won REM their first VMA award for Best Post-Modern Video.  Orange Crush was the first song to win in the category.

Orange Crush was later covered by Editors and used as the B-side of their Blood single in 2005.  The Editors cover version is fairly faithful to REM’s original in terms of its musical content but starts with a stripped down piano led interpretation of the line “I’ve got my spine, I’ve got my orange crush” and adds the band’s own lyrics “High on the roof, Thin the blood, Another one on the waves tonight, Comin’ in, you’re home”.  The latter change to the song not only links the cover version with A-side of the Editors single with the use of the word “blood” but also adds an extra-dimension and shows the malleability, longevity and brilliance of the song’s composition.