Best WWI songs by Metallica, Radiohead, PJ Harvey and more

By Robert Webb

PJ Harvey's most recent album was the WWI-inspired Let England Shake.
PJ Harvey's most recent album was the WWI-inspired Let England Shake.

Soldiers, the new song by Christchurch singer-songwriter Julia Turner certainly isn't the first musical lament for those who served in World War I.

And with the centennial of the conflict looming, it's unlikely to be the last.

Many have been there before, ranging from folk singers' gentle odes to hard rock acts reminding of the adage that heavy metal is a music for young men with no war to fight.

Here's a wander through rock and pop history and some of the best songs inspired by The Great War.

Butchers Tale (Western Front 1914) by The Zombies (1967)

Recorded in 1967, this was ostensibly the first rock song about the First World War. The most experimental outing from the group who hit big with She's Not There, in an ill-advised move it was selected as the first single from the band's Odessey & Oracle. "Nobody could make out what the words were," said its writer Chris White. "They're all place names on the Western Front: Gommecourt, Thiepval, Mametz Wood."

All Together Now by The Farm (1990)

What could be pop's highest grossing song about the war was released by the British band in the early Nineties. It took its cue from an event early in WWI when soldiers on both sides of the Western Front lay down their weapons and scrambled over no-man's land, shook hands and swapped addresses before returning to their respective trenches to resume the slaughter.

The song went on to become a bank ad jingle in Scotland and a football show theme.

Pipes of Peace by Paul McCartney (1983)

The single by the former Beatle had a video in which the songwriter appeared both as a British and a German solder meeting in no man's land during the 1914 Christmas truce. This was the only British number one single credited solely to McCartney.

The Band Played Waltzing Matilda, various artists

The 1971 Eric Bogle folk song about Gallipoli has been interpreted by many include June Tabor and The Pogues.

On Battleship Hill by PJ Harvey (2011)

From the beautiful and brutal Let England Shake. "One of the conflicts that affected me a great deal was the Gallipoli campaign in the First World War," said Harvey.

Going Home by Randy Newman (1999)

Poignant waltz about a First World War soldier, first demo-ed in the late Seventies as Going Home (1918).

The Green Fields of France by Eric Bogle (1976)

Another Bogle ode to the Great War which was covered by many, including The Men They Couldn't Hang.

Passchendaele by Iron Maiden (2003)

Prog-metal cruncher by guitarist Adrian Smith about drowning in the mud at the Third Battle of Ypres, otherwise known as Passchendaele.

Some Mother's Son by The Kinks (1969)

From Arthur, Or the Rise and Fall of the British Empire, the soundtrack to an abandoned Granada TV drama.

Poppy Day by Siouxsie and the Banshees (1979)

Siouxsie's shattered, spectral reading of John McCrae's 1919 poem In Flanders Fields reverberates through the solid air like the voices of the dead themselves.

Harry Patch (in Memory of) by Radiohead (2009)

A one-off single written by the band's Thom Yorke after hearing an interview with the last surviving soldier to have fought in the First World War trenches. "The way he talked about war had a profound effect on me," Yorke said.

1916 by Motorhead (1991)

Lemmy's moving funereal march recounts the fate of a teenage soldier who added two years to his age and went off to fight at the Somme.

One by Metallica (1988)

Released in 1989 as a single off the band's fourth album ...And Justice for All, the lyrics to his seven minute plus behemoth of a track were inspired by Dalton Trumbo's 1939 novel Johnny Got His Gun about a soldier who has become a prisoner in his own body after suffering massive battlefield injuries.

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Snoopy's Christmas by the Royal Guardsmen (1967)

The legend of the Red Baron and his imaginary foe Snoopy of the Peanuts cartoon strip captured in a novelty hit which went to number one in New Zealand (and nowhere else in the world). The Royal Guardsmen were a Florida based pop group with a thing for the Charles Schulz character, their earlier releases including Snoopy vs. the Red Baron, Snoopy and His Friends, The Return of the Red Baron, and of course, Snoopy for President. IN 2006, their released a comeback track Snoopy vs Osama.

- Independent with nzherald.co.nz

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