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The A+ List: 11-15-14

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With all the controversy surrounding Bruce Springsteen’s (Grohl and Zac are irrelevant) cover of Vietnam Veteran John Fogerty’s “Fortunate Son” during the “Concert for Valor” in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, honoring Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan (and elsewhere) in the new enlisted man’s armed forces, here are a few more war songs. As Costello notes on one of these songs, poverty is a different sort of enlistment but anyhow, three songs about war and all A Plusses.

Over There – George M. Cohn, turned down for the armed forces at the onset World One 1, wrote this masterpiece of war propaganda in 1917 (nearly 100 years ago!) and it resonates so strongly, it would get a million men to volunteer for their imminent death. WW1 was about protecting the British Empire. The Brits won but they lost and WWII was about who would gain control of the British Empire. This song drove American boys to their doom with one of the most powerful call to arms: just three note on O – Ver -There, but it sounds like somebody whispering in your ear: stamp, march, forward to there and, with glorious iteration: “over there”, “we’re coming over” and “and we won’t be back till it’s over there”. This version is a stormer which includes an instrumental “Yankee Doodle Dandy” break. It is heading a country in a direction and it is so easy to sing and such a stomping good song, very military, very brassy, yet somehow oddly intimate and a song sung blue: a song everyone can holla. A huge, huge hit, it is a song people killed for.

Born In The USA – Bruce Springsteen – This is “Over There” in reverse, it is over here and over there, Vietnam, the singer’s brother is “all gone” and the singer is left to sing a rousing, patriotic but a strange patriotism, patriotic about other things, other songs, patriotic about a country which whatever its intentions, forced kids to die in a pointless. That verse:

“Had a brother at Khe Sahn fighting off the Viet Cong

They’re still there he’s all gone

He had a woman he loved in Saigon

I got a picture of him in her arms now”

This is the essence of Springsteen’s genius boiled down to a verse. It is intensely personal, it couldn’t be more personally, but it dragnets a sentiment. The veteran returns to no job and here he has it right, this is what matters, and it happens every day, all day, you read about it everywhere: veterans getting out of the armed forces and there is nothing for them. “Listen son, if it was up to me…”

Bruce has slowed down versions of this but they suck, it is great because it is a pop song because it is great.

Oliver’s Army – Elvis Costello And The Attractions – Oliver Cromwell of course, the roundhead who deposed the monarchy in England –for a coupla years any way. Costello spells it out better than any one and he is very self aware as to the forces at work against the working class. “My mind is sleep walking” he sweetly sings while a melody Neil Sedaka would be pleased with is played by Steve Nieve. He signs up (there were pictures of Elvis on the original Armed Forces with the legend “Don’t Join” emblazoned upon them) and finds himself with check point Charlie’s, in Palestine, heck they could send him to Johannesburg with just a word in Mr. Churchill’s ear. Like the other two songs on this weeks “A+ List” it is very catchy pure pop with something else to day. It is propaganda.

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