War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothin’!

Edwin Star recorded and released “War” in March 1970. The song is an anti-Vietnam-war statement. However, his message includes a broader meaning as it addresses a general need for harmony and global peace. Today, more than fifty years later, the song still protests the same worldwide issues. The lyrics remained current. Since the end of the Vietnam war, the list of armed conflicts grew exponentially. In the last twenty years, about 120 armed hostile conflicts between states or nations have started, many of them are still ongoing.

The song got written for the Motown record label in 1969 by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong. The first production was with The Temptations (featuring Paul Williams and Dennis Edwards on lead vocals). The band raised concerns about releasing a controversial protest song, and so, a second production with Edwin Starr as the vocalist got recorded and released. The Temptation‘s version got further withheld from distribution. Edwin Starr’s version is more intense and dramatic. His performance enhances the declaration we find in the lyrics. There is a clear and accurate message to all who hear it: War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothin’!” The lyrics continue to highlight the true impact of war: “War, I despise ’cause it means destruction of innocent lives. War means tears to thousands of mother’s eyes, when their sons go off to fight and, lose their lives.”

“War, I despise ’cause it means destruction of innocent lives. War means tears to thousands of mother’s eyes, when their sons go off to fight and, lose their lives”

Lyrics to “War” written by Barrett Strong and Norman Whitfield

“War (what is it good for? Absolutely nothin’!)” became the best-known protest song in music history, mainly thanks to the description of the meaningless horrors of war. In 1970, it took first place in Billboard’s Hot 100 chart for three weeks, despite being a controversial protest song.

War, huh, yeah
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing, uhh
War, huh, yeah
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing
Say it again, y’all
War, huh (good God)
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing, listen to me, oh

War, I despise
‘Cause it means destruction of innocent lives
War means tears to thousands of mother’s eyes
When their sons go off to fight
And lose their lives

I said, war, huh (good God, y’all)
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing, just say it again
War (whoa), huh (oh Lord)
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing, listen to me

It ain’t nothing but a heart-breaker
(War) Friend only to The Undertaker
Oh, war it’s an enemy to all mankind
The thought of war blows my mind
War has caused unrest
Within the younger generation
Induction then destruction
Who wants to die? Oh

War, huh (good God y’all)
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing
Say it, say it, say it
War (uh-huh), huh (yeah, huh)
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing, listen to me

It ain’t nothing but a heart-breaker
(War) It’s got one friend that’s The Undertaker
Oh, war, has shattered many a young man’s dreams
Made him disabled, bitter and mean
Life is much too short and precious
To spend fighting wars each day
War can’t give life
It can only take it away, oh

War, huh (good God y’all)
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing, say it again

War (whoa), huh (oh Lord)
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing, listen to me

It ain’t nothing but a heart breaker
(War) Friend only to The Undertaker, woo
Peace, love and understanding, tell me
Is there no place for them today?
They say we must fight to keep our freedom
But Lord knows there’s got to be a better way, oh

War, huh (God y’all)
What is it good for? You tell me (nothing)
Say it, say it, say it, say it

War (good God), huh (now, huh)
What is it good for?
Stand up and shout it (nothing)

Songwriters: Barrett Strong & Norman Whitfield
War lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

Related articles: