Music history: Today in 1970 “War” by Edwin Starr battles for No. 1

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Today in music history, soul singer Edwin Starr’s most famous single, “War” began a three-week run at No. 1. The year was 1970. The Vietnam War raged on as did protests against it. That same year, four students were killed by National Guard soldiers during a protest at Kent State in Ohio. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young marked the event with the song “Ohio.” Thus, it was not unusual for popular music to comment on the Vietnam War.

But there was something about Starr’s impassioned performance that made his single stand out. In addition, the lyrics were brutally honest. The content plus Starr’s delivery made “War” a classic. There was never any question what the song was about.

About Edwin Starr

Born Charles Edwin Hatcher in Nashville, Tennessee, Starr had a career that eventually took him to the UK where he died of a heart attack in 2003 at age 61. His style was firmly rooted in soul and r&b. Starr found himself in Detroit where he began to record for Motown.

“War” was not Starr’s only political song. The even more obvious “Stop the War Now,” brought Starr some success in the 1960s. This perhaps paved the way for the content and approach of the extremely successful “War.”

After the success of “War,” it seems that Starr dedicated himself to producing music for others.

The popularity of “War” by Edwin Starr

“War” was not.performed by Starr originally. The song had been done by The Temptations first. However, it is as if only researchers and hardcore Temptations’ fans knew about the song’s origins. At any rate, “War” continues to engage audiences with its sound and message. It is rare that a movie or documentary about the Vietnam War airs that doesn’t use “War” in the background.

“War” received New life when it was covered by non-soul groups in the 1980s. First British synth pop group, Frankie Goes to Hollywood took a turn with the song in 1984. Then, a more popular version than Frankie Goes to Hollywood is Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band made a rocking, rollicking version of the song. In short, the song’s  popularity never seems to waver. In 2016, the rock band Buck Cherry also re-did the song.

There were times when “War” wasn’t popular. After Sept. 11, 2001, some radio station groups refused to play the song. The song is always at-risk of offending those who see war as necessary at certain times. However, as a 1970’s soul song, “War” is successful. It captures a sentiment that is often popular for people who would rather avoid war at all costs.

“War” is characterized by its heavy drum and bass rhythms. Starr punctuates the song with screams that might remind some people of a Baptist minister.  He sounds upset about the idea of war. The authenticity of Starr’s delivery makes “War” a classic.

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