This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.
The most pointless war of the 20th century, the most useless, the one that should never have happened, is the First World War. The world fell into it by accident and it caused so much suffering, so many people dead, so much change that it altered forever what came after.
It was the cause of the Second World War and most of the ructions in the Middle East that are still going on, as well as most other conflicts in the last 90 years.
This was an awful war. I know, all of them are awful but without this one, things would have been different, at least I’d like to think so.
So, I’m starting with a song about it. It’s one from an Australian perspective. We were dragged into it as, although we were an independent country, the politicians tended to do the bidding of Britain back then.
During that war there was considerable opposition to our participation in the conflict; after all it was on the other side of the world and it really had nothing to do with us.
The government of the day tried to bring in conscription but it was defeated in Parliament. So they tried for a constitutional amendment to do the same and that was defeated.
The idiots tried a second time with the same result. So all the Australians forces in that conflict were volunteers.
Even given that, many lined up to participate. They thought it would all be over in a short time and, besides, it was a bit of an adventure. They soon found out that was not so.
One of the greatest songs about that war is called The Band Played Waltzing Matilda. There are many versions of this. The one I’ve chosen is by the man who wrote it, ERIC BOGLE, who was originally from Scotland but has called Australia home for many decades now.
Everyone seems to think that the Second World War was the good war and given the circumstances at the time that’s quite right. However, if it hadn’t been for the first one, this one would not have happened.
Rather surprisingly, there’s a song about this one too, written sometime afterwards, of course. You may not be too surprised that this is another Australian song. Again, there was no conscription for overseas service.
As with the first war, if men were thought to be shirking their responsibilities, they were often accosted on the streets by people who would hand them a white feather as a sign of contempt for them, assuming they were cowards, without necessarily realising the circumstances.
It seems it was ever thus during wars. This is a song about that. The group is WEDDINGS, PARTIES, ANYTHING and the song is Scorn of the Women.
It wasn’t just the First World War that this country was dragged into a conflict that was none of our business. The right-wing government of the time pretty much insisted that we should be part of the Vietnam War even though it was obviously going to end in disaster and these bastards did bring in conscription, but only if your number was pulled out of a barrel.
Well, Australians like a bit of a gamble, don't they? By far the best song about that sorry conflict was by REDGUM. It’s called I Was Only 19.
In the seventies Australia’s great rock band, COLD CHISEL, performed a song about the Vietnam veterans who had returned to this country. That song has become Australia’s unofficial national anthem. It’s called Khe Sanh.
JUDY SMALL has an excellent overview of everything that's gone before.
Judy's songs cover a wide range of topics and styles with a particular emphasis on feminism and peace. Her song combines both of those topics. It is Mothers, Daughters, Wives.
Well, that’s the Australian content out of the way.
I first discovered RICHIE HAVENS through what is often thought to be his first album (but is actually his third) "Mixed Bag," and a fine piece of work it is.
Richie opened proceedings at the Woodstock festival because legend has it (and probably truth as well) that he was the only artist present at the time who wasn't stoned out of his gourd. As a consequence he played for about three hours, the longest of any artist.
One of the songs Richie performed is Handsome Johnny. Richie wrote the song along with Lou Gossett. Here is the version from "Mixed Bag.”
I don't think too many people think of the song Galveston in the context of today's topic. That's probably due to the influence of Glenn Campbell's version of the song. However, when you hear JIMMY WEBB perform the song, one he wrote, it takes on a whole different perspective.
You probably figured I'd have the famous track by COUNTRY JOE MCDONALD from Woodstock, and you won't be disappointed.
Joe actually appeared twice at the festival, the only artist who did. In all its glory here is I Feel Like I'm Fixin' To Die Rag.
I had originally penciled in Phil Ochs for the column - after all, he wrote many anti-war songs, but I changed my mind and decided to go with one of Phil’s good friends, TOM PAXTON.
It's not a standard antiwar song, it's about the losers plotting their revenge. A Thousand Years.
I've come full circle and will finish with DAVID OLNEY who wrote and performed a song called 1917. Nobody could follow this one.
The song has an alternate title, The French Prostitute. I first encountered the song when Emmylou Harris performed it (under the name 1917 - the song's name that is, not Emmy's) on her marvelous album, "The Western Wall" with Linda Ronstadt.
People who know me might be surprised to learn that I prefer David's version and that's the one I'm going with today. I can't imagine anyone not being affected by this song.