NEW YORK – Like their 1960s-era predecessors, a host of high-powered American musicians have recently begun singing their sentiments over a possible war with Iraq.
The Beastie Boys this week became the latest big-name act to release a song or video to protest war, with their single "In a World Gone Mad." And coming up soon is Madonna's video for "American Life," also expected to be an anti-war statement.
Those anti-war efforts join John Mellencamp's "To Washington," a Michael Moore-directed video "Boom!" by the band System of a Down, and George Michael's cover of "The Grave," originally a Don McLean number.
How much success these songs have in shaping public opinion about war remains to be seen, of course.
"There's no way of gauging whether a song can stop a war or change people's minds, but it certainly makes them think," opined Brian Raftery, a music writer at Entertainment Weekly.
But despite the perception among many, not all musicians are belting out anti-war tunes. Several country musicians are singing in support of the troops — most notably Darryl Worley with his song "Have You Forgotten," a fast-climbing chart hit that is already one of the most requested singles on country stations.
About a dozen patriotic songs have been released by country artists since Sept. 11, according to Stephen Betts, editor of Country Music Today magazine. Among them: Toby Keith's hit "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)," Lee Greenwood's re-release of "God Bless the USA" and Aaron Tippin's "Where the Stars and Stripes and the Eagle Fly."
"Country artists are a little bit more vocal because (their music) is looked at as America's music," said Betts. "They feel they represent the voice of America. They want to make it clear that they're pro-military."
A professor who teaches about 1960s America and the protest movement said today's war songs have a very different place than their Vietnam War-era precursors.
"Music meant more to that generation than it does today because music was innovative at that time — different from anything that had gone before it," said Benjamin T. Harrison, of the University of Louisville. "Songs certainly were an effective way to protest. Whether or not they are today is difficult to say."
Modern music fans tend to buy or listen to a song because they like the sound or the artist. In the '60s, they were more attuned to the message, Harrison maintained.
But that doesn't necessarily make the words in today's songs less powerful than they were 30-plus years ago, when protest hits like Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind" and Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" were popular.
To some, today's songs are more anti-George W. Bush than they are anti-war.
In Mellencamp's "To Washington," he sings: "He wants to fight with many, and he says it's not for oil." The song identifies Bush as "a new man in the White House with a familiar name" and addresses the "eight years of peace and prosperity" of the Clinton era.
The 51-year-old Indianapolis native recently issued a statement insisting the song wasn't an anti-war anthem, but a snapshot of recent American history.
Madonna’s new video, which The Drudge Report categorized as "the most shocking anti-war, anti-Bush statement yet to come from the show business industry," aims to portray the "catastrophic repercussions and horror of war," according to her publicist Liz Rosenberg.
But, insisted Rosenberg: "I'm not going to say it's specifically anti-Bush at all."
The Beastie Boys, on the other hand, are openly critical of the president.
"You build more bombs as you get more bold/As your mid-life crisis war unfolds/All you wanna do is take control/Now put that Axis of Evil bullsh-- on hold," the trio raps.
In "Have You Forgotten," Worley has a different message.
"I hear people saying we don't need this war/I say there's some things worth fighting for," he sings. "Have you forgotten how it felt that day/to see your homeland under fire/and her people blown away/Have you forgotten when those towers fell."
During a recent appearance on Fox and Friends, Worley said he wrote the song after returning from a visit with the U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
"After seeing their loyalty and dedication to this country, it just seemed like something we had to do," he said. "We just thought it was a message the American people needed to hear."
Regardless of the message, Raftery said, war songs and videos encourage a dialogue about current events.
"It's great that musicians are writing songs that address the war, both pro and con," he said. "I just hope other artists can have the same freedom without a lot of backlash."