Hey, kids, time for another encapsulation of one song’s multiple reincarnation through the years. This time, we’re looking at “War”.
“War” – Edwin Starr
You, quite rightly, know “War” as this stirring, passionate polemic delivered by Edwin Starr in 1970. Well-timed for the tension of the Vietnam War, the song went to #1 on Billboard‘s “Hot 100” chart and garnered a Grammy nod for Starr. But this blunt, powerful piece did not originate with Starr. Penned and produced by Motown’s Barrett Strong and Norman Whitfield, the song was originally recorded by R&B gods the Temptations. The song was nuzzled – side 2, track 2 – into their 1970 album Psychedelic Shack.
“War” – The Temptations
The Temptations’ version was never released as a single. About this, Edwin Starr said, “It was buried on one of their albums. But then a lot of mail came in, mostly from students, asking why they didn’t release it on a 45. Well, that was a touchy time, and that song had some implications. It was a message record, an opinion record, and stepped beyond being sheer entertainment. It could become a smash record, and that was fine, but if it went the other way, it could kill the career of whoever the artist was.”1 Thus, Starr was brought in to record the song for release as a single, cushioning the career of the Temptations. (Both versions were backed by Motown house band the Funk Brothers.)
“War” resurfaced again about 15 years later, when Bruce Springsteen added it to his live show. Springsteen’s cover became the lead single of his Live/1975–85 box set and again hit Billboard‘s “Hot 100”, peaking at #8 this time. This arrangement of the song was even funkier than that laid down by the Funk Brothers and is a perfect showcase of Springsteen’s verge-of-an-aneurysm vocal delivery.
“War” – Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
Bonus: Here’s another live renditon of “War” by Springsteen, with help from Mr. Starr himself.
“War” – Bruce Springsteen with Edwin Starr
1Super Seventies RockSite, “War”, Edwin Starr