7. War – Why Can’t We Be Friends? War is the funky California band whose name stands for We Are Righteous; drummer Harold Brown said War’s goal was to “bring everybody together through our music.” Their 1975 hit Why Can’t We Be Friends? features band members each singing a verse that asks why differences should prevent people from getting along. Brown told Songfacts that the idea for the tune came while traveling in Japan. “Most racists don’t know why they’re racist. But you pick them up and take them over and drop them in a country, like India or Pakistan, guess what? ‘Why can’t we be friends?’ Because all of a sudden you find out we’re more alike inside than we are on the outside.” The infectious track, which repeats the phrase “Why can’t we be friends?” more than 40 times, became an anthem for harmony among different races, religions, classes and ethnicities. In 1975, NASA beamed the song to American astronauts and Soviet cosmonauts as they linked in space.
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5. Cat Stevens – Peace Train
6. John Mayer – Waiting on the World to Change Unlike most protest songs that inspire action, John Mayer’s 2006 hit Waiting on the World to Change explains his generation’s apathy on social issues. “It’s saying, ‘Well, I’ll just watch American Idol because I know that if I were engaged in changing anything for the better, or the better as I see it, it would go unnoticed or be completely ineffective,’” Mayer told The Advocate. “A lot of people have that feeling.” Anthems promoting peace and love, Mayer told NPR, won’t cut it anymore. “Look, demanding somebody do anything in this day and age is not going to fly. Kids don’t even like being talked to like kids anymore, you know, ‘Just give me the option and I’ll think about it.’” Despite its cynical tone, Mayer ends the song on an optimistic note: One day our generation / Is gonna rule the population / So we keep on waiting / Waiting on the world to change.
By 1971, the U.S. was enmeshed in the Vietnam War with no end in sight. British-born folk-rocker Cat Stevens wrote Peace Train, a song he hoped would motivate people to live in harmony: Why must we go on hating / Why can’t we live in bliss? “Musically, I was revisiting a very Greek-sounding riff – the kind of thing you’d hear on a Greek island,” Stevens said on The Chris Isaak Show. “The words were attached to that time, my peace anthem. It ended every show that I did and was quite a showstopper. It was a very important song for me because it stated one of the big goals of my life, which was heading straight for that peace.” Stevens, who later became a Muslim and changed his name to Yusuf Islam, re-recorded the song in 2003; America was again at war, this time in Iraq. “Peace Train is a song I wrote, the message of which continues to breeze thunderously through the hearts of millions,” said Stevens. “There is a powerful need for people to feel that gust of hope rise up again. As a member of humanity and as a Muslim, this is my contribution to the call for a peaceful solution.”
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