Monday will mark 20 years since the beginning of the UK and US invasion of Iraq as part of the so-called ‘War on Terror’.

The effects of the decision to go to war are still being felt today, and at the time drew millions to the streets around the world.

Marches and demonstrations were soundtracked, as always, by some of the most famous protest songs and we’ve taken a look at some of the most notable.

Mosh – Eminem (Encore, 2004)

Released just before the 2004 U.S election, ‘Mosh’ was a furious tirade against George W Bush, described as “this weapon of mass destruction we call our President” as Eminem declared “no more blood for oil/we got our own battles to fight on our own soil”. His final verse concludes “if I get sniped tonight you’ll know why – ‘cos I told you to fight’.”

Holiday – Green Day (American Idiot, 2004)

Another song from the era of the Iraq War, ‘Holiday’, along with the title track, was one of two anti-Bush songs from American Idiot which tore up the charts. The lyrics lament the killing of Iraqi children – “the ones who died without a name” – and the Americans coming home with flags draped over their coffins. In the spoken bridge singer Billie Joe Armstrong spits: “’Sieg Heil’ to the president Gasman/bombs away is your punishment”

Born In The USA – Bruce Springsteen (Born In The USA, 1984)

The original misunderstood protest song, ‘Born In The USA’ tells the story of a man “born down in a dead man’s town” who gets into trouble with the law and gets sent to fight in Vietnam. Having seen a friend killed in the Khe Sanh offensive the narrator returns home to find no job or support waiting: “come back home to the refinery/hiring man said ‘son, if it was up to me’/went down to see the VA man/he said ‘son, don’t ya understand?’”.

Hurricane – Bob Dylan (Desire, 1976)

From ‘Masters of War’ to ‘Blowing In The Wind’, Dylan has enough protest songs to fill out his own list. Arguably the best of the lot though is ‘Hurricane’, which tells the story of Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter, a black boxer wrongfully convicted and jailed for murder. Dylan surmises “to the cops he was just a crazy n*****/nobody doubted that he pulled the trigger”.

Killing in the Name – Rage Against the Machine (Rage Against The Machine, 1992)

Perhaps the most unlikely Christmas number one in history, ‘Killing in the Name’ was inspired by the Rodney King beating and the subsequent LA riots. Over a heavy drop-D guitar riff by Tom Morello, singer Zack De La Rocha warns “some of those who work forces are the same that burn crosses” before the song concludes with its iconic “f*** you I won’t do what ya tell me” refrain.

Strange Fruit – Billie Holiday

Written by Al Meeropol, ‘Strange Fruit’ is perhaps the most iconic protest song of all time and has been cited as the beginning of the civil rights movement. The “strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees” refers, of course, to black people who had been lynched in the Deep South.

99 Luftballons – Nena (Nena, 1983)

Not all great protest songs have to be in English, as this 1983 anti-war classic proves. ’99 Luftballons’ imagines a world in which 99 balloons inadvertently trigger a nuclear war which destroys the world. While an English version was later released it’s the German original that Nena play today.

Fortunate Son – Creedence Clearwater Revival (Willy and the Poor Boys, 1969)

Released at the height of the Vietnam War and featured in Forrest Gump, ‘Fortunate Son’ rails against poor people being sent to die in a rich man’s war: “some folks inherit star-spangled eyes/they send you down to war, Lord/And when you ask 'em, ‘How much should we give?’/They only answer, "More, more, more, more"

Fight the Power – Public Enemy (Do The Right Thing soundtrack, 1989)

Hip-hop has a proud tradition of protest songs and arguably its most iconic is this 1989 single by Public Enemy. ‘Fight the Power’ begins with a vocal sample of civil rights attorney and activist Thomas ‘TNT’ Todd and calls upon the oppressed to “fight the powers that be”.

What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye (What’s Going On, 1971)

Gaye’s concept album of the same name was one of the touchpoints for the anti-Vietnam movement, telling the story of a veteran coming home to witness division, suffering and injustice. On the title track he sings: “Mother, mother/There's too many of you crying/Brother, brother, brother/There's far too many of you dying”.


Sunday Bloody Sunday – U2 (War, 1983)

The U2 song for people who don’t like U2, ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ describes the horror of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland, with particular reference to the 1972 incident in which unarmed protestors were massacred by British troops.

F*** Tha Police – NWA (Straight Outta Compton, 1988)

A song so controversial it prompted the FBI to write to NWA’s record label and police to shut down the group’s gigs. While much of white America was horrified by lyrics like “beat a police outta shape/And when I'm finished, bring the yellow tape” it resonated deeply with young black people sick of being racially profiled.

Inno Verdano – Caparezza (Habemus Capa, 2006)

A song by Italian hip-hop artist Caparezza denouncing the right-wing Lega Nord, who have called for a secession from the poor south. Caparezza – a southerner – plays the character of one of these secessionists declaring as a child “I’d draw borders on my school desk” and had “no stickers of Rijkaard or Gullit”.

If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next – Manic Street Preachers (This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours, 1998)

With a title taken from an anti-Franco poster, the song recounts the Welsh miners and farmers who went to fight in the Spanish Civil War, directly quoting one who reasoned: “if I can shoot rabbits, I can shoot fascists”.

Alternative Ulster – Stiff Little Fingers (Inflammable Material, 1979)

Another song born out of The Troubles, ‘Alternative Ulster’ is a furious punk blast about the boredom and alienation felt by the youth of Belfast. Lines like “Take a look where you're livin'/You got the Army on the street/And the RUC dog of repression/Is barking at your feet” are followed by the chorus urging the youth to “grab it and change it”.