Sunday, September 25, 2016

Lost in the Flood: The Groundhogs "The Wages of Peace"

[I plan Lost in the Flood as a series of reviews - songs from 50+ years of r 'n' r listening that deserve more attention than they got - songs you won't hear on "classic rock" radio, but are classics nonetheless.]

The Groundhogs "The Wages of Peace" (1972)

After establishing themselves early as an important Blues-Rock band in their native UK (even backing touring American greats Little Walter, John Lee Hooker, and Jimmy Reed as early as 1964), The Groundhogs evolved into something a bit different than most British blues bands. Their melodies became more complex. Tony McPhees's lyrics approached from non-traditional angles. And in 1972 they released what may be the first (only?) rock album that en-capsuled, in it's entirety, an environmental "earth-first" theme. With tongue-in-cheek chutzpah, the album featured a cartoon of them as super heroes and carried the title, Who Will Save The World? - The Mighty Groundhogs. Like most Groundhogs albums, it went nowhere in the U.S.

From 1961-71 the U.S. conducted a defoliation campaign in Viet Nam using an earth destroying herbicide labeled "Agent Orange." The theory was that if you kill the jungle, you expose the enemy. Agent Orange was dropped on almost 20% of the South Vietnamese land mass and the consequences in human toll- not just to the NVA and Viet Cong, but to Vietnamese civilians and U.S. soldiers as well - are now well known. The wages of war were paid to two U.S. companies, Dow Chemical and Monsanto.

From the first line of "Wages of Peace" it is apparent that it is not going to be a typical anti-war song from the period. McPhee establishes the environmental impact, not the human impact, of warfare at the get-go. It's a proverbial list of what was missing from the landscape of peace.

But by the last two verses, the song does get to the human impact in an economy of words - words that paint a horrifying image. 12-foot high tidal waves of destruction. "sulpher fumes take the life from a burning man..." "...So many ways to die, leave it up to man, to invent some more."

Books have been written about the destruction caused by Agent Orange. In "Wages of Peace" McPhee captured the carnage in under 3-minutes (the last couple of minutes are instrumental). The Groundhogs couldn't save the world. Dow and Monsanto are still spreading evil. And the wages of peace (words that never appear in the song) have yet to be realized. (Bill Glahn)