Jan 112011

The recent shooting rampage in Arizona has me tuned in more than most current events stories tend to do. The fact that the 9-year-old granddaughter (same age as my youngest boy) of one of the most iconic figures in Philadelphia Phillies history, 1980 World Series manager Dallas Green, was shot and killed by this sick, young man especially brought the story home for me, but I’d already found too much troubling regarding our lax handgun laws and stores like Walmart, which are cool selling ammunition for semi-automatic handguns but won’t sell Eminem CDs with the dirty bits left in, not to mention those who choose to use handguns for reasons other than official police and military business.

My goal with this potentially inflammatory Last Man Standing is not to get on my soapbox and pound my fist over my particular opinions on gun laws and usage but to share songs and lyrics—from any angle of this debate—that might at least help someone think about these issues. Likewise, this is not the space to get on your soapbox and pound your fist. I am confident we can let the songs do the talking and let the tunes carry whatever messages they may for any of us as we eventually mount our particular soapboxes in venues that encourage such activities. There’s room for the full spectrum of views on these issues, but I also encourage you to stick to songs that resonate on some meaningful level. Resist, if at all possible, being a wiseass and simply posting songs and song lyrics that justify gun laws based on the need to rid the world of Don Henley, you know what I mean?

I’ll start with Neil Young’s impressionistic “Powderfinger.” I’m never sure exactly what’s going on in this song, but this verse in particular gives me a sense of what it might feel like to shoot a gun for the first time.

Daddy’s rifle in my hand
felt reassurin’
He told me,
Red means run, son,
numbers add up to nothin’
But when the first shot
hit the docks I saw it comin’
Raised my rifle to my eye
Never stopped to wonder why.
Then I saw black,
And my face splashed in the sky.


  49 Responses to “Last Man Standing: Songs That May Help Someone Stop and Think About Our Gun Control Laws”

  1. I actually love a few gun songs — one of my favorites . . . Steve Earle’s “The Devil’s Right Hand” . . . springs to mind immediately. Some of the lyrical highlights:

    My very first pistol was a cap and ball Colt
    Shoot as fast as lightnin’ but it loads a mite slow
    Loads a mite slow and soon I found out
    It can get you into trouble but it can’t get you out
    So then I went and bought myself a Colt 45
    Called a peacemaker but I never knew why
    Never knew why, I didn’t understand
    Cause Mama said the pistol is the devil’s right hand

    Well I get into a card game in a company town
    Caught a miner cheating I shot the dog down
    Shot the dog down, watched the man fall
    Never touched his holster, never had a chance to draw
    The trial was in the morning and they drug me out of bed
    Asked me how I pleaded, not guilty I said
    Not guilty I said, you’ve got the wrong man
    Nothing touched the trigger but the devil’s right hand

  2. cherguevara

    Maybe not completely relevant, lyrically, but I think Hendrix’s “Machine Gun” is a really powerful piece of music.

  3. Skynyrd’s “Saturday Night Special.” An obvious choice, but let me just point out the additional greatness of the fact that this clear anti-handgun song comes from the band that epitomizes southern rock. It’s remarkable how often Skynyrd was not a cliche.

  4. Boomtown Rats “I Don’t Like Mondays”

  5. In trying to figure out what “Powderfinger” may have been about I read that Young initially wrote that song and “Sedan Delivery” for Skynyrd.

  6. Put Down the Gun (and we’ll talk) by Peter Case
    “I don’t want to swear it but it’s something that I’ve heard, a gun in the first act always goes off in the third…”

  7. hrrundivbakshi

    I am the warrior (bang bang)

    “The Warrior”, Patti Smythe and Scandal.

  8. hrrundivbakshi

    “Love Sign,” Prince/Nona Gaye

    Pop, pop, pop go the pistol
    Bang, bang, bang go the gun (Get up)

    If U’re sick of evil knocking on your door
    Throw up the love sign once and 4 ever more
    If U’d rather make love and have a little fun
    Throw up the love sign everybody and not the gun (Time is passing, passing is time)

    In the day of where and why we all belong
    Don’t nobody wanna hear a silly love song
    And if they did then we would sing it on the news
    While U’re aiming your gun at me and I’m aiming back at U

  9. Where did you find that out, Mod? I don’t see it listed in the places I just now looked.

  10. mockcarr

    Lennon can try to deny the metaphors, but Happiness Is A Warm Gun.

  11. cherguevara

    What if a gun didn’t represent hate, but love. You know, like a… what would you call it? A love gun! That should be a song.

  12. hrrundivbakshi

    Not sure that a lyric that says:

    “you pulled the trigger on myyyyyy… LOVE GUN!”


    When I was a kid, there was much ooh-ing and aahh-ing over the realization that whenever Gene Simmons used the term “love,” he actually meant, you know, his dick. Scandalous! Awesome!

  13. I saw it here, a Neil Young fanboy site, FWIW.


    This may have been mentioned in the American Masters piece or a Skynyrd doc on VH1, both of which I saw recently, too, but I can’t recall exactly where else it came up.

  14. alexmagic

    When I was a kid, there was much ooh-ing and aahh-ing over the realization that whenever Gene Simmons used the term “love,” he actually meant, you know, his dick.

    I am very curious to go read the lyrics of “I Stole Your Love” in this context.

  15. misterioso

    Therein lies the genius of KISS. Such nuance, such layers of meaning.

  16. mockcarr

    The Hunting Song by Tom Lehrer, with apologies for the link:


  17. hrrundivbakshi

    That’s a Paul number! He’s the sensitive one.

  18. Another great gun song, with more of a pro-gun message (but turning your guns on The Man) is Guns of Brixton by The Clash — a unique number written and sung by Paul Simonon. I

    When they kick out your front door
    How you gonna come?
    With your hands on your head
    Or on the trigger of your gun

    When the law break in
    How you gonna go?
    Shot down on the pavement
    Or waiting in death row

    You can crush us
    You can bruise us
    But you’ll have to answer to
    Oh, Guns of Brixton

  19. P.S. I as I recall this was Paul’s song to sing at Clash shows — ala John Entwistle’s My Wife at Who concerts.

  20. yeah I was going to say Guns of Brixton, but also:
    Tommy Gun
    Guns on the Roof (about Paul and Topper getting busted for shooting at pigeons in the city)

    and by Mission of Burma
    That’s When I Reach for My Revolver

  21. ..which a quote from Herman Goering

  22. “Put Down That Weapon” by Midnight Oil was the first song I thought of in this context.

    Under the waterline
    No place to retire
    To another time
    The eyes of the world now turn

    And if we think about it
    And if we talk about it
    And if the skies go dark with rain
    Can you tell me does our freedom remain

    Put down that weapon or we’ll all be gone
    You can’t hide nowhere with the torchlight on
    And it happens to be an emergency
    Some things aren’t meant to be
    Some things don’t come for free

    Above the waterline
    Point the finger yeah point the bone
    It’s the harbour towns
    That the grey battleships call home
    And if we think about it
    And if we talk about it
    And if the sea goes boiling black
    Can you tell me what we’ll do about that

    Put down that weapon or we’ll all be gone
    I must know something to know it’s so wrong
    And it happens to be an emergency
    Some things aren’t meant to be
    Some things don’t come for free

    They keep talking about it
    They keep talking

    Put down that weapon or we’ll all be gone
    You must be crazy if you think you’re strong

  23. Ah, sorry, Mod. I misunderstood you: by “that song,” I thought you meant “Saturday Night Special.”

  24. More Columbine than Tuscon.

    “Like the latest fashion, like a spreading disease
    Kids are strappin on the way to the classroom
    Getting weapons with the greatest of ease …
    Hey Hey Come Out and Play” Offspring

    I think there are better that that was the 1st thing that came to mind.

  25. ladymisskirroyale

    “Throw Away Your Gun” – Prince Far I

  26. XTC “Melt the Guns”

  27. ladymisskirroyale

    The lyrics to “Gun” by Eric Burdon/War work for me on many levels. “Throw away your gun…Throw away your anger…Throw away your distorted life.”

  28. Melt the Guns is brilliant! Biting lyrics! The glee of gun violence media coverage hasn’t changed in 25 years, has it now?

    Children will want them,
    Mothers supply them,
    As long as your killers are heroes.
    And all the media
    Will fiddle while Rome burns,
    Acting like modern-time Neros.

    Prevention is better than cure,
    Bad apples affecting the pure,
    You’ll gather your senses I’m sure
    Then agree to,

    Melt the guns,
    Melt the guns,
    Melt the guns,
    And never more to fire them

  29. That’s When I Reach For My Revolver by Mission of Burma (among others) seems to echo the feelings that roiled through Travis Bickle before he pulled the trigger:
    The spirit fights to find its way
    Tonight the sky is empty
    But that is nothing new
    Its dead eyes look upon us
    And they tell us we’re nothing but slaves
    That’s when I reach for my revolver
    That’s when it all gets blown away

  30. I may be cheating but how about “Wonderfully Colored Plastic War Toys” by the Dead Milkmen?


  31. ladymisskirroyale

    And this makes me think of S. Palin’s campaign cross-hairs:


  32. 2000 Man

    Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down) I think it’s just a Cher song, but I know Sonny is on it.

    I know it’s a Last Man Standing, but I’m going to bed soon and need to toss in 32/20 Blues. Everyone did that song, and it’s always awesome.

  33. cherguevara

    Not a song about guns, but a song about loss (one of thousands, I know) and the tenuousness of life:

    Ron Sexsmith – In A Flash

    For a “real” entry, I’ll say the Gigolo Aunt’s “Gun” –

    And It’s your constitutional right
    To sleep soundly thru the night
    With a 38 – or carbine 45
    It feels great today to be alive

  34. ladymisskirroyale

    For a creepy dance rendition of revenge:
    “Shoot You Down” by The Stone Roses

    “I’d love to do it and you know you’ve always had it coming.”

  35. ladymisskirroyale

    I have no idea what these guys are saying, but I love the bass in it and they opened for James Brown, so their groovin’ has to be working for the greater social good, eh?

    APB: “Shoot You Down.”


  36. BigSteve

    Husker Du, Guns At My School

  37. Peter Gabriel (he’s back) “Family Snapshot”. I won’t type quotes from all over the song but the condensed version is that Pete tries to get inside the motivations of Lee Harvey Oswald using facile Freudian childhood regression psychology.

  38. cherguevara

    East River Pipe – I Bought A Gun In Irvington

    I bought a gun in Irvington, oh yeah.
    I pulled the trigger just to watch them run, oh yeah.

  39. I would also pick “Violent Schools” from your 1st Lp.

  40. I didn’t even realize that Cher did it first until I looked it up. Anyway, the Nancy Sinatra version was used much more recently in a Tarantino film (one of the Kill Bill ones, I think).

  41. misterioso

    Hey Joe (“Where you goin’ with that gun in your hand?”) & Folsom Prison Blues (“I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die”).

  42. Dead Milkmen again: “If I had a Gun”

    Would I be amused?
    Would you be impressed?
    If I had the power
    To put a hole into your chest?
    When the kids are crying
    And the welfare check’s been spent
    Would I rob a liquor store
    To get some money for the rent?

    If I had a gun? (x5)

    Would I start smoking Marlboros?
    Would I stop smoking Kents?
    Would I gain some new respect?
    Would I gain some confidence?
    Would I suddenly go crazy
    And shoot my family
    And see myself years later
    On some crime show on TV

    If I had a gun? (x5)

    Would I wear it in a holster?
    Would I keep it concealed?
    Would I put it on the table
    Every time that I’m misdealed?
    When I hear a nearby gunshot
    When I’m up at night alone
    Would I feel a little safer
    Here in my urban home

  43. trigmogigmo

    Tom Petty’s …

    Two gunslingers walked out in the street and one said
    “I don’t want to fight no more”
    And the other gunslinger thought about it and he said
    “Yeah what are we fighting for?”

    I’m taking control of my life now, right now

    And the crowd that assembled for the gunfight were let down
    Everyone hissed and booed
    And a stranger told his missus “that’s the last one of these gunfights
    you’re ever gonna drag me to”

  44. Bon Jovi – “Shot down in a blaze of glory”

    I am ashamed to know this

  45. Saw Johnny in ’87 at the Corn Palace in Mitchell South Dakota — I remember a guy SCREAMING that line from the balcony as he sang it.

  46. Am I the LMS??

  47. Nope. I present D.R.I.’s “Gun Control”.

    Automatic weapons were meant for the war
    But here they are right outside your front door
    Gangs and thieves are armed to the hilt
    Ready to kill without the quilt

    Lock and load
    We need gun control (2)

    A shot rings out from down the street
    The gangs are restless from the night heat
    The cold, black metal has made them insane
    Killing each other is part of the game

    Lock and load
    We need gun control (2)

    The barrel of a gun at the back of your head
    Your money or your life is all that he said
    Do you want to die or live to be old
    Don’t think twice about gun control

    Lock and load
    We need gun control (2)

    We were given the right to bear arms
    When our land was all ranch and farms
    The law is old and in need of updating
    There’s no time time for hesitating

    Lock and load
    We need gun control (2)

  48. jeangray

    Neil Young appears to have a bit of a gun fetish. “Powderfinger,” “Down by the River” & I give you “Shots,” replete with Neil’s guitar making gunfire sounds.

    Sample lyrics:

    Ringing all along the borders
    can be heard
    Striking out
    like a venom in the sky
    Cutting through the air
    faster than a bird
    In the night.

    I hear shots, I keep hearing shots
    I keep hearing shots
    I hear shots.

    Ima sure Neil probably has more songs that reference gun play as well.

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