Falling even more directly under Dylan’s shadow were Manfred Mann, who covered his song ‘With God on Our Side’ on their EP The One in the Middle, released in June 1965. Banned by the BBC, who considered its anti-war lyrics too political, the song was performed by the group on Ready Steady Go! and sparked a brief boom in protest songs that included Barry McGuire’s imported ‘Eve of Destruction’ (also banned by the BBC), as well as home-grown records ranging from Donovan’s cover of Buffy Sainte-Marie’s ‘Universal Solider’ to Jonathan King’s ‘Everyone’s Gone to the Moon’, written as a send-up of what he considered the pretensions of protest, and King’s composition ‘It’s Good News Week’, a hit for Hedgehoppers Anonymous.
The industry’s attitude to this new development was summed up by the manager of the Hollies, when they released ‘Too Many People’, a song about over-population: ‘I suppose it will be controversial, but that never did any harm. It’s publicity, and with a record you’re just selling product.’ His cynicism was misplaced: the song and its A-side ‘Very Last Day’ proved to be the band’s first flop single after nine consecutive top twenty hits.
The best of these protest songs were fine pop records, which was fortunate, for they amounted to very little as political statements. In America, where male teenagers faced the prospect of being drafted for Vietnam, even the simplest declaration against war had a resonance, even if the GIs themselves seemed to prefer something with a harder edge: a 1967 New York Times article headlined ROCK ‘N’ ROLL SONG BECOMING VIETNAM’S TIPPERARY reported that American soldiers in South-East Asia had adopted as an anthem the Animals’ ‘We Gotta Get Out of This Place’ (another record from the protest summer of 1965).
In Britain, however, no such threat hung over the heads of the nation’s youth, and there was no popular political movement to which protest songs could relate; the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament might have filled the role, but that had been primarily associated with the trad jazz movement, and had been outflanked when the three existing nuclear powers signed the first Test Ban Treaty in 1963. It had also foundered on its own frustrations and failure – as Pete Townshend, who had been on the Aldermaston marches as a schoolboy, pointed out: ‘we achieved nothing, and felt we achieved nothing.’ By the time of the protest boom, it had faded almost entirely away, leaving behind little but the Cheshire cat grin of the CND badge sported by Paul Jones of Manfred Mann.