First recorded by The Temptations (recorded 1969, released 1970).
Hit version by Edwin Starr (US #1/UK #3/CAN #1/GER #9 1970).
From the wiki: “‘War’ is a counterculture era soul song written by the songwriting team of Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong (‘Smiling Faces Sometimes‘, ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine‘, ‘Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone‘), and produced by Whitfield, for the Motown label in 1969.
“Whitfield first produced the song – a blatant anti-Vietnam War protest – with The Temptations as the original vocalists. Whitfield re-recorded the song with Edwin Starr as the vocalist, when Motown decided to withhold The Temptations’ version from single release so as not to alienate their more conservative fans.
“The Temptations’ version of ‘War’, featuring Paul Williams and Dennis Edwards on lead vocals, was much less intense than the Edwin Starr version. Williams and Edwards deliver the song’s anti-war, pro-peace message over a stripped-down instrumental track, with bass singer Melvin Franklin chanting a repeated recruit training-like ‘hup, two, three, four’ in the background during the verses. The song was included as a track on the March 1970 Psychedelic Shack album.
“Considered among Motown’s ‘second-string’ acts, Edwin Starr had had only one previous major hit, 1968’s #6 hit ‘Twenty-Five Miles’, to his name by prior to recording ‘War’. Starr heard about the conflict surrounding the debate of whether or not to release ‘War’, and volunteered to re-record it. Whitfield re-created the song to match Starr’s James Brown-influenced soul shout; it was a full-scale Whitfield production, with prominent electric guitar lines, clavinets, a heavily syncopated rhythm accented by a horn section, and with The Originals and Whitfield’s new act, The Undisputed Truth (‘Smiling Faces Sometimes’, ‘Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone‘), on backing vocals.”
Edwin Starr, “War” (1970):