7 Vietnam War Songs You Need To Hear

The Vietnam War lasted for nearly 20 years, and spawned many movies, books and of course, emotionally charged Vietnam War songs. The conflict, officially ending in 1975, was often polarizing to people around the world, politically, philosophically and even artistically.

The music influenced by this time-period ranged thematically from strident war-protest songs to military first-person perspective to songs simply suggesting the world find peace. However, one thing was for certain: whatever the message was, it was sung with passion and conviction.

Read on to find out the seven Vietnam War songs you need to hear:

1. “The Unknown Soldier” - The Doors (1968)

Jim Morrison could protest a piece of bread and many people in the late 60s would have followed his lead. He (and the rest of his band) chose to write about the war from the perspective of how poorly they felt the media was covering it and how after the war, soldiers were often forgotten.

An excerpt from the song:
"Breakfast where the news is read
Television children fed
Unborn living, living dead
Bullets strike the helmet's head"

2. “Vietnam” - Jimmy Cliff (1970)

Jamaican Reggae singer Jimmy Cliff put an ironically upbeat Ska spin on his lyrically straightforward take on Vietnam war songs.

An excerpt from the song:
Yesterday, I got a letter from my friend fighting in Vietnam
And this is what he had to say
"Tell all my friends that I'll be coming home soon
My time'll be up some time in June
Don't forget", he said, "To tell my sweet Mary
Her golden lips are sweet as cherry"

3. “Us and Them” - Pink Floyd (1973)

Pop on "over the pond," and bands from the U.K. offered their opinions on what they felt was the absurdity of war. Roger Waters (who wrote the lyrics) got particularly philosophical when he questioned "Who knows which is which and who is who?" An excerpt from the song: "'Forward' he cried from the rear And the front rank died. And the general sat and the lines on the map Moved from side to side. Black and blue And who knows which is which and who is who."

An excerpt from the song:
"'Forward' he cried from the rear
And the front rank died.
And the general sat and the lines on the map
Moved from side to side.
Black and blue
And who knows which is which and who is who."

4. “The Ballad of the Green Berets” - Sgt. Barry Sadler (1966)

Barry Sadler, who actually ranked as a staff sergeant as a Green Beret combat medic in The Vietnam War, wrote one of the rare patriotic Vietnam war songs, celebrating military heroism in a positive light.

An excerpt from the song:

"Fighting soldiers from the sky
Fearless men who jump and die
Men who mean just what they say
The brave men of the Green Beret."

5. “Vietnam Blues” - Dave Dudley (1966)

Country music artists most definitely also had their place when it came to opinions on the war. Dave Dudley, who was popular in the "truck-driving genre" of the Country format, offered this story-song with no melody to the vocals.

An excerpt from the song:
"Well, a fellah came to me with a list in his hand
He said, 'We're gatherin' names to send a telegram of sympathy'
Then he handed me a pen I
said, "I reckon this is goin' to the kids and the wives
Of my friends over there who'd givin' their lives'
He said 'Uh-uh, buddy, this is goin' to Ho-Chi-Min'
I said, "Ho-Chi who?"
He said, "Ho-Chi-Min, People's leader, North Vietnam"

6."Goodnight Saigon" - Billy Joel (1982)

A few years after the war ended, Billy Joel wrote and performed one of his Vietnam war songs from a fictional perspective of U.S. soldiers. (We say fictional because Joel's draft number was never called.) The hook of the chorus, "And we would all go down together" still remains some of the most beautifully haunting lyrics today.

An excerpt from the song:
"We had no cameras to shoot the landscape
We passed the hash pipe and played our Doors tapes
And it was dark, so dark at night
And we held on to each other
Like brother to brother
We promised our mothers we'd write"

7. “One Tin Soldier” - The Original Caste (1968)

Written by Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter, this song tells the familiar story of two groups of people who seem so similar and yet can't find common ground. In the end, both groups want "peace" and yet will paradoxically kill in the name of it. Covered by many artists, this song became a popular anthem against war in general.

An excerpt from the song:
"Go ahead and hate your neighbor, go ahead and cheat a friend,
do it in the name of Heaven, you can justify it in the end.
There wont be any trumpets blowing, come the judgment day.
On the bloody morning after, One Tin Soldier rides away"



Although the years of Vietnam protest songs have long passed, the lasting effects of the Vietnam War still remain in the region today. According to recent reports, more than one third of central Vietnam is still contaminated with unexploded ordnance that continues to kill and maim the people of this country.

Vietnam War songs were calls to action, and now MAG America needs your help to continue spearheading the effort to make Vietnam safe for children, families and civilians.

For more information about our program in Vietnam go to the  international MAG site.


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