Songs about Vietnam Vol. 1
August 9 will be the 40th anniversary of Richard Nixon showing the country called Godblessamerica the Victory sign — because leaving the presidency in disgrace apparently was a moment of triumph — before climbing into the helicopter that would take him to a place called Ignominy. It was still better than being thrown out of it over the Atlantic, as was the wont of the regimes which Nixon, Kissinger and pals helped install in South America.
Two years earlier Nixon had ended the war (sort of) which he didn’t start but nonetheless cheerfully perpetuated, having sabotaged a peace in order to win the 1968 election. It was Johnson’s war, and it was Nixon’s war. The Vietnam War gave cause to many protest songs, and some of them will be covered here over at least two mixes (perhaps the second mix will run in November, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of LBJ being elected).
All these songs are in protest against the war; there were, of course, pro-war songs, but I’m quite glad to leave these well alone. Where the pro-war songs focussed on misplaced patriotism, jingoistic promises to kick Charlie’s ass and revulsion at treacherous hippies too cowardly to fight for America’s freedom, man, the anti-war songs took many different approaches.
Many were concerned with the soldiers. The most famous of these was Freda Payne’s “Bring The Boys Home”, a hit on which Change of Pace riffed with their “Bring My Buddies Back”, sung from the perspective of a soldier who has escaped the hell of combat. William Bell’s “Marching Off To War” (written by Eddie Floyd and Steve Cropper) is also from the POV of a soldier about to depart for Vietnam, as is Archie Bell & the Drells’ “A Soldier’s Prayer, 1967”, while the narrator of Mike Williams’ “I’m A Lonely Soldier” speaks as a combatant in a war that “they said would set me free”.
The human interest angle was apparent also in songs about people who had loved ones in Vietnam, or leaving for the wear, with the distinct possibility that they will not return. The three tracks closing this set cover that beat. The Charmels’ track was written by Isaac Hayes and David Porter.
In the powerful “Hymn No. 5”, The Mighty Hannibal (who died earlier this year) describes the effect of war on the soldier.
Of course, things also had to be political. Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son” attacked the exemptions from combat which the scions of the elites enjoyed. It was inspired by David Eisenhower, grandson of Ike, who married Julie Nixon, daughter of the crook, and git out of seeing combat duty by enrolling into military academia. It also could have been about George W Bush and Dick Cheney, draft dodgers by patronage who nonetheless felt equipped to send young people to their deaths in wars which have caused much harm, to the regions they invaded and to the US itself.
Steppenwolf, who provided hairy bikers with their anthem, made their conscientious objection clear, preferring to be called a draft resistor and, unlike Dick and Dubya, avoid combat not because they were privileged dodgers, but because they held on to values.
Richie Havens’ “Handsome Johnny” (co-written by actor Louis Gossett Jr) references war in general, but also mentions the Vietnam War, during which it was released. It juxtaposes a series of wars and the weapons that were used with the non-violent battle for civil rights. The final verse, with its reference to guided missiles, has application even today, when that great disappointment of a president cheerfully applies drones and defends the indefensible in the bombing of Gaza.
Some songs took a soft approach. Jay and the Americans issued their appeal to Nixon to make peace through his daughter, because apparently he was everybody’s daddy for a while. It might be soft-pedalling, but the message is critical of Nixon’s war policy, and therefore of Nixon himself.
As always, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R and includes covers. PW in comments.
1. William Bell – Marching Off To War (1966)
2. Change Of Pace – Bring My Buddies Back (1971)
3. Jay & the Americans – Tricia Tell Your Daddy (1970)
4. Richie Havens – Handsome Johnny (1967)
5. Lou Rawls – The Politician (1972)
6. Nina Simone – The Backlash Blues (1967)
7. John Lee Hooker – I Don’t Wanna Go To Vietnam (1968)
8. The Mighty Hannibal – Hymn No. 5 (1966)
9. Archie Bell & the Drells – A Soldier’s Prayer, 1967 (1968)
10. Ernie Hines – Our Generation (1972)
11. Sammy Brown – Vietnam (You Sun Of A Gun) (1973)
12. Edwin Starr – War (1970)
13. Creedence Clearwater Revival – Fortunate Son (1969)
14. Steppenwolf – Draft Resister (1969)
15. Deep Purple – Child In Time (1970)
16. The Byrds – Draft Morning (1968)
17. Johnny Cash – Roll Call (1967)
18. John Prine – Sam Stone (1971)
19. Eugene McDaniels – Silent Majority (1970)
20. Mike Williams – Lonely Soldier (1966)
21. The Charmels – Please Uncle Sam (Send Back My Man) (1966)
22. Melverine Thomas – A Letter From My Son (1970)
23. Thelma Houston – Don’t Cry My Soldier Boy (1967)