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Songs about Vietnam Vol. 1

August 7th, 2014 Leave a comment Go to comments

Songs_About_Vietnam_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.

vietnam_memorial

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)

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  1. halfhearteddude
    August 7th, 2014 at 07:34 | #1

    PW = amdwhah

  2. JohnnyDiego
    August 7th, 2014 at 13:21 | #2

    I was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1967; re-upped for an extra year to keep out of the infantry. I joined the medical corps and worked in an army hospital in San Francisco during the Tet Offensive of January 1968. Some of the boys I saw coming back grotesquely wounded were the same boys I trained with months earlier. Those wounded kids changed me completely and forever. I got out of the Army in early 1970, grew my hair to my shoulders, and protested in the streets. My parents disowned me. I disowned them. Nixon had promised to end the war with honor. He actually continued it with exceptional slaughter of innocent civilians. The first to go in Nixon’s corrupt administration was his vice president, Spiro Agnew. He pleaded no contest to charges of extortion, tax fraud, bribery, and conspiracy and left office. Less than a year later it was Nixon’s turn. That night we held a party in a third floor apartment overlooking Commonwealth Avenue in Boston, Massachusetts. The street was alive with revelry and celebration upon his announced resignation. I’ve hated Republican liars and thieves ever since.
    Thank you for this compilation. Some of these song I already own, the rest are now in my library. Thank you also for not including “The Ballad of the Green Berets.” We should all be ashamed of that song. “Fearless men who jump and die.” Give me a break.

  3. halfhearteddude
    August 7th, 2014 at 13:40 | #3

    Fascinating memories, Johnny. None of these songs are in support of that war, nor will there be any in the second mix.

  4. Mike Raftery
    August 7th, 2014 at 18:14 | #4

    Hi, Great playlist on Vietnam. I have prepared audivisual presentations on the protest musci of the Vietnam War/ Woodstock era. I’m sure you’ve got lots for Vol 2 (as you said) but a few I would look for inclusion would be the following anti-Vietnam war songs :
    – Buffy Saint Maire (or Donovan) – Universal Soldier
    – Don McLean – The Grave
    – Phil Ochs – White Boots Marching In a Yellow Land
    – Phil Ochs – I Ain’t Marching Anymore
    – Tom Paxton – Jimmy Newman
    – Joan Baez – Saigon Bride
    – Pete Seeger – Last Train to Nuremburg
    – Country Joe & the Fish – Feel Like I’m Fixin’ To Die Rag (1-2-3 What are we fighting for?)

    I hope these suggestions are not irritating and I hope you know how much we all enjoy your fascinating compilations. I have a vast collection of music but not your efficient process for sharing it. I’m currently working on a musical backdrop to the South African story.
    Thanks again for the great music.
    Mike.

  5. halfhearteddude
    August 7th, 2014 at 21:51 | #5

    Oh, your suggestions are very welcome. And I’d be intrigued to see your South African list.

  6. Woody
    August 16th, 2014 at 02:08 | #6

    It’s strange that in the years since, and during the longest war in US history, that there have been very few protest songs. I guess people don’t have a problem with killing and dying anymore. A lot of the people who sang along with these protest songs are now orchestrating the “war on terrorism” and finding ways to track those who protest their policies..

  7. halfhearteddude
    August 16th, 2014 at 08:32 | #7

    That is a very interesting point. By way of shorthand, I’d also blame corporate domination of music and the availability social media as an outlet for expressing opposition to the Bush wars.

  8. John
    December 9th, 2014 at 00:45 | #8

    Just found your collection of Vietnam related tunes. I thought you might be interested to know that Archie Bell (of the Drells) served in the infantry in Vietnam and returned after earning a purple heart. He knows what he’s talking about. @halfhearteddude

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