Culture

10 Songs That Embody the Vietnam War Era

Of this series, I am already anticipating that this is the arc I will get yelled at a lot over.  Because of the sheer amount of great music from this period, and the fact that we have so many PJM members who grew up then (many of whom served in-country), means that no list I produce will make everyone happy. Understanding this, this will be a 3-part arc (I can expand that, if there’s enough interest), and I will rely heavily on comments and suggestion for subsequent articles.

It’s an oft-repeated meme – mentioned, for example, in the movie Watchmen – what America might be today, had none of this occurred. Certainly the Protest Generation would likely never have happened, without the war to rally around (“I want to do drugs, sleep around, wear my hair long, and have poor hygiene” is a really lousy call-to-arms, after all). But it did happen, and we’re still living its effects to this day.

As I understand it, this was originally written about the general world situation and the Cold War, not Viet Nam, but was picked up on and frequently played as a standard throughout the war.

1. Barry McGuire – “Eve of Destruction” (1965)

Donovan’s version of the 1964 Buffy Saint-Marie song.  Though applied to the war in South East Asia, it first aired at a time when we had as yet to send a single combat soldier there.

2. Donovan – “Universal Soldier” (1965)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A50lVLtSQik

Buffalo Springfield never intended this song to be about Viet Nam, but it very soon became another standard on the airwaves.

3. Buffalo Springfield – “For What it’s Worth” (1967)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gp5JCrSXkJY

The lyrics pretty much say it all.

4. Eric Burdon and the Animals – “Sky Pilot” (1968)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lroU7apzma8

“Handsome Johnny,” marching off to war.

5. Richie Havens – “Handsome Johnny” (1969)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kwdyr9Ceh6Q

A close acquaintance of mine, who recently passed away from Agent-Orange related cancer, was at My Lai. I think, from everything he’d ever said to me, one Veteran to another, yeah, he’d agree. What good was it?

6. Edwin Starr – “War” (1969)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=01-2pNCZiNk

Written in the wake of the Kent State shootings, this was an anthem that encapsulated everything – the war, the angst, the protests, all of it. “Tin soldiers and Nixon’s coming.”

7. Crosby Stills Nash & Young – “Ohio” (1970)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=68g76j9VBvM

If there is any song that mocks the entire concept of the war, it’s probably this one.

8. Country Joe and the Fish – “Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die Rag” (1967)

I keep reading that this is considered one of the most iconic anti-war songs of the era, but blessed if I remember it.  Still, it appeared on enough lists of the music of this time that I felt it should be included.

9. Grand Funk Railroad – “I Can Feel Him in the Morning” (1971)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g2aLx8R0JT8

A friend of mine – Marine Recon – was once in a history class during the early 1970s, taught by a precociously young, newly-minted Ph.D. This young man railed against the war and everyone who had served in it, and spouted off a great deal of Hippie-revisionist, a-historical nonsense.

When he had wound down, my friend quietly chimed in. “During Tet,” he said, “the Viet Cong executed everyone in Hue who had even remotely been allied to the US, and stacked their bodies like cordwood in a church.”

“How can you SAY this,” shrieked the teacher, “how could you possibly say such things?”

“Because,” my friend simply said, “I was the Marine who first opened the doors to that church.”  And he was.

You didn’t “see the Elephant,” you caught the entire three-ring circus. Happy you made it back home, Brother.

10. Rare Earth – “If I Die” (1971)

Many thanks to Bill Baker and Brad Karraker, for allowing me to bounce ideas off of them.