Songs of the Vietnam Conflict

Songs of the Vietnam Conflict

Songs of the Vietnam Conflict

Songs of the Vietnam Conflict


Offering the widest scope of any study of one of popular music's most important eras, Songs of the Vietnam Conflict treats both anti-war and pro-government songs of the 1960s and early 1970s, from widely known selections such as "Give Peace a Chance" and "Blowin' in the Wind" to a variety of more obscure works. These are songs that permeated the culture, through both recordings and performances at political gatherings and concerts alike, and James Perone explores the complex relationship between music and the society in which it is written. This music is not merely an indicator of the development of the American popular song; it both reflected and shaped the attitudes of all who were exposed to it.


At an Abilene, Texas, concert just after his return from performing for servicemen in Vietnam, well-known country/pop/folk performer Johnny Cash was quoted as saying that “the only good thing that ever came out of a war was a song.” According to John Grissim, writing in his Country Music: White Man's Blues, when Cash made the statement “both hawks and doves [could] confidently construe that Johnny is behind them all the way” (Grissim 1970, 84). Such is the complexity of emotions reflected in and stirred up by the songs of the Vietnam Conflict.

The present book presents background information, musical and textual descriptions, analysis, and criticism of the songs that refer to, were affected by, and responded to the events of one of the most controversial eras in the history of the United States of America. Although I have not detailed every Vietnam-related song of the era—the databases of performing rights organizations BMI and ASCAP indicate at least a half-dozen songs with the title “Vietnam Blues” alone—I have tried to detail the songs that seemed to have affected, or at least were probably heard by, the greatest numbers of Americans throughout the period 1960-74; I have also included several post-war songs to show how American musicians dealt with the aftermath of the Vietnam Conflict.

Throughout the discussion of the specific songs of the era, I have consciously avoided providing direct musical and textual quotations for two reasons: (1) obtaining permissions was an insurmountable obstacle (there is at least one well-known composer of the era for whom permissions literally are never granted) and, much more importantly, (2) I strongly believe that it is essential to hear, to experience the music of this or any other era in order to more fully grasp its significance; to very roughly paraphrase a quotation that I have seen variously attributed to John Lennon and to Elvis Costello, reading about music (without experiencing it) is like dancing about architecture.

In an effort to present the reader with some basic background on the Vietnam Conflict and theories about the relationship between music and society, to generally categorize the songs with which we will be dealing, to make sources of information and sources for sound recordings accessible, and to make this book as easy to navigate as possible, I have organized it into the following chapters: (1) Background; (2) Anti-War Songs; (3) Pro-Government and Plight-of-the-Soldier Songs; (4) Selected Discography; (5) Song Title Index; and (6) Index.

The Background chapter provides basic information on the history of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, with a focus on some of the key battles, the progression and the

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