40 Songs about the Vietnam War and Era
In 2022 – we commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Throughout the year, we’ll be highlighting lists of 40 things related to the Vietnam war/era.
Throughout history, music has covered an array of subjects, such as war and peace. There are songs that are more broadly patriotic and songs that highlight critical problems in our country. During the Vietnam War, we saw music mimic the public’s support, disillusionment and then rising disapproval. The Vietnam era set a precedent for music as a public space to reflect perspectives on war, with critical perspectives being acceptable and even popular.
Here we take a look at 40 songs about the Vietnam era.
1. “We Gotta Get Outta This Place” – The Animals (1965) – while not explicitly about Vietnam, the song’s themes became a popular anthem with the troops.
2. “Feel Like I’m Fixin To Die Rag” – Country Joe McDonald & The Fish (1965) – Written by a former Navy man, this satirical song became an iconic protest song of the Vietnam era.
3. “Leavin’ on a Jet Plane” – Peter, Paul, & Mary (1967) – Not written about the war directly, but it again became a song associated with departure for Vietnam.
4. “War” – Edwin Starr (1970) – A clear anti-war song which rose in popularity at the height of the Vietnam War.
5. “Give Me Love (Peace on Earth)” – George Harrison (1973) – While written about the war in Bangladesh, the song became an anthem of peace at the end of the Vietnam War.
6. “Susan On the West Coast Waiting” – Donovan (1969) – About a young man who is drafted into Vietnam.
7. “Going Home” – Normie Rowe (1967) – From an Australian pop star, a song associated with coming home from service in Vietnam.
8. “Chicago” – Graham Nash (1971) – A song about the 1968 protests at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
9. “Nineteen” – Paul Hardcastle (1985) – An anti-war song, the title refers to the average age of a soldier in Vietnam.
10. “Vietnam” – The Minutemen (1984) – A strong statement against the political motivations for the Vietnam War.
12. “Run Through the Jungle” – Creedence Clearwater Revival (1970) – Though written about the prevalence of guns, the song’s lyrics lead many to associate it with Vietnam.
13. “Ballad of the Green Berets” – Barry Sadler (1966) – A steady ballard about the heroism of the Green Berets.
14. “Still in Saigon” – Charlie Daniels Band (1982) – Song tells the story of a man who was drafted into Vietnam, returned to a divided nation, and is plagued by memories of his time in the war.
15. “7 O’Clock News /Silent Night” – Simon and Garfunkel (1966) – Covering the current events at the time, including Nixon’s urge to escalate the war effort in Vietnam.
16. “All Along the Watchtower” – Bob Dylan (1967) – Many have interpreted the song’s lyrics as a reflection of the desire to end American fighting in Vietnam.
17. “Billy Don’t Be a Hero” – Paper Lace (1974) – Though released after the war’s end, the song tells the story of a woman learning how her love has died in war.
18. “Bungle in the Jungle” – Jethro Tull (1974) – Because of the song’s lyrics about spending time in a jungle, many interpret the song to be about Vietnam.
19. “Draft Morning” – The Byrds (1968) – A song that refers to the absurdity of the draft.
20. “Give Peace a Chance” – John Lennon (1969) – An anthem for peace at the height of the Vietnam era.
21. “Gimme Shelter” – The Rolling Stones (1969) – About the unique circumstances of the Vietnam war and the scramble to survive.
22. “I Ain’t Marching Anymore” – Phil Ochs (1965) – A strong anti-war song released as American involvement in Vietnam began to escalate.
23. “I Want To Come Home For Christmas” – Marvin Gaye (1972) – A song in tribute to the troops in Vietnam for the holidays.
24. “Masters of War” – Bob Dylan (1963) – A song condemning the rapidly growing military-industrial complex.
25. “Ohio” – Neil Young (1970) – A song about the killing of 4 students in an anti-war protest at Kent State University in 1970.
26. “Peace Train” – Cat Stevens (1971) – A message of peace as the war in Vietnam continued.
27. “Search and Destroy” – The Stooges (1973) – Song’s title and lyrics refer to a military strategy common in the Vietnam War.
28. “Sky Pilot” – Eric Burdon and The Animals (1968) – A song about a chaplain who blesses troops before going out on a mission.
29. “Straight To Hell” – The Clash (1982) – References to the fate of children fathered by American soldiers in Vietnam.
30. “What’s Going On” – Marvin Gaye (1971) – A song lamenting the fate of Vietnam era youth and the great divisions the war sparked in society.
31. “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy” – Pete Seeger (1967) – A song interpreted to refer to the escalation of the war in Vietnam.
32. “The Unknown Soldier” – The Doors (1968) – A song that tells the story of news reports on Vietnam.
33. “Question” – The Moody Blues (1970) – A peace song about the futility of the Vietnam War and war in general.
34. “Okie from Muskogee” – Merle Haggard (1969) – A song to support the sacrifices of the troops fighting in Vietnam.
35. “Happy Christmas (War Is Over)” – John Lennon (1972) – A popular anti-war song, preceded by an anti-war campaign led by Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono.
36. “For What It’s Worth” – Buffalo Springfield (1967) – A song that is often thought to be an anti-war protest anthem, is actually a reflection of a rioting event that happened in California.
37. “The Unknown Soldier” – The Doors (1968) – A song that talks about the death of a soldier in war while life continues to move on at home.
38. “Blacklash Blues” – Nina Simone (1965) – Based on a poem, this song is a sign of hope for colored people during a time of segregation.
39. “Where Have All The Flowers Gone?” – Pete Seeger (1955) – An anti-war song that was actually written based on a book Pete Seeger was reading, “And Quiet Flows the Don.” A few lines of the lyrics are taken from the book.
40. “Silent Night” – Jan Daly on Bob Hope’s Christmas Tour (1971) – Silent Night was made iconic during the Vietnam War when Bob Hope would end his Christmas Tour performances with it.
Since the Vietnam era, music has been used to reflect a range of perspectives on war, a tradition which continues into the 21st century. This dialogue has included reflections on the post-war experience of remembering the fallen at The Wall. In 2014, Bruce Springsteen released a song titled “The Wall” which tells the story of visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to reconnect with a friend. The song was written after Springsteen visited the Memorial and decided to write a song in honor of his friends and fellow musicians Walter Cichon and Bart Haynes who died in the war.
We recently released an episode on “Music of the Vietnam Era” in our podcast, Echoes of the Vietnam War. Check it out at vvmf.org/echoes or wherever you listen to podcasts. Also, check out the companion playlist at Music of the Vietnam Era companion playlist.