3 Eternal Songs About the Vietnam War That Have Stood the Test of Time

Politics and strife can inspire great art work. From great turmoil or triumph, from a hope for a better tomorrow or a desire to cease the difficult times at hand, creative people often try to make beauty from difficult times. Case in point: the 1960s and ’70s and the Vietnam War.

Videos by American Songwriter

Here below, we wanted to explore a trio of tunes that were born during the period when America was sending troops overseas to fight in Vietnam. Not only was it a difficult and dangerous political time but it was also the height of what has become known as classic rock. It was a confluence of circumstances that has not since been matched. Indeed, these are three eternal songs inspired by the Vietnam War.

[RELATED: 5 Classic Rock Songs That Defined the Vietnam War Era]

“The Unknown Soldier” by The Doors from Waiting for the Sun (1968)

Written and released at the height of the Vietnam War, this song was inspired by a trip lead singer Jim Morrison took in 1967 to visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Arlington National Cemetery. That landmark is meant to honor all of the fallen soldiers throughout the history of war, nameless people who didn’t get proper burials due to the circumstances of violent battle. So, in one sense, this song from the classic rock band The Doors is about the perils of war in general, but the time in which it was written and released cannot be ignored. It’s infused with headlines and feelings from the Vietnam War moment, as well. On the song, Morrison sings,

Breakfast where the news is read
Television children fed
Unborn living, living, dead
Bullet strikes the helmet’s head
And it’s all over
For the unknown soldier
It’s all over
For the unknown soldier

“War” by Edwin Starr from War & Peace (1970)

While Jim Morrison sings in the song above via poeticism and metaphor, in this song Edwin Starr speaks directly about the awful aspects of war. While this song was originally cut by the Motown group The Temptations, it was Starr, with his booming, forceful voice, who has since made it a classic. In the end, the song is as clear a protest song as there is in classic rock. On the track, Starr sings,

War, I despise
‘Cause it means destruction of innocent lives
War means tears to thousands of mother’s eyes
When their sons go off to fight
And lose their lives

I said, war, huh (good God, y’all)
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing, just say it again
War (whoa), huh (oh Lord)
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing, listen to me

“Born in the U.S.A.” by Bruce Springsteen from Born in the U.S.A. (1984)

It’s important to remember the ill effects of war don’t just begin and end with the first bullet fired or the first helicopter deployed. The ripples of war extend well beyond the battlefield and that’s exactly what this classic song from the New Jersey-born Springsteen is all about. What happens after war and how our veterans are treated in the wake of battle is the song’s thrust. While this song is often misinterpreted as being one of blatant patriotism, it is really one that demonstrates irony and subversion, as well as a call to treat our vets better. On the track, “The Boss” sings,

Come back home to the refinery
Hiring man says, “Son if it was up to me”
Went down to see my V.A. man
He said, “Son, don’t you understand”

I had a brother at Khe Sanh
Fighting off the Viet Cong
They’re still there, he’s all gone
He had a woman he loved in Saigon
I got a picture of him in her arms now

When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Photo by Don Paulsen/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Leave a Reply

the Highwaymen, from left, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash (1932 - 2003), and Kris Kristofferson, embrace onstage at Central Park SummerStage, New York, New York, May 23, 1993.

On This Day in 1985, The Highwaymen Take the Stage for the First Time at Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July Picnic

Watch KISS’ Gene Simmons Play a Van Halen Deep Cut and a Motorhead Classic with His Solo Band at a Recent Concert

Watch KISS’ Gene Simmons Play a Van Halen Deep Cut and a Motorhead Classic with His Solo Band