‘Born in the USA’: Vietnam and Music

The Vietnam War traumatised a nation: but it gave us some great music.

Before Vietnam even became a war, there was strong tradition of protest ant-war protest songs (some of which will be coming soon), mostly as part of the folk music movement of the early ‘sixties. Some of the earliest Vietnam songs drew directly from that tradition, such as this, released in 1965.

Likewise the folk singer, Pete Seeger, wrote this in 1966. Here, it’s 1970 (and for those who know about such things, on the Johnny Cash TV show:

In a similar vein, this was perhaps THE anti-war song of the second half of the ‘sixties. Joe MacDonald was a navy veteran. This version was recorded at the iconic counter-culture festival, Woodstock, on 1969:

Here, in 1966, Paul Simon took the old carol and adds the news (from Vietnam), to very poignant effect:

Meanwhile, Buffalo Springfield’s classic, from 1967. ‘Everybody look what’s going down’.

And, from 1969, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s classic:

In 1969, one of the biggest stars of them all, John Lennon, married Yoko Ono. His honeymoon was a deliberately staged hippie protest, a so-called ‘Bed-In’, in their Montreal hotel suite. There, he wrote, filmed and recorded this:

At Woodstock, US army veteran Jimi Hendrix played the national anthem. The pain, and division, that Vietnam was causing is all-too evident:

The same bitter division can be seen after the shootings at Kent State university in 1970:

Merle Haggard’s great song put the other point of view, and reflected what many ordinary Americans thought:

Meanwhile, it wasn’t just hippies. In 1970:

And Marvin Gaye’s brilliant 1971 state of the nation album opened with this:

By the end, Vietnam was becoming a cipher for some very different music. Here, the young Iggy Pop:

And the New York Dolls:

After the war, musicians started to look back. In 1984, Bruce Springsteen, who would have served in Vietnam had he not failed the medical, wrote a much-misinterpreted song. Here’s the iconic version:

The real meaning of the song becomes evident in this version:

Veterans are again the subject of the great country singer George Jones:

REM’s lead singer, Michael Stipe is the son of a veteran. Is Orange Crush Agent Orange?

And songs gain new meanings. In the day, Pete Seeger wrote Bring ‘Em Home (see above). In 2006, with US forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, Bruce Springsteen sung it again, to powerful effect:

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