Soundtrack for a war | Vietnam War Songs | Music from Dispatches, by Michael Herr

What music did soldiers listen to in Vietnam? Today we bring you a selection of the best songs from the Vietnam War that we have compiled thanks to a priceless book that everyone should read: war dispatches. Here you can read his review.

Vietnam War Songs - Best Music

Francis Ford Coppola is to blame for the fact that the popular imagination establishes an immediate link between the The end of the doors and The vietnam war. And vice versa. Stanley Kubrick also did his thing so that Nancy Sinatra and her These boots are made for walking remain forever embedded in the memory of that scene in which a Vietnamese man steals the camera of an American soldier negotiating with a prostitute in Saigon. And so many other unforgettable images and songs.

“On the street I couldn't tell the Vietnam veterans from the rock veterans. The sixties had made so many victims, their war and their music had drawn so much energy from the same circuit for so long that they didn't even have to merge. The war set you up for years of dissatisfaction while rock-and-roll became scarier and more dangerous than bullfighting. Rock stars started out at a second-lieutenant pace. Ecstasy and death and (of course and of course) life, but it didn't seem that way then. What I had considered two obsessions were really just one. I don't know how to explain to you how complicated that made my life. Freeze and burn and go down again through the absorbing mud of culture, hold tight and move slowly.”

However Apocalypse Now y The metal jacket they would not have been what they are without the help of another cultural artifact that, things in life, have enjoyed much less publicity. A work that makes its images and melodies remain resonant in the memory as much as the movies. The chronic War Dispatches (Anagram) It is the basis on which the two films that have brought us closer to the Indochinese war hell of the late sixties were built, because its author, the journalist Michael Herr, collaborated closely in the script of the two tapes.

What music did soldiers listen to in Vietnam?

What follows is nothing more than a soundtrack, a list of the songs and artists that are cited in the work. The best songs of the Vietnam War. An anecdotal detail of the universe that one looks into as soon as one opens what is probably the best testimony ever and to have of what the horror was in the Jungle. Or, in the words of John Lecarre: "The best book I have read about men and war in our time." 

Due to the fact that in several references more than one artist is cited, I have chosen to follow the following structure:


And now, without further delay, I leave you with the best songs of the Vietnam War:

"Sean Flynn was capable of appearing even more impossibly handsome than his father, Errol, thirty years ago as Captain Blood, but sometimes he seemed more like Artaud coming off some thick heart-of-dark trip, overloaded with information, the input. The input! And he was sweating nonstop, sitting for hours, combing his mustache with the serrated blade of his Swiss Army knife. We brought yerba and ribbons: Have You Seen Your Mother Baby Standing in the Shadows, Best of Animals, Strange Days, Purple Haze, Archie Bell and the Drells, C'mon now everybody, do the Tighten Up…» (Page 12)

The Rolling Stones: Have you seen your mother baby standing in the shadows

The Animals: House of the rising sun

The Doors: Strange Days

The Jimi Hendrix Experience: Purple Haze

Archie Bell & The Drells: Tighten Up

“They said that at the base of a column of napalm smoke, the impact emptied your lungs of air. Once we were flying over a village that had just been attacked from the air and the words of a Wingy Manone song I had heard as a child burst into my head, Stop the war, these guys are killing each other." (Page 14)

Wingy Manone: Stop that war, the cats are killing themselves

“On one occasion, a helicopter dropped me off at a remote Delta outpost where the sergeant was chain-eating candy bars and putting on tapes. country and western twenty-four hours a day, until I heard them in my dreams, when I slept, Up on the Wolverton Mountain and Lonesome as the bats and the bears in Miller's cave and I fell into a burning ring of fire, Surrounded by old rubes who didn't sleep much either because they couldn't trust even one of their four hundred mercenary soldiers...» (Page 17)

Claude King: Wolverton Mountain 

Don Williams: Miller's Cave 

Johnny Cash: Ring of Fire 

«It was a double vision that assailed me there more than once. And in my head, echoing over and over again, the incredibly sinister words of the song we'd all heard for the first time a few days before: "The Magical Mystery Service is waiting to take you away," it promised, "comes to take you away, it's dying to." take you…” That was Je Sanj's song; We all knew it then, and it still seems that way." (Page 115)

The Beatles: Magic Mystery Tour

Day Traveler didn't like the road. He looked at the corpses and then he looked at me. The expression said to me: “See? Do you see what happens? He had seen that expression so many times in the last few months that I must have had it too; neither said anything. It was as if he were already walking alone, he was singing, with a quiet and strange voice. "When you get to San Francisco," he would sing, "don't forget to put flowers in your hair." (Page 129)

Scott McKenzie: San Francisco

[They listen to the radio in some barracks. Announcer speaking]:"-Okay, well, here we go, here we go with our fabulous sound of the sixties, AFVN, Armed Forces Broadcast Network, Vietnam, and for all you guys, the First and Forty and Four, and especially for Soul Brother, from the orderly room, here comes Otis Redding… the immortal Otis Redding singing Dock of the Bay. (Page 142)

Otis Redding: Sitting on the dock of the bay

“Mayhew turned up the radio. She wasn't too tall yet, but she filled the casemate. It was a song that had been played a lot on the radio that winter:» (Page 143)

Something happens here
it is not entirely clear what,
There's a man with a gun up there
that tells me that I have to be alert,
I think it's time we stopped, kids,
what was it that sounded?
Everyone looks at something that is falling...

The Jimi Hendrix Experience: All along the watchtower

"And I thought of the soldiers who had sat in a circle one night with a guitar singing 'Where Have All the Flowers Gone?' Jack Laurence of CBS News had asked them if they knew what the song meant to a lot of people and they said, yes, they did." (Page 153)

Peter, Paul and Mary: Where have all the flowers gone

"It plays from the speakers mounted on the columns in the corner of the Ode to Billy Joe terrace, but the air seems too heavy to properly transmit the sound, which hangs there in the corners." (Page 176)

Bobby Gentry: Ode to Billy Joe

"That's the story of the first time I heard Jimi Hendrix sing [referring to All along the Watchtower, which he hears during a Vietcong ambush from "a black soldier crouched over a cassette player" as the gunshots rumble], but in a war where a lot of people were talking about Satisfaction of Aretha just as others speak of the Fourth of Brahms, it was more than a story, it was the credentials. "Well, to me Jimi Hendrix is ​​the man," said one. «That if he knows well what the roll is about». Hendrix had been in the 101st Airborne, and in the airborne sections in Vietnam there were a lot of smart, vital blacks like him, real tough and real good, guys who always took care of you when things went wrong. That music meant a lot to them. I never heard it on the Armed Forces Broadcasting Network. (Page 187) [Contradictory, if we take into account the reference on page 143].

Aretha Franklin: I can't get no satisfaction (Composed by the Rolling Stones)

Michael Herr begins the 2nd chapter of block Colleagues quoting Visions of Johanna, by Bob Dylan (Page 216):

Tell me someone who is not a parasite
And I'll go out and say a prayer for him

Bob Dylan: Visions of Johanna

"There was a song by the Mothers of Invention called Trouble Comin' Everyday which became something of an anthem among a group of about twenty young correspondents. We used to put on that record on those long evenings in Saigon, evenings of overflowing ashtrays, ice buckets full of warm water, empty bottles, no weed, exhausted, talking at a gallop, «You know, I stared at that rotten box until my head started to hurt, They say watching is how informers get their shit.» (ironic and bitter glances run through the room), «And if another female driver gets machine-gunned out of her seat, they'll send a guy with a Brownie and you'll see the whole thing» (lip biting, recoiling, nervous laughter), «And if that blows up, we'll be the first to tell about it, because the guys we have there are working hard and doing things the right way...«. That wasn't about us, no, we were so smart, we laughed, we winked every time we heard it, all of us, photographers from the wire services and great correspondents from the news networks and special missions, like me, we all laughed mumbled for what we all knew, that behind every column of Vietnam print you read, there was a dripping, laughing death-face; it lurked there in newspapers and magazines and clung to your television screens and was still there hours after you turned off the set at night, a memory that just wanted to tell you, finally, what I know hadn't been said somehow .» (Page 225)

Mothers of Invention: Trouble Comin Everyday

"The rooms at the Continental were filled, at night, with correspondents coming in and out for a drink or a joint or a joint before going to bed, a little chat and a little music, the Rolling Stones singing "This is so lonely, you're two thousand light-years from home," or "Please come see me at your Citadel," and that word sent a chill through the room." (Page 240)

Rolling Stones: 2000 light years from home

Rolling Stones: Citadel

“Whenever we came back from a break we would bring records, music was as precious as water: Hendrix, Airplane, Frank Zappa and the Mothers, all the stuff that hadn't even started when we left North America. Wilson Pickett, Junior Walker, --John Wesley Harding, a record that was worn out and was available again within a month, the Grateful Dead (the name sufficed), the Doors, with their cold and distant music. That winter music seemed just right; you could lean your forehead against the window where the air conditioner had cooled the glass, close your eyes and feel the heat pressing against you from outside.” (Page 240)

Jefferson Airplane: Volunteers

Immortal classic. One of the best songs from the Vietnam War.

Frank Zappa: How could I be such a fool

Wilson Pickett: In the midnight hour

Junior Walker and The All Stars: Shotgun

Bob Dylan: All along the watchtower

Greater Dead: Golden Road

The Doors: Light my fire

Page's helmet decoration then consisted of the words HELP, I AM A ROCK! (taken from another Zappa song) (Page 246)

Frank Zappa: Help I am a Rock

“He built an altar with all his Buddhas, placing the prayer candles on a tape of empty cartridges, fifty caliber. He installed a stereo, played endlessly with organizing his slides in drawers, talked about setting up Claymores at night to keep the "undesirables" out, about building model airplanes ("Pretty good therapy, that"), hung toy helicopters from the ceiling , posters of Frank Zappa and Cream and ones of phosphorescent paint that Linda had done with monks and massive tanks brothers in spirit smoking joints in the fields of Vietnam.» (Page 253).

Cream: Sunshine of your love

«Great music in Me Fuc Tay, the commander liked the Stones. In An Joa we heard "Hunger for those good things kid, hunger and hunger and hunger" on the radio, while trying to talk to a hero of flesh and blood, a marine who had just bailed out his entire squad, but who was crying So much so that we couldn't get anything out of him." (Page 264)

Paul Revere and the Raiders: Hungry 

"A single song from Hue: "We have to get out of here even if it's the last thing we do in life." «Black is black I want my baby back» in Playa China with IGOR DEL NORTE, each card in his deck an ace of spades. She wore a hat and a serape and her face changed as much as a rock when a cloud passes over it. » (Page 264)

The Animals: We've gotta get out of this place

The Braves: Black is Black

We hope you enjoy this compilation of the best songs from the Vietnam War as much as we did making it. Now a couple of lines about the book.

War Dispatches Review

“Some journalists spoke of operations without a possible story, without the possibility of reporting. I didn't know any […] Those who said that were the same journalists who asked us why the hell we always talked to the soldiers...»

War dispatches requires the use of the first person and all the me, me, me that Herr wants because, far from being a compendium of war reports and operations, the book is the solid testimony of one of the few human beings who ended up in that hell without being forced to do so. And, on top of that, a human being who wrote fabulous (passed away 2016).

The human and innocent vision of a reporter who does not "reach the skin to the bones" of the scared. Someone who gets caught whispering "I'm not ready for this, I'm not ready for this" when they think they see a light moving in the jungle at night. Someone for whom everything he sees is new. And he tells it.

The structure is chaotic and very quickly mixes different geographical and temporal situations. The pacing somewhat seems to resemble Herr's own experience, who says that it took him "a month to lose that feeling of being a spectator of something that was part game and part spectacle."

As the pages progress, the confessions about his state of mind, his fears, and his depressions subtly give way to the day-to-day story of the soldiers, authentic protagonists ("I had just missed the greatest battle of the war until then, he was telling me he was sorry, but that battle was right there, all around me, and I didn't even know it").

Herr is only allowed adjectives when they refer to him and only him. The soldiers only participate in the form of descriptions of what they do and dialogues:

—Tonight there will be trouble, for sure, don't separate from me. It'll be lucky Mayhew doesn't take you for a Zip and blow your brains out. There are times when he gets really crazy.
"Do you think they will attack?"
"Maybe they'll do a trial run." They put that number on us three nights ago and they killed a boy. A brother.
"But this casemate is very good." It can last quite a bit. No matter how much they throw at us, there will be no problem.
"Do people sleep in bulletproof vests?"
"Some do, I don't." Mayhew, that crazy fuck, sleeps with his ass in the air. It's tremendous, man, the hawk out there and him in here with his ass in the air.

They make you want to say that War Dispatches sounds like The metal jacket o Apocalypse Now, but it's the other way around. As we have said, Michael Herr was a fundamental piece of the script of these two masterpieces of cinema. Already in Dispatches of War we find the machine gunner of the helicopter "with one hundred and fifty yellow dead, all with certificates"; the soldier whose camera is stolen on a small terrace in Saigon or the one from Born to kill in the helmet. As a tip, this book gives us the best compilation we have ever seen of songs from the Vietnam War.

One Marine finishes off a dying Vietcong with a grenade launcher, another lies on the sandbags of a trench and gets within range, indifferent to the cries of his comrades to take cover, another decides to disobey the orders of his superior to inspect a hill and sees how seconds later the lieutenant himself flies into the air. A soldier is given a rest permit and for days he purposely arrives late for the helicopter that will take him back home because he feels that his place is there, in the jungle. The radio station talks about how much fun the tracer shells are when they light up the sky and how important it is to clean up the residue they leave behind in the barrel. A soldier who masturbates 30 times a day dies the day before his return home.

Heartbreaking, hellish, cruel. Bitch. Too long ago it stopped making sense to look for adjectives still untouched by cinema and literature to describe war, nonsense inherent in the human race from its birth to its extinction. On war dispatches (reissued by Anagrama in 2013) there are no adjectives, and therein lies the success of this work that, far from searching for epithets yet to be dusted off, is limited to plain and simple showing.

Marijuana and napalm flavor. Machine Gun Roars, Jimi Hendrix and Ottis Redding. Armed with the spirit of the Capote, Tales y Wolfe, and coincident in time with the Slaughterhouse Five de Kurt vonnegut, War Dispatches leaves an uncomfortable feeling, like a circus show, exploring one of the cruelest and on too many occasions most ignored realities of this nonsense: that the war, and perhaps that of Vietnam more than any other of the contemporaries, was a circus run by madmen and starring innocents, mostly children:

"There was such a dense concentration of American, American, and basically adolescent energy there, if that energy could have been channeled into anything other than noise, destruction, and pain, it would have lit up Indochina for a thousand years."

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