Personal Stories

Music and the Vietnam War

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*Original research paper for American Pop Culture.*

Abstract

This paper will focus on the 1960’s era and how music brought a nation of people together to protest a war that sent American men into a war to fight communism in Vietnam.  The topic was chosen as this writer was born in 1967 and her Father was a Marine during this time period.  The music lyrics were based on protesting the United States government institution of a draft, fighting a war that was not “ours,” with senseless killing that ensued. Ultimately it was a war that the United States didn’t “win.”

Music and the Vietnam War

Folk, Rock and Pop music during the 1960’s era can be tied to intrinsically to the time period of the Vietnam War.  Rallies and protests were not only held around the country, but around the world as the United States government went to war on the ideal that communism for Vietnam was not acceptable.  It was a primary interest to the United States to keep the ideal that democracy runs supreme for not just the United States but for any other country that the U.S. has a financial or territorial interest.  The music of those times put to the forefront in Americans and the worlds minds of what was happening in Vietnam.  The music carried the movement and consequently had negative results for the U.S. Government.  What is interesting is never before was music tied to such an event.  Although there were rally “songs” in World War II, never before were so many artists writing songs to protest a movement.

The first song tied to the Vietnam era is “For What It’s Worth” by Buffalo Springfield.  (Stiles, 1966)  Little known fact about this song is it was originally in protest to the Los Angeles City Council for placing a 10PM curfew for clubs and bars in the greater Los Angeles area.  However, once the song was sung by Buffalo Springfield, a whole new meaning to the song emerged.  The music itself harkens an eerie effect and gives the listener the premise to “be careful” in the guitar riffs itself.  (YouTube)  The lyrics discuss “battle lines being drawn” or “a thousand people in the street” which signify the rallies and protests across the nation of those individuals who did not approve of sending troops to war.

Jimi Hendrix, who was one of the rock guitar pioneers of the 1960’s-1970’s era, collaborated with Bob Dylan in 1968.  The song is called “All Along the Watchtower.”  (YouTube)  This song has become part of the historical rock genre for his guitar riffs and solos.  However, one would not know that this was tied to the Vietnam era at first.  The lyrics, written by Bob Dylan are about human values versus the established order.  (Bowie, 2012)  The established order would be corporate, financial interests or the United States versus the human element of senseless, needless killing or human values.  With lyrics such as “Businessman they drink my wine, plowman dig my earth,” one can observe the sense that Dylan had a deeper meaning of the totality of the established order taking away without regard to humanity.  (Dylan, 1968)

A cry for the soldiers in Vietnam can be heard in the song “We Gotta Get Out of this Place” by the Animals.  This song was written in 1968 by Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann in London.  In reading periodicals, it is a known song for most soldiers who were located in Vietnam at the time.  Soldiers who wanted to come home, missing their families or not agreeing with the war overall related to this song tremendously.  (Mattmiller, 2006)  With lyrics such as “we gotta get out of this place, if it’s the last thing I ever do,”  (YouTube, We Gotta Get Out of this Place)  it really hits home to the listener the despair or sadness that the soldiers had during that time period.

On the other side of the coin are the son’s of politicians and the rich who somehow avoided the draft althougher.  The coin “draft-dodger” was used during the Vietnam era and also in current time by politicians who have run for Congress, Senate or the Vice-President in recent years.  This is there the song “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival  (YouTube, Fortunate Son)  comes to memory.  John Fogerty wrote this song in response to those who did not have to done the uniform and fight in Vietnam.  (Swanson, 2013)  The song has a direct guitar edge to give the listener the idea of the dishonesty and injustice of those who may be more “higher-brow” than others.  With the lyric of  “some folks are born silver spoon in hand,”  (Fogerty, 1969)  it gives the listener the idea that there are those with more privledge than others.

The 1960’s era was ever changing, but one song that was a direct response to the Vietnam War was “Revolution” by the Beatles.  (YouTube, Revolution)  Written in 1968, specifically by John Lennon, this was the protest song that has been used repeatedly at rallies, protests and by advertisers.  There are multiple versions to this song as Paul McCartney did not like the song and did not want the song to be produced.  (Facts, 2013)  The heavy drum and guitar riffs create a battle cry for those who want a social, political or economic “revolution.”  The song was directed to those didn’t want the war, but didn’t know how to go about how to change the tide to stop it.  “We all want to change the world” or “it’s gonna be alright” really goes to the heart of the protest itself.  A person wants to change the world, but everything is going to be alright during the process.  (Lennon-McCarthy, 1968)

An excellent resource to review in regards to music during the Vietnam War and how it affected Americans, music lovers and how we see the world is by Lee B. Cooper.  The published works are titled “Popular Music & Society. … Next Stop is Vietnam.  The War on Record”  (Cooper, 2011)  He discusses in length on how music in particular “gave rise to suspicions of the government, draft dodgers, domestic unrest, and senseless deaths of friends and family on distant warfields.” The peer journal gives reference to a large chronological history of music during the 1960’s that spoke to the heart of those who were either in Vietnam, had family or friends in Vietnam or protesting the war nationwide.

In closing, music and social, economic and political issues go hand in hand.  It can be by listening to songs by Bob Dylan such as “Blowing in the Wind” or Joan Baez  “Birmingham Sunday”  (Schifferes, 2005) that stimulates the social conscious of a person.  The youth during that time period set the tone by listening to such music and making it popular to the masses.  (Candaele)  The music resulted in protests across the United States and worldwide to stop the needless killings of those whose ideology did not fit with the United States governments idea of “democracy,” and in the end, the United States pulled out of Vietnam.

References

Bowie, H. (2012). All Along the Watchtower Review. Retrieved from Reason To Rock: http://www.reasontorock.com/tracks/watchtower.html

Candaele. (n.d.). The Sixties and Protest Music. Retrieved from The Gilder Leherman Institute of American History: http://www.gilderlehrman.org/history-by-era/sixties/essays/protest-music-1960s

Cooper, B. L. (2011, October). Popular Music & Society. …Next Stop is Vietnam: The War on Record., pp. Vol 34 Issue 4, p507-511 5p.

Dylan, B. (Composer). (1968). All Along the Watchtower – Album Electric Ladyland. [J.Hendrix, Performer] London, Olympic Studios UK.

Facts, S. (2013). Revolution. Retrieved from Songfacts: http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=142

Fogerty, J. (Composer). (1969). Fortunate Son – Album, Willie and the Poor Boys. [C. C.Revival, Performer] Fantasy.

Lennon-McCarthy (Composer). (1968). Revolution – The White Album. [T. Beatles, Performer] London, Apple.

Mann, B. a. (Composer). (1965). We Gotta Get Out of this Place – Single B Side. [T. Animals, Performer] London, Columbia Graphophone.

Mattmiller, B. (2006, February 16). “We Gotta Get Out of this Place” Music, Memory and the Vietnam War. Retrieved from Wisconsin Edu News : http://www.news.wisc.edu/12188

Schifferes, S. (2005, May 1). Vietnam: The Music of Protest. Retrieved from BBC News: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/4498011.stm

Shmoop. (n.d.). For What It’s Worth Meaning. Retrieved from Shmoop: http://www.shmoop.com/for-what-its-worth-buffalo-springfield/meaning.html

Stiles, S. (Composer). (1966). For What It’s Worth – Album Buffalo Springfield. [B. Springfield, Performer] Los Angeles, CA, Cotillion Music Inc.

Swanson, D. (2013). NO. 15: Creedence Clearwater Revival , ‘Fortunate Sons’. Retrieved from Ultimate Classic Rock: http://ultimateclassicrock.com/creedence-clearwater-revival-fortunate-son-top-100-classic-rock-songs/

YouTube. (n.d.). All Along the Watchtower. Retrieved from YouTube: http://youtu.be/TLV4_xaYynY

YouTube. (n.d.). For What It’s Worth. Retrieved from YouTube: http://youtu.be/gp5JCrSXkJY

YouTube. (n.d.). Fortunate Son. Retrieved from YouTube: http://youtu.be/ec0XKhAHR5I

YouTube. (n.d.). Revolution. Retrieved from YouTube: http://youtu.be/tH9zG28GQEg

YouTube. (n.d.). We Gotta Get Out of this Place. Retrieved from YouTube: http://youtu.be/LUpBSvN1a50

 

 

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