Vietnam War

Top 10 Vietnam War Songs: Anthems of an Era

Published: April 11, 2024  |  Heidi

What is the Vietnam War?

The Vietnam War was a conflict that lasted from 1955 to 1975, involving North Vietnam and its allies, including the Viet Cong in South Vietnam, against South Vietnam and its main ally, the United States. The war began as an effort to unify Vietnam under communist rule and quickly escalated into a major Cold War confrontation. This period also gave rise to a significant collection of Vietnam War songs, capturing the essence and emotions surrounding the conflict.

What year was the Vietnam War?

The Vietnam War officially spanned from 1955, with the division of Vietnam into North and South, to 1975, ending with the fall of Saigon. It involved North Vietnam and its Viet Cong allies fighting against South Vietnam, supported primarily by the United States. The war’s duration is often remembered through the lens of Vietnam War songs that reflect the era’s strife and impact.

Top 10 Vietnam War Songs

Vietnam songs are a category per se. I decided to compile this list because there are so many good songs written about Vietnam or used as soundtracks for films about Vietnam. If you’re interested in a broader range of battle anthems, I also have a curated collection titled “American War Songs” — a compilation of some of the finest songs about American wars. Here are the HMC’s top favourites:

10. ‘Volunteers’ – Jefferson Airplane (1969)

With its rebellious tone and call to action, “Volunteers” became synonymous with the era’s counterculture movement and protests against the Vietnam War. The song advocates for change and challenges listeners to stand up for their beliefs.

9. ‘The Unknown Soldier’ – The Doors (1968)

“The Unknown Soldier” by The Doors is a song that fits well among Vietnam War songs. Its eerie melody and heartfelt lyrics make you feel like you’re right in the middle of the war. The haunting music and Jim Morrison’s voice bring out the emotions of that time.

8: ‘Born in the U.S.A.’ – Bruce Springsteen (1984)

Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” is a significant addition to Vietnam War songs. It sheds light on the challenges faced by returning veterans who felt neglected by their country. Despite its lively tune, the song delves into themes of loss and disappointment, portraying the harsh reality experienced by Vietnam War soldiers. This anthem became a rallying cry for those seeking recognition and empathy for their sacrifices.

7. ‘Give Peace a Chance’ by John Lennon (1969)

While not strictly a rock song, its message made it an anthem for the anti-war movement during the Vietnam War. Recorded during Lennon’s “Bed-In” for peace in Montreal, this song became a universal anthem for peace and a direct protest against the Vietnam War. Its simple chorus and powerful message rallied people to advocate for peace.

6. ‘The Letter’ – The Box Tops (1967)

This catchy 1967 hit, “The Letter” by The Box Tops, tells a story of longing for home after receiving a letter from a loved one. While the song doesn’t explicitly mention the Vietnam War, its release during that time imbued it with a deeper meaning for soldiers stationed far away. The themes of missing someone and yearning for home resonated powerfully with those relying on letters as a lifeline to loved ones.

5. ‘Gimme Shelter’ – The Rolling Stones (1969)

“Gimme Shelter” starts off an album in the best way possible, and it’s one of the Rolling Stones’ strongest songs that isn’t a single. This song is like a perfect war movie soundtrack, especially for the Vietnam War even though it’s not directly about it. The music is dark and intense, with a cool guitar riff and weird percussion. The singing is great too, both by Mick Jagger and the woman singing in the background. It’s a classic war song! (While not directly referencing Vietnam, the song’s atmosphere evokes a war-like feeling.)

4. ‘All Along the Watchtower’ – Jimi Hendrix Experience (1968)

Jimi Hendrix’s electric guitar practically explodes on “All Along the Watchtower,” making it his most famous song. This wasn’t just a great track, it captured the intensity of the Vietnam War raging in 1968. Hendrix turned Bob Dylan’s folksy tune into a rock masterpiece, proving the power of the electric guitar. His performance was so legendary, it even convinced Dylan to ditch his acoustic for a more electric sound!

3. ‘Paint It, Black’ – The Rolling Stones (1966)

This one is one of my all-time favourites, “Paint It, Black” by The Rolling Stones, with its haunting sitar intro, reflects the era’s tumultuous emotions. Although it’s a song about depression and not directly related to the Vietnam War, its themes of a bleak and hopeless existence resonated with many GIs serving in Vietnam in 1966.

2. ‘We Gotta Get Out of This Place’ – The Animals (1965)

This is a personal favourite. The song wasn’t actually written about Vietnam. It’s by The Animals, an English band, and it talks about their wish to leave their hometown of Newcastle. “That song was about us,” said Eric Burdon, the lead singer. “We wanted to get out of Newcastle, then a year later, London, and then New York. We were on a mission. But the song also made sense to everyone, because things were changing so much back then.” The deep bassline from Chas Chandler sets the mood, and the song keeps up the energy. Eric Burdon’s strong and bold singing, especially in the pre-chorus and chorus, is memorable. The “yeah!”

1. ‘Fortunate Son’ – Creedence Clearwater Revival (1969)

This is another one of my all-time favourites. “Fortunate Son” has become synonymous with the Vietnam War era, even though it doesn’t explicitly mention the conflict. John Fogerty and Creedence Clearwater Revival deliver a powerful anti-war message through this fast-paced and catchy song. (While not explicitly about Vietnam, it critiques the draft system and the unequal burden of war.) Fogerty cleverly uses sarcasm to highlight the class divide in America, pointing out how the wealthy and powerful often avoid military service. The song’s iconic chorus, “It ain’t me, It ain’t me, I ain’t no fortunate son, no,” perfectly captures the frustration and anger felt by many during the Vietnam War era. This is a true standout war song!