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6 songs that will always remind America of the Vietnam War

It’s safe to say these songs will always make all Americans remember the Vietnam War, long after the last Vietnam vet dies.
vietnam war songs
Following a hard day, a few members of Company A, 3rd Bn, 22nd Inf (Mechanized), 25th Inf Div, gather round a guitar player and sing a few songs, Viet Nam, January 18, 1968. (Photo by PhotoQuest/Getty Images)

When it comes to wars that define a generation, there’s nothing that can top the Vietnam era. The war dominated the national conversation in the news and on television. There were movies made about the Vietnam War while the war was ongoing, but nothing like the critical and popular favorites that would be made after the war. The music of the era defined a generation so distinctly that even four generations later, kids so far removed from the Vietnam War still associate certain songs with hippies, Hueys and Ho Chi Minh. It’s safe to say these songs will always make all Americans remember the Vietnam War, long after the last Vietnam vet dies.

Here are 6 songs that will always remind America of the Vietnam War

1. “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival 

Try not to think of a helicopter air assault flying over a jungle canopy when the first drum beats of “Fortune Son” start coming through your speakers. Even CCR can’t change that mental image. In 2018, the band released a new music video for the song to celebrate its 50th anniversary. There wasn’t a single military image in sight, but does anyone think of that video when the song comes on? Absolutely not. 

Everything about this song is perfect. Frontman John Fogerty skewers the wealthy in American society who support the war because they will never have to go and fight it. At the same time he praises America’s patriotic working class. This is the anthem for working class heroes, suffering for a war they didn’t even want.

2. “For What It’s Worth” by Buffalo Springfield

After Buffalo Springfield’s lead singer attended an anti-war rally in Los Angeles in 1966, he went and wrote the most legendary anti-war song ever made. It speaks to both the American public, who would naturally choose whether they were for or against the war, while at the same time evoking images of Vietnamese civilians caught in the war’s crossfire.

3. “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” by The Animals

It won’t be hard for anyone who’s ever deployed to realize why this song caught on with U.S. troops in Vietnam in 1965. As some Vietnam Veterans and music historians recall, this was the Vietnam anthem. Every bad band that ever played in an Armed Forces club had to play this song. It’s not just the song title or the lyrics, the way it builds is continuously aggressive, especially for 1965.

4. “The End” by the Doors

“The End” was released in 1967, one year before the Tet Offensive, so by the time the infamous North Vietnamese surprise attack happened, this Doors song was widely available to become the theme song of the war’s turning point. After 1968, “The End” was cemented as part of the Vietnam War’s official soundtrack. It didn’t hurt that it was prominently featured in “Apocalypse Now,” either. 

5. “Street Fightin’ Man” by The Rolling Stones

This song was also inspired by a lead singer attending an anti-war protest. This time, the singer was Mick Jagger and the protest was going on in London. The Stones were one of the biggest bands in the world at the time, and had seen many protests and civil unrest. “Street Fightin’ Man was the result of the band watching its generation “bursting at the seams.”  But where Steven Stills is merely watching the protest in 1966, Mick Jagger is actively participating in 1968, reflecting a shift in the mood of the generation. 

6. “Search and Destroy” by Iggy and the Stooges

By the time “Search and Destroy” was released in 1973, the war was winding down (for the U.S., anyway), but that doesn’t mean people weren’t still angry it was ongoing at all. The feelgood rhythms of the 1960s were gone and angry punk rock was beginning to take its place, especially in anti-war music. Iggy Pop used military terminology to describe the anger and frustration many continued to experience until the war finally ended.