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Soul Music &
The Vietnam War

NOTE: IF you wish to listen to this music while you browse the rest of our site, or even the entire web, just leave this page open in the background. Enjoy!

 Soul Music Goes To War

The music we all heard during the Vietnam War was not like that which you heard in the movie Good Morning Vietnam. Not at all. First of all, the only soldiers that had radios that could pick up Armed Forces Radio were those settled comfortably in the rear... in places like Saigon, Nha Trang and Cam Ranh Bay. Living in one of those places was like living in America. There was no fighting there, unless you can call a few incoming mortars or RPGs every three or four months a battle. Nope, those places were too cushy to be called combat duty postings.

The soldiers in the field however, their life was different. And one thing that was different about it was that their radios didn't pick up AFVN radio... if they even had radios. Because of that, the music you heard on fire posts, signal sites, forward operating bases and the like... or for that matter over your earphones as you sat in the back of a chopper ferrying you to your next raid, was music coming from a cassette recorder; music that was the personal property of some ditty bopper that carried it along with him to stop himself from going crazy.

As the war dragged on, and draft quotas were raised and deferment and exemption loopholes closed, most of the military personnel that served in 'Nam ended up being between 19 and 24 year's old. According to some figures, over 90 percent of them were under 23. That means that the music they listened to was the music of their time, not the time of the Viet Nam war... but their time. Yet because they listened to it in Viet Nam, it usually had a double meaning: a) it was current music, and b) it was topical to their existence as soldiers in Viet Nam.

As an example, during the Siege of Khe Sanh many of the troops that fought in that little firefight adopted the song “No Place To Run” by Martha and the Vandellas, as their theme song. As we said, a) it was current music and b) it matched perfectly their situation.

As for what kind of music predominated, that is hard to say. Whoever you were, wherever you came from, your music could be heard playing from a tape cassette in some Boonie Rat's pocket.

If you were a rocker, the rhythms, raw energy and screaming guitars of rock music could be heard, as could psychedelic rock and even folk. Rock music though was pervasive, as its high tempo and and even higher volume mimicked the confusion of war and the firefights that popped up daily. Without doubt, 1960s rock affected how soldiers thought of and saw the war they were fighting.

Just one example will make our point: as the war progressed the term "Rock and Roll" itself came to stand for not the music, but the very embodiment of war—soldiers scurrying around, preparing to move out and engage the enemy, as in let's “Rock-and-Roll.”

And too, later, as an assault team's Huey landed and men rolled off and assembled to hit the tree line, their CO would often shout out to them his final command before combat ensued. Heard over the dying din of the helicopter returning to base to pick up another load of men, his command of only six words would ring in their ears: "Rock and Role, let's move out!" Followed by return shouts of Hooah! and Di Di Mau! every troop on the line, whether they were chasing their first CIB or already had a pocket full of them, knew that this was it. The firefight was on. As importantly, they also knew that this time the command of Rock and Roll meant Lock and Load... a transliteration of the words meaning to slam a full magazine into the weapon, and switch their weapons from semiautomatic to automatic.

Rock and Roll, Lock and Load... it was that simple.

Even so—Rock aside—of all of the types of music heard in Vietnam, perhaps the most poignant and pervasive was that brought to the world by soul musicians like Otis Redding Percy Sledge, Sam Cooke, and of course, James Brown. In fact, back in April, 2013, we posted an article about James Brown's music and its impact on those who served at Fort Gordon.

In the music player below we have recreated the music from that article... Soul Music, the best of the best of Vietnam War music. We hope you enjoy it.



Above music courtesy their respective copyright holders. All rights reserved by copyright holders. Not for download or public resale. We salute the publishers of this music for allowing us to stream it to our members, on this non-profit website. Thank you for supporting our Vets.



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