The Vietnam War was one of the most unpopular conflicts the United States has ever been involved in. The 60s especially were a time of social and political turmoil, with most of the country being against the war and forcing social changes back at home while combat raged overseas. For the United States, it was an incredibly formative time and that’s reflected in the music produced about the war.
In this article, we’ll give you the 31 top songs that are either about the Vietnam War or resonated the most with the soldiers who fought it.
1. Fortunate Son – Creedence Clearwater Revival
Fortunate Son is probably the best-known song today about the Vietnam War. It’s become synonymous with the United States military in the years since, but during the war, it was the music that everybody, regardless of race or background, enjoyed over there. It was angsty before angst, a bit of rage against the rich draft dodgers out there, and the fact that people were even drafted in the first place.
2. We Gotta Get Out of This Place – The Animals
We Gotta Get Out Of This Place became a standard song for the soldiers fighting in Vietnam. While it wasn’t written as a track for them by The Animals, the lyrics resonated so hard that any time it came on the radio, entire camps of soldiers would join in singing along with the song. A truly important track for the veterans who fought there and a song that still holds power today.
3. Still in Saigon – The Charlie Daniels Band
Still In Saigon by The Charlie Daniels Band is both poetic and sad. The fiddle player that beat the devil in a contest puts on his storyteller hat for this one. The song details the story of a Vietnam veteran, from being drafted into the war to his return home. It’s vastly important for understanding the PTSD and emotional trauma the man had to deal with after coming home as well, something that doesn’t get highlighted nearly enough.
4. Rooster – Alice in Chains
Rooster by Alice In Chains was written by Jerry Cantrell in tribute to his father who had served in Vietnam. His father’s nickname had been ‘Rooster’ during the conflict, and the song details the emotional scars that had impacted their whole family and include several references to activities his father had to participate in during the war. It became an incredibly successful single for the band, but more importantly, it helped heal the issues between father and son.
5. All Along The Watchtower – Jimi Hendrix
In the years since Jimi Hendrix played All Along The Watchtower, Bob Dylan—who made the original recording of the song—has had to play it on electric guitar because of how well Hendrix did it. Hendrix himself was a veteran and would have been sent to Vietnam had he not been discharged for medical reasons. Maybe that’s why the legend felt so compelled by the conflict.
6. Ohio – Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
The Vietnam War would have been bad enough on its own. But things were rough at home too, with violence being directed at protesters of the war. Ohio was written about the four students killed at Kent State University in 1970 during an anti-war protest.
7. Where Have All The Flowers Gone? – Pete Seeger
Pete Seeger lifted a few lines for this song from the book And Quiet Flows The Don. Where Have All The Flowers Gone is a peaceful, anti-war protest track that looked at all of the chaos and violence of the time period and just asked why.
8. (Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay – Otis Redding
While this song wasn’t written directly about the Vietnam War, it was penned by Otis Redding shortly after he had agreed to go visit the troops there. (Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay is a very lonely track, featuring a wanderer that just wants to go home—something many soldiers could relate to.
9. Gimme Shelter – The Rolling Stones
The only way to describe Gimme Shelter is as a wall of sound. It’s a beautiful soundscape that can be related to any conflict, but its release in 1969 placed it squarely in the frame of the Vietnam War. It also helps that it’s one of the best tracks The Rolling Stones put out that didn’t have its own single release.
10. For What It’s Worth – Buffalo Springfield
While For What It’s Worth was inspired by a rally in L.A. rather than the Vietnam War, the lyrics sure do point to it being an anti-war protest song. Sweepingly eerie, the track was indicative of the chaos running amok in the United States during the 60s and the terrible violence veterans experienced during the Vietnam War.
11. I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die Rag – Country Joe McDonald
Country Joe McDonald was a Navy veteran, and this song is rife with military humor. According to him, the track wasn’t a protest, but more an illustration of the way soldiers could complain without getting in trouble. It resonates with veterans because of the sarcastic bitterness it expresses in a humorous way.
12. Vietnam – Jimmy Cliff
The Vietnam War turned many people against the government, especially after draft orders were implemented. It was also one of the first times Americans saw no point in a conflict, turning popular opinion in the states against the war. Vietnam by Jimmy Cliff was a quintessential protest song of the time, begging for peace and unity instead of violence.
13. War – Edwin Starr
This funky number is one of those classic songs almost everyone has heard, but may not know the origin of it. But what is war good for? If you can’t think of much, you understand the point of this protest track by Edwin Starr. An anti-war protest song wasn’t a fresh idea during the Vietnam War, but this one had a little more soul than some of the prettier numbers.
14. Imagine – John Lennon
Imagine is one of the greatest songs of all time and something that transcends any single conflict. It illustrates what the world could look like if there were no borders, no conflict, no religion, and no division between people. It’s a lovely sentiment that many, especially during and after the Vietnam War, could resonate with.
15. Leaving on a Jet Plane – Peter, Paul & Mary
Leaving On A Jet Plane is a song that will bring tears to the eyes of a lot of Vietnam veterans’ family members. They had to say goodbye to their loved ones, not knowing if they would ever return and in many cases against their own wishes. It was one of the most poignant protest tracks of the era.
16. Detroit City – Bobby Bare
One of the most prevalent feelings Vietnam veterans had while in combat was the desire to go home. That’s why so many of the songs on this list have that as a big theme and resonate with those veterans, Detroit City by Bobby Bare is no different, as in it, he just wants to go home.
17. The Letter – The Box Tops
The Box Tops tapped into one of the most important motivators for soldiers during the Vietnam War when they sang The Letter. Mail was incredibly important for morale, with letters from home being the only thing that kept many soldiers from giving up.
18. Green, Green Grass of Home – Porter Wagoner
Tom Jones eventually recorded this song, but Porter Wagoner did it first and it was this version that many Vietnam War veterans listened to while in combat. It’s a very sad track, detailing feelings of loneliness, longing, and homesickness. That was what a lot of young soldiers had to deal with during the Vietnam War, which made the song resonate with them even more, especially ones who didn’t sign up to fight.
19. Chain of Fools – Aretha Franklin
Aretha Franklin had a powerful voice, and she used it to rage against a lot of things. While she’s best known for songs about racial and sexual equality, the Vietnam War didn’t escape her scope. Chain Of Fools became even more important once the war started, with the title being used to reference the military chain of command by militiamen serving overseas.
20. What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye
In light of the 60s being incredibly confusing and all of the social shifts going on in the United States at the time, you’d be forgiven for asking what the hell is going on. That was basically the sentiment Marvin Gaye put into What’s Going On, inspired by talking to his brother, a man who served three years in the Vietnam War.
21. Draft Morning – The Byrds
One of the biggest problems of the Vietnam War was the draft. People were plucked from their lives and sent to fight against their will by the government. It was insane, absurd, and unfair. This is exactly what The Byrds describe in their song Draft Morning.
22. Peace Train – Cat Stevens
Some anti-war songs don’t call anybody out and instead just plead for an end to the violence and a little bit of peace. That was the main message in Peace Train by Cat Stevens, a track that called for peace as the war in Vietnam raged on without a foreseeable end.
23. Give Me Love (Peace On Earth) – George Harrison
George Harrison actually wrote Give Me Love (Peace On Earth) about the war in Bangladesh rather than the Vietnam War, but it came out in 1973. That meant it came at the tail end of the Vietnam War, eventually becoming a popular anthem of peace after the conflict had ended.
24. Bring The Boys Home – Freda Payne
One of the most popular sentiments during the Vietnam War era—and even today—has been to just bring home all of our troops. Freda Payne put that to music in 1971 with Bring The Boys Home, a song about the psychological toll of war, both for soldiers in combat and their loved ones back at home.
25. 19 – Paul Hardcastle
The track 19 by Paul Hardcastle mostly describes the trauma Vietnam veterans went through and highlights the fact that a large portion of the soldiers who were sent there were just kids. It was inspired by a documentary about the war, released in 1985, but it’s still one of the best Vietnam War songs out there.
26. Bungle In The Jungle – Jethro Tull
This song definitely may not be related to the Vietnam War at all, but it’s been interpreted that way by many. Soldiers spent all of their time in the jungles of Vietnam, running to or from different things. It also makes sense to call it a bungle—incompetent activities—as many people saw the Vietnam War as stupid for us to be involved in.
27. Viet Nam – Minutemen
It’s no secret today that the United States motivations in the Vietnam War were questionable. It wasn’t even a secret when the conflict was going on, as it was one of the most unpopular moves in the history of the country. Vietnam by Minutemen was a political song that brought those motivations into question.
28. Search and Destroy – Iggy & The Stooges
Search And Destroy was emblematic of the ferocious violence that raged during the Vietnam War, and it wasn’t apologetic about it. It’s loud, messy, and tumultuous, emulating the way war would sound. While it didn’t release until near the end of the war, the distorted sound became all the more powerful when listened to during that conflict.
29. The Unknown Soldier – The Doors
An unfortunate reality of war is that there will be people lost that we don’t know about. The Unknown Soldier by The Doors is a tribute to those servicemen and women, becoming one of the most iconic songs of the Vietnam War and detailing the experiences of veterans of the conflict.
30. Okie from Muskogee – Merle Haggard
Country music and the military are very much intertwined, as even today it’s the genre that pays the most respect to the sacrifice of our veterans. This has been a theme for a long time, with Merle Haggard releasing Okie From Muskogee in 1969 in tribute to the Vietnam combatant’s sacrifices.
31. Straight to Hell – The Clash
There were unfortunately a lot of children fathered by American soldiers in Vietnam. Their fate was not going to be a good one, but Straight To Hell by The Clash highlights the awful future waiting for a lot of those children.
As a contributing writer for Music Grotto, Dakotah writes and produces professional music/media content. He works closely with editorial staff to meet editorial standards and create
quality content for the Music Grotto website. Dakotah is passionate about music in a wide variety of genres, from hip-hop to country and lo-fi to metal, and he enjoys creating music pieces for Music Grotto.