War, what is it good for? While some songs suggest it’s good for nothing, others point out it was a necessary evil in order to fix something that was deemed broken. Some of the best classic rock songs of all time that use war as part of the material are usually the ones that focus on the veterans who agreed to put their lives on the line so that the rest of us don’t have to.
Regardless of how we feel about war, those rare breeds of human beings who signed up as soldiers are men and women who sought to defend their nation and their people. Since the dawn of time itself, war has plagued mankind due to situations that became so extreme there was no choice but to engage in violence in order to re-establish some kind of order. As ideal as it would be to reach non-violent solutions all the time, this isn’t realistic.
Without these brave soldiers, everything we take for granted today never would have been realized. Even now, the division among people remains. It will always be this way. Until the world can finally achieve true peace, there will always be new war songs, as well as songs about veterans.
Classic Rock Songs About Veterans
Civilian Soldier (performed by 3 Doors Down)
In 2007, 3 Doors Down released “Civilian Soldier” as a song that paid tribute to the National Guard. It became part of a recruiting campaign as it also referenced the vital role men and women play when it comes to protecting the nation. These American citizen soldiers are usually activated to respond on behalf of homeland security. This also includes responding to natural disasters, civil unrest, and acts of terrorism that threaten the American people.
Born in the U.S.A. (performed by Bruce Springsteen)
“Born in the U.S.A.” was originally intended as a title song for a 1981 film Paul Schrader intended to make that was supposed to star Bruce Springsteen. Light of Day was the movie but it starred Michael J. Fox instead. However, on Springsteen’s album, Born in the U.S.A., he thanks Schrader in the notes.
Oddly enough, “Born in the U.S.A.” was assumed by less-discerning fans that it was designed to honor American patriotism. Even then-president Ronald Reagan made this mistake. However, this wasn’t the case at all. This veteran-themed 1984 single released by Bruce Springsteen addressed the financial hardships of Vietnam veterans who returned home. That, combined with the traumatic experience that came home with them, showed the dark side of what sometimes happens to those who serve in the military.
It also pointed out some underlying issues that the average human being probably never thought about. Although Springsteen made it quite clear patriotism isn’t always as cut and dry as it seems on the surface, he did elevate a sense of pride when it comes to representing a nation that was founded as a free nation. As ideal as it is to stay that way, the unfortunate truth is not everybody shares the same view of what freedom means.
Furthermore, when the government sent the American military over to Vietnam, there were so many issues that came to the surface that it’s no wonder it sparked so much controversy. Even veterans from WWI and WWII were pitted against each other when it came to what they thought about the Vietnam War. While some justified it as a “patriotic duty,” others saw the American involvement overseas as dubious.
Nevertheless, too often returning war veterans find themselves they’re no longer the same idealistic person who left their country to fight a battle overseas. When they return, they come back with enough emotional baggage that can hinder their ability to live out the rest of their lives as a civilian. Because of this, sometimes their ability to fit in with society proves to be even more difficult than facing gunfire on the battlefield.
“Born in the U.S.A.” pointed out the lack of support returning war vets get from their own government, a sad fact that exists in nations like America and Canada. To this day, it seems as “thankful” as many politicians are for the men and women who serve, they’re not nearly as willing to do more than simply utter a few words. What good is nationalism when the leaders of such countries continue to misrepresent the people who’ve placed their trust in them?
When “Born in the U.S.A.” was released as a single, it became a number nine hit on the US Billboard Hot 100. It was also certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America three times. Around the world, this song was at least a top ten hit in Australia, Belgium, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and the U.K. While some fans understood the song word for word, they were in agreement with Springsteen’s lyrical message, others simply took it in for patriotic entertainment value. Since its release, “Born in the U.S.A.” has been steadily used by activists and politicians as a musical symbol regarding American pride.
Diamond Eyes (Boom-Lay Boom-Lay Boom) (performed by Shinedown)
Released as a digital single in 2010, “Diamond Eyes (Boom-Lay Boom-Lay Boom)” was a song that was written for the 2010 movie, The Expendables. Performed by Shinedown, this hard-hitting rocker also comes from their album, The Sound of Madness. As an ideal song to rev up the soldier spirit, it became a popular tune of choice for World Wrestling Entertainment until 2014. It was also used in a series of video games.
When Sylvester Stallone approached Shinedown to write musical material for The Expendables, he wanted something that would not only personify the South but what rock and roll is truly about. Even though “Diamond Eyes” didn’t make it into the theatrical cut of the movie, it did appear on the director’s cut in 2011.
The impact behind the song was the intensity a soldier feels while on the front line of combat. With that nothing to lose feeling, the adrenaline of doing what needs to be done takes over. As a result, an otherwise ordinary human being becomes the kind of hero so many storytellers love to write about.
When “Diamond Eyes” was released as a single, it became a number seven hit on the US Billboard Mainstream Tracks chart. It also peaked as high as number twenty-six in Canada. With the Recording Industry Association of America, it became certified gold.
The Pride (performed by Five Finger Death Punch)
“The Pride” was a metal song released by Five Finger Death Punch in 2011 as an ode to the American soldier. Their pride, strength, and willingness to defend their nation at any cost deserve praise, even if the reason behind the wars they’re asked to fight by the government may not always deserve the same honor.
The bottom line, a real soldier will defend the people of a nation they share as a home. Even if the nation itself is divided with opinions, “The Pride” of a dedicated soldier earns far more respect than the apathetic who seem to take everything around them for granted. It’s about rebelling against circumstances and laziness. That’s what soldiers do.
On the US Billboard Rock Airplay chart, it became a number thirty-one hit. While it wasn’t so well recognized on the rest of the music charts, “The Pride” has become a patriotic favorite among a fan base who agree with Five Finger Death Punch that there’s a need to take enough pride in their own nation so that it remains exactly as the founding fathers had intended it to be.
Indestructible (performed by Disturbed)
Released in 2008, “Indestructible” was a song by Disturbed deliberately designed as an anthem for soldiers. According to vocalist David Draiman, the idea was to help take away the fear and replace it with faith in their strengths. No matter how impossible it seems, when it boils down to fighting for freedom, there is a warrior that will pop to the surface.
The popularity of “Indestructible” saw it peak at number two on the US Billboard Mainstream Rock chart, as well as number ten on the US Billboard Alternative Airplay chart. It also became a number thirty-five hit in Canada. The value of “Indestrucbile” as a song among soldiers continues to play a big role as a means to keep up with morale. This is important due to the divided views coming from civilians.
Among the fans who appreciate what “Indestructible” represents as a song, it’s so much more than representing the military. It’s about realizing we’re stronger than we think, especially when we put faith above fear in a world that seems to want us to do otherwise.
Thin Red Line (performed by Glass Tiger)
Released in 1986 from the album The Thin Red Line, Glass Tiger’s “Thin Red Line” was a song about the battle of Balaclava in the Crimean War. The timeline was 1854 and the northeast hill of the village, Kedikoi, served as the host of six military companies, including the 600 soldiers of the 93rd Highland Regiment. Otherwise known as the Sutherland Highlanders, this group of men stood in the front line between their fellow soldiers and the 2,500-strong Russian cavalry.
“Thin Red Line” was a description the English and Scottish press used when describing Sir Colin Campbell and his two hundred men from the 93rd Highland Regiment. Along with the aid of a small force of walking wounded, detached guardsmen, and a force of Turkish infantrymen, they routed a Russian cavalry charge. These men formed a line of men that were two deep, instead of the recommended four deep, as Campbell felt they were insufficiently trained to form a square.
When the Highland Regiment and their allies met the incoming enemy charge ahead with its two-deep firing lineup, the Turkish infantrymen that were assigned to flank the Russian cavalry broke off and fled. Meanwhile, the 93rd discharged three volleys with the first at six hundred yards and the last at 150 yards. There was supposed to be a fourth volley, which was intended to be at point-blank range against the Russians. However, their enemy turned tail and ran away.
William H. Russell, a Times correspondent, wrote about the event in his November 14, 1854 article, Heights Before Sebastopol. According to his account, all he saw between the Russians and the British regiment base was a “thin red streak tipped with a line of steel” This made direct reference to the 93rd Highland Regiment. The quote “Thin Red Line” was a phrase that became a symbol of British composure in battle.
Their service saw a record amount of Victorian Crosses presented to Highland soldiers at that time. The British press lionized the event and it became an icon of the qualities of a British soldier in a war that was poorly managed. The 93rd also became a source of inspiration that included an 1881 oil painting The Thin Red Line by Robert Gibb. This is displayed in the Scottish National War Museum in Edinburgh Castle.
Over time “Thin Red Line” became a popular phrase to describe a brigade of firefighters. An inspired James Jones wrote a novel in 1962 that described the American infantry who fought in Guadalcanal during World War II. The title of that book was The Thin Red Line. It was later adapted into feature films in 1964 and 1998.
For Glass Tiger, The Thin Red Line was an album that paid homage to the 93rd Highland Regiment. As a single, “Thin Red Line” became a number nineteen hit on the Canada Top Singles chart and a number ninety-one hit in Australia. Although it wasn’t nearly as popular as the Canadian group’s debut single “Don’t Forget Me (When I’m Gone)” it still became a classic favorite, especially among fans who have high regard for war veterans and the sacrifices they’ve made.
Fortunate Son (performed by Creedence Clearwater Revival)
In 1969, Creedence Clearwater Revival released the single, “Fortunate Son,” from their fourth studio album, Willy and the Poor Boys. It was a song that quickly became a symbol of counterculture’s opposition to the United States’ military involvement in the Vietnam War. It was also a song used in solidarity with the soldiers who were sent there to fight it.
What CCR observed were contradictions between the government and the people that were addressed in lyrical format through “Fortunate Son.” On the US Billboard Hot 100, it became a number fourteen hit before US Billboard changed its methodology. It then peaked as high as number three as the combined tracks were played as one. Since then, it has become a three-time platinum seller with the Recording Industry of America. It also became certified platinum with the British Phonographic Industry, as well as with Italy’s Federazione Industria Musicale Italiana.
Globally, “Fortunate Son” became a cult classic. In 2013, it was added to the National Recording Registry for its significance by the Library of Congress. Among scores of fans and critics, this is one of the greatest songs of all time.
What CCR did with “Fortunate Son” was point out how the rich and powerful use their influence at the expense of people who struggle just to make ends meet. This includes the soldiers who lay their lives on the line while the big people pulling the puppet strings seem to laugh at their expense. Also, the civilians pay the price as wars are used as an excuse to spike the cost of everything.
All These Things That I’ve Done (performed by The Killers)
As stated in the song “All These Things That I’ve Done,” The Killers admit they have a soul despite not being soldiers. However, this was a song that came as a source of inspiration after learning about war veterans through a television host named Matt Pinfield. Before The Killers made their breakthrough as recording artists, he was a vice president of A&R at Columbia Records who tried to sign them up as a band. At the time, he was also working with the U.S. Army as part of a program that mentored musician soldiers who returned from Iraq. His focus was helping them with the post-traumatic syndrome (PTSD) condition that often plagues war veterans after performing their tour of duty.
The “I’ve got soul, but I’m not a soldier” was all about Pinfield’s mentoring of the soldiers who were stationed in Iraq. “All These Things That I’ve Done” also shed some light on what war veterans go through as soldiers obeying orders in situations that seem inhuman.
While it was a minor hit on the US Billboard Hot 100 at number seventy-four, the Canadian Rock Top 30 peaked at “All These Things That I’ve Done” at number one. Globally, it was a top forty hit among the nations of New Zealand, Scotland, Sweden, and the UK. On the US Billboard Alternative Airplay chart, it charted as high as number ten.
Quite frankly, one doesn’t have to be a commissioned soldier in order to qualify as a war veteran. Unfortunately, civilians will pick up arms in order to defend everything they hold dear. This was the case when it came to the American Revolution. It’s’ always been the case when people are backed into a corner and have no choice but to come out swinging.
Ballad of the Green Berets (performed by Barry Sadler)
In 1966, while a surge of anti-war songs flooded the airwaves, Barry Sadler’s “Ballad of the Green Berets” delivered a different perspective. This ballad was all about the United States Army Special Forces unit and when it was released as a single became a number-one hit on the US Billboard Hot 100 and the US Billboard Adult Contemporary chart. It was also a number-one hit in South Africa. On the US Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, “Ballad of the Green Berets” peaked as high as number two.
Prior to the song’s release, Staff Sergeant Barry Sadler was a medic who wrote “Ballad of the Green Berets” from the viewpoint of someone who was in the trenches as a soldier. The lyrics were designed to honor soldiers like U.S. Army Specialist 5, James Gabriel Jr. He was a Special Forces operator who was killed by gunfire while on a training mission with the South Vietnamese Army on April 8, 1962. Although Sadler did mention Gabriel by name in a verse, the recorded version kept it out.
Unlike civilians, trained soldiers doing military service don’t always have the luxury to voice an opinion or hold a big protest against a controversial war. Whatever reason the government chose to get involved in the conflict was irrelevant as the men and women who signed up as army recruits chose to put their lives on the line for their home nation. As quoted by John F. Kennedy himself, “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country,” this was the answer given by a population who rose to the occasion to do exactly that.
It’s easy to criticize wars, especially when the main reason for them is often shrouded with ulterior motives that give people a good reason to ask questions. The Vietnam War was one of the most controversial in American history that had the people deeply divided in their opinions.
According to Sadler’s lyrics, it wasn’t about the politics behind the Vietnam War. It was about the bravery of soldiers who signed up for something that was of great importance to them. It wasn’t about politics at all in their eyes. It was about serving their country. Doing so also meant serving their family, friends, and fellow countrymen so that they wouldn’t have to endure certain situations that are often the very reason why wars need to be fought to begin with. Although the politics behind the Vietnam War deserved some criticism, the soldiers who were treated like human chess pieces didn’t.
Classic Rock Songs About Veterans article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
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