Records bring back the sounds of Vietnam


When I lived in the Golden State years ago, the L.A. Weekly newspaper published several freelance articles of mine. Those articles notwithstanding, the publication remains one of the best alternative weekly newspapers in the nation.

On a recent visit to Los Angeles I picked up a copy of the paper, and was pleased to see that the cover story was all about the numerous record stores in L.A. that specialize in selling vinyl albums, those vintage 33 1/3 discs that brought the world rock ‘n’ roll, along with 45s and 78s. (If you’re a youngster, look it up.)

As a record collector myself with wide-ranging musical interests, I separate my vinyl into different categories, and one in particular zeros in on my time in Vietnam. Below are short reviews of just a few of the more historical albums in my collection to have been born out of that Southeast Asian war. Even at the collector stores, most of them are difficult to find these days. But the dedicated collector might score some gold by looking hard enough.

There are dozens of titles that were released, and space does not permit reviews of all of them. Sometimes these records can be found in the antique and collector shops in Boulder City, as well as in the city’s lone thrift store.

“Vietnam: With the American Fighting Man” (Documentary Recordings) One of the more ambitious recordings on the war to be released, inside the fold-out cover there is a 16-page bound-in booklet with great photographs and notes on the conflict. As a bonus, the album includes a 21x19 four-color set of maps of Southeast Asia. The record itself contains many actual battle sounds of the war.

“A Year in a New Kind of War” (ABC Scope) Produced by ABC News, it contains actual recordings of ABC’s coverage of the war, beginning with President Lyndon Johnson in 1966 calling for the resumption of bombing in North Vietnam. Subsequent voices include radio and TV newsmen Bob Young, John Scali, Peter Jennings, Howard K. Smith and others giving reports and interviews from the field. Smith’s report in particular reveals a special poignancy — he interviews his son Jack, who was seriously wounded by the enemy.

“FTA! Songs of the Resistance” (Paredon Records) Singer Barbara Dane managed to gather active-duty GIs to help her perform some anti-war melodies. Song titles include “Resistance Hymn,” “Insubordination,” “Join the GI Movement” and “Last Drink with Don.” Side two ends with “Bring ‘Em Home.”

“There’s a Star-Spangled Banner Waving Somewhere” (Mercury Records) Best-selling country vocalist of the ‘70s Dave Dudley covers several wars in this unabashed pro-American songfest. The Vietnam tunes include “What We’re Fighting For,” “Hello Vietnam” and “Vietnam Blues.” World War I is included with the then-popular “Lili Marlene,” and World War II is remembered with “Fraulein.”

“Wake Up America” (Plantation Records) The artist is Terry Nelson and C Company. Another collection that remembers several wars, the cover art promotes the main track, “The Battle Hymn of Lt. Calley.” (Calley was brought up on charges during the Vietnam War, accused of killing unarmed Vietnamese civilians and attempting to cover up his actions.) Other titles include “Johnny Reb” (Civil War), “When the Great Men Sign Their Names,” (Revolutionary War), “War Baby” (World War II) and “‘Till we Bring our Johnnies Home Again” (World War I).

“Man in Black” (Columbia Records) Not specifically a Vietnam album, the late superstar Johnny Cash included several songs about the war in this classic 1971 release. Most notably is “Singin’ in Vietnam Talkin’ Blues,” which was a favorite of GIs when they returned from that war and heard it for the first time on American radio. Songs about the war, pro and con, were seldom played on Armed Forces Radio overseas.

So click the on button, set the speed at 33 1/3, make sure the turntable is spinning correctly and hit the shops to find that ancient vinyl.

Chuck N. Baker is an Army veteran of the Vietnam War and a Purple Heart recipient. Every other Sunday he discusses veterans issues over several Lotus Broadcasting AM radio stations in Southern Nevada.