The Top 11 Most Haunting Songs About Combat
By Kelly Crigger
Everyone has a song or two that sticks with them but for veterans there are a few that have special meaning because they make us sweat and bring us to a place we don’t want to be but can’t avoid. We may even secretly embrace it. I’m not talking about anti-war songs like Country Joe and the Fish, but songs that actually put your soul on pause and make you fight off the memories and the tears. For all our combat brothers out there, we pour a few drops on the ground and devote this list to you.
11. We Were Soldiers by SGT Mackenzie. You will see a pattern develop soon. Half of this list is by non-American artists. This might come as s shock, but Europe has experienced 10X more war than we have, so they have a right to sing haunting songs about combat. This is just the start. This one you’ve probably never heard of but when you do, you won’t forget it. Scottish band SGT Mackenzie does a powerful job of humming a war tune mixed with highland bagpipes that stays with you.
10. I was Only 19 by Redgum. This musical apology for Vietnam is not an easy one to sit through. It’s a confession of one man’s sins when he was but a boy that drops your smile and raises your glass.
9. Danny Deever by Jon Boden. Jon Boden can only take half credit for this song since the legendary Rudyard Kipling wrote the poem in 1890 that he put to music. But what an incredible job he did. Danny Dever is a poem about a British soldier hung in front of his Regiment for shooting a comrade that was one of Kipling’s greatest works. Putting it to music must have been a daunting task, but it turns out to be one Boden was capable of as he paid great respect to the story of shaken soldiers who had to take the life of one of their own.
8. Drive On, by Johnny Cash. There’s no shortage of Johnny Cash songs on any list ever and we had a hard time picking this one over a few others. It’s Cash’s straightforward, simple delivery and impactful lyrics that give this song a punch to the gut. “Many a good man I saw fall. And even now every time I dream, I hear the men and the monkeys and the jungle scream. Drive on. It don’t mean nothing.”
7. Traveling Soldier by The Dixie Chicks. How the hell can we include the Dixie Chicks in the same list with Alice in Chains and Johnny Cash? Easy. This is America. Say what you will about the southern gals, but this song is such a well-told story about a Vietnam crush that it earns a few pushes on your iPod’s repeat button.
6. And the band Played Waltzing Mathilda by The Pogues. The basic premise of this song is a wandering hobo from Australia is enlisted in WWI and loses his legs at Gallipoli. He returns home and though his wandering days are over he doesn’t want anyone’s pity. Nothing could be worse for this guy. He led a nomadic life of walking and suddenly didn’t have any legs. This song hits home for any combat vet who wants to return to a normal life but just can’t seem to.
5. Brothers in Arms by Dire Straits. Doesn’t matter who you are or where you served, Dire Straits got it right on this one. Their homage to a soldier sitting on his porch reminiscing about his days in uniform is hard to turn off.
4. Ballad of the Green Berets by Barry Sadler. Yeah yeah yeah… “F*ck Special Forces” some of you are saying, but deep down The Ballad of the Green Berets is a tune that every branch wishes they had. The fact that it was written by a real Soldier only adds to its awesomeness.
3. The Rooster by Alice in Chains. We’re a little biased here at the Rhino Den since this is Tim Kennedy’s walkout song, but fuck it. This shit will echo throughout your life. There’s nary a trooper in the world who can discount this as noise. It’s a double finger to the enemy. Here I am. Come get me if you dare.
2. The Green Fields of France by The Dropkick Murphy’s. If you haven’t heard of it get thee to Google. Eric Bogle first wrote it in 1976 as a tribute from one Soldier to another who was cut down in his prime, but the Dropkick Murphy’s perfected it.
1. Goodnight Saigon by Billy Joel. There’s no debate here, so don’t try. Billy Joel’s tribute to Vietnam is the holy grail of combat songs no matter your age.
Remember this article is about songs that haunt your dreams, not folk tunes like Flogging Molly’s excellent drinking song What’s Left of the Flag or songs that make you want to run out and stab a Taliban in the face. That would be a whole different list that goes something like this:
One and Seek and Destroy, Metallica
The Trooper, Iron Maiden
Courtesy of The Red, White and Blue, Toby Keith
War Pigs, Black Sabbath
Wake Up, Rage Against the Machine,
American Badass, Kid Rock
Sunday Bloody Sunday, U2
19, Paul Hardcastle
Click Click Boom, Saliva