May 30

A Tribute to the Vietnam War: “Goodnight Saigon” by Billy Joel

Time has a way of healing wounds or making them easier to look at to see if they’ve scabbed up. The guys came home from Vietnam and that’s it? It doesn’t end until these guys are absorbed into the mainstream and we deal with our feelings about it. (Billy Joel)

A Tribute to the Vietnam War: "Goodnight Saigon" by Billy Joel 1
Billy Joel. Photo Credits:

Song Background

Released in 1982, “Goodnight Saigon” is a song penned by the Piano Man Billy Joel. It was one of the songs included on his album that year named The Nylon Curtain.

Goodnight Saigon” depicts and centers on the Vietnam War that happened in the 50’s. It portrays the condition and situation of the U.S. Marines starting with their military training and into their diverse traits of Vietnam combat.

To note, the song was a chart-topper overseas. It placed no. 1 on the Ultratop 50 Flanders in Belgium. Also, it ranked no. 1 on the Dutch Top 40 and Single Top 100 charts both in the Netherlands.

Meanwhile, “Goodnight Saigon” ranked no. 19 and no. 29 on the Irish Singles and UK Singles charts, respectively. However, it fared low in the U.S. reaching no. 56 on the Billboard Hot 100.

A Tribute to the Vietnam War: "Goodnight Saigon" by Billy Joel 2
American troops during the Vietnam War. Photo Credits:

Song Theme

During the Vietnam War, the American troops were treated badly. The song narrates how terrible the war was and what they underwent. The lyrics focus on the U.S. Marines battling out, fighting their fears, and trying to figure out how to survive.

Moreover, “Goodnight Saigon” emphasizes that everyone who partook in the war are all in the situation together. In the song, Billy Joel underscores the fear and darkness induced in the Marines during the war. Highlighting camaraderie and unity, the refrain of the song (sang by the Marines) goes “we all go down together”.

Song Reception

Billy Joel revealed:

“I wasn’t trying to make a comment on the war, but writing about the soldier as a person.”

Moreover, Rolling Stone music critic Stephen Holden expressed:

“As the song unfolds, Joel’s “we” becomes every American soldier, living and dead, who fought in Southeast Asia.”

He further described the song as possibly the “the ultimate pop-music epitaph to the Vietnam War”. In addition, he admired Joel’s voice captivating a young soldier’s emotions. However, Dave Marsh, fellow Rolling Stone critic considered the song to indicate “obscenity” that the song refuses to take sides. On the other hand, Stephen Thomas Erlewine gave praise to Joel as the song represents “layered, successful, mature pop that brings Joel tantalizingly close to his ultimate goal of sophisticated pop/rock for mature audiences”.

Furthermore, country music artist Garth Brooks considers “Goodnight Saigon” as his favorite Billy Joel song.

Watch Billy Joel’s poignant performance of “Goodnight Saigon” live:

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Billy Joel, Goodnight Saigon

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