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Billy Don't Be A Hero

by

Bo Donaldson & the Heywoods



Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

This song is about a guy who goes off to war, and despite his fiancé's pleas to stay safe, volunteers for a dangerous mission and is killed. The girl receives a letter telling her that Billy died a hero, which is specifically what she asked him not to do.
This song sold more than 3 million copies and earned a gold record. Four more Top 40 singles followed for Bo Donaldson & The Heywoods: "Who Do You Think You Are," "The Heartbreak Kid," "House on Telegraph Hill" and "Our Last Song Together."
This song was mentioned in Stephen King's book The Stand, in the TV shows Get A Life, ALF, and Friends, and was used in the movies Reservoir Dogs, To Gillian On Her 37th Birthday and Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert.
This was originally recorded by Paper Lace after they won the British TV talent show Opportunity Knocks. It topped the UK charts and Paper Lace went on to record two more UK Top 20 hits, one of which was "The Night Chicago Died," which also reached #1 in America.
Peter Callender and Mitch Murray wrote both this and "The Night Chicago Died." Among the other songs the duo wrote together were Vanity Fare's hit "Hitchin' a Ride" and Georgie Fame's UK chart-topper "The Ballad Of Bonnie And Clyde."
Callender and Murray originally wrote this song about a cabin boy called Billy, before changing the setting to the American Civil War. Murray wanted to give the song to a major artist, but Callender's wife, Connie, saw Paper Lace win Opportunity Knocks and told Peter about them.
Bo Donaldson & the Heywoods
More Bo Donaldson & the Heywoods songs
More songs with boys' names in the title
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More songs that were hits for more than one artist

Comments (8):

On April 21st, 1974, "Billy Don't Be A Hero" by Paper Lace entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 at position #99; it only remained on the Top 100 for three weeks, peaking at #96...
Five weeks after it fell off the chart the quintet's "The Night Chicago Died" entered the Top 100 at position #98; and on August 11th it peaked at #1 (for 1 week) and stayed on the Top 100 for 17 weeks...
They had one other Top 100 hit, "The Black-Eyed Boys", it reached #41.
- Barry, Sauquoit, NY
This song is unfairly maligned by critics & DJ's alike. I don't know why. The message is clear: war is bad, and should never be glorified. It's set to a tuneful melody, with easy-to-sing-along-with, if not particularly profound, lyrics. Too many soldiers went off to war, full of delusions of heroism and glory, only to come back maimed or mentally damaged, or not at all. They're still doing it today; when will they learn?
- Matthew, Toronto, ON
I rememember hearing on the radio that this song was about the Civil War.
- David, Flatwoods, KY
I thought this song was about Vietnam actually. It fit the timeline...
- Karen, Silver Spring, MD
This song was also metioned on The Family Stone. When there sitting around playing charades, it's a clue.
- Christina, Cape Cod, MA
I don't recall any specific American Civil War references. But I would guess the lines that say "the soldier blues..." could refer to the blue uniforms of the union army of the North. Also, the sergeant needing a rider to go get more men would indicate those times of no radio.
- Jim, Colesville, NJ
I don't know for sure, but when this song first came out and again when I bought a 1970s mixed CD about 5 years ago, I heard mentions of the American Civil War in reference to this song. Am I right or am I mistaken?
- Darrell, Eugene
The song was a number one hit in the UK for Paper Lace in the same year. They used it to win TV talent show "Opportunity Knocks" and went on to have 3 more chart hits.
- Mark, London, England
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