Saigon is a city in Vietnam where major combat operations took place during the Vietnam War. Joel wrote the song as a tribute to many of his friends who had served in the war. In the song, Joel imagines what it must have been like deep in the combat-addled terrain.
This is a very unusual song for Joel, who stays away from political songs and never served in the military. He composed it after he was asked to write a song by a veterans' group. Since Joel had no firsthand experience with combat and no interest in espousing his views on the topic, he was reticent, but the group told him that they would tell him what to write.
Joel remembered a book called The Red Badge of Courage, whose author Stephen Crane based the story on the Civil War based on accounts with those who fought in it. Joel took a similar approach, and wrote the lyric based on his conversations with veterans.
In his 2014 appearance on a Howard Stern-hosted town hall, Joel explained:
"I wanted to do that for my friends who did go to 'Nam. A lot of them came back from being in country and really had a hard time getting over it, and still to this day I think a lot of them are having a hard time. They were never really welcomed back, and whether you agreed with the war or not, these guys really took it on the chin. They went over there and they served, and they never really got their due.
It was all about them depending on each other. When they were over there, they weren't thinking about mom, apple pie and the flag, they were doing it for each other - to try to help and save each other and protect each other. That really hit me."
At some concerts, Joel would bring Vietnam veterans on stage when he performed this. "It's like bringing them home and giving them a little bit of a welcome back," Joel said. "I like to do that for them."
Phil Ramone, who produced this song, said: "We never thought it would be a hit, but we knew it meant a lot to Billy Joel and to the people we lost in Vietnam. Then later, when he does it once in a while in a show, the place just comes apart. I think that happens a lot that we don't think something will be as powerful and it turns out that it does come out powerful." (courtesy: The Celebrity Cafe)
In the UK, this was released as a double-A-sided single along with "Leave A Tender Moment."
James from Lebanon, OrWonderful nostalgic song for the men and women who were there. Only criticism is why does Billy sing "six weeks at Parris Island?" I remember eight weeks basic training in that place of torture. But then, I probably was not there at the same time as him.
Edward Savela from Irondale, AlabamaI was never "in country" but served four years during the Vietnam War. There are many songs about this disgusting war but I think these lyrics are the absolute best. Not crazy about the chords or the tune but the lyrics choke me up.
Scott from Philly, PaOnly Billy Joel can make such a beautiful sad song about a political topic, without making the song political. The every time I hear this song I get choked up. They don't make music like that anymore.
G from Yl, CaWhy make it more than Billy meant it to be ? It's a magnificent ode to the poor grunts that had to put up with the jungle bullshizz......It's merely a simple song of appreciation to the sacrifices those poor souls made to the 'cause' of the times........it will be repeated over and over for the remainder of our history....and I love them all for what they did/do...right or wrong !!
Heimdallr from Lakeland, Swedengunshots? I thought is was supposed to sound like a helicopter. how the hell is that gunshots? way too quiet.
Oldpink from New Castle, InThis song came out right at the time when the tide turned in the U.S., and all those idiots who spat on the returning Vietnam vets became pariahs, and the vets were finally given a very belated apology for the indignity handed out to them upon their return. The first time I heard this song, I got the lump in the throat. You may think I am making it up, but I remember at the age of four being very angry when I saw footage of the returning veterans being insulted in airports. Good for Billy for making such a touching tribute, and all you douchebags throwing out gratuitous insults at him need to go to the nearest five-and-dime and purchase a life.
Ken from Louisville, KyJoel recently said that in the early 1980's a group of Veitnam vets came to him an urged him to write a song about their experiences there. He said he couldn't do it since he never served. They told him that it made him the perfect choice to write it - that real Vietnam vets couldn't get over the emotions involved to write a song about it. So Joel spent several days listening to their stories and then got their approval before recording the song.
Cristina from Brooklyn, NySorry to break it to you guys...but it's absolutely not gunshots...ITS A DRUMROLL! maybe its meant to sound like gunshots i dont know im not billy joel...but it is most definitely a drumroll...sorry people
Daniel from Binghamton, NyThe line "We had no soft soap" is, I believe, used more in the sense of a soft sell, flattery, or praise. Paired with "we had no home front" the lines are commenting on the lack of support from the general populace at home, making the Vietnam War emotionally much different from some prior wars.
And no, Joel did not have direct military experience, what he did have were friends who left, volunteered or drafted, doesn't matter. Some of these friends came back, a lot didn't. This is his tribute to them, based on yes, his imagination, and I'm sure stories from the ones who came home.
Frank from Best, -In contrary to US and UK, this Song was a huge nr.1 Hit in The Netherlands. It's also the country where veterans od WWII, Libanon and the Far East are honoured during teh Veterans Day on June 29th. As if we seemed to know what is it like to be a veteran, 'been there'. Not bad for a small country. Indeed a brave song for those who suffered.
Bill from New York, NyListen folks, this song is sacred to those who fought in Vietnam. WHy dont you just leave it alone and let the Vets have it? After a war like that and the disrespect the vets endoured when they came back home, it was great that someone in the early 80's was finally brave enough to pay them tribute. You sit there and complain about gunfire, stupid lyrics.... LEAVE IT ALONE. Just respect the men who understand it.
Tim from Houston, TxWhy is everybody set on finding fault with the song? One person is accusing the man of having based the song on what hollywood's take on the war was.Another individual wants to drag up the man's [lack of] military service.Some of you are concerned with the "gunshot" sound effects in the song,and to that i would like to add that if you've ever heard the sound of a "vc" rifle knowing the shell that just left it is headed in your direction.....let me just say "you would not give two s**ts about the sound of gunfire in this song".Look at it this way a non vet will never understand the song.If i have to explain you would'nt get it.Hell to this day i'm [along with a few of my buddies]still tryin' to figure out "what happened".The beautiful part about the song is that it makes reference to jarheads,but what ever branch you served with,if you were in country,you can relate to the song
Mike from Wichita Falls, TxI love Billy Joel, but this song contains what must be his silliest line - "We has no soft soap". War is hell.
Ken from Louisville, KyBilly Joel avoided being drafted because he was the sole financial support of his mother and sister. His father left the family when he was around 12 or 13.
Ken from Louisville, KyJoel updated this with a new song he wrote in 2007 called Christmas In Fallujah. He had a young singer named Cass Dillon sing it, since he felt he was too old to identify with the troops in Iraq.
Steve from Arnol, MdA beautiful meloday, as typical for a Billy Joel song.
But this song is not really about what it was like to be a Marine who went to Vietnam - there is no way Billy Joel would know that. Rather, it's Joel's imagination of what it was like, based, no doubt on Hollywood movies like Platoon or Apocalypse Now, memories of Cronkite and Dan Rather broadcasts, etc.
Annabelle from Eugene, OrI've never heard the gunfire. Where in the song would it be? What I hear is faint crickets, a tinkling windchime, and helicopters, but I don't hear any instance of gunfire.
Patrick from Bremen, GaYou also hear the sound of gunfire in the distance at the beginning of the song and at the end along with the helicopters. I think there's gunfire somewhere in the middle of the song as well.
Annabelle from Eugene, OrDid Billy sing with a choir of men in this song? If so, who were the men in the choir? Or was it a church congregation?
Chris from Adelaide, AustraliaThe only sounds effects i know of in this are at the start and end. The song start with almost a minute of silence (assumably as a mark of respect to those who died in the Vietnam war) and then the throbbing of Helicopters slowly fades in this is repeated at the end with the Helicopters fading out.
Annabelle from Eugene, OrWhat are the sound effects in this song, if it actually contains sound effects?