One Tin Soldier (The Legend of Billy Jack)

Album: Coven (1971)
Charted: 26
  • songfacts ®
  • Lyrics
  • This song tells the story of a battle in olden times over a buried treasure. Both sides kill for it, willing to smite their neighbors for the promise of riches. After the battle, the victors find that under the stone covering what they think is the treasure is just the words "Peace on Earth."

    The song's message is that human greed and violence is futile - a "tin soldier" is a miniature toy soldier, representing the inhuman aspect of the pursuit. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Ken - Ottawa, FL
  • The songwriting team of Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter wrote this. They wrote songs for Dusty Springfield, The Four Tops and Glen Campbell.
  • In 1969, this was a #34 US hit for a short-lived Canadian band called Original Caste as simply "One Tin Soldier." Original Caste's version reached US #34 and went to #1 in Canada.
  • This was recorded for the 1971 independent film Billy Jack. Coven lead singer Jinx Dawson was the only member of the band to perform on the movie version of the song that appears on the soundtrack; she got the gig singing it because Linda Ronstadt, who was the first choice, wasn't available. Dawson recorded a different version with Coven that appeared on their second, self-titled album.
  • The song was popular during the Vietnam War, and was often heard as an anti-war anthem.
  • In 1973, Coven released a re-recorded version of the song which reached US #79. In 1974, their version from 1971 was reissued, reaching US #73. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Jerro - New Alexandria, PA
  • Coven were practitioners of black magic and the occult - for real. Jinx Dawson describes herself as a "Left Hand Path High Priestess and Ceremonial Mage." Their first album, released in 1969, is one of the earliest examples of occult rock, with a track called "Satanic Mass" that the band claims is a recording of an actual black mass that they performed. The album is the first where band members are shown flashing the devil horns hand gesture.

    "One Tin Soldier" is far removed from this subject, but Dawson thinks it fits her ethos. "I never understood it to be a peace/love song," she told Pop Culture Addict. "If one listens to the words, 'Go ahead and hate your neighbor, go ahead and cheat a friend, do it in the name of heaven, you can justify it in the end,' I heard it as hypocrisy toward the church, which of course is exactly how I was brought up."
  • Neil Young made reference to "tin soldiers" in a similar fashion on the 1970 Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young track "Ohio," where he sings:

    Tin soldiers and Nixon's coming
    We're finally on our own


    That song is about the Kent State University shootings earlier that year in which members of the US National Guard shot and killed four unarmed students. The "tin solders" are the National Guardsmen in this case.
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Comments: 49

  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyPer: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/ {03-28-2018}...
    Los Angeles (AP) — Delores Taylor, who co-starred with her husband Tom Laughlin in his productions of the 'Billy Jack' series of films, has died in Southern California, her daughter said Monday. She was 85.
    Teresa Laughlin told The Associated Press that Taylor died March 23rd, 2018 of natural causes at the Motion Picture and Television Fund Home near Los Angeles. She said her mother had suffered from dementia.
    Taylor was born in 1932 in Winner, South Dakota. She grew up near the Rosebud Indian Reservation, an experience which she drew from when creating the namesake character of the 'Billy Jack' films in the 1970s.
    Taylor starred in three of the four "Billy Jack" films in which she played a teacher whose progressive school is defended by Billy Jack — a half-white, half-Native American Vietnam veteran who had come to hate war. The films became counterculture favorites.
    Billy Jack was first seen in the 1968 biker movie 'Born Losers,' but became widely known after 'Billy Jack,' the second of four films Laughlin made about him (only three made it to theaters).
    "Billy Jack" was released in 1971 after a long struggle by Laughlin to gain control of the low-budget, self-financed movie, a model for guerrilla filmmaking. The film became a surprise hit and the theme song, "One Tin Soldier,"* was a hit single for the rock group Coven.
    Taylor was nominated for a Golden Globe for New Star of the Year in 1972.
    Her daughter said Taylor was a "reluctant" celebrity and preferred her roles of wife, mother and grandmother.
    "She loved performing but didn't enjoy the Hollywood trappings," Teresa Laughlin said.
    Taylor is survived by two sisters, three children and five grandchildren. Tom Laughlin died in 2013.
    May she R.I.P.
    * "One Tin Soldier" by Coven charted three different time on Billboard's Top 100 chart, in 1971 it peaked at #26, a new recording of the song reached #79 in 1973, and a year later in 1974 the original recording re-entered the Top 100 and reached #73 on the chart...
    On February 8th, 1970 the original version of "One Tin Soldier" by the Original Caste peaked at #34 on Billboard's Top 100 chart.
  • Timothy Hendricks from Third Planet From The SunBoth sides didn't die, the people from the valley had warned the Mountain People they wanted thier treasure or they would slaughter them. Even though they were willing to share the valley people wanted it all so they drew thier swords and mounted thier horse's and slaughtered the Mountain People. But when they turned over the bloody stone all they found was an inscription that said Peace on Earth. So they murdered for no reason.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn November 20, 1971, Coven performed "One Tin Soldier (Legend of Billy Jack)" on the Dick Clark ABC-TV Saturday-afternoon program 'American Bandstand'...
    At the time the song was at #27 on Billboard's Top 100 chart, the following week it would peak at #26 {for 1 week} and it spent twelve weeks on the Top 100...
    Two years later Coven re-recorded the song and on July 15th, 1973 the new version entered the Top 100 at position #95, three weeks later it would peak at #79 {for 1 week} and it stayed on the chart for six weeks...
    And then later in 1973 on December 23rd the original version of the song re-entered the Top 100 at position #90, four weeks later on January 23rd, 1974 it reached #73 {for 1 week} and just like the new version, it also spent six weeks on the Top 100...
    "One Tin Soldier" was Coven's only Top 100 record.
  • George from Vancouver, CanadaA military cadre attacks, causing much blood & death. The entire gain/result was that instead of a mighty group of green berets, all that's left is a tiny toy. Making(as opposed to responding to) war doesn't make you big & powerful, nor give you gold -- you'll only be a tiny toy soldier made of tin, not gold. . .
  • Myles from ChicagoThis song was about Peace and not war. Peace won in the end. I guess people don't understand analogies which the song is riddled with.
  • Donald from OklahomaI feel this is one of the greatest pro-military songs ever written. If only the Mountain People have had a strong army and a defensive wall along with a well armed citizenry, I doubt the Valley People would have attacked. Ever try charging up a mountain under fire? But instead the Mountain People chose to carve "Peace on Earth" on the floor and place a giant rock on top of it so no one could see it. Great idea! The song displays the horrors awaiting any society ruled by hippies. Is the point of the song that the Valley People would get all depressed and weepy when they saw "Peace on Earth" carved on the floor? I doubt that happened. I'm sure they were disappointed that their loot didn't meet expectations but I'm also sure they only went on to find a new group of saps to kill and rob. Meanwhile, the Mountain People, victims of their own stupidity, are completely wiped out.
  • Henry from Sanford, Florida, UsaI've read the descriptions below. You have to remember that Billy Jack goes back to "The Born Losers," in 1968, where where BJ has returned from the Vietnam War. He's not accepted by the townspeople because he's considered a "half breed" (part Navajo Indian), and a Green Beret and hapkido master, (meaning he kicks ass)... He befriends a gal on a motorbike who is raped by an outlaw biker gang. Then we fast-forward to1971, and the second installment, "Billy Jack" which most people saw two years later in a re-release (ran out of money). The "Valley" represents the dominant society and the the "Mountain," the benevolent, in this case, native Americans and their followers. The "Treasure" buried in the mountain is actually "peace." It's not gold ass the opportunists interpret. BJ knows the truth, but he fights the two sides within himself, which is the violence he uses to even things out. Third installment is "The Trial of Billy Jack," and a trial that shows justice is a fallacy, too. And the final installment is "Billy Jack Goes To Washington." Politics -- filibusters -- BJ wins this one, but alas it's a movie. The overall theme of Billy Jack is as old as mankind... I wrote most of this in 1974, after seeing "Billy Jack" and "The Trial of Billy Jack" in 1974, at the local movie theater with my seventh grade social studies class (teacher Tom Auclair), at the age of 11. I didn't see the first and last installments of Billy Jack until well after college. I'm now 53.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn November 9th 1969, "One Tin Soldier" by the Original Caste entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #99; and 13 weeks later on February 8th, 1970 it peaked at #34 {for 1 week} and spent 17 weeks on the Top 100...
    The song was featured in the movie "Billy Jack"* and performed by Coven member Jinx Dawson...
    Coven's version of the song charted for the first time on the Top 100 in September 1971...
    * The movie opened in theaters across the U.S.A. on May 1st, 1971.
  • Spookym from Chula Vista, CaGreat song with meaning. @Ron - Morgantown, Wv You've grown up and you use expressions like "It sucks ass" and "totally gay"?
  • Brian from La Mesa, CaIt's interesting, though sometimes a little exasperating, to read all these interpretations of "One Tin Soldier".

    I first heard the song when I was about ten years old. Unlike some of the posters here, I have always felt that the Mountain People and Valley People represented two nonspecific ethnic groups, nations, or cities. And, unlike the cartoon (which I barely remember from the Sonny and Cher show), I pictured them as 18th or 19th century because of the tin soldier reference (tin has no relationship to a knight's armor, but to the material used for toys and wargame miniatures from the 18th to 20th centuries). I came to this forum to see if anyone could shed any light on why there is a solitary tin soldier at the end of the battle. If the Valley People killed the Mountain People, why was there only one warrior left? And why is it a toy? I don't think the Jesus interpretation makes sense.

    By the way, I prefer the Coven performance because Jinx Dawson puts a more sarcastic tone into her delivery of the "Go ahead…" chorus and "just reward."
  • Mark from Tyler, TxThe "Tin Soldier", when you watch the movie series, is the police chief who is disgusted with the way the leading citizen of the town acts. The police chief, who has worn a "tin star" representing the racial hatred of the 'town boss', resigns and leaves town. Hence "One tin soldier rides away."
  • Esskayess from Dallas, TxJust about as heavy-handed, preachy a song as was ever made. Yeah, one bunch will put 'Peace on Earth' on a rock and bury it. And oh dear, another bunch will butcher them all and learn a lesson...
  • Carolyn from Knoville, TnI guess you had to be there...but the kids I knew and I all thought it was a wonderful anti-war song. We'd been in Vietnam for what seemed like forever, and, as the Statler Brothers put it so eloquently, "saw some real people die on our TV", so we thought this song was great.
  • Ron from Morgantown, WvWhen I was 12 and stupid I loved this song. Now I've grown up. It sucks ass and is totally gay and people are reading way too much into it.
  • Steve from Arnol, MdThe Valley people represent Saddam Hussein and those who empowered him.

    The Mountain people represent the Kurds as well as all the other, non-Baathist, ordinary people in the rest of Iraq.

    Fortunately, in the newly revised version of the song, the People From Across the Sea could not abide the tyranny and brutality of the Valley people against the mountain people and arrived to liberate them from the Valley people.

    And now, the people of the Mountain and the Valley are working out their differences by politics, rather than by bloodshed.

    ... and the murder rate in the Mountain and Valley is now a fraction of that of Chicago.

    Oh wait, there is no newly revised version of this song.... it remains as a silly remnant of the amazing self-absorbed, self-congratulatory attitude of the late sixties.
  • Camille from Toronto, OhAll these years, I thought this was sung by Jackie DeShannon (Put A Little Love In Your Heart). No matter how fancy you dress it up, or what people, race, or religion you cast in the different roles in this story, its message is simple: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Peace on Earth.
  • Merlin from L,a., CaAmazing - not a single comment about Jesus Christ - 'The Stone'; salvation - 'the Riches'; Heaven the Mount of God - 'the Mountain'; the Saints - 'the Mountain- people'; all who Believe -'our Brothers'; Fellowship - 'the Secrets'; those of unbelief ('the Valley-people), worldly treasure ('tons of gold' worth killing for); worldly persecution - 'Draw the Sword!'; Hell - 'the valley'; Eternal Damnation - 'the just reward.' Amen.
  • Lisa from Shillington, PaI love this song I have been singing it to my kids since they were babies and now I'm singing it to my granddaughter.my son wants to get a tattoo of a tin soldier, i think thats kool.
  • Jean Joe from Kalamazoo, MiWow the song still rocks out. And I'm only 36. Very young. But my mother played this record over and over. This song just brings back all that slow burn of our contry. We have grown, but just not out loud like we did back then. We have now spoken out loud. Welcoming Obama. Billy Jack does live. Power to our children...........
  • Dave from Fort Lauderdale, FlCoven rocked on this song way better than Original Caste, and Cher outright butchered the song. (Even though I love her "Dark Lady" and "Half Breed"
  • Janizzle from Dayton, Ohwe sing this song in chorus now. i am doing a report on this song cause i really like this song. it may not be one of my favorite song's but it is still a good song i think people should at list listin to this song acouple of times in there life to remember how important the war was & still is.
  • Sam from Lincoln, NeI totally agree with everyone who commented that the 1969 recording of this song by The Original Caste is far superior to Coven's version. Tom from Dozier, Alabama, is absolutely correct. The Coven version sounds forced. I might also add that I liked the sounds of the horns on the original version (the 1969 Original Caste recording) much better. I have a friend of mine who is a DJ for an oldies station and he refuses to play the Coven version of this song, which he refers to as "crap".
  • Don from San Antonio, TxAndy, I remember that "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" cartoon. It was on a variety show like Flip Wilson or something wasn't it? O, wait, you mentioned Sonny & Cher...yeah, something like that! Wow, I thought I was the only one.
  • Samantha from Noesho, MoThis movie came out when I was 7 and now Im 39 and it speaks to me,it has a message in it and I doubt if i will ever 4 get this song,Lord knows I do not want to,its such an inspiration.
  • Tom from Dozier, AlThe 1969 version by The Original Caste is by far the better of the two versions of "One Tin Soldier". While Coven's version seemed "forced", The Original Caste's version flowed smoothly. Definitely a classic from the good old days!
  • Patrick from Omagh, IrelandI agree with Dennis from Anchorage above, Original Caste's version is much better, the lyrics and music are much more clearly defined, which ever way you read this song it's clearly about anti-violence in a then and now violent world, Vietnam, Ireland, Central America, the Middle East were hot beds for violence, Good Song, it's a shame for the most part it never really got across.
  • Tami from Denver, CoThis song was written by the band "Original Caste" and though anti-war, was not about any one particular war rather just the horror that is all war. As to the lines "go ahead and cheat a neighbor..." and so on, IT WAS FACETIOUS! They were not telling people to do those things nor were they shaking a fist at "G-D". Later on, for the making of the movie "The Legend of Billy Jack", the band "Coven" was approached to cover this song. While the members of "Coven" were into distorted Christian practices associated with black magic, they were not considered Satanists by satanists: satanists do not carry around upside-down crosses etc. rather are more closely related to a cross between agnostics and humanists. The band "coven" split up a short time later and renounced their drug-induced dark order. According to the members of "Original Caste", it was simply written as almost a children's story in the hopes that the message would get across, unfortunately there are too many ignorant people out there that always try to find something negative in something beautiful.
  • Kd from Marengo, IaI like the thoughts about the treasure under the temple. Yes the Templars stole it....But the message i hear is "One Tin Soldier rides away"
    I think that we have a soldier who died on a torture stake as a ransom for our sins..his heavenly name is Michael..the Jewish people called him Jesus. He lives today as a King in heaven..ready to claim is Kingdom...Study your Bibles the time is close.
  • John from Melbourne, Australia, AustraliaI have this song on 45rpm
    Performed By Karen Young ( Decca )
    Oldie, but still a goodie.
  • Darrell from Eugene, United StatesOn the "King of the Hill" CD (songs inspired by or complimentary to the well-known animated sitcom), a rather saccharine and annoying version of "One Tin Soldier" that is sung by Brittany Murphy under the name of her character (Luanne Platter) is on Track 14. If you cannot stand Coven's or The Original Caste's versions of "One Tin Soldier", then Luanne's version would drive you straight to the funny farm.
  • Clarke from East Wenatchee, WaI enjoyed the version by The Original Caste the most. It was the perfect song for the Billy Jack movie, and I never get tired of the song or the movie.
  • Bob from Philadelphia, PaRafael; there was a British band named coven who worshipped satan; the band Coven that did One Tin Soldier were not satanists. The term One Tin Soldier comes from the book "Mere Christianity" by CS Lewis. Jesus is the One Tin Soldier.
  • Rafael from Los Angeles, CaThis song was created by a band known to be heavily practitioners of satanism and witchcraft.
    They openly admitted it.
    The song was written to shake a fist at G-D and his
    word, like, "go ahead and hate your neighbor, go ahead and cheat a freind, do it in the name of heaven, it'll be justified in the end".
    Nice song? I don't think so.
    Yeah, I think they will find what really will be justified in the end. Don't buy the album!
  • Becca from Greenville, Msthis is my favorite song..i love everything about it; we sing it at camp every year and every year i fall back in love with it
  • Aj from Fu Manchu (fictional), CanadaAlso, while the specific instances cited by John Luke and Heidi probably inspired much of the content, but the song also is broad... it gives the sensation that it applies to any similar situation. It also implies that when we see only one goal as the true value, we lose what is actually valuable...a sentiment which applies everywhere.
  • Aj from Fu Manchu (fictional), CanadaIn my comment below I said the crusaders killed every Muslim and Jewish man, woman, and child. I meant in Jerusalem, when it first fell to the crusaders. Tancred the Norman prince tried to save some Muslim prisoners but could not stop other crusaders from killing them.
  • Heidi from Milford, NeI love what John Luke had to say about this song. I even used it to help me explain the song to my song lyrics analysis class. But I must elaborate on this "treasure."
    It is said that burried beneath the temple is the Ark of the Covenant. This is a wooden box, covered in teh purest gold, containing the ten commandments. these are the rules that God gave us to allow a peaceful world. Thus the treasure saying, "Peace on Earth"
    Thanks again John
  • Aj from Fu Manchu (fictional), Canada I would be interested in the source of John Luke's comments. They are interesting and plausible for the most part, but sound like some theorizing (not that that's a bad thing).

    Saladin was Kurdish, not Turkish, but he sparked the Second or Third crusade (the First one long before his time) more with his victories in reconquering the captured Crusader territories than with any restrictions.

    It should also be noted that the Crusader kingdom, Outremer, was captured in the First Crusade - and the Crusaders slaughtered every Muslim and Jewish man, woman, and child. Their refusal to share it with any other faith could also have been an inspiration of the song
  • Patrick from Saratoga Springs, NyThis song was also rewritten as a punk cover by the New Jersey punk band Gimp in 1995, for their first and only casette, Smiles for Macavity. The band has Tomas Kalnoky of Catch 22/Streetlight Manifesto/Bandits of the Acoustic Revolution on guitar and vocals and Chris Greer of Catch 22/Streetlight Manifesto on drums.
  • Dennis from Anchorage, AkI actually always preferred the Original Caste version of this to the Coven version. My sister had it in her collection of 45's and I used to play it all the time.
  • Jerry from Boston, Mathis song was also covered by "Me first and the Gimmie Gimmies" as a punk song
  • Teresa from Kokomo, InI remember singing this song on the way home from school. 1972? Billy Jack? Oh my! Where have the years gone?
  • Johnluke from Clearwater, FlThe song was written during the anti-war movement of the late 60's. Also going on at that time was the Six Day War of 1967 in Israel.
    The "Kingdom on a mountain" is none other than The Temple Mount in Jerusalem. It sits on Mt. Moriah. The people of the valley are the Muslim or Palestinian people who live in the Kidron Valley adjacent to Mt. Moriah.
    The Stone with the treasure underneath it is the stone that the Muslims claim Mohammed ascended and the Jews claim was the base in The Holy of Holies. The treasure underneath "the stone" which is up to 120ft.under the Temple mount is where the supposed hidden treasure of the Jewish treasury was. The Templars of the early 1000 a.d. where said to have found this treasure.
    The song closely discusses details of "The Crusades". The people of the Valley who did not want to share was none other than the leader of the Muslims, Saladin the Turkish leader who had restricted visitation of other religions to Jerusalem which in turn intitiated the crusades.

    Saladin(the Muslims) did regain the Temple Mount.
    So, the song's message is that we fight wars and shed blood for greed in the name of our God's but God just want's "Peace on Earth" as was written on the stone when it was turned over. The One Tin Soldier riding away just says that masses die in war on both sides and only one or a few are left. It sarcastically says go ahead and do evil but you will not escape your deeds on Judgment Day.
  • Wes from Springfield, VaVomit. That's all I can write about this one.
  • Robert from Puyallup, WaWe used to sing this song in Sunday school to represent the Christian ideal of peace on Earth. How weird is that?
  • Chuck from Flint, MiThe punk band Me First & The Gimme Gimmes also covered this song in the late 90s. Was actually how I was first introduced to this song.
  • Andy from Pharr, TxThat was in 1972? Man, I'm old! I remember seeing that. Also, I remember seeing an animation done of the song "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" by Jim Croce. I guess it was on the Sonny and Cher Show. I was (am) so in love with Cher.
  • Steve from Schenectady, NyI heard this song on the radio a few days ago and remembered listening to it years ago, but had forgotten the artist and title. Thanks for posting it!

    Steve
  • Keith from Slc, UtThis song was also featured in one of the first music videos shown on TV (not counting "The Monkees" skits), an animation done for "The Sonny and Cher Show" in 1972, which spurred the rerelease.
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