Written while the Vietnam War was raging, McLean wrote this song describing the burial of a soldier. In the liner notes to the 2003 album reissue, he told the story: "This song came to me in a dream. I saw these pearls on a leaf in my dream. I began to think about that fact that a soldier in a trench is actually in his own grave. Then I began to write the song from the perspective of the soldier. I tried to point out the frightening position these young people are placed in by circumstances."
George Michael began performing this song in 2003 during the buildup to the war in Iraq. Michael was outspoken in his opposition to the war.
Movie director Michel Gondry played live drums on the Late Registration track, "Diamonds From Sierra Leone." The Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind filmmaker happened to be in the studio on a day when producer Jon Brion was setting up a drum kit