Handsome Johnny

Album: Mixed Bag (1966)

Songfacts®:

  • The anti-war anthem follows the archetypal soldier marching through history's famous battles up through the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights protest marches in Birmingham. Havens urges listeners to take a stand before it's too late:

    Tell me what it is we've got to do, wait for our fields to start glistening
    Hey, wait for the bullets to start whistling

    Hey, here comes a hydrogen bomb and here comes a guided missile
    Here comes a hydrogen bomb, I can almost hear its whistle
    I can almost hear its whistle
  • Havens wrote this with Louis Gossett Jr., an actor who would go on to win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for the 1982 movie An Officer and a Gentleman. Gossett was also a folk singer who made the rounds at coffeehouses in Greenwich Village, where Havens was a regular. "He used to sing work songs and chain-gang songs, and he would just smack the guitar," Havens explained in a 1994 DISCoveries interview. "You know, [sings] 'Take this hammer' – smack! 'Carry it to the captain' – smack! He'd sing all these great tunes. That's how I first met him."
  • Havens sang this during his famous three-hour opening set at Woodstock, and it was one of two songs (the other was "Freedom") featured in the accompanying movie. The singer was quick to point out that he and his fellow performers were pro-peace more than anti-war. "I still tell people to this day is that if it wasn't for the Army, [Woodstock] would never have happened," he said in a 2003 interview. "There wouldn't have been a Woodstock because it was the Army that brought the helicopters to bring the band back and forth... No one knew that. And then they were saying we were anti-soldier and we're anti-war and all this stuff. No, we were pro-peace. The people who were in the war were our brothers and our cousins, uncles and aunts, you know."
  • Actor Anthony Chisholm sang this in the prison drama Oz in the 2002 episode "Variety."
  • This was also included on Havens' 1969 double album, Richard P. Havens, 1983.

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