Music from the soldier’s point of view is an outlet for us to connect and cope with the destructive aspects of war.
With the breakout of rock n’ roll, many of these impactful songs about soldiers hail from the Vietnam War period, dealing with the controversy of the conflict and how it permeated the nation. The country genre has also emerged as a great expression of soldier’s stories, especially after 9/11.
This music, sometimes containing dark themes of violence, corruption and loss, also sheds light on the all-encompassing brotherhood, unity and greater good in people.
Here are the top 12 classic songs about soldiers. Leave yours below!
Honorable Mention: Just A Dream — Carrie Underwood
“Baby, why’d you leave me? / Why’d you have to go? / I was counting on forever, now I’ll never know…”
Underwood takes up the role of the widow whose husband has died at war. She speaks directly to her late love, and reflects on his passing in a way that too many military spouses understand.
“Everybody’s saying: he’s not coming home now / This can’t be happening to me / This is just a dream.”
Watch the music video here.
12. The General — Dispatch
Dispatch’s “The General” isn’t about a specific conflict.
It’s about the pointlessness of war, and how there is much more to life. The subject of the song — the General — urges his men to leave the battlefield, saying, “I have seen the others, and I have discovered / That this fight is not worth fighting.”
“You are young and you must be living.”
11. Brothers in Arms — Dire Straits
“Brothers in Arms” is the title track off the Dire Straits’ 1985 blockbuster album. It’s also, fittingly, the last track.
The song tells the story of a soldier dying on the battlefield, and his last words to his comrades.
As he takes his final breath, he comes upon the realization that men make enemies and conflict for no real reason. “And we have just one world / But we live in different ones…”
“We are fools to make war / On our brothers in arms.”
10. Tour of Duty — Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit
In a fast-paced, but soft-beated Americana tune, Jason Isbell writes about a soldier returning from deployment and reintegrating into the civilian world. “I’ve done my tour of duty, now I’ll try to do what a civilian does.”
The simple lyrics imply a deeper struggle underneath; the soldier is trying to enjoy the pleasures of American life, but finds that it’s not quite the same as it was before.
“I promise not to bore you with my stories / I promise not to scare you with my tears / I never would exaggerate the glory / I’ll seem so satisfied here.”
In that way, “Tour of Duty” is relatable to anyone who’s not quite sure how to fit back into civilian life.
9. For Whom the Bell Tolls — Metallica
On their iconic album Ride the Lightning, Metallica tackles the brutal realities of war in “For Whom the Bell Tolls”. The name is based off an Ernest Hemingway novel, which explores the human cost in the Spanish Civil War.
The reverberating bass and pointed drum beats serve to take the listener into the dark place of men at war. Specifically, soldiers who do not even know why they’re fighting.
“On they fight, for they’re right / Yes, but who’s to say / For a hill men would kill / Why, they do not know.”
8. Dear Avery — The Decemberists
Described as “Indie rock” or “Indie folk”, The Decemberists are a modern American band from Portland. Their 2011 song “Dear Avery” is geared toward parents of service members.
While the lyrics don’t specifically mention a soldier, the band revealed that it’s about a mother’s letter to her son, Avery, who is off at war.
The sombre echo of the singer’s voice, coupled with soft acoustics, make you ache with the mother as she bemoans her helplessness. She wishes she could keep her son from harm, but is unable to do anything.
“But you were my Avery and when you needed saving / I could just grab you by the nape of your neck…”
“There are times life will rattle your bones / And will bend your limbs / But don’t you shake alone / Please Avery, come home.”
7. American Soldier — Toby Keith
Released by Toby Keith in 2003, “American Soldier” was what the nation needed. Keith said: “It’s written for all the times that I get to meet the troops on these USO tours. This is my support for the American fighting men and women.”
This song is the ultimate tribute to the sacrifices of the American soldier.
“And I can’t call in sick on Mondays / When the weekends been too strong / I just work straight through the holidays / And sometimes all night long…”
“Oh, and I don’t want to die for you / But if dyin’s asked of me / I’ll bear that cross with honor / ‘Cause freedom don’t come free.”
6. Goodnight Saigon — Billy Joel
While it has received criticism for not being the most historically accurate depiction of the Vietnam War, Billy Joel’s “Goodnight Saigon” is only aiming to serve one perspective: the soldier’s.
The seven-minute, three-second piece follows a company of Marines from Parris Island to Saigon. Joel’s crooning voice captures the bond between men at war; what comes out of such a terrible experience.
“Remember Charlie? / Remember Baker? / They left their childhood / On every acre…”
It was meant to disrobe the war’s controversy from its soldiers, and call attention to the poor treatment of the returning Vietnam veterans.
“We said we’d all go down together / Yes we would all go down together.”
5. War Pigs — Black Sabbath
The lead song on Black Sabbath’s 1970 album Paranoid, “War Pigs” is truly one of the greatest heavy metal songs and songs about soldiers of all time.
Inspired by the war stories they heard while performing at an American Air Force base in Europe, the band wrote it about man’s desire to kill and destroy. The title refers specifically to those who wage war from the background, and have other men do the fighting for them.
“Politicians hide themselves away / They only started the war / Why should they go out to fight? / They leave that role for the poor.”
Released in the thick of the Vietnam War, “War Pigs” speaks out against the horrors that went on there.
Bandmate Geezer Butler told Mojo in 2017: ”Britain was on the verge of being brought into it, there were protests in the street, all kinds of anti-Vietnam things going on. War is the real Satanism. Politicians are the real Satanists. That’s what I was trying to say.”
4. Travelin’ Soldier — Dixie Chicks
Originally recorded by country artist Bruce Robinson, the song was stripped-down and covered by the Dixie Chicks on their 2002 album Home.
Going back to their bluegrass roots, the lyrics are self-explanatory, and tell the story of a young girl who has fallen for a soldier in Vietnam. While she’s hopeful for his return, she eventually learns that he’s been killed.
“Our love will never end / Waitin’ for the soldier to come back again / Never more to be alone when the letters says / A soldier’s coming home.”
Natalie Maines’ assured voice takes the main stage in “Travelin’ Soldier”, the stringed melody crying out to the audience, the chorus driven in through beautiful harmonies.
3. I Drive Your Truck — Lee Brice
“I Drive Your Truck” is about grief. Songwriter Connie Harrington was inspired by Paul Monti’s story on NPR one morning in 2011. He was talking about his son, Medal of Honor recipient Jared Monti, who was killed in Afghanistan.
Monti explained that his way of coping with the loss was to drive his son’s truck.
“What can I tell you?” Monti said. “It’s him. It’s got his DNA all over it. I love driving it because it reminds me of him, though I don’t need the truck to remind me of him. I think about him every hour of every day.”
Harrington was moved by his words, and co-wrote the song for country artist Lee Brice. The first verse describes the contents of the truck, which Monti had left untouched. “Dog tags hanging from the rear view mirror / Old Skoal can, and cowboy boots and a Go Army Shirt / Folded in the back…”
Brice’s voice comes alive in the chorus, where you can palpably feel Monti’s anguish, and the anguish of every parent who has lost a child.
“I drive your truck / I roll every window down and I burn up / Every back road in this town / I find a field, I tear it up / Till all the pain’s a cloud of dust / Yeah, sometimes I drive your truck.”
After the song was released, Paul Monti got a message from a mother who had also lost her son in Afghanistan; she drove his truck, too.
Watch the music video here.
2. Machine Gun — Jimi Hendrix
Hendrix, who was a veteran of the 101st Airborne Division, creates a powerful piece about war with “Machine Gun”.
Using his signature stratocaster axe as his weapon, Hendrix weaves notes meant to simulate gunfire and bombs. His lyrics are ad-libbed and a bit different in every version; “Evil man make me kill you / Even though we’re only families apart.”
The song, from the Vietnam War era, is told from both sides — reflective of Hendrix’s own views and trying to inspire emotion in the listener. He also mentions the “soldiers” at home, meaning the frontmen of the civil rights movement.
Here’s a firsthand account from Daniel, of Farmingdale, NY:
“It was in the OU field house with terrible acoustics, but the sounds from Jimi’s guitar were staggering. He played Machine Gun, and the guitar notes were so powerful you could almost see the sounds passing through the air, sweeping across the cavernous interior of the building like phantoms from another realm.
The song was a virtuoso indictment of the Vietnam war and the strife it had created at home in America. The lyrics, although interesting, were minimal and Hendrix instead focussed on recreating the horrendous sounds of warfare to capture his audience and kick them in the gut with the wrenching reality of what violence we as a nation had wrought. There was the sound of missiles shrieking across the sky—INCOMING! INCOMING!—and the mournful notes of ghostly beings destroyed by the mechanized violence of it all. And in the background was the steady RATT-TAT-TAT drum beat of machine gun fire—“shot him down to the ground”—as the war machine cranked relentlessly along its destructive path.
This song was a Jimi Hendrix masterpiece, the most brilliant thing he ever did. Six months after I attended that concert he was dead at the age of 27.”
1. Rooster — Alice In Chains
Seattle Grunge band Alice In Chains’ guitarist and songwriter Jerry Cantrell wrote this hit about his father, a Vietnam veteran. The title “Rooster” was his nickname during the war.
The song clocks in at over six minutes, and starts small; a symbol beating softly, Cantrell’s voice slow and drawn out. “Ain’t found a way to kill me yet / Eyes burn with stinging sweat / Seems every path leads me to nowhere…”
At the time, Cantrell’s father wouldn’t talk about his experience in Vietnam, so Cantrell wrote it based on what he thought he might’ve felt. It tells a tale of strength and resilience — a soldier who leaves his wife and child behind, watches his friend die, and does everything he can to survive.
“Here they come to snuff the rooster / You know he ain’t gonna die.”
It also addresses the harassment that Vietnam soldiers underwent when they came back. “Walkin’ tall, machine gun man / They spit on me in my home land.”
In an interview with Guitar for the Practicing Musician, Cantrell explained that the first time his father heard him perform, he played “Rooster” for him.
“I’ll never forget it. He was standing in the back and he heard all the words and stuff. Of course, I was never in Vietnam and he won’t talk about it, but when I wrote this it felt right… like these were things he might have felt or thought. And I remember when we played it he was back by the soundboard and I could see him. He was back there with his big gray Stetson and his cowboy boots – he’s a total Oklahoma man – and at the end, he took his hat off and just held it in the air. And he was crying the whole time. This song means a lot to me.”
For more songs about soldiers, read our article on music as a military tradition, and what it brings to us.