Hey, What's That Sound? The Common Soundtrack of the Vietnam Era

Jan 3, 2017

The Vietnam War marked a turning point in American history. The war took place during a time of turbulent social change – the 1960s and early 70s saw huge strides in women’s rights and civil rights. The country also witnessed the assassinations of a president, a presidential hopeful, a civil rights icon and the killing of unarmed protestors at Kent State by National Guardsmen.

Unlike most of the wars the US fought before it, the Vietnam War divided rather than united the country. Except when it came to the music. As Doug Bradley and Craig Werner show in their book We Gotta Get Out of This Place: The Soundtrack of the Vietnam War, music was the glue that connected Americans across race, class, and gender lines.

"We listened, pretty much all of us, to the same soundtrack," describes Bradley. "That soundtrack went with us to Vietnam. It got played in Vietnam. It got covered by bands in Vietnam. "

Bradley notes that whether one was in Vietnam or not, and regardless of what one thought of the war, this was the soundtrack. "I think that as a fact as a generation, whether you served or you stayed, whether you participated or you protested," says Bradley, "you listened to this music, and that music drove the narrative of your life."

The authors did not just revisit the musical stylings of the time, they also explored the enduring and sometimes difficult legacy of the war.

"We worked hard to write a book that wasn't just a downer. Because it could've been," says Werner.  "There's some hard, hard stories that we listened to and passed on. But we also ended it with a mix of sadness and survival and healing. And the music was so crucial to that. In a very real way what we experienced as we wrote the book was being able to participate in the healing of the men and women we talked to."

*Originally aired May 2016