Listening to people talk about soldiers is quite interesting. Some portray it as glamorous and fulfilling. Then, some have actually been a soldier. And by that, I mean being in a conflict. They usually view it quite differently.
The soldier, in this instance, can refer not only to land-based forces but also to air and sea. It is often a good idea to look below the surface of being a soldier in whatever discipline. So, before we take a look at Best Songs About Soldiers, let’s look at that subject a little closer.
As far as I can see…
People will enlist in the military for three reasons.
- Firstly, they see it as a career.
- Secondly, in the place they come from, there are very few job alternatives, so becoming a soldier offers something.
- And finally, they feel a patriotic urge in a time of threat.
In the first case, there are plenty of worthwhile engineering and instructor careers that can be had by joining the armed forces. It isn’t always about fighting, and many great inventors and designers started their careers there.
In the second case…
There might not be too many worthwhile employment options where they live. I know for a fact in the North-East of England this applied even up to twenty years ago.
Young men went down the mines or joined the armed forces. Those were the options. It also applied to parts of Glasgow in Scotland and some areas in South Wales.
Nothing Left To Do
Finally, sometimes there is no other course of action. I am not talking about wars for gain, like oil, here. In the case of the Nazis, Hitler just had to be stopped. Apart from cruelty and barbarism, there were other issues.
If he hadn’t been stopped, he would have dominated access to everything and brought countries, including America, to their knees. Millions of young men, so many giving their lives, fought to change that. They should never be forgotten.
The reality, though, is stark. We have been going to fight wars since we learned to walk on two legs. For some reason, it seems to be part of the human psyche. And, as we are still fighting them, it is clear they achieve nothing.
Well, they do achieve one thing, millions of dead. I don’t see the positive in that one unless you are fighting for your survival. But, we rarely are.
Some, as I said, join up for career reasons. Many not even thinking about conflict and the possibility of having to actively participate. But, to those that “answered the call,” as the expression goes, they wanted to fight.
You cannot discount the bravery of those men and women, even though they had no idea of what would confront them when the time came.
But, there is still another side to all this. What about those that were left behind? Mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters, and often children. For them, that too was, and still is, a painful experience.
Songwriters, of course, have written many songs about soldiers. And in doing so, they have written about the conflict because that is what soldiers are recognized as being involved in.
Some write about it historically; others talk about the futility of it all. And others about the worst-case scenarios that exist all too often. Let’s take a look at some of the best songs about soldiers and what they give.
Top 39 Best Songs About Soldiers of All Time
The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down by Joan Baez
Let’s start with one of the greatest of our generation, Joan Baez, and a song that says a lot about the soldier. It is also a very emotional song with plenty of historical value. The song was written by Robbie Roberston of the Canadian-American group, The Band. They released it in 1969 on their second album entitled, The Band.
I have decided to concentrate on the Joan Baez version here. Hers went to #6 in the UK and #3 in America. It was taken from her album, Blessed Are…
A Change Of Pace
Just for a change, we have a song that is historically quite accurate. It is set, as we know, in 1865, towards the end of the Civil War in America. A war that had, in the region of, 1.5 million casualties.
The Union Army was making raids in southwest Virginia which was behind the Confederate lines. The song is essentially about a poor Southerner narrating the effect of the hardships on his and others’ lives.
No Sense To Him
The war makes little sense to him. He is not a slaveholder, and it makes even less sense as his brother has been killed in one of these raids. He talks about being hungry and just barely alive in that winter of ‘65.
Plenty of Emotional Truth
It is a song that has a stunning impact emotionally. Baez gives the lyrics and the melody the full treatment using her plaintive “cry for help” voice. It packs quite a punch. And it enforces the beliefs of some that war and soldiers fighting in them are the victims of manipulation for others’ benefit.
Goodnight Saigon by Billy Joel
This is a poignant war song whose meaning can be interpreted in two ways depending on your outlook. It was included in his album, The Nylon Curtain.
He writes this song about a specific situation relating to the Vietnam War. It tells a story of emotions, feelings, and, of course, fears about a group of soldiers training and preparing to go overseas to fight.
It is a clever story as the song consistently refers to “we” rather than “I.” This gives the impression they know they are all in it together. And, of course, they will rely on each other to survive.
Reliance Might Not Save You
They might hope that they can help each other, but they can’t fully protect each other. As they enter combat, they realize that they rely on each other, but it might not save them.
There are other issues, like those you are fighting against. Just as you are trying to kill them, they are trying to kill you. And they succeeded in their thousands.
Every Soldiers Story
Another interpretation is that it might be a song for every kind of soldier. Not just those who were in Vietnam but all who have been through the “process.” Programmed to kill and not think about it, to do as you are told when you are told to do it.
The symbolism he uses in the lyrics is evident and important to the overall feel of the song. This makes it something that ex-soldiers will understand, and it will resonate with them.
The single reached #29 in the UK and #56 in America. It wasn’t, therefore, one of his most successful songs commercially. But, it is one of the best songs about being a soldier you will find.
The Unknown Soldier by The Doors
This is a highly emotive story of a soldier who once again represents all soldiers. It was released in 1968 and was taken from the album, Waiting for the Sun. The single reached #39 in America, even though some radio stations were refusing to play it as they deemed it “anti-war.”
This is a complex song musically and doesn’t follow what a listener might consider a “standard” musical pattern they might be familiar with. It has a very eerie start that develops into a verse. The climax of the song is a powerful coda followed by seeming euphoria in a crowd scene.
But, it is the lyrics that perhaps were most important. You could consider it an anti-war song if you like. But, it is probably more about how the Vietnam war was being reported in America as it went on.
All Sweet And Rosy
That’s how it was delivered. Nice comfortable segments, boxed up and played at breakfast time as Americans ate their cereal. Basic lies designed to feed the nation what ‘they’ wanted them to hear.
All the while, thousands were being maimed and slaughtered. Soldiers who were just unknown to the world we live in.
With God on Our Side by Bob Dylan
This is a song that Bob Dylan was performing before he included it in the album, The Times They Are A-Changin’. It is not a song that you might think of when considering Dylan’s work. However, it is one of his most important and created its fair share of criticism.
A False Belief?
At University, we had a moral discussion one day as part of our humanities studies. Invited to speak to us were two ex-soldiers. Both had served in World War II; one was British, the other German.
One of the topics raised was the “God on Our Side” idea. It was interesting to hear both men say that it was a line that was fed to them by their respective officers. This happened before and during the conflict.
Interestingly, both believed it at the time, and they found comfort in it. But, when confronted with the front-line experience of the horrors of being a soldier in a war, they changed their mind.
Bob Dylan addresses the same issue in this song, citing the American belief that they also believe this is the case. Therefore, if God is on your side, then he must oppose the other. And, that being so, all the atrocities committed along with the killing are therefore justified.
Dylan mentions the slaughter of the Native Americans as one example and goes on to mention others. It is not hard to see why his view, whilst being accurate, was not popular. In the 1980s, he added an extra verse for his live shows about Vietnam.
In the 1960s came the Vietnam war – Can somebody tell me what we are fighting for? – So many young men died – So many mothers cried – Now I ask the question, was God on our side?
It is harsh and to the point. The unnecessary atrocities committed in all wars by any side are unforgivable. With attempts to justify it, and in some cases, cover it up, in the name of a God. But, the average soldier, not involved in that stuff, is the one that has to go out there.
Whether the war is justified, and most aren’t, there is something to consider. The bravery of the soldier willing to put themselves in danger for what they believe in.
The Good Soldier by Nine Inch Nails
This is a track taken from their album, Year Zero, which was released in 2007. As with some of this band’s material, it is not the easiest to listen to for some people.
The drum loop and repetitive bass line are maybe not the most inspiring musically. Although, to be fair, it does get a little more interesting towards the end.
But this song isn’t about the music…
It is about the lyrics, and he refers to something we have already looked at when he sings, “There’s nowhere left to hide – God is on our side.” He takes the place of the soldier who says, “How can all this be real? – I can barely feel – This is not where I should be – I am trying to believe.”
The song is an attempt to lay before us the horrors of what the ordinary soldier has to deal with and his reactions. A different approach to the life of a soldier and a good example of the best songs about soldiers.
Machine Gun by Jimi Hendrix
A controversial song about soldiers by Jimi Hendrix, but another that deserves its place here. When we are discussing soldiers, we can take the “do what you are told” route. Or we can use our own thoughts to consider what is going on.
Jimi was never one to do the former, and this is a good example. In my opinion, this is one of Hendrix’s finest performances, first released in 1970 on the album Band Of Gypsys. It is a great example of what Hendrix was able to do with a guitar and the sounds he could create.
Just about every battleground sound is recreated by his screaming Fender Strat. Helicopters, shells whistling through the air, explosions, and machine guns. And, of course, the soldiers, the cries of anguish and wounded agony.
That was the name of the game for Jimi. But, on this track, he often changed the lyrics as well. A stunning performance that attempts to recreate what it must have felt like to be there.
1916 by Motorhead
Lemmy wrote this song and leaves us in no doubt about what is going on. Perhaps we should get an idea from the title. In military terms, “1916” can mean only one thing. The Battle of The Somme.
Get Ready For A Shock
Motorhead are not known for their ballads. But this is one. Lemmy, who has a voice that is not suited to a gentle ballad, does his best but struggles a little. But, it is this sincere struggling effort that adds to the song and makes it an innocent, poignant reminder.
Once again, we find the “with God on our side” promise thrown at them. In it, a sixteen-year-old lies about his age and goes off to war. “We all volunteered – and we wrote down our names – And we added two years to our ages.”
He talks graphically…
About the death of his friend from home in the carnage as he lay beside him and then calls out for his mother.
Then the line that tells everything about the stupidity that was the Somme, “The day not half over, and ten thousand slain – And now nobody remembers our names – And that’s how it is for a soldier.”
The song relies very heavily on keyboards. Again, not something you will hear very often from Motorhead. But that is what the song needed.
Historically, they are not quite accurate, as he talks about 10,000 slain before lunch. The British casualties were 19,000 dead before noon without what the French lost on that first morning which was significantly less in numbers.
On that first day, there were 57,000 British casualties. Whole villages from the North of England, “Pals” battalions, were wiped out. A whole generation lost.
The song is quite ruthless in its descriptions of battle, the stupidity of British commanders, and of what the soldiers had to face. But then, that was Lemmy. Still, who would have thought him capable of writing a song like this? There was more to him than a lot realized.
Yours Is No Disgrace by Yes
A strange inclusion for a song written about soldiers? Not at all. This is a track taken from The Yes Album from 1971.
It looks at the experience of the soldier from another perspective that can be overlooked. The main theme of the song was to recognize that those kids, because kids are what many of them were and still are, had no choice. They had to fight because that is what soldiers are told to do.
Honor those who gave all…
Effectively, the song is saying to the soldier, “It’s not your fault.” The lyrics make some interesting comparisons. They contrast the lavish lifestyle of the socialites partying in Las Vegas to the suffering that soldiers were enduring.
That indicates that, again, the Vietnam War was the thought behind the song. It emphasizes that “yours is no disgrace.” Again, it’s not your fault. That might not have been a comfort at the time. But, it could be later for those who fought honorably – and survived.
Brothers In Arms by Dire Straits
Getting close to the end now, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to find this masterpiece on our list of the best songs about soldiers. It was the final track from the album of the same name, released in 1985. The album went to #1 all around the world and became one of the biggest-selling albums ever.
He initially wrote the song in 1982, at the time of British military involvement in the Falkland islands. There is a certain dignity in not only the writing but the performance. Seeing him or Dire Straits perform it live was a moving experience.
Band of brothers…
This is a song about the struggles soldiers face when caught up in life and death situations. It talks about the comradeship that exists between them. “You did not desert me – my brothers in arms.”
And, of course, it refers to the ones who were left behind on the battlefield. “Let me bid you farewell – Every man has to die.”
Whilst it was a song inspired by the Falklands War, the music video included scenes from the First World War. And that is what the song has become synonymous with. Today it is often played at military funerals.
In 2007, he recorded it again on the 25th anniversary of the Falklands War. Money raised from this second release went to charities taking care of those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.
We automatically assume that because the soldier comes home from the war, he will be alright. But, they have seen things that often they cannot forget. Those that have never been there can never understand. Those people need to be cared for, not discarded.
The Grave by Don McLean
And finally, yet another song inspired by the Vietnam War. This track was taken from his second and perhaps best-known album, American Pie, released in 1971. The album was a critical and commercial success reaching number one in America.
The song, as I have said, was inspired by Vietnam, but it feels more like a First World War story. Of all the songs on this list, it is possibly one of the most direct in its references. It portrays what a soldier in action must have been feeling, including the fear.
A Tragic All Too Common Story
The song refers to a young man, just 20 years old, answering the call to war. It starts at his graveside with flowers adorning the grave they had dug for him. We are left in no doubt about the outcome.
That is genius songwriting, in my view, for a subject as sensitive as this. And it makes it harder to carry on listening, knowing it is all going to end badly.
It talks about him sitting in his trench in the rain as the landscape turns to mud. It refers to the sounds of the guns suddenly shattering the silence of the night and his fellow soldiers dying one by one. He holds his gun and crouches lower and lower, but to no avail.
A Telling Observation
There is a critical line amongst some very important lines in this song. It simply says, “But eternity knows him – And it knows what we’ve done.”
Over To You George
The song was covered by George Michael in 2003 as he took a very vocal stance against the Bush and Blair war alliance over Iraq. It was at this time that Don McLean spoke out as well. He left no one in any doubt when he called his president a cowardly old wizard hiding behind a curtain. He called for sanity.
Of course, it didn’t come. There was oil at stake, and that meant money. And, it doesn’t matter how many young men and women must die when profits are involved.
I Drive Your Truck by Lee Brice
If You’re Reading This by Tim McGraw
Battle Hymn of The Republic by Lee Greenwood
We Gotta Get Out Of This Place by The Animals
For You by Keith Urban
Ragged Old Flag by Johnny Cash
Just A Dream by Carrie Underwood
Battle Of New Orleans by Johnny Horton
Travelin’ Soldier by The Chicks
These Colours Don’t Run by Iron Maiden
The Ones That Didn’t Make It Back Home by Justin Moore
American Soldier by Toby Keith
See You Again by Carrie Underwood
Soldier by Fleurie
Letters From Home by John Michael Montgomery
Citizen Soldier by 3 Doors Down
Born In The U.S.A. by Bruce Springsteen
8th Of November by Big & Rich
Warrior by Kid Rock
Hey Brother by Avicii
Courtesy Of The Red, White And Blue (The Angry American) by Toby Keith
The Other Little Soldier by Josh Gracin
If Heaven Was Needing A Hero by Jo Dee Messina
Letters Home From The Garden Of Stone by Everlast
Diamond Eyes (Boom-Lay Boom-Lay Boom) by Shinedown
Some Gave All by Billy Ray Cyrus
Didn’t I by Montgomery Gentry
‘Til The Last Shot’s Fired by Trace Adkins
Wake Me Up When September Ends by Green Day
Looking for More Songs with Substance?
If so, take a look at our detailed articles on the Best Songs About War & Anti-War, the Best Songs About Brothers, the Best Songs About Sons, the Best Songs about Fighting, the Best Songs About Heroes, and the Top Songs About Bravery for more inspirational song selections.
Also, you’ll need to hear those tunes. So, check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Headphones for Music, the Best Headphones For Rock & Metal Music, the Best True Wireless Earbuds, the Best Sound Quality Earbuds, and the Best iPhone Earbuds you can buy in 2023.
The Best Songs About Soldiers – Final Thoughts
Young men and women have joined the armed forces because they thought it was right to do so. And, so many have given their lives fighting a tyrant or an aggressor in a noble cause to preserve our freedoms. Our armed forces have saved us overseas on occasion.
We need to honor the soldiers, sailors, and airmen that fought those conflicts. We needed them, and they were there despite the risks. And many did not return to their homes and families. You can’t ask any more of anyone than that.
But going to fight in support of leaders driven by business and its profits, and being given false information to justify it? That is another story and a tragic waste of many young lives. Our soldiers, sailors, and airmen, those that protect and defend us against aggression, deserve better than that.
Until next time, remember the fallen, and happy listening.