“Goodnight Saigon” by Billy Joel (1982)
Listen from 4:15 to 4:45
We met as soul mates on Parris Island
We left as inmates from an asylum
And we were sharp, as sharp as knives
And we were so gung ho to lay down our lives
We came in spastic like tameless horses
We left in plastic as numbered corpses
And we learned fast to travel light
Our arms were heavy but our bellies were tight
We had no home front, we had no soft soap
They sent us Playboy, they gave us Bob Hope
We dug in deep and shot on sight
And prayed to Jesus Christ with all our might
We had no cameras to shoot the landscape
We passed the hash pipe and played our Doors’ tapes
And it dark, so dark at night
And we held on to each other
Like brother to brother
We promised our mothers we’d write
Chorus: And we would all go down together
We said we’d all go down together
Yes we would all go down together
Remember Charlie, remember Baker
They left their childhood on every acre
And who was wrong? And who was right?
It didn’t matter in the thick of the fight
We held the day in the palm of our hand
They ruled the night, and the night
Seemed to last as long as six weeks…
…on Parris Island.
We held the coastline, they held the highlands
And they were sharp, as sharp as knives
They heard the hum of our motors
They counted the rotors
And waited for us to arrive
The images of death and despair are projected by this song through the use of strong imagery which helps the listener understand the pain and suffering a group of men, who at first wanted to rush into war, felt as they realized the harsh truth that war is not something to be excited about. The beginning of the song shows pride and excitement while the end is mournful and sad.
This song tells the story of a group of boys, who met at Parris Island (Marine recruitment base) and then travelled to fight in Vietnam. At first they were excited to fight, but as they realized it would not be an easy victory and began to die, they just wanted to go home to the lives that they left. When they left they were changed men and they would never return to the lives that they lived.
The first half of the song is parallel to the second, besides the fact that one talks about the Americans in the war and one talks about the Vietnamese. This parallel structure to the song shows that both sides started fighting with intensity, but since they couldn't fight on their home front, the Americans soon lost that intensity.
Three words that greatly impacted the feel of the song were: sharp, corpses, and dark. These words are often repeated in parts of the song, and their repetition helps to show the change of heart of the men during the war. They started off sharp and ready to fight. Then as some became corpses the nights seemed to last forever. As the men were starting to want to go back home they realized the Vietnamese were sharp and ready to fight too.
The way this song is performed is very impassioned, but the language used is very somber. A good visualization of this is shown below.