Billy Joel's Goodnight Saigon: Truly only the good die young
The hallmark of a great songwriter is a person who can create a vivid story without ever having experienced it. That is why we love Billy Joel, because even though he never served in the Vietnam War, he wrote perhaps the most poignant song about the men who fought it with Goodnight Saigon.
It's in the details that Joel nails Goodnight Saigon. On the music side, the sounds of crickets and helicopter rotors set the stage for delicate piano and then a thunderous chorus. Always the wordsmith, Joel paints the scene of Vietnam with stories of fear, bonding and survival in the harsh jungle with verses like "they gave us Playboy, they gave us Bob Hope. We dug in deep and shot on sight."
The third single off the Nylon Curtain album, Goodnight Saigon only peaked at No. 56 on the pop charts in 1983, which is not too bad for a seven minute song about the serious subject of war. As the custom of the Nylon Curtain Tour, the video for Goodnight Saigon features Vietnam veterans on stage performing the chorus for the song which always elicits an emotional reaction in concert. The low-charting of Goodnight Saigon was perhaps an indication of America still struggling with how to digest the Vietnam War in the '80s as the song fared much better overseas becoming a Top 40 hit in the U.K. and even hitting number one in Belgian and the Netherlands.