Goodnight Saigon (1982) – Billy Joel

Billy Joel


Many songs in the sixties and seventies refer to the Vietnam War. They usually reflect the growing discontent among Americans about America’s military participation in Vietnam.
In Goodnight Saigon Billy Joel mentions some horrible facts and asks himself the typical question: ‘And who was wrong? And who was right?’

Listen to the song Goodnight Saigon and read along with the lyrics.
Answer the questions afterwards. 


We met as soulmates                                                      boezemvrienden
On Parris Island
We left as inmates                                                           patiënten
From an asylum                                                              inrichting
5 And we were sharp
As sharp as knives
And we were so gung ho                                                Wild enthousiast
to lay down our lives

We came in spastic
10 Like tameless horses
We left in plastic
As numbered corpses
And we learned fast
To travel light
15 Our arms were heavy
but our bellies were tight    gespannen

We had no homefront
We had no soft soap
They sent us Playboy
20 They gave us Bob Hope                                             Amerikaanse komiek
We dug in deep
And shot on sight
And prayed to Jesus Christ
with all of our might.                                                         macht

25 We had no cameras                                                    
To shoot the landscape
We passed the hash pipe
And played our Doors tapes
And it was dark..
30 So dark at night
And we held onto each other
Like brother to brother
We promised our mothers we’d write

And we would all go down together
35 We said we’d all go down together
Yes we would all go down together.

Remember Charlie?
Remember Baker?
They left their childhood
40 On every acre                                                           ± 4000 m2
And who was wrong,
And who was right?
It didn’t matter in the thick of the fight…                   het heetst van de strijd
We, held the day
45 In the palm
of our hand
They, ruled the night                                                     heersten in
And the night,
seemed to last as long as six weeks
50 On Parris Island
We held the coastline
They held the highlands
And they were sharp
As sharp as knives
55 They heard the hum of our motors                         geronk
They counted the rotors                                                 helikopter schroefbladen
And waited for us to arrive

(repeat chorus)



  1. Who is the ‘we’ in the song?
    Who is ‘they’ in lines 19-20?
    And who is ‘they’ from line 47 onwards?
  2. The words ‘soul mates’ (line 1) and ‘inmates’ (line 3) on the one hand, and ‘spastic’ (line 9) and ‘plastic’ (line 11) on the other hand, sound much alike. In fact, in war-time, they are much alike. Try to explain why.
    What is the tone of lines 1, 3, 9 and 11?
  3. How did the soldiers at first feel about going to war in Vietnam? (lines 5-8)
  4. What do lines 13-16 tell you about the soldiers?
  5. How did the American soldiers spend their days and nights when there wasn’t any fighting?
  6. Which two lines tell you something about the soldiers’ average age? Are they young or rather old already?
  7. Comment on the tone and the meaning of lines 39-40.

WRITING assignment, choose one of these two options OR do both:

  1. Can you find any evidence in the lyrics of Goodnight Saigon about the involvement of the US Government?
    What did they do to supports their ‘boys’ and how do you feel about that? Use at least 100 words. WORTH: 1 POINT
  2. Write down in about 100 words which song you prefer: The Ballad of the Green Berets or Goodnight Saigon, and explain why. WORTH: 1 POINT

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