Billy Don't Be a Hero

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"Billy Don't Be a Hero"
Paper Lace - Billy Don't Be A Hero.jpg
Single by Paper Lace
from the album Paper Lace (US version)
Format7" single
Songwriter(s)Mitch Murray, Peter Callander
Producer(s)Mitch Murray, Peter Callander
Paper Lace singles chronology
"Billy Don't Be a Hero"
"The Night Chicago Died"
"Billy, Don't Be a Hero"
Billy, Don't Be a Hero - Bo Donaldson and The Heywoods.jpg
Single by Bo Donaldson and The Heywoods
from the album Bo Donaldson and The Heywoods
B-side"Don't Ever Look Back (USA) / Celie (C)"
ReleasedApril 1974
Format7" single
LabelABC (USA) / RCA Victour (C)
Songwriter(s)Mitch Murray, Peter Callander (translated for Canada by Andre Popp and Pierre Cour)
Producer(s)Steve Barri (USA) / Du Driessen (C)
Bo Donaldson and The Heywoods singles chronology
"Deeper and Deeper"
"Billy, Don't Be a Hero"
"Who Do You Think You Are"

"Billy Don't Be a Hero" is a 1974 pop song that was first a UK hit for Paper Lace and then, some months later, a US hit for Bo Donaldson and The Heywoods. The song was written and composed by two British songwriters, Mitch Murray and Peter Callander.

Because the song was released in 1974, it was associated by some listeners with the Vietnam War, though the war to which it actually refers is never identified in the lyrics. It has been suggested that the drum pattern, references to a marching band leading soldiers in blue, and "riding out" (cavalry) refer to the American Civil War. However the drum beat and cavalry "riding out" is not specific to the American Civil War, and blue uniforms were common in the 19th century. For one of the band's performances on Top of the Pops they wore Union-style uniforms, as can be seen on YouTube.

A young woman is distraught that her fiancé chooses to enlist with Army recruiters passing through the town, causing her to implore him:

Billy, don't be a hero, Don't be a fool with your life
Billy, don't be a hero, Come back and make me your wife
And as he started to go, she said, 'Billy keep your head low'
Billy, don't be a hero, Come back to me.

The song goes on to describe how Billy is killed in action in a pitched battle after volunteering to ride out and seek reinforcements. (This suggests mounted infantry and a lack of modern two-way radio communications.) In the end, the heartbroken woman throws away the official letter notifying her of Billy's "heroic" death.

Chart performances[edit]

Paper Lace's version of "Billy Don't Be a Hero" reached No. 1 in the UK Singles Chart on 16 March 1974,[1] and did likewise in Australia, where it spent eight weeks at the top spot. Thereafter, Bo Donaldson's and the Heywoods's version reached No. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100 on 15 June 1974, but was dubbed into French for Canada. The US version sold over three and a half million copies, and was awarded a gold disc by the R.I.A.A. in June 1974. Donaldson and the Heywoods's version was a massive hit in Latin America and Japan as well, but it remained largely unknown elsewhere as of late July 2017. Billboard ranked it as the No. 21 song for 1974.

Despite the song's popularity, it was poorly received, and it was voted No. 8 on Rolling Stone magazine's readers' poll of "10 Worst Songs of the 1970s."[2]

Paper Lace version[edit]

Bo Donaldson & the Heywoods version[edit]

Use in media[edit]

The song is mentioned as having played on K-Billy's Super Sounds of the '70s Weekend in the film Reservoir Dogs.

The song features in the 1993 film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

The Mystery Science Theater 3000 characters often use the line "Billy, don't be a hero!" when riffing on movies, one example being the episode The Creeping Terror.

In the first episode of Friends, Ross (David Schwimmer) is sad because it has been so long since he last picked up a woman, saying, "Do the words 'Billy, Don't Be a Hero' mean anything to you?"

Massive Attack's 1991 track "Blue Lines" (from the album of the same name) features the lyrics "take a walk, Billy, don't be a hero."

In Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, the song is briefly heard during a montage in a disco cover by Dewey Cox (John C. Reilly) performing on rollerblades during "The Dewey Cox Show." A much longer cut of this scene can be seen in the director's cut, and the whole performance was included in the extras for the 2-Disc editions.

In The Powerpuff Girls, the leader of the Gang Green Gang, Ace, says to another member, Billy, "Billy, don't be a hero!" when he decides to save the Powerpuff Girls from a subway train.

In The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack, the episode "K'nuckles, Don't Be a Hero" is named after the song.

In The Justice Friends (Cartoon Network, 1996), Major Glory says "Billy, don't be a hero!" to William, Valhallen's pet goat, when it jumps to save Krunk from the attack of Valhallen's living clothes.

In an episode of ALF, the title character, Gordon "Alf" Shumway(voice by Paul Fusco), uses the line "Willie, don't be a hero, don't be a fool with your life," referring to the head of the household, Wille Tanner(Max Wright), after Willie comes up with a bad idea.[episode needed]

The Doug Anthony Allstars performed a comedic cover of this song, featuring the altered line, "Where did Billy's head go?" in place of "Billy, keep your head low."

Dav Pilkey, creator of Captain Underpants, named the hero of The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby Billy solely to make possible a passing homage to "Billy Don't Be a Hero."[15] Since then, the "Billy Don't Be a Hero" homage has been applied to other characters whose names rhyme with "Billy" in several Captain Underpants spin-off comics.

In the season 4 episode of Dinosaurs, the episode title was referenced, "Earl, Don't Be A Hero."

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 298. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
  2. ^ "Readers' Poll: The 10 Worst Songs of the 1970s : #8 - Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods - 'Billy Don't Be A Hero'". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 19 October 2011.
  3. ^ "The Irish Charts – Search Results – Billy, Don't Be a Hero". Irish Singles Chart. Retrieved June 22, 2017.
  4. ^ Flavour of New Zealand, 8 June 1974
  5. ^ a b c Joel Whitburn's Top Pop Singles 1955-1990 - ISBN 0-89820-089-X
  6. ^ "Cash Box Top 100 5/25/74". Retrieved 8 January 2018.
  7. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 6 October 2014. Retrieved 16 October 2016.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  8. ^ "Top 100 1974 - UK Music Charts". Retrieved 8 January 2018.
  9. ^ "Item Display - RPM - Library and Archives Canada". 6 July 1974. Retrieved 26 July 2019.
  10. ^ "Item Display - RPM - Library and Archives Canada". 15 June 1974. Retrieved 26 July 2019.
  11. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1993). Top Adult Contemporary: 1961–1993. Record Research. p. 75.
  12. ^ "Cash Box Top 100 7/06/74". Retrieved 8 January 2018.
  13. ^ "Top 100 Hits of 1974/Top 100 Songs of 1974". Retrieved 8 January 2018.
  14. ^ "Cash Box YE Pop Singles - 1974". Retrieved 8 January 2018.
  15. ^ "Behind the Pages: Super Diaper Baby". Dav Pilkey. Archived from the original on 15 June 2012. Retrieved August 22, 2016.

External links[edit]