Billy Don't Be a Hero
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|"Billy Don't Be a Hero"|
|Single by Paper Lace|
|from the album Paper Lace|
|Genre||Pop protest song|
|Writer(s)||Mitch Murray, Peter Callander|
|Paper Lace singles chronology|
"Billy Don't Be A Hero" is a 1974 pop song that was first a hit in the UK for Paper Lace and then some months later it was a hit in the US for Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods. The song was written by two British song writers Mitch Murray and Peter Callander.
Because the song was released in 1974, it was associated by some listeners with the Vietnam War, though it actually refers to an unidentified war. But the drum pattern, references to a marching band leading soldiers in blue, and "riding out" (cavalry) would seem to be referencing the American Civil War.
A young woman is distraught that her fiancé chooses to leave the area with Army recruiters passing through the town and go with them to fight. She laments,
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, 'keep your pretty 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 (which suggests mounted infantry and a lack of modern two-way radio communications). In the end, the woman throws away the official letter notifying her of Billy's "heroic" death.
Paper Lace's version of "Billy Don't Be a Hero" hit number one in the UK Singles Chart on 16 March 1974, and thereafter Bo Donaldson & The Heywoods version hit number 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100 on 15 June 1974, and number 1 in Canada on 7 July. 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. The Bo Donaldson version was a massive hit in North America but is largely unknown elsewhere. Billboard ranked it as the No. 21 song for 1974.
Quoted in other media
The song features in the film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1993).
In the first episode of Friends, Ross 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?"
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, Alf 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, after Willie comes up with a bad idea.
The Doug Anthony Allstars performed a comedic cover of this song, featuring the altered line, "Where did Billy's head go?" in place of "Keep your pretty head low".
"Jealous Mind" by Alvin Stardust
|UK Singles Chart number-one single (Paper Lace version)
16 March 1974 (three weeks)
"Seasons in the Sun" by Terry Jacks
"Band on the Run" by Paul McCartney and Wings
|Billboard Hot 100 number-one single (Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods version)
15 June 1974 (two weeks)
"Sundown" by Gordon Lightfoot