Goodnight Saigon

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"Goodnight Saigon"
Single by Billy Joel
from the album The Nylon Curtain
B-side "A Room of Our Own"
Released February 1983
Format CD
Recorded Spring 1982
Genre Rock
Length 7:03
Label Columbia
Songwriter(s) Billy Joel
Producer(s) Phil Ramone
Billy Joel singles chronology
"Goodnight Saigon"
"Tell Her About It"
"Goodnight Saigon"
"Tell Her About It"

"Goodnight Saigon" is a song written by Billy Joel, originally appearing on his 1982 album The Nylon Curtain, about the Vietnam War. It depicts the situation and attitude of United States Marines beginning with their military training on Parris Island and then into different aspects of Vietnam combat.

Lyrics and music[edit]

The theme of "Goodnight Saigon" is the poor treatment Vietnam War veterans received.[1] The lyrics are about Marines in battle bonding together, fighting their fears and trying to figure out how to survive.[2] The singer, a United States Marine, sings of "we" rather than "I," emphasizing that the Marines are all in the situation together.[2] In the bridge Joel sings of the darkness and the fear it induced in the Marines .[2] This leads into the refrain, which has multiple voices coming together to sing that the Marines will "all go down together", emphasizing their camaraderie.[2][3] Images from the war captured in the song include reading Playboy, seeing Bob Hope, listening to The Doors, smoking from a hash pipe, praying to Jesus, remembering "Charlie" and "Baker", the Company identifiers used in military units, and those in those Companies who "left their childhood / on every acre", many of whom died in the fighting.[2][3] Joel has said that he "wasn't trying to make a comment on the war, but writing about the soldier as a person."[4][5] According to Rolling Stone critic Stephen Holden, "As the song unfolds, Joel's "we" becomes every American soldier, living and dead, who fought in Southeast Asia."[3]

The song begins with the sound of crickets chirping, providing the feeling of evening coming,[2] the sound morphing into the metallic creaking of armored vehicles moving at night. This leads into the sound of helicopters, which conjures up images of helicopters carrying their loads of Marines into battle in the Vietnam War or picking up wounded Marines.[2][3] Then Joel plays a figure on the piano before beginning to sing.[2][3] The opening is reversed at the end of the song, as the piano figure returns, followed by the sound of helicopters and armor, and finally the crickets, before the song comes to an end.[2] Joel's lyrics and their anguished, strained delivery emphasizes one of the truths about war that all warriors would admit, at least among themselves: the cohesion and brotherly identification that makes the soldier fight extends to the enemy, especially a worthy one whose defeat reflects on the victors' sense of pride in the unit and its members. "And who was wrong / and who was right / it didn't matter in the thick of the fight". At that point, the "we" includes those on both sides, "go(ing) down, together".

Joel has said of the song:[1]

Time has a way of healing wounds or making them easier to look at to see if they've scabbed up. The guys came home from Vietnam and that's it? It doesn't end until these guys are absorbed into the mainstream and we deal with our feelings about it.

Critical reception[edit]

Holden describes the song as possibly "the ultimate pop-music epitaph to the Vietnam War."[3] He also praises the way Joel's voice captures the emotions of a 19-year-old soldier.[3] However, fellow Rolling Stone critic Dave Marsh considers it bordering on "obscenity" that the song "refuses to take sides."[6] AllMusic critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine considers it part of a suite on side one of The Nylon Curtain that represents "layered, successful, mature pop that brings Joel tantalizingly close to his ultimate goal of sophisticated pop/rock for mature audiences."[7] Musician Garth Brooks has identified "Goodnight Saigon" as his favorite Billy Joel song.[5] Producer Phil Ramone has stated that the song's symbolism "resonates with many people—especially musicians."[5]

Other appearances[edit]

"Goodnight Saigon" regularly featured in Joel's concerts and was included on the live albums Kontsert, 12 Gardens Live and Live at Shea Stadium: The Concert.[8] It has also been included on several compilation albums, including Greatest Hits, Souvenir: The Ultimate Collection, The Ultimate Collection, The Essential Billy Joel, Piano Man: The Very Best of Billy Joel and My Lives.[8]

A shortened version of "Goodnight Saigon" was sung by Will Ferrell in a Saturday Night Live sketch, on May 16, 2009, a sketch that also featured cameos by Green Day, Norm Macdonald, Maya Rudolph, Amy Poehler, Tom Hanks, Paul Rudd, Artie Lange, and Anne Hathaway as background musicians.

"Goodnight Saigon" was included in the play Movin' Out in a scene where one of the characters has a nightmare of his experiences fighting in Vietnam.[9]

The song was also covered by country entertainer Garth Brooks on the classic rock CD in his boxed set, Blame it All on My Roots, (released in 2013) which covers his musical influences.

Capitol Records included a rendition of "Goodnight Saigon" sung by Joan Baez in 1991 on her compilation album called Brothers In Arms.

Irish band Aslan covered the song on their 2009 album 'Uncase'd'.

Alan Cumming has included this song on his latest album Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs: Live At The Cafe Carlyle.. He sings it in memory of his grandfather, Tommy Darling.[10]


Chart (1983) Peak
Belgian Singles Chart (Flanders)[11] 1
Dutch Singles Chart[12] 1
Irish Singles Chart 19
UK Singles Chart 29
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 56

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Campbell, Mary (October 30, 1982). "Bill Joel Uses Seven Fingers at the Piano". Daytona Beach Morning Journal. p. 12D. Retrieved 2016-04-12. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Bielen, K. (2011). The Words and Music of Billy Joel. ABC-CLIO. pp. 59–60. ISBN 9780313380167. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Holden, S. (October 14, 1982). "The Nylon Curtain". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2014-03-30. 
  4. ^ Bordowitz, H. (2006). Billy Joel: The Life & Times of an Angry Young Man. Random House. pp. 143–145. ISBN 9780823082483. 
  5. ^ a b c Ramone, P. & Granata, C.L. (2007). Making Records: The Scenes Behind the Music. Hyperion. p. 218. ISBN 9780786868599. 
  6. ^ Marsh, D. (1983). Marsh, D.; Swenson, J., eds. The New Rolling Stone Record Guide. Rolling Stone Press. p. 260. ISBN 0394721071. 
  7. ^ Erlewine, S.T. "The Nylon Curtain". AllMusic. Retrieved 2014-04-01. 
  8. ^ a b "Goodnight Saigon". AllMusic. Retrieved 2014-04-01. 
  9. ^ Shearer, B.F. (2007). Home Front Heroes: A Biographical Dictionary of Americans During Wartime, Volume 2. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 444. ISBN 9780313334221. 
  10. ^
  11. ^ (Retrieved September 17, 2012)
  12. ^ "De Nederlandse Top 40, week 5, 1983". Retrieved 2009-07-24. 

External links[edit]

Preceded by
"Save Your Love" by Renée and Renato
Belgian Singles Chart (Flanders)
26 February 1983 (2 weeks)
Succeeded by
"Billie Jean" by Michael Jackson
Preceded by
"You Can't Hurry Love" by Phil Collins
Dutch Singles Chart
22 January 1983 (4 weeks)
Succeeded by
"Fame" by Irene Cara