One of the odder items in my music collection was a compilation tape titled Vietnam: The Soundtrack or Vietnam: The Movie. My copy of it went missing ages ago — hence the uncertainty about the exact title — and searching the internet has turned up nothing pertinent.
What I do remember is that it had a cover painting (done in “contemporary mall kiosk style”) of an off-model Huey chopper zooming over a silhouetted junglescape set against a luridly orange sky. It was not a soundtrack, per se, but rather a budget-priced attempt to cash in on the Vietnam War movie craze of the 1980s, where dubiously sincere laments about a brutal and unjust war were coupled to bouts of Boomer musical nostalgia.
The audio component of this revisionist trend amused my old man, whose musical memories of his time “in country” centered around the “tame bullshit like the Archies and Gary Lewis” played on Armed Forces Radio and a record he still despises after forty-five years.
The 1960s pop and militaria buff my teenage self was, however, couldn’t get enough of the stuff. The only hitch was that the official soundtracks for the related films were full-price (~ ten bucks in those days) jobbers, despite the source material being widely available as “Nice Price” or “Super Saver Series” offerings in the cut-out bins. (See also: the Stand By Me soundtrack.)
Someone in the dank corners of the music repackaging biz apparently noticed this disconnect between cost, price, and demand. Thus was born a cheapjack sell-through package of familiar tunes stripped of expensive re-branding. The result was a mix of cuts culled from Platoon (“(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay”), Full Metal Jacket (“These Boots Are Made for Walkin”), China Beach (“Reflections”), along with stuff that might not have had a strong cinematic reference, but fit the theme (Edwin Starr’s “War”). It was topped off some Eastern Bloc orchestra’s rendition of Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries,” to add a level of pyrotechnic class in the form of a callback to Apocalypse Now.
(Full confession: I used to crank that shit up while I was zipping through traffic on my mountain bike during my morning ride to high school.)
I’m not certain what happened to my copy of the tape. Most likely, I passed on to either my dad or to Maura (who majored in War and Social Consequences in college) at a time when I’d forsaken appreciation of the oldies for punk rock puritanism. I wish I held onto it, not so much for the music, but as a bizarre artifact of a moment when a criminally horrific conflict became the stuff of mass-marketed nostalgia.