Music has always been one of the strongest ways to remember the lives of those we cherish most, which is probably why there have been so many incredible songs written about the brave and honorable people among us who have served in the military. On Memorial Day, enjoy this list of our 20 favorite songs about soldiers.
“Harry Patch (In Memory Of)” by Radiohead
Henry John “Harry” Patch fought in the trenches of World War I, then lived on to be more than 111 years old, making him the longest living survivor of the First World War. Radiohead recorded this track in his honor after watching a very moving BBC interview with Patch.
“Sam Stone” by John Prine
Surviving soldiers’ hardships rarely remain on the battlefield. Struggles with PTSD and being pushed to the fringe of society are too often a part of a soldier’s postwar life. Folk singer John Prine captured this tragedy perfectly in the classic “Sam Stone.”
“The Sands of Iwo- Jima” by Drive-By Truckers
Drive-By Truckers’ Patterson Hood dedicated this emotional track in memory of his uncle, a World War II veteran. But the song works as a nice tribute to everyone with military family.
“Dress Blues” by Jason Isbell
Jason Isbell, a Drive-By Truckers alumnus, wrote his own heartbreaking song about losing loved ones who’ve bravely left home to fight for us.
“Bring the Boys Back Home” by Freda Payne
Hard to argue with the simplicity of this classic, groovy Freda Payne tune, a compelling stance on wanting our sons, brothers, fathers, and husbands to safely return home.
“No Man’s Land” by Eric Bogle
Aptly titled after the name of those horrific battlegrounds between the trenches of World War I, this beautiful musical elegy is written in a true sense of remembrance by Australian folk singer Eric Bogle.
“One” by Metallica
Can you have a Memorial Day list without including Metallica’s “One”? As heartbreaking as some of these others songs, it stands as one of the best postwar tributes to soldiers of all time.
“Brothers in Arms” by Dire Straits
We have to include another classic, Mark Knopfler’s “Brothers in Arms,” which is also notable for being reissued in 2007 to help raise funds for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Machine Gun” by Jimi Hendrix
Besides being a great jam, Jimi Hendrix’s “Machine Gun” is another honest, frowning look upon war. In the tack’s opening bars, the guitar legend dedicates the song to today’s soldiers, the ones experiencing the harsh reality for the benefit of us all.
“Soldier’s Things” by Tom Waits
Tom Waits reigns as champion balladeer of the common man, with a long list of songs dedicated to the downtrodden and oppressed. Within that canon are a few about our war veterans, including this very poetic one.
“The Gunner’s Dream” by Pink Floyd
No one has seemed to have a bigger grudge toward war than Pink Floyd — but this particular song, off the album The Final Cut, is a pretty moving tribute to a World War II soldier.
“The War” by Lucero
For a much more recent take on war, listen to this Lucero track. Using World War II as the subject, it’s an excellent portrayal of a young person experiencing the reality of war from the beginning.
“The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” by the Band
This touching tribute about the last days of the Civil War is list-worthy simply because it’s one of the greatest songs of all time.
“The Ballad of Ira Hayes” by Johnny Cash
The legendary Johnny Cash helped the world remember another legend in his own right: Ira Hayes, an ashamedly unsung Native American hero of World War II.
“I Can’t Write Left Handed” by Bill Withers
Crooning from the perspective of a soldier returning from war, Bill Withers painted a poignantly tragic picture of Vietnam soldiers returning home.
“Blue Jeans & White T-Shirts” by the Gaslight Anthem
For many, being a solider is cemented with a sense of brotherhood and camaraderie, the special feeling the Gaslight Anthem captured in this great song.
“Soldier’s Poem” by Muse
Shorter in length but definitely not in emotion is this angry cut from Muse simply titled “A Soldier’s Poem.”
“Love Vigilantes” by New Order
Upbeat soldier songs are rare, but they’re out there — like this one from New Order, which thankfully ends on a happy note when a wife finds out her proud husband didn’t actually pass away while serving.
“Devils & Dust” by Bruce Springsteen
You can’t quite call this Bruce Springsteen number an outright antiwar tune. Giving a first-person perspective of a soldier overseas, its a complex stream-of-consciousness track about what serving means, making it a great one for making you think deeply on this important day.
“Two Soldiers” by Jerry Garcia and David Grisman
“Two Soldiers,” also more popularly referred to as “Blue-Eyed Boston Boy,” is a traditional song with an unknown author, but it’s been covered by a long list of folk artists throughout history. The Grateful Dawg duo’s version of this charming dedication to two Civil War soldiers just might be our favorite.
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