The Ballad Of The Green Berets

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"The Ballad of the Green Berets"
Ballad of the Green Berets.jpg
Single by Barry Sadler
from the album Ballads of the Green Berets
B-side "Letter from Vietnam"
Released January 1966
Genre Country, folk, pop
Length 2:27
Label RCA Victor
Writer(s) Robin Moore, Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler
Producer(s) Andy Wiswell
Barry Sadler singles chronology

"The Ballad of the Green Berets"
(1966)
"The 'A' Team"
(1966)

Peaked at #1 on March 5, 1966

Sadler wrote this song to boost morale among the American troops fighting in Vietnam when public opinion was low. Sadler was injured by a punji stick (a type of booby trap), and while laid up in the hospital released the rights to this song so it could be heard. Sadler was a member of the Green Berets, the US Army's elite Special Forces unit. He was serving as a medic and he nearly had to have his leg amputated after he was injured. While he was recuperating, he wrote songs for other wounded soldiers. A TV news crew filmed him singing this at the hospital, and when the footage aired in the US, it became a huge hit very quickly. This served as the inspiration for a John Wayne film called The Green Berets. It was parodied by the left wing English singer Billy Bragg in his "The Marching Song Of The Covert Battalions." In the US, this was the biggest-selling single of 1966. It was a #1 hit for five weeks and was the #21 song of the '60s. Barry Sadler was shot in the head during a robbery attempt at his home in Guatemala in 1988. He returned to America where he died from heart failure the following year.

In film

The song is heard in a choral rendition by Ken Darby in the 1968 John Wayne film, The Green Berets, based on Moore's book. The film's score was not released as an album until Film Score Monthly released it in 2005. A movie tie-in featuring artwork from the film and a cover version by Ennio Morricone was released in Europe, though the album's other tracks were from A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More.

The song appears in the films More American Graffiti and Canadian Bacon. It can also be heard in the gun show scene of the 2002 film Showtime, and in the film Jesus' Son, in a scene that features a hitch-hiking Jack Black.

A vinyl copy of "The Ballad of the Green Berets" makes a brief appearance in "The Simpsons" episode "Homer's Phobia", from the show's eighth season. Guest star and filmmaker John Waters is seen, near the five-minute mark, flipping through Homer and Marge's record collection; Sadler's hit is amongst them.

Bill Murray briefly sang "Green Berets" in the 1980 film Caddyshack during his final attempt to kill the gopher.

Covers and derivatives

Many American cover versions of the song appeared recorded by artists ranging from Kate Smith and Duane Eddy to unknown artists singing on various drugstore records.

The punk rock band The F.U.'s performed a cover of the song, featured on the album This Is Boston, Not L.A.

Many cover versions are in different languages rewritten to reference local units; these include:

  • A German version (Hundert Mann und ein Befehl), sung by Freddy Quinn and later again by Heidi Brühl had considerable success in Germany. The German version is a song against the war. It rejects any sacrifice, not only for the son, but for the father as well. Freddy Quinn sings the song from the point of view of the reluctant but forced soldier,[citation needed] Heidi Bruhl from the point of view of the crying girlfriend of the soldier.[citation needed] Freddy Quinn's version was later cover by Welle: Erdball and also by Cryptic Wintermoon.
  • The Royal Netherlands Army's Korps Commandotroepen (KCT) use the original lyrics. The only difference is that in the chorus, instead of singing "These are men, America's best", they sing "These are men, The Netherlands' best". Also in the final chorus, referring to the son of a deceased Green Beret, they sing "Make him one of The Netherlands' best". This version of the original ballad is sung to recruits who have successfully completed the harsh Basic Commando Training (ECO), and who receive their Green Beret.
  • Rhodesian singer-songwriter John Edmond recorded the "Ballad of the Green Berets" with reference to the soldiers of the Rhodesian Light Infantry (RLI), commando-style fireforce units of Rhodesian Security Forces who wore berets of green color. A "Ballad of the Red Beret" was sung by the Rhodesian Ministry of Internal Affairs at their battlecamp in Chikurubi. In South Africa, the "Ballad of the Green Berets" was recorded as the "Ballad of the Maroon Berets". The Maroon beret is a symbol of the South African Special Forces Brigade and the South African 44 Parachute Regiment. Also this song was re-recorded by South African opera singer Leonore Veenemans as "My Land Suid-Afrika".
  • The Swedish version "Balladen om den blå baskern" is a salute to the Swedish soldiers serving in the United Nations' peace-keeping forces (the Blue Berets). It was sung by Anita Lindblom.
  • The Italian version is called La Ballata del Soldato, sung by Quartetto Cetra.
  • In the Swiss Armed Forces, the Infantry Officer's School uses a quadrlingual version (named The Infantry Ballad) of the song as their anthem, in salute to the bonds created by the very harsh training undertaken by the cadets as well as to the sense of duty (and their motto, Exemplo Ducemus) they vow to respect. It is sung everyday onwards to the morning roll call, before the National Anthem.
  • In 1966, Bernard Tapy (real name Bernard Tapie, businessman and politician), recorded an adaptation in French as "Passeport pour le soleil"
  • Supporters of Liverpool Football Club sing a version with the lyrics adapted to the history of the club called "Liverbird upon my chest".

Parodies

  • In 1968, The Beach Bums, an ad hoc group featuring a young Bob Seger, recorded "The Ballad of the Yellow Beret", chronicling the adventures of a draft dodger. The record was withdrawn after a cease and desist letter from Sadler.
  • The Residents parodied the song on their Third Reich & Roll album.
  • Another parody was used on the episode of Saturday Night Live that William Shatner hosted in 1986, called "Ollie North, The Mute Marine." Shatner participated in the sketch, outfitted in a USMC Class A uniform, alluding to Oliver North's refusal to speak about his participation in the Iran-Contra Affair; Shatner spoke no words.
  • The song is used to humorous effect in Michael Moore's film Canadian Bacon as ill-informed Americans prepare for an invasion by Canada.
  • The movie Wag the Dog includes the fictitious unit 303 Special Forces' song "The Men of the 303", which is played to a similar but original tune written by Huey Lewis for the film.
  • In the film Caddyshack, Carl Spackler, played by Bill Murray, mumbles the song under his breath while he is connecting the wires to the plunger as he prepares for his final battle with his gopher nemesis.
  • Comedian Paul Shanklin parodied the song with "Ballad of the Black Beret", referring to the Clinton sex scandal, on his 1999 album Simply Reprehensible.
  • Though its usage here is not a parody, in an episode of Cheers, Cliff aborts his plans to emigrate to Canada with his love interest when Sam, Woody, and Frasier appeal to his patriotic side by singing this song.
  • The internet critic SF Debris uses the music with lyrics about the Red Shirts in Star Trek who regularly die on away missions.

Music video

Lyrics

Fighting soldiers from the sky
Fearless men who jump and die
Men who mean just what they say
The brave men of the Green Beret

Silver wings upon their chest
These are men, Americas best
One hundred men will test today
But only three win the Green Beret

Trained to live off natures land
Trained in combat, hand-to-hand
Men who fight by night and day
Courage take from the Green Berets

Silver wings upon their chest
These are men, Americas best
One hundred men will test today
But only three win the Green Beret

Back at home a young wife waits
Her Green Beret has met his fate
He has died for those oppressed
Leaving her his last request

Put silver wings on my sons chest
Make him one of Americas best
Hell be a man they'll test one day
Have him win the Green Beret


Weekly charts

Chart (2016) Peak
position
February 5, 1966 87
February 12, 1966 51
February 19, 1966 10
February 26, 1966 3
March 5, 1966 1
March 12, 1966 1
March 19, 1966 1
March 26, 1966 1
April 2, 1966 1
April 9, 1966 5
April 16, 1966 7
April 23, 1966 17
April 30, 1966 20
Preceded by
"These Boots Are Made for Walkin'" by Nancy Sinatra
Billboard Hot 100 number one single
March 5, 1966 (five weeks)
Succeeded by
"(You're My) Soul and Inspiration" by The Righteous Brothers
Preceded by
"Crying Time" by Ray Charles
Billboard Easy Listening Singles number-one single (SSgt Barry Sandler version)
March 5, 1966 (5 weeks)
Succeeded by
"I Want to Go with You" by Eddy Arnold