The Merrymen: Saigon Girls (late Sixties/exact date unknown)

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The Merrymen: Saigon Girls (late Sixties/exact date unknown)

Anyone who has watched Armed Forces television broadcast to American military personnel abroad -- often conclaves of very young men and women on bases which are like gated communities with all the home-comfort US amentities from grocery stores selling candy bars to movie theatres screening the recent Hollywood movies -- will recognise the veiled fear and warning behind this song.

The Merrymen were actually four US pilots in Vietnam and at their base at Lai Khe north of Saigon they entertained the soldiers and officers with their revisions of folk songs with pertinent lyrics.

For this song/warning they pulled together a few Kingston Trio songs to tell the tale of how you couldn't trust those local gals: "Chu Yen" the name of the woman is a Chinese term for prostitute (Chinese?), Tu Do St was the bar/club area in Saigon and "Saigon Tea" was what soldiers bought for the bar girls . . .

None of this would mean anything to the folks back home of course, but that seemingly wasn't the purpose.

It was all about a moral lesson for the troops that "fraternising" with a local woman was going to end badly.

"Don't be a sinner" says it all, really doesn't it? And at the end it elevates the respectable Red Cross Donut Dollies from from back home who were also "over there".

Then as now the message is, be very fearful of the locals.

The very ones your government is telling you that you are there to protect?

The likelihood of finding this song is remote but it has been given a second life on a remarkable box set; Next Stop is Vietnam; The War on Record 1961-2008.war

This massive, 13 CD set of songs, radio spots and recordings made in-country by soldiers brings together all the most well known songs about the war in Vietnam alongside many dozens of schmaltzy, obscure, seldom-heard and strange records which had the war/soldiers/patriotism/dissent as their theme.

With a an accompanying book (not a booklet) of photos, potted history and notes on the songs and artists this is one magnificent album-sized monster of a history lesson pulled together by Bear Family Records out of Germany (here).

And as Donovan once sang, "and the war drags on . . ."

Elsewhere has quite a lot about encounters in Vietnam, and its music, people and politics starting here. As well as songs both pro and agin that never-declared "war".

For more one-offs, songs with an interesting backstory or just plain odd things see From the Vaults.

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