Khe Sanh – Cold Chisel – 1978

April 12, 2012

In Australia this song is iconic with a capital “I.” If you’re ever sitting in a bar in Aussie and Cold Chisel’s 1978 release, Khe Sanh comes on the jukebox or some band includes it in their set, you’ll see the place come to life and most those there will sing along knowing every word by heart.

driving the bruce highway

Well, seeing as how I’m writing from Australia this week it seemed logical that I should help us all to reminisce over an Aussie song (and maybe introduce our US and UK and SA readers to one).

So, I’m driving up the Bruce Highway north of Brisbane listening to an Aussie radio station playing an hour of Aussie music knowing that I have to select one of these to be this week’s featured seventiesmusic song of the week. I endured Olivia Newton John (twice), The Bee Gees, and Air Supply. I listened to at least three songs which the announcer claimed were by Aussie bands when it was plain to me they were New Zealanders (The Swingers, Split Enz and MiSex).

Then, the last song of the hour – pure bliss – one of the great Aussie bands, one of the great Aussie songs, one of my favourite Aussie songs of all time.

cold chisel

For those readers from nations who don’t know about Cold Chisel – in Aussie they’re icons, legends, rock ‘n’ roll gods!  Beginning life in Adelaide back in the 70s, they were originally known as Orange. They came to their senses in 1974. After writing a song titled Cold Chisel, they adopted it as their band name. The band is still active today.

Synonymous with Cold Chisel is singer Jimmy Barnes (real name = James Dixon Swan). Scottish born, Jimmy is the band’s lead singer and has had a very successful solo career.

khe sanh – the song

Khe Sanh was Cold Chisel’s first ever single, released from their self-titled debut album.

khe sanh – the place

Khe Sanh is a town in the north-western Quang Tri Province of Vietnam.

Between 21 January and 9 July 1968, during the Vietnam War, the town was the venue for a rather nasty battle – The Battle of Khe Sanh.

At the battle’s end there was an on-going argument as to who was the winner but one thing’s for sure – it wasn’t any of the 1,500+ who lost their lives or the 5,675 who were seriously wounded.

khe sanh – the music

Khe Sanh has been immortalised in at least two songs;

In Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. he sings, “I had a brother at Khe Sanh fightin’ off the Viet Cong. They’re still there; he’s all gone.” (NOTE: it is generally accepted, however, that the Viet Cong were not involved in the Battle of Khe Sanh).

Cold Chisel’s song is about Vietnam veterans who were friends of the songwriter and their struggle to reintegrate into Australian society following the war’s end. Once again, however, there is a level of folklore involved in this interpretation. The reality is that the only Australian personnel directly involved in the battle of Khe Sanh were Canberra bombers operated by 2 Squadron of The Royal Australian Air Force.

Of course, that doesn’t detract from the brilliance of the song or its poignant anti-war sentiment.

I left my heart to the sappers round Khe Sanh And I sold my soul with my cigarettes to the black market man I’ve had the Vietnam cold turkey From the ocean to the Silver City And it’s only other vets could understand

khe sanh fax

  • Khe Sanh is from Cold Chisel’s self-titled album. It was released as a single in May 1978.
  • Khe Sanh was written by Cold Chisel pianist Don Walker and is named after the 1968 Battle of Khe Sanh during the Vietnam War.
  • Khe Sanh is about an Australian Vietnam veteran struggling to adjust to civilian life on his return from service in Vietnam.
  • On a list of the all-time best Australian songs, Khe Sanh came in at #8. Amazing when you consider that it only ever managed to crawl to #41 on the Aussie singles charts.
  • The song, when released was given an A Classification by Australian censors. That means it was considered, “not suitable for airplay.” This was because of the song’s sex and drug references. Fortunately a radio station in the band’s home city of Adelaide ignored the censorship and played the song repeatedly which led to the song’s popularity.
  • Khe Sanh was re-released in August 2011. It peaked at #40 in the Australian charts.
  • Khe Sanh video – if you’ve never heard the song –  prepare for a treat.

khe sanh – cold chisel – 1978 – video

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