We often think of the last Monday in May as a day revolving around beaches, heavy drinking, and barbecue, but Memorial Day is meant to be a day of observance for the soldiers who lost their lives in war. Started after the Civil War as Decoration Day, Memorial Day became a federal holiday in 1968 and has served as the unofficial start of summer ever since.
Before you throw the burgers on the grill, press play on these songs and take a moment to remember what Memorial Day is all about.
The Doors: The Unknown Soldier
For a while it seemed like a Vietnam War movie couldn’t be released without a Doors song in it. This track is another Doors song about the conflict and it focuses on the Americans who paid the biggest price for the war.
Radiohead: Harry Patch (In Memory of)
When the last surviving veteran to fight in the trenches of World War I died in 2009 at the age of 111, Radiohead performed this symphony as a tribute.
It’s about war the way this Atlanta hip-hop duo’s “Rosa Parks” was strictly about civil rights, but this fast paced classic pays respect to the volunteer soldier who leaves the ghetto to find something worse.
Tom Waits: Soldier’s Things
This sad piano ballad is exactly what it says it is: a list of a soldier’s things. Waits’ raspy voice is so haunting you’re unsure who is doing the inventory.
Creedence Clearwater Revival: Fortunate Son
John Fogerty’s angry screed about how the rich never seem to die in war is still relevant today, even in an all volunteer army. It’s rarely the kids from the right side of the tracks that are coming back from Afghanistan in body bags.
Dire Straits: “Brothers In Arms”
The album carrying this name is most famous for that "I Want My MTV" song, but this understated title track is an elegy for all those who never made it back.
Jay Z: A Ballad for the Fallen Soldier
Shawn Carter draws parallels to the soldier and the street hustler and how their deaths can both break a mother’s heart.
Bruce Springsteen: Born in the U.S.A.
Often thought of as a patriotic jingle, Springsteen intended it as a protest song about the shoddy treatment the Vietnam vets who survived got when they came home, and the memories they were stuck with.
Eminem: Like Toy Soldiers
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Another rap song that mixes metaphors about soldiers and those that lose their lives on the streets over silly beefs, with its military drumming and the samples from Martika, it can easily serve as a military anthem.
This one is perhaps the spookiest music video ever created. Using footage from the 1971 movie Johnny Got His Gun, Metallica sings of a land mine that has taken a soldier’s sight, speech, hearing, arms, legs, and soul.