Today, I have a record provided to me (and all of you) by a correspondent named Justin. He initially wrote me about Mike Thomas' performance of "Prisoner's of War", but also mentioned that he had a couple of Vietnam related Tin Pan Alley releases, which he then shared with me. Justin has a Vietnam War Song Project, which can be found here: http://rateyourmusic.com/list/Gershwin/vietnam_war_song_project/
I initially thought these were two sides of the same single, but Justin has corrected me. The two records have label numbers over a hundred apart, which probably means they were recorded well over a year apart, if not more.
The first song is "A Fearless Soldier", a mother's tribute to his fallen son. For this record, Mike Thomas seems to have dispensed with his typical loose, throwaway style of performance and to my ears sounds like he was trying to capture more of the spirit of the lyric. I don't know find his attempt all that successful, as his vocal abilities were - based on available evidence - fairly limited, but its nice to hear him trying to take seriously words that were meant to be taken seriously, and there are moments where he rises to the occasion.
And I have little doubt given the heartfelt nature of these lyrics, that this author was describing a real person, and someone who she lost to the conflict in Vietnam. Certainly this has the same minimalist sound from that era at Tin Pan Alley, and yet a change of pace for them, as well - my guess is that no one wanted this to sound tossed off.
Download: Mike Thomas - A Fearless Soldier
The second record is "The Last Ballad of Vietnam". I've listened this three times, and find the lyrics very confusing, but I think the song-poet is offering up the idea that the Vietnam war was a right and necessary thing to do - feel free to correct me if you think I'm wrong.
To be honest, when I listen to this record, my ears are drawn to the lengthy guitar solo, which takes up about a third of the record. The performer sounds clearly influences by some of the Eastern-leaning solos which had been cropping up on rock and roll records around this time, but approximating those solos is also clearly beyond his talents. It's sort of a car crash, but a mesmerizing one.
Download: Mike Thomas - The Last Ballad For Vietnam