Well Written Songs: Paul Hardcastle - 19 (1985)
Updated: Nov 30, 2022
Artist: Paul Hardcastle
Release Date: 1985
Genre: Electro Pop
Written By: Paul Hardcastle, William Coutourie and Jonas McCord
The first time that I heard this song, it was when I was very little. When the track was released I was only 5 years old. At that time, I did not really understand the words of the song but I always loved the melody and beat.
In the 1980's, my brother would record from the radio on audio tapes. The series would be called Music on Radio. I know original right? We had about 32 or 33 of those tapes. This is how people would get their music if they did not have enough money.
Throughout the years, this song has always comeback on my playlists. As I have gotten older, I have grown to appreciate the message of this song. This is especially true in today's world.
Let us go into the background of the artist and track.
Paul Hardcastle was born in London, England. He has been known mainly as a composer and musician of Jazz, Smooth Jazz (later in career) and Electro Pop / Dance.
Some critics have considered Hardcastle a One Hit Wonder, but that is not true. His most successful song was 19, which was released in 1985 and did reach number 1 on many charts around the world. However, in 1984 he did reach some success with Rain Forest and Sound Chaser which were pretty successful in reaching number 2 on the British dance charts.
One of his compositions, The Wizard, was used as the theme for the very popular British show, Top of the Pops in 1986.
Top of the Pops Theme (1986)
Now on to the track at hand. Paul Hardcastle was inspired to write this song after he watched the documentary Vietnam Requiem which aired on ABC in 1984. The main focus of the documentary was to document PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) suffered by veterans in the Vietnam War.
According to Hardcastle, the reason that he wrote this song was about him thnking about what he used to do when he was 19, which was drinking and partying it up. However, these kids (soldiers) were "thrown into the fire" at such a young age. It put his life into perspective.
The song was comprised of many different snippets, mainly from the documentary Vietnam Requiem. There were other samples from other sources on NBC and ABC as well. This also lead to some controversy. When the music video was made, they used a lot of footage from different anchors on those TV stations, and the stations were not happy with it. The music video had to be edited to include more generic stock footage. However, the voices of the said anchors and narrators were kept in as the stations did not object to this.
The song was criticized for being a piece of propaganda. Many have counter argued, "What is the difference between this song and the 6 o'clock news?". The samples found in the song were actually shown on TV at some point in time. They are real quotes.
Vietnam Requiem - Sample Documentary Footage
The narrator, Peter Thomas, has that recognizable voice. It seems to fit the song perfectly.
Fun fact, in 2011, when Manchester United won their 19th title, the song was used to celebrate their win. This resulted in the song coming back on the UK Top 40 charts.
19 - Paul Hardcastle Lyrics
In 1965, Vietnam seemed like Just another foreign war But it wasn't, it was Different in many ways As so were those Who did the fighting In World War II The average age of the Combat soldier was twenty-six [Chorus] In Vietnam, he was nineteen In Vietnam, he was nineteen In Vietnam, he was nineteen In Vietnam, he was nineteen N-n-n-n-nineteen The heaviest fighting Of the past two weeks Continued today twenty-five Miles northwest of Saigon I really wasn't sure What was going on
[Chorus] N-n-n-n-nineteen, nineteen N-nineteen, nineteen In Vietnam, the combat soldier Typically served a twelve month tour of duty But was exposed to hostile fire almost everyday [Chorus] N-n-n-n-nineteen N-n-n-n-nineteen N-n-n-n-nineteen N-n-n-n-nineteen In Saigon, a US miltary spokesman Said today, more than 720 troops Were killed last week in That sensitive border area In all of South Vietnam The enemy lost a total of 2,689 soldiers [Bridge] All those who remember the war They won't forget what they've seen Destruction of men in their prime Whose average age was nineteen
D-d-d-d-d-destruction D-d-d-d-d-destruction According to a Veteran's Administration study Half of the Vietnam combat veterans suffered From what psychiatrists call Post traumatic stress disorder Many vets complain of alienation, rage, or guilt Some succumb to suicidal thoughts Eight to ten years after coming home Almost eight-hundred-thousand men Are still fighting the Vietnam War None of them received A hero's welcome Saigon, Saigon S-s-s-s-s-Saigon S-s-s-s-s-Saigon Nineteen, s-s-s-s-Saigon N-n-n-n-n-ninteen N-n-n-n-n-ninteen N-n-n-n-n-ninteen N-n-n-n-n-ninteen Vietnam, S-s-saigon
19 - Paul Hardcastle (Official Video)
There are extended versions that last 7 to 10 minutes. However, I was unable to find any links to them.
I had already reviewed One by Metallica a while back and I had said that it was one of the best songs about veterans and war. I think that 19, is a very close second. The genre's are different but the message is just as strong.
Let me start with the music. I love the music for this track. It fits the tone very well. It has that New Wave, Electro Pop feel and it is a great backdrop to this musical version of a documentary. It has a very 80's sound that has aged pretty well.
There have been debates on some forums about the facts outlined in the track. Although the track states that the average age of the combat soldier in the Vietnam War was 19, since then, people have disputed this fact, saying that the age stated in the song is inaccurate. Depending on the sources this varies from 22 to 25 years old. This is still below the average age of the combat soldier of 26 years old in World War II.
People have also criticized the fact that some quotes were taken out of context. This may be true, but the goal of the song was to demonstrate the impact of the war on young soldiers. The quotes are real, however, it is difficult to verify the validity of the quotes out of context, as the documentary is not available fully online.
In terms of lyrics, here is a quote that for me, hammers the message home.
According to a Veteran's Administration study Half of the Vietnam combat veterans suffered From what psychiatrists call Post traumatic stress disorder Many vets complain of alienation, rage, or guilt Some succumb to suicidal thoughts Eight to ten years after coming home Almost eight-hundred-thousand men Are still fighting the Vietnam War
The above is a really intense narration on the track. In a few lines it explains the side effects of a soldier suffering from PTSD. The last 3 lines are also very chilling. It states that 8 to 10 years after the war, people are still in the war in their mind. If that does not send chills down your spine, you have no heart. This is also not just true about this war but all wars that are fought. This is the part that people do not consider. Some soldiers are never the same ever again and there are no magic cure to make them normal again. The world must seem very different after an experience like that.
I think that this is the side of war that we never think about. Yes there are casualties on the field, but there are casualties for those after the war as well. This is true on every side. The underlying message here is to ask the question, is it worth it? It never explicitly asks the question, but with all the information presented here, you cannot but ask that question.
What do you think? Did I hit the mark or did I miss it completely? Let us know below.