Funk songs from Vietnam GIs

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In 1971 the US was pulling troops out of Vietnam, and its bases in Germany were full of draftees at a loose end. "You were painting shovels, picking up cigarette butts – it was a lot of busy-work," remembers former serviceman Lewis Hitt. "There was a longing by everyone, especially the draftees, to get home and go back to what you were doing before."

This was the crucible in which were formed scores of raucous funk bands made up of servicemen, four of which have just been compiled by Now-Again Records. Adoring crowd noise was crudely dubbed on top of their records, which were then distributed in recruitment centres. These bands were used by the army to present service as varied, even hip. But the songs they cover – the bitter, suspicious likes of Backstabbers and Smiling Faces Sometimes – undermine any potential propagandising.

Hitt, now 62, was a white guitarist in East of Underground, a multi-ethnic group centred around three flamboyant black singers. He's the only member of all four bands to have surfaced. "I could see a message in there," he says of the singers' song choices. "There was a lot of distrust of authority, of government, with the war going on, and Nixon in office." Dave Hollander, who compiled the release, adds that "the music wasn't censored in any way. It was understood that the path of least resistance was to let the soldiers express themselves."...

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