Vietnam 1968. American troops are all over the Mekong Delta. The Viet Cong are sniping from the rice paddies. And up above, in the endless blue skies, American airplanes are dropping napalm into the jungle, trying to bomb the Communist enemy back to the stone age. And British guitarist Pete Townshend of The Who is helping them.
He wasn’t actually at the controls. The Who guitarist recorded a radio recruitment ad for the USAAF.
“Hi, this is Pete Townshend of The Who and I just want to say the United States air force is a great place to be, a great place to learn a space age skill and serve your country too. The aerospace team, that’s where all the breakthroughs are. See your United States air force recruiter. Find out how you too can fly the skies, reach for the moon, touch the stars in the United States air force.”
The Who did a few adverts in 1968: an anti-smoking song for the American Cancer Society (rejected) and a track for a Great Shakes Milkshakes campaign (accepted). Recruiting for the US air force at the height of the Vietnam War was something else. The hippies weren’t happy.
The Horror, The Horror
Townshend later apologised and claimed he had been motivated by fond memories of his father’s WWII American pilot friends.
The advert doesn’t seem to have been too widely heard. Otherwise we might have a scene in Apocalypse Now with attack helicopters playing ‘Pinball Wizard’ rather than Wagner. And, to be fair, it’s hardly the worst thing Pete Townshend has been accused of in his career.
Here’s a recording (ignore the date: it was definfitely 1968).
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