Eric Burdette has a very interesting post up on his blog As I See It regarding Pre-'75 Music in Viet Nam. He provides several links to audio files from the Vietnamese music website nhaccuatui.com, and YouTube videos. These files feature various Vietnamese rock bands from the 60s and early 70s. These are generally covers of famous American and British bands and tunes from that period, including the Beatles. These tunes are sung to the original tune with Vietnamese lyrics from translations.
One of the things I think I have learned about Vietnamese in the five years I have lived here is that they are very curious and eclectic. They look for good ideas, and when they find them, they grab them and improve on them. This is the essence of Vietnamese modernist design of houses that I have featured before on this blog (I hope to get back to the subject soon).
I think that is the case with the classic rock music that Eric presents in his posting. This music was played by the Armed Forces Radio station here in Saigon, and recordings were readily available to Americans at the PX's (post exchange) around the country. Whatever could be found in the PX could also be found on the black market, so musically-inclined Vietnamese (and most Vietnamese are very musically-inclined) had many sources for inspiration in the international music of the time flooding the market. In addition, there were many Vietnamese students attending American universities and military schools at the time, and they undoubtedly brought back recordings for their friends in South Vietnam.
But Eric laments that this part of Vietnamese history is not being preserved and that Vietnamese young people today may not know of this music. However I think the fact that this music is available on one of the most popular Vietnamese music websites makes it likely that many Vietnamese young people have played some of these tunes at least once. Some of my young coworkers know the same tunes from more contemporary covers, but do not necessarily know of the bands and singers from the war period. But my coworkers are real hunters and are constantly asking me about American groups from the 50s and 60s that they have found on YouTube. They have probably also found the Vietnamese groups but don't think to ask me about them (and I would not have been able to help them).
Even though I was in Saigon as a naval officer for a year in 1971-1972, I did not hear this music due to the particular circumstances in which I worked and lived. I was living amongst a small group of older American officers and working with older Vietnamese construction contractors and inspectors. What I realize now is that I missed what has turned out to be one of the great productive periods of Vietnamese music.
When I ask my coworkers what kind of music they like, they say they listen to all kinds of Vietnamese and international music, including the famous singers and bands of America. When I ask them what their favorite music is, they often say that it is the pre-1975 music of Trịnh Công Sơn. Most of his 600 songs are melancholy songs of love or are anti-war, sentiments which remain very applicable today. Many of his songs are extremely beautiful and recognizable to anyone that frequents the cafes of Ho Chi Minh City. There is a cafe in Tân Phú District on Au Cơ Street that is named Cafe Trịnh Công Sơn and plays his music and has live singers on weekends.
On the nhaccuatui.com music website, you can find Trịnh Công Sơn music under the label "Nạch Trịnh" under the "Thể loại" tab. This is a Vietnamese-language website only. The database of songs is enormous and intimidating because each song may have been sung by many different singers over the years, and there are different versions by the same singer. One way to start is by choosing a particular singer such as Khánh Ly, Hồng Nhung, or Quang Dũng and clicking through the Trịnh Công Sơn songs performed by them.
Any easier introduction to Trịnh Công Sơn music can be found at the English-language commemoration website Trịnh Công Sơn. Click on the "nhạc" button (RealPlayer required). Another good website is TCS-Home.
My favorite Trịnh Công Sơn songs are Biển Nhở
and Tuổi đá buồn