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Elvis Presley‘s “Don’t Cry Daddy” doesn’t sound like a political song. However, it was inspired by a dark day in American history, specifically an event from the Vietnam War. The writer of the song said the tune was inspired by some disturbing footage he saw on television.

A Vietnam War massacre inspired Elvis Presley’s ‘Don’t Cry Daddy’

Mac Davis is a songwriter who gave us Elvis tunes such as “In the Ghetto,” “A Little Less Conversation,” “Memories,” and “Don’t Cry Daddy.” On the surface, the latter song is a ballad about a child who is comforting his father because his mother is gone. It’s not clear is she is absent or deceased. During an interview with Elvis Information Network, Davis recalled the origin of “Don’t Cry Daddy.”

“I had my son, Scotty, for the weekend and was about to take him home,” he said. “I had some time to kill and I flipped on the five o’clock news. Scotty was about five or six years old. It just happened to be the broadcast where they were showing some film of the massacre in Vietnam. It was a very famous horrific incident where some of our guys shot to death some women and children villagers. They were showing some scenes of the bodies and apparently I started crying and didn’t even realize it. The next thing I know, Scotty was patting my back and going, ‘Don’t cry, daddy.'” 

Elvis Presley was part of a wave of artists inspired by the Vietnam War

Davis discussed changing the song from its initial inspiration. “My songwriter’s brain made it totally different,” he said. “By the time I got Scotty home to his mother’s and on the way back to my house I had the chorus written. Basically, that’s where the song came from.”

The tune came out in 1969. Plenty of rock and pop songs from the late 1960s and early 1970s commented on the Vietnam War in some way, including The Beatles’ “Revolution,” The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” The Monkees’ “Last Train to Clarksville,” and Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son.” Some of these songs are overtly political, while others are more subtle. Meanwhile, the connection between the war and “Don’t Cry Daddy” is impossible to discern from its lyrics. We know such a connection exists only because Davis was open about his influences.


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Lisa Marie Presley covered ‘Don’t Cry Daddy’

“Don’t Cry Daddy” was released alongside the uptempo, bawdy tune “Rubberneckin’.” Talk about a study in contrasts! Together, the songs reached No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100, staying on the chart for 13 weeks in total. The tunes both appeared on the compilation album Elvis: 2nd to None. That record climbed to No. 3 on the Billboard 200 and stayed on the chart for 16 weeks.

If anyone had the right to cover “Don’t Cry Daddy,” it was Elvis’ only child: Lisa Marie Presley. She recorded a version of the song and spliced it in with her father’s vocals, creating a virtual duet. Lisa Marie also released virtual duet versions of “In the Ghetto,” “Where No One Stands Alone,” and “I Love You Because.”

“Don’t Cry Daddy” is a beautiful ballad with a dark origin.