Sun warm on my face, I hear you
And it's morning.
Take my time this morning, no hurry
To learn to kill
And take the will
From unknown faces.
Today was the day for action;
Leave my bed
To kill instead--
Why should it happen?
I consider Draft Morning to be psychedelic’s first outright protest song. I’ve listed in the Psychedelic Masterworks a couple of songs (Scarborough Fair by Simon and Garfunkel and For What It’s Worth by Buffalo Springfield) as protest songs, but only because they had some elements of protest rather than serving as a vehicle of its expression. This is the first time that a psychedelic song was clearly in protest of the Vietnam War and the compulsory draft of young American men into the military. (It is not, however, the hippie’s first anthem of Vietnam protest—that would be the folk song I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-To-Die Rag by Country Joe and the Fish, released in November 1967.)
I haven’t heard Draft Morning the way David Crosby intended it to be heard. He had left the Byrds when they recorded his song, and the remaining members of the group changed some of the lyrics. But the group seems to have done a good job with the composition they had been left with. The song has the distinction of being the first in psychedelic music to include sounds from military battle as a part of its message, a device picked up in two later psychedelic protest songs, Unknown Soldier by the Doors and Sky Pilot by Eric Burdon and the Animals.
Draft Morning opens in transition from the previous song on the album (Natural Harmony), noodling its way along the guitar until a strong beat is set up and the song finds itself. Thus it evokes the act of waking up glad to be alive with the sun on one’s face. He hears his parents shuffling downstairs with breakfast (the “you” who the poet addresses), the sounds of home. This particular day his first thought is that instead of being able to celebrate his 18th birthday he has to sign up for the draft. It’s a bummer to think that soon he’ll be a legalized murderer of people he doesn’t know or have anything against.
A military bugle improvisation and sounds from the battlefront provide a segue across time and in the third verse we hear the weary soldier, so far from the kid back home who would greet the day with security and gladness. “Today was the day for action”, the verse begins, with not enough syllables for the line, stretching out the word today to a thin whine. That today is already in the past tense implies that the poet has already refused to participate in it; he won't leave his bed. He has no reason to greet the day if the only expectation, the only adventure that it holds is the prospect of killing. The poet ends his song by turning to the parents to ask why their son has to be put through such a soul-numbing experience. The song ends with heavily phased voices accompanying an electric guitar playing Taps.