An Animated “One Tin Soldier”: Remembering An Early 70s Anti-War Hit

By on April 11, 2015

This animated version of Coven’s “One Tin Soldier,” was created by animator John David Wilson for The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour, for an episode that aired just before Christmas, Sunday, December 20, 1972 on CBS.

One the show, the song — popularized by its inclusion in the 1971 movie Billy Jack — was performed by Cher, who also sings “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” but here the original vocal by Coven has been replaced. Wilson’s animated sequences, by the way, were one of the highlights of the CBS variety show.

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The song itself was an anti-war anthem written by L.A.-based Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter, penned after Lambert had spent time serving in the U.S. army during the Vietnam War. He and Potter — a British-born songwriter — met while Lambert was in London, in 1969. This song would be their first top forty hit for a short-lived Canadian band called Original Caste (it went to #1 in Canada, #34 in the U.S.).

In 1971, Jinx Dawson recorded the song, at actor/director Tom Laughlin’s request — with the movie’s orchestra, conducted by Mundell Lowe — as the theme song for the soundtrack to Billy Jack, which was also called The Legend of Billy Jack (apparently Laughlin saw himself as a “one tin soldier” figure, and initially Warner Bros. first released the film as One Tin Soldier: The Legend of Billy Jack before going with a shorter title).

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Dawson, meanwhile, requested that her rock band, Coven, be credited as the performer, rather than herself. After it was released, arguments over the rights to the recording caused the studio to pull the song off the radio just as it was climbing the charts.

Later, the band Coven did record the song, again, and this time they released it on their own album. The Coven rendition was included on the soundtrack for the movie sequel The Trial of Billy Jack. Coven’s recording charted three times, first in 1971 (#26), in 1973 (#79), and a re-entry of the original version in 1974 (#73) on the Billboard Hot 100, and was a top 10 hit in the Cash Box chart. The song was named #1 Most Requested Song in 1971 and 1973 by American Radio Broadcasters.

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After its initial chart success, Lambert and Potter had joined a new record label in Los Angeles, Talent Associates, founded by producer-director Steve Binder, signing the Original Caste and developing the label’s artist roster, which included Seals and Crofts. When Talent Associates was put up for sale, the publishing assets were sold in 1971 to ABC-Dunhill Records and the two also moved over to the new label, where they wrote and produced hits for The Grass Roots, Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds, Gayle McCormick, the Four Tops, Dusty Springfield and Richard Harris, often working with A&R chief/producer Steve Barri.

Watch the Cher version as it was originally broadcast right here:

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.