These go to 11: A Fourth of July soundtrackBy Michael Behrenhausen | June 30th, 2011 | 9 comments
This weekend we celebrate the Fourth of July. This, our nation’s 235th birthday, will be a great time to spend with friends and families. It’s a time when we come together to enjoy fireworks displays, have some barbecue, catch a ballgame and hopefully reflect upon (or in some cases, study up on) our collective history as a country.
It is the time to showcase our patriotism. Just be aware that nationalistic pride can be a tricky thing. Ask any artist trying to write a meaningful ode to their country. There have been plenty of cringe-worthy attempts at celebrating the good old U.S. of A. -– many range from sappy jingles to boorish, chest-beating rally cries.
Yes, I’m proud to be an American -– but that doesn’t mean I have to listen to that horrible song.
So, here are 11 worthwhile songs about America that remind me why I really love my country.
11. Simon and Garfunkel, “America” – A gentle yet stirring folk number from the duo’s 1968 album “Bookends.” We’re a nation of highways, and as the lyrics trace the literal and metaphorical travels of two lovers searching for the “true” America, we’re reminded that it’s always journey well worth taking.
10. The Impressions, “This Is My Country” – Oh, the sweet voice of Curtis Mayfield, it’s a national treasure if ever there was one. This 1968 cut addressing civil rights showcases the lyrical strength that Mayfield was able to put behind that voice. Listen and learn:
9. John Fogerty, “Centerfield” – Some may argue that we should have gone with Fogerty’s more biting protest tune “Fortunate Son,” and I’d be hard-pressed to disagree, because yes, that’s the superior song. But I’ll simply say, “Lighten up,” and then ask, “What’s more American than baseball on the Fourth of July?” Go Rockies!
8. Neil Diamond, “America” – Admittedly, this is a really cheesy song. However, Diamond not only addresses the important fact that ours is a country of immigrants, he does it with style and to a danceable beat! Sweet land of liberty of thee I sing today!
7. Bruce Springsteen, “Born in USA” – A “Support the troops” message if ever there was one. With the title track to his 1984 LP, the Boss tells the heartbreaking tale of working class Vietnam vets. It laments those who didn’t make it back as well as the misfortunes of those who did, only to find their world changed. It reminds us though war is futile and meaningless, those who give their lives to fight it are not.
6. Team America World Police, “America, Fuck Yeah!” – Yes, this song by “South Park” creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker is really, really funny. However, it serves perfectly as serious criticism and backhanded praise of America’s role policing the world.
5. Phil Ochs, “Power and the Glory” – In 1974, Ochs, a leftist folk singer known to be a harsh critic of America’s military and industrial establishment, wrote this anthemic tune. He promotes the very best of the American dream combined with a selfless ideology. While expressing a strong love for the land as a “beauty that words cannot recall,” Ochs reminds us that as a country we are “only as rich as the poorest of the poor.”
4. Sam Cooke, “A Change is Gonna Come” – In 1963, Cooke wrote this moving number that, while not a big hit for him at the time, would come to exemplify the civil rights movement. Partially inspired by Bob Dylan’s poignant protest song “Blowin’ in the Wind,” Cooke drew from an actual incident when he and his band were turned away from a “whites only” motel in Louisiana. Though he expresses sadness at the current state of affairs, it’s the sense of hope that remains his strongest message.
3. Jimi Hendrix, “The Star-Spangled Banner” – Woodstock 1969, early morning: the audience is both stunned and moved by the genius of Jimi Hendrix. Following a shaky set with his band, Hendrix, an army vet himself, takes our national anthem and via searing feedback, fretwork fireworks and freedom of speech, turns it into one of the most iconic protests of the war in Vietnam.
2. Woody Guthrie, “This Land Is Your Land” – Released in 1951, “This Land” is one of the most well-known American folk songs. It was recorded by Guthrie, armed only with an acoustic guitar, in 1944. A noted traveler both by rail and by hitchhiking, Guthrie had written many of the lyrics while crossing the nation. Though it’s seen a number of variations and interpretations throughout the years, its singular message remains distinctly clear, this land was made for you and me.
1. Ray Charles, “America The Beautiful” – If tears don’t well up in your eyes upon hearing Brother Ray’s soulful version of this patriotic gem (originally written by Katherine Lee Bates in the late 1800s as a poetic ode to Pikes Peak!) then you truly must be heartless, well, that or French. Charles is credited with creating the most well-known version and it’s easy to hear why.
Happy Fourth of July to all:
Michael Behrenhausen is a Denver-based writer, musician and regular Reverb contributor. The worst crime he ever did was play some rock ‘n’ roll.