Inspiring Patriotic Songs for Your Fourth of July Celebration
Most Fourth of July celebrations come complete with family and friends, great barbecue, parades, fireworks and patriotic songs.
These are the songs that should be on Independence Day playlists. Some question American traditions and values. But questioning authority is what America has always been about, and there's nothing more patriotic than that.
This Land Is Your Land by Woody Guthrie
Year released: 1940
Bottom line: "This Land Is Your Land" is an "answer" record to Irving Berlin’s "God Bless America," which Guthrie was critical of. In fact, Guthrie's song was originally called "God Blessed America for Me." The song expresses Guthrie's belief that, rich or poor, all people should have the same rights.
"This Land Is Your Land" has become a popular protest song over the decades. Artists such as Bruce Springsteen, Lee Greenwood, and even the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, have recorded versions, and it regained popularity after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
America by Simon and Garfunkel
Year released: 1968
Bottom line: "America" is a song following the narrator (Paul Simon) and his girlfriend Kathy as they take a road trip across the county, hitchhiking and traveling by bus.
The song reflects the narrator's confusion and dissatisfaction that he cannot pinpoint the reason for. It also reflects his personal turmoil and the changing American Dream of the 1960s.
It answers the question — what do you do when you don't know what to do? You wander the country hoping to fill the void, as many others have and continue to do, "Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike, They’ve all come to look for America."
American Pie by Don Mclean
Year released: 1971
Album: American Pie
Bottom line: Don McLean wrote "American Pie" about the country's loss of innocence, and its cultural and political decline in the 1960s.
It central theme is the loss of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson in a Feb. 3, 1959, plane crash — also known as "the day the music died."
The cultural allusions McLean uses are meant to poke fun at his contemporaries. The Beatles were the "quartet that practiced in the park," Bob Dylan was "the jester," and "the girl who sang the blues" is said to be Janis Joplin.
McLean said of his songwriting technique, "[It was] just the idea of choosing names that people could identify with: different artists, what they were doing, what they’d done. I was making fun of it all."
The song was a smash and went to the top of the charts in several different countries. In 2015, McLean sold his handwritten lyrics at auction for $1.2 million. Two years later, the Library of Congress selected the original recording of "American Pie" for preservation in its National Recording Registry for being "culturally, historically, or artistically significant."
America the Beautiful by Ray Charles
Year released: 1972
Album: A Message From the People
Bottom line: Many Americans believe that "America the Beautiful" should be the national anthem, and that's largely due to Ray Charles' classic version of the song.
His is the most well-loved version, and while it only peaked at number 98 on the Billboard chart, it has become the unofficial national anthem of the country. It is the song that traditionally played after the ball drops on New Year's Eve in Times Square.
America by Neil Diamond
Year released: 1981
Album: The Jazz Singer
Bottom line: Neil Diamond's version of "The Jazz Singer" (the film that made Al Jolson a superstar in the 1920s) was a flop, but the soundtrack is still a favorite over four decades later, largely due to "America."
The song is a tribute to the immigrant experience and reflects how people came from all over the world to seek opportunity in the U.S. The song made the top 10 upon its release and became popular again after the 9/11 attacks.
Diamond later revealed he wrote the song for his grandparents, who came to the U.S. in the early 19th-century: "It’s my gift to them, and it’s very real for me. It wasn’t thought out or intellectualized, just sheer emotion. In a way, it speaks to the immigrant in all of us."
American Heart by Faith Hill
Year released: 2012
Bottom line: FaithHill's "American Heart" is about a woman whose faith in the American Dream keeps her going, despite the adversity she suffers.
Faith said of the song, "This song inspires. It grabs a hold of a very special place that we all have in our hearts. Times are hard, and people are struggling, but our spirit as Americans always seems to prevail."
Upon its release, "American Heart" resonated with listeners and reached number 26 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart.
Pink Houses by John Cougar Mellencamp
Year released: 1983
Bottom line: John Cougar Mellencamp grew up in Seymour, Indiana, and often writes about small-town life. He often expresses love for the country in his music, but he is known to be equally critical of U.S. policies.
"Pink Houses" is a song that appears positive on the surface, but according to Mellencamp, it shows "the American Dream had pretty much proven itself as not working anymore. It was another way for me to sneak something in."
The song reached number 8 on the Billboard Hot 100, and "Rolling Stone" magazine has listed it on its list of "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time."
Living in America by James Brown
Year released: 1985
Album: Rocky IV soundtrack
Bottom line: This massive hit was featured in "Rocky IV" — as Rocky's boxing adversary, Apollo Creed, enters the ring in all his patriotic glory.
The song went to No. 4 on Billboard's Hot 100 where it remained for 11 weeks, and it was Brown's last hit.
Brown was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best R&B song, and he won a Grammy for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance in 1987.
Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (the Angry American) by Toby Keith
Year released: 2002
Bottom line: Keith wrote "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue" in late 2001 after the 9/11 attacks and after being told by a marine commandant that, as an entertainer, he must lift the morale of the troops to serve his country.
He said: "When you write something from your heart — I had a dad that was a veteran, [who] taught me how precious our freedom is — I was so angry when we were attacked here on American soil that it leaked out of me. You know, some people wept when they heard it. Some people got goose bumps. Some people were emotionally moved. Some cheered, turned their fists in the air."
The song was a smash and is probably Keith's biggest hit to date. It topped the Billboard Hot Country Singles and Tracks chart and reached number 25 on the Hot 100 chart.
Ragged Old Flag by Johnny Cash
Year released: 1974
Album: Ragged Old Flag
Bottom line: JohnnyCash wrote "Ragged Old Flag" in 1974 around the time President Richard Nixon resigned from office due to the Watergate scandal. Cash initially supported Nixon's candidacy, but began questioning U.S. policies around the Vietnam War.
In "Ragged Old Flag," an old man narrates what the flag represents, and the song is meant to "reaffirm faith in the country and the goodness of the American people."
While it wasn't a big hit when it was released, it became popular after the 9/11 attacks.
Back in the U.S.A. by Chuck Berry
Year released: 1959
Bottom line: This 1959 track was written by Chuck Berry as an ode to all things American after he returned home from a trip to Australia where he witnessed institutional racism against Aborigines.
According to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Berry "saluted such everyday pleasures as the drive-ins and corner cafes 'where hamburgers sizzle on an open grill night and day/Yeah, and a jukebox jumping with records like in the U.S.A.'"
"Back in the U.S.A" made the the top 40 upon its release. Linda Ronstadt then covered it in 1978, and it reached number 16 on Billboard's Hot 100.
American Girl by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Year released: 1977
Album: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Bottom line: An urban legend has persisted for decades about a girl attending the University of Florida at Gainesville who took hallucinogens for the first time and committed suicide by jumping from a dorm room window.
Tom Petty used the story as inspiration for the song and innocence lost. One verse mentions the location of the dorm:
"Well, it was kind of cold that night
She stood alone on her balcony
Yeah, she could hear the cars roll by
Out on 441 like waves crashin' on the beach"
Petty later said of the song, which was actually recorded on the Fourth of July: "I wrote that in a little apartment I had in Encino. It was right next to the freeway and the cars sometimes sounded like waves from the ocean, which is why there's the line about the waves crashing on the beach. The words just came tumbling out very quickly, and it was the start of writing about people who are longing for something else in life, something better than they have."
Color Me America by Dolly Parton
Year released: 2003
Album: For God and Country
Bottom line: Despite Dolly Parton's fame and fortune, she frequently speaks of her humble East Tennessee upbringing and often writes songs that reflect her faith and the values she retained from childhood.
Parton released "For God and Country" just after 9/11. "Color Me America," a song about being a proud American, no matter your upbringing, has since become an Independence Day staple.
4th of July by X
Year released: 1986
Album: See How We Are
Bottom line: The X song "4th of July" was not a hit when it was released, but has since become part of Independence Day celebrations. Written by Dave Alvin of the Blasters, it depicted beauty in the mundane by describing a typical Fourth of July celebration.
Alvin said, "There's a line in the song, 'On the lost side of town.' When I sing it what I'm thinking about is where I come from. It's a part of town where great things don't come out of it. It's the kind of place where your job in life is just to work, eat something, sleep, and pay your bills. I think any relationship in that kind of situation has its difficulties, where you're sort of transitioning from your youthful dreams into possible adult disappointments."
The Star-Spangled Banner by Jimi Hendrix
Year released: 1969
Album: Woodstock: Music from the Original Soundtrack and More
Bottom line: Jimi Hendrix performed "The Star-Spangled Banner" during the last set of the legendary Woodstock festival. In fact, much of the audience had already left when he took the stage on Monday morning.
"The Star-Spangled Banner" was part of a medley that included Hendrix classics "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)" and "Purple Haze" and lasted about half an hour. It also wasn't the first time he performed it. By the time he hit the stage at Woodstock, he had played it almost 30 times live. However, at 3:46, the Woodstock version was the longest and most iconic.
Hendrix, who was in the 101st Airborne, uses his guitar to reflect the ongoing Vietnam War. Instead of words, the audience hears sounds mimicking explosions, human cries, sirens and airplane engines.
Hendrix version even includes a snippet of "Taps," which is a remembrance of all those lost on the battlefield.