Evaluating Patriotic Songs of America

The 4th of July is the kind of holiday where one is bound to hear a lot of patriotic tunes expressing patriotic pride. Yet, while some certainly celebrate the spirit of the U. S. of A., others have rather cheesy lyrics. Ever since the US was a country, people have been writing patriotic anthems showing their love for America. However, not every patriotic tune can make an American wave the flag in pride. So here I devote this post evaluating songs expressing love for America.

 

The Best:

“The Star Spangled Banner” – I have to admit since Francis Scott Key wrote down the lyrics while witnessing the Battle of Fort McHenry as a prisoner on a British ship, this has been a perennial favorite in the US that it has often served as an unofficial national anthem until it was officially designated as such in 1931. Sure the lyrics might be set to an English drinking song at the time but it’s great as an instrumental for bands as well as for talented singers. As long as you don’t have pop stars butchering it in sporting events.

“America the Beautiful” – Once considered a contender for the national anthem, this one really expresses one’s love for the American landscape that have become iconic images of the American psyche. The Ray Charles version is the best in my opinion. Said to be easier to sing, more melodic, and adaptable to various orchestrations.

“Battle Hymn of the Republic” – Set to “John Brown’s Body,” with lyrics written by Julia Ward Howe during the American Civil War, this song may have religious connotations as well as something you really don’t want to play among certain demographics like Southerners or non-Christians. After all, this was a Northern anthem during the American Civil War and it was written when adding Christian references in such material was acceptable and even encouraged. And the abolitionists frequently used Christianity to justify why slavery was wrong. I also know that it has references to the apocalypse as well as kind of justifies war. However, it’s the very fact that it’s a Christian song with Julia Ward Howe’s style that make this song so powerful, inspirational, and unforgettable that plenty of non-Christian Americans don’t really care if you play it at public events (even if it’s just instrumental).

“You’re a Grand Old Flag” – Famously composed by George M. Cohan who was a pioneer in the Broadway musical. This is definitely one that’s great for grandstanding patriotic pride on the 4th of July.

“The Yankee Doodle Boy”- Another Cohan song even though most people only sing the chorus. Most famously performed by James Cagney in the George M. Cohan biopic Yankee Doodle Dandy. Of course, Cohan wasn’t really born on the 4th of July, but who cares. It’s awesome.

“Over There”- Yet, another George M. Cohan song that was written to get young men to enlist during the US entry in the WWI. Expect to hear this whenever the US enters a major world war.

“The Stars and Stripes Forever” – Sure this song may not have lyrics to sing to (oh, wait, there are but nobody sings them anyway). But this was composed with the genius of John Philip Sousa and is packed with so much patriotic pep that you’d want to cheer for the USA.

US Military Songs- You can understand why the military takes to bands and marches since a lot of these songs seem to echo a certain badassery, dignity, and courage of each branch making a grandiose entrance. For the Navy, you can’t forget “Anchors Aweigh.” For the Army, it’s “The Army Keeps Rolling Along.” The Marines have “The Marine Hymn” or “Semper Fidelis” (also by Sousa but you’ve probably heard it).  Then there’s “Wild Blue Yonder” from the US Air Force. Finally, there’s “Semper Paratus” for the US Coast Guard. And for all of them, you can go with “Eternal Father, Strong to Save” best played during ship sinkings. All these songs surely make a great American patriotic soundtrack

“Appalachian Spring” – from Paste Magazine: “This wakens a sense of patriotism in us that little else can. It’s an orchestral suite, so it’s not technically a “song,” but the music is so uniquely American (borrowing from the traditional Shaker hymn “Simple Gifts”) and so sonically vivid, that it expresses the beauty of our country better than any set of lyrics we know. Copland was undoubtedly the Norman Rockwell of music—both intensely patriotic and populist but in a gentle and agreeable way. The piece premiered as a ballet score during the tail end of WWII, and was rearranged as suite the following year during the height of American patriotism.” However, most people might think of the lines “Beef, it’s what’s for dinner” at the end since it was once used in a commercial.

“Lift Every Voice and Sing” – Written by NAACP head James Weldon Johnson and set to music by his brother, this was a major song from the Civil Rights Movement. Seen as an anthem of African Americans for a good reason since it features very inspirational lyrics that surely encouraged blacks to fight for their rights.

“Hail to the Chief” – This is the theme song for the US President when he or she makes an entrance. And yes, it echoes American grandeur. However, I sure hope that this song is played when Donald Trump makes an entrance because that would be really bad.

“Fanfare for the Common Man” – Composed by Aaron Copland, you probably have heard this song in recruitment commercials and previews for movies. Inspired by a Henry Wallace speech during the Great Depression. Definitely a piece for any American patriotic soundtrack on the 4th of July.

“Living in America”- A famous staple from the Godfather of Soul James Brown that was played on Rocky IV as the theme for Apollo Creed. Also inspired Weird Al’s parody, “Living with a Hernia.” Has a very catchy chorus and tune.

“Philadelphia Freedom” –Sure it was written and recorded by Brits. But it’s a catchy song that hasn’t been played enough. Also, was done for Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s friend Billie Jean King who was on the Philadelphia Freedom professional tennis team.

“America” – This Simon and Garfunkel gem was used in a Bernie Sanders campaign ad. And you can understand why. It’s about going on cross country trip. What can be better than that?

“The Washington Post” –You might recognize this song by John Philip Sousa. Yes, he cranked out a lot of these marches of American patriotic goodness. Still, if you want to listen to some patriotic music on the 4th of July, Sousa is your guy.

“We Shall Overcome”- Another unofficial anthem of the American Civil Rights Movement. Yet, it’s one that doesn’t acknowledge perfection as well as inspires that Americans can overcome their problems caused by societal hatred. Truly a gem.

“National Emblem” – Features a march version of “The Star Spangled Banner” as well as got a good write up from none other than John Philip Sousa. In fact, it was one of Sousa’s favorite march tunes that wasn’t composed by him, which says something.

“Ragged Old Flag” – From Paste Magazine: “The intro is almost as great as the song itself—a simple, compelling tune about loving one’s country for what it stands for, and despite its mistakes. No one was ever as earnestly cool as Johnny Cash. My kind of patriot.”

The Worst:

“God Bless the USA” – From Amog: “I didn’t know that this was released way back in 1984, but I do remember it being overplayed during the first Gulf War. Even as a kid, more now as an adult, I’ve always known that this track sucked, for lack of a better word. To add insult to injury, it gets stuck in my head, if I’m subjected to it, which makes me want to gauge my ear drums out with a power drill.” This song is just annoyingly cheesy with clichéd sentiment. Kill it. Kill it with fire.

“Let the Eagle Soar”- From Amog: “Besides this being a horrible, horrible tribute to America, it was written and performed by former Attorney General John Ashcroft. As if politicians needed anymore proof that they’re a bunch a clowns and give the rest of the world a reason to mock us. But it gets worse. This atrocity was performed at George W. Bush’s second inauguration. At least Ashcroft had someone else, Guy Hovis, perform it at the inauguration. Actually, that’s a jerk move. Letting someone else take the fall for you in front of millions is rather diabolical.”

“Have You Forgotten?” – From Amog: “Another recording, out of the hundreds of others, to express how an artist felt on September 11, 2001. What makes this a horrible patriotic song is that Worley justifies bombing pretty much the entire world because of 9/11. It’s tacky, contrived and features shameless footage from 9/11 all in the name of making a buck.”

“Courtesy of the Red, White, & Blue (The Angry American)” – From Amog: “In a way you can’t blame Toby Keith for this. He was feeling like many of us were at the time. Then again, many of us aren’t musicians who will be forever immortalized through their music. Nearly a decade after this song was released most rational thinking people would agree that putting “a boot in you ass” isn’t the American way and really doesn’t help our standing in the global community.”

“Red, White & Blue” – From Amog: “This gem was written by what’s left of Lynyrd Skynyrd. Strike one. It also contains the lines: “My hair is white, my neck has always been red, and my collar’s still blue,” for a second strike. The final strike goes to another masterpiece of a line, “If they don’t like it they can just get the hell out”. They should have just stuck to butchering the band’s classics while on the road with musicians like Kid Rock.”

“Dixie”- Yes, I know that it’s a catchy tune and I know it’s well beloved by white Southerners (and others like Abraham Lincoln, though it was more of a pop song in his day). But it’s inherently racist since it was first performed in blackface minstrel shows (popular 19th century entertainment that was chock full of offensive black stereotypes). It was used as a theme for the Confederacy during the American Civil War. To African Americans, this song is considered offensive since it echoes Old South nostalgia and was played by supporters of segregation.

“American Soldier” – From LA Weekly: “We’re not sure there’s anything worse than starting a war based on blatant lies, then sending young men and women to die for the vanity of elderly assholes who would rather bleed this country dry than actually part with a single dime at tax time. But if there is, it’s the songs celebrating the sacrifices of the people sent to die in those wars, written by people who themselves would never join the military.” Well, I guess “Goodnight Saigon” might be on the same level as this one since it pertains to the Vietnam War since Billy Joel never went there either. But at least he consulted his friends who actually served in Vietnam before he went through with it and tried to depict the conflict through their point of view. Not sure if Toby Keith has done the same.

“Ballad of the Green Berets” – This song was written and recorded in the 1960s and used in the 1968 John Wayne movie The Green Berets which depicted the Vietnam War in a positive light (a war the US never should’ve gotten involved in but was going to anyway). Yes, I get that people want to honor their country and its armed forces. But this doesn’t mean you should use it in a god awful movie that glamorizes a war as well as make George Takei wish he’d stick with being on more Star Trek episodes (because he’s in this).

American Revolution Songs sans “Yankee Doodle” -Yes, our Founding Fathers had their patriotic songs, too like “The Liberty Song,” “Chester,” or “War and Washington.” Have you heard of these? There’s probably a good reason.

“Marching Through Georgia”- Yes, it’s a lively tune that was written during the American Civil War. However, it’s hard for a white Georgian to show patriotic pride while hearing a song about Union soldiers mowing through their state and destroying everything in their midst. Sure this was William Tecumseh Sherman’s strategy of “Total War” which was intended to make the Confederates lose their will to fight. But white Southerners still paint the guy as a villain.

A lot of Patriotic country songs- To be fair, there may be good country songs out there showing one’s love for America. But in contemporary times, this genre has gotten a major bad rap for cheesy lyrics of blind patriotism that’s sometimes tinged with American conservativism. Okay, it’s fine for one to express their love for the US. But please, make sure it’s not a song filled with empty gestures. There’s a reason why College Humor satirized a lot of them with “America Sucks Less,” which might be a better song about patriotism in general.

“This Ain’t No Rag, It’s A Flag” – From Nerve: “The title of this Charlie Daniels single tells you everything you need to know. By the end of the first few verses, he’s mocked the practice of wearing headscarves, explained that Americans “believe in God” (say what you will about Islamist terrorists, but they don’t lack religion), and told “dirty” Arabs to crawl back into their “holes.” As a response to 9/11, the song offers nothing that couldn’t be gained from going down to the corner bar and listening to a bunch of drunk racists.” Sorry, Charlie Daniels, but loving your country doesn’t need to resort to blatant Islamophobia.

Your Mileage May Vary:

“God Bless America”- Yes, it has a great orchestration and I think the lyrics are quite good as well as easy to remember. However, the fact it was used by Christian conservatives in the 1960s to silence dissenters speaking out against US involvement in the Vietnam War sort of ruins it for me. Also, it’s used by the Flyers.

“This Is My Country” – Well, it’s easy to sing. But it doesn’t have a lot going for it and the lyrics seem quite childish.

“My Country Tis of Thee” – Well, it’s a simple song to remember. But it also uses the same melody as “God Save the Queen.” And the American lyrics are fairly childish.

“This Land Is Your Land”- Written by Woody Guthrie, this is an overall decent folksy American song that evokes a sense of patriotism. However, there are some verses that are highly critical about the US and the fact it was to protest the notion of private property. The fact that it was used as a protest song in radical politics during the 1930s, doesn’t help much.

“Hail Columbia”- This song was used as a de facto national anthem in the US for most of the 19th century. On one hand, it has a lovely melody that might’ve been catchy at the time. However, it fails to capture the kind of emotional punch akin to “The Star Spangled Banner” and some of the tune is reminiscent of “Itsy Bitsy Spider.” It’s obvious to see “The Star Spangled Banner” is the US national anthem and it’s not. “The Star Spangled Banner” is a song that’s stood the test of the time since it was first written. This one seems very antiquated in comparison.

“America” – From Examiner: “Unlike ‘This Land is Your Land’ Neil Diamond’s ‘America’ highlights the rich history this country has as a beacon for those seeking refuge in a harsh world. It doesn’t make light of the struggles of immigrants that have flocked here for security and opportunity since the very beginning. The song is more than just a sugary spouting of patriotic words haphazardly strung together, its a testament to the American dream and how its always there no matter how irrelevant it seems in the hard times.” However, this isn’t among Neil Diamond’s best songs, kind of cheesy, and hard to take seriously if it’s sung by a guy in a sparkly jumpsuit.

“American Pie”- From Examiner: “Regardless of age, race, gender or creed, everyone who lives in the U.S. can appreciate this song. Something about the lyrics paired with the upbeat sound is reminiscent of things like summer road trips, Coca-Cola, warm nights at amusement parks, drive-in movies and shooting off firecrackers. In short, it’s an awesome feel-good song that never gets old and it’s timelessly American as…well, apple pie.” However, though I really like this song, I have to admit that it’s more about rock n’ roll and the events that happened after Buddy Holly’s death than America in general.

“Yankee Doodle” – Sure there’s an interesting story about this song which pertains to British making fun of Americans during the French and Indian War. And yes, it’s kind of cool that American patriots adopted this song as a “fuck you” to the Brits during the American Revolution. But seriously, it’s kind of annoying and the lyrics are pretty stupid.

“Born in the USA” – Though most people see this as a pro-America rock staple, it’s actually a scathing critique of the Vietnam War and the phenomenon that working class youth have little hope for the future being pushed into military service because they have nowhere else to turn. Also, I am no fan of Bruce Springsteen. Oh, and it was used to torture prisoners at Gitmo (sorry, Bruce).

“Columbia Gem of the Ocean” – Well, it does have a great grandstanding march to be a contender for the national anthem. However, it’s not very well known.

“Home on the Range” – More of a western song than a song about the US in general. But I understand why some people are attached to it.

“The Liberty Bell”- It’s a grand march written by John Philip Sousa which has been played at US presidential inaugurations. However, if there is any reason why it might not be included on a patriotic soundtrack, it’s probably because it’s better remembered as the theme from Monty Python.

“Goodnight Saigon”- Written by Billy Joel for The Nylon Curtain, it’s about the soldiers’ experience in Vietnam which honors their service while glamorizing absolutely none of what they’ve been through. Though Joel never served in Vietnam, he was encouraged to write and record this song by his friends who did. Nevertheless, it’s more of a song for Memorial Day or Veterans Day than 4th of July because it doesn’t show a lot of patriotic pep.

“Ashoka Farewell” –When you hear this song in the Ken Burns documentary series The Civil War, you’d almost think it was played by American soldiers at their army camps before a battle. Yet, it was actually composed by New York Jews in the 1980s but it has an unforgettable and beautiful melody. However, it’s kind of a sad song that’s more appropriate for Memorial Day than 4th of July.

“When Johnny Comes Marching Home” – This is a highly adaptable song and can be played in many different tones in instrumentals as indicated by the Ken Burns documentary. However, while the lyrics point to the glorious anticipation of a soldier coming home from duty, remember that many US soldiers didn’t.

“Taps”- It’s a nice song but it’s more appropriate for military funerals and Memorial Day.

“Pink Houses” – From Cheat Sheet: “John Mellencamp is popularly considered to be a patriotic rock singer, who writes songs about good working-class people enjoying their small town lives. From the chorus, it seems as though the song is an ode the classic American dream of living in suburbia with a house, a spouse, and children. “Ain’t that America somethin’ to see baby / Ain’t that America home of the free / Little pink houses for you and me,” Mellencamp sings in the chorus. But, like many of the songs on this list, if you take a closer listen to the verses — and the last one in particular — the song is more critical than it seems. “There’s winners and there’s losers / But they ain’t no big deal / ‘Cause the simple man baby pay for the thrills, the bills / The pills that kill,” he sings in the final verse, drawing attention to this country’s problems with inequality.”

“Fortunate Son” – Had to include this one from CCR since it was used in a Wrangler Jeans commercial as a patriotic anthem. However, if you’ve actually heard the whole thing, it’s about how people in wealth and power use patriotism to get less privileged young guys to fight their wars while sheltering their own kids from combat. To be fair, it’s a great song in its own right. But not one to play at a 4th of July barbecue.

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