Today, we celebrate the birth of the good ol' U.S. of A. We gather in back yards, pools and lakes. We roast hot dogs and hamburgers and let watermelon juice trickle down our chins. We light fireworks smuggled in from less pansy states. But at some point, these wonderful traditions are marred by the schlocky strains of Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the U.S.A." (as they will be on CBS' Early Show today). Call me an unpatriotic snob, if you will, but I believe we as a nation can do much better when it comes to celebrating America in song. I don't care if he is a member of the National Council on the Arts, there are plenty of better songs to add to your patriotic playlist. Give a listen to the following 12, and drink an American small-brewery craft beer for me.
1. Bruce Springsteen - "Born in the U.S.A."
While critical of the war, and fully aware of the struggles that affect blue-collar America, Springsteen makes no apologies about his birthplace, repeatedly letting the world know where he's from. It's the kind of reality check necessary to true patriotism. "The Rising" would have been another great addition to this list. Come to think of it, I'd like to nominate him for the National Council on the Arts. Or Secretary of the Interior.
Plus there's always that scene in Canadian Bacon where John Candy and
crew scream down the highway in full windows down, road-trip mode
belting out the chorus...because they can't remember the verses.
2. Johnny Cash - "Ragged Old Flag"
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.
3. Paul Simon - "American Tune"
It basically tells the story of America set to chords he stole from Bach. And it's just beautiful.
4. Ray Charles - "America, the Beautiful"
I'm proud to be from the same country as this guy.
5. Estelle featuring Kanye West - "American Boy"
I mean, it mentions L.A. and New York and everything, and she's liking it all.
6. Wilco - "Ashes of American Flags"
Tweedy sings with some regret for what America has become, but to me, patriotism doesn't gloss over the problems we face.
7. Creedence Clearwater Revival - "Fortunate Son"
Have we learned to stop questioning the patriotism of protesters yet? Right now, one need only to look to Iran to see that the biggest acts of patriotism don't always fall in line with the governing bodies. We love Cat Power's cover, shown above.
8. Aaron Copland - "Appalachian Spring"
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.
9. Ryan Adams - "New York, New York"
The upbeat hook "But I still love you New York" paired with the video, featuring Adams performing in Brooklyn with the WTC in the background on Sept 7, 2001, always gives us
10. Violent Femmes - "American Music"
What's more American than rock 'n' roll?
11. Bob Dylan - "With God on Our Side"
Leave it to Dylan to take the arrogance, pomposity and aggression out of patriotism so that we can move on to the better aspects: love, thankfulness and a desire to keep making our country even better. Thanks to Twitter follower @twit_atgunpoint for the suggestion. And check out Buddy Miller's awesome cover.
12. Jimi Hendrix - "The Star-Spangled Banner"
Some people were offended at the time, but those people can go listen to this instead. Jimi himself considered this beautiful and patriotic, and we couldn't agree more.
And a Dozen Honorable Mentions
1. The Dixie Chicks - "Travelin' Soldier"
A beautiful and sad love story about a Vietnam soldier.
2. Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings - "This Land Is Your Land"
The video linked here shows the impressive bunch of participants on The Dark Was the Night concert butchering the song until Sharon and her Dap Kings came to the rescue.
3. Aimee Mann - "Fourth of July"
Not so much patriotic as just a beautifully sad song, appropriate to the holiday.
4. David Bowie - "Young American"
Suggestion from Twitter follower @thegayplaces
5. Shooter Jennings - "4th of July"
Suggestion from Twitter follower @cwalrondhood
6. Beastie Boys - "Fight for Your Right to Party"
Suggestion from Twitter follower @ideasbychuck
7. Team America soundtrack - "Freedom Costs a Buck-o-Five"
Suggestion from Twitter follower @raisedbyclowns
8. Little Stevens - "I Am a Patriot"
Suggestion from Twitter follower @sky_bluesky
9. Tom Petty - "American Girl"
Suggestion from Twitter follower @JeremyMeyers
10. Ozomatli - "Who Discovered America"
Suggestion from Twitter follower @FemmeFM
11. The Muffs - "Kids in America"
Suggestion from Twitter follower @emilyhogan
12. The Weepies - "All This Beauty"
Suggestion from Twitter follower @blackbirdcoffee
Follow Josh Jackson on Twitter at @joshjackson and have a wonderful 4th of July.