I’ve always thought that the best things about America can be found embodied in our national music. In fact, most Americans are unaware that much of our patriotic culture, especially our iconic music, was created by artists and writers of decidedly left-wing sympathies.
Two years ago, I posted a list of what I called the Top Twelve Most Patriotic Songs Ever. I’ve rethought those selections, consulted with various music experts and I’m excited to unveil my heavily revised and highly subjective list of the Top Ten July 4th Songs with accompanying videos. To me, these songs, taken together, help distill the American experience and make clear both what’s great about the US and what we still need to be working on.
Please use the comments field below to tell me what I missed.
1. Los Lobos with Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir performing This Land is Your Land
This version of the iconic Woody Guthrie song was performed in July 1989 backstage between sets on that summer’s Los Lobos/Grateful Dead tour.
2. Bruce Springsteen performing Chimes of Freedom
Sony Music has made it impossible to watch Bob Dylan performing his classic musical ode to “the refugees on their unarmed road of flight.” Fortunately, Bruce Springsteen acquits himself well in this 1988 cover.
3. Paul Robeson, The House I Live In
Written in 1943 by Abel Meeropol under the pen name Lewis Allen and the blacklisted Earl Robinson, this tune became a patriotic anthem during Work War II with its populist evocation of everyday American life.
4. Phil Ochs, The Power and Glory
One of the songs that first established Ochs’s reputation, he saw it as a patriotic hymn combining the American dream with selfless Christian ideals.
5. Marvin Gaye performing The Star Spangled Banner
I want to include this great Marvin Gaye cover from 1983 NBA All-Star Game which I’ve always loved despite my great ambivalence, if not outright hostility, to the National Anthem.
6. Leonard Cohen, Democracy
Here, Cohen shows off his skill as a poet and a spoken-word artist by breaking down what democracy means from the ground up.
7. John Mellencamp, Small Town
This 1985 song distills the essence of Mellencamp’s popularity as the bard of the Midwest giving voice to the dreams and disappointments of so many small communities coast to coast.
8. Rosanne Cash performing 500 Miles
This song, originally written by Hedy West, became popular in the US and Europe during the 1960s folk revival and was part of a list of 100 essential American songs that Johnny Cash famously gave his daughter Rosanne in 1973. In 2009, she produced a brilliant album featuring her versions of 12 of the 100.
9. Aimee Mann, 4th of July
This song, from Mann’s 1993 solo debut, “Whatever” is a haunting ballad evoking the poignancy of the passage of time.
10. Gil Scott-Heron, Winter in America
One of Scott-Heron’s most well-received compositions, this song is a profound, bluesy lament for America’s lost promise: “And ain’t nobody fighting, Cause nobody knows what to save.”