Happy birthday, America; it’s been a wild 235 years. Independence from Britian, baseball, westward expansion, jeans, ongoing freedom and plenty of fighting to keep that freedom. Like freedom of press—that’s pretty wild.
In exercising Pop ‘stache’s freedom of the press business-as-usual, we present, in no superlative order, a handful of tracks that define the American experience. We wouldn’t be Americans if we didn’t utilize that First Amendment with how we feel about the country through song. We are proud of our country, we are pissed off and sometimes we are hypocrites.
“Born in the U.S.A.” – Bruce Springsteen
Born in the U.S.A.’s keyboard-charged title track is an essential rocker with subject matter darker than its beat suggests. “Born in the U.S.A.” is a first person account of returning home after fighting in the Vietnam War, an experience in which the storyteller “end[s] up like a dog that’s been beat too much/’Til you spend half your life just covering up.” With “nowhere to run, ain’t nowhere to go,” “Born in the U.S.A.” shows a dedication to one’s country wherein the payoff doesn’t exactly meet the sacrifice.
“Living In America” – James Brown
With his signature “uhs!” and “has!” injected here and there, Brown looks over the land of the free and the home of the brave in this ’80s jam—observing highways, railways and the hard-working citizens who inhabit the land (“You might take the hard line/But everybody’s workin’ overtime”). “Living In America” is the definitive song that will have you singing along and dancin’ for the red, white and blue.
“America, The Beautiful” – Ray Charles
“Crowned thy good with brotherhood”—yeah yeah, we know. But Charles puts soul into an otherwise boring ho-hum ditty, for a beautiful, fresh listen to an traditional hymn.
“America Is” – Violent Femmes
A song about “the facts, not the lies,” “America Is” waxes cynical about our country and its faults in treating its own. A track with a bouncy bass line and punk attitude, executed in classic Femmes candor, frontman Gordon Gano leads the chanty chorus, “America is the home of the hypocrite,” as a cult leader headhunting The Man.
“City of New Orleans” – Steve Goodman
Goodman’s voice blends country twang, folky plain-speaking and a little bit of soul into a song written while on the train, City of New Orleans, out of Chicago and south along the Mississippi River. “Good mornin’, America, how are ya?,” Goodman, voicing the train, greets the land passing before it, including the agriculture and industry of American economy, and the men and women of the land.
“The Big Country” – Talking Heads
A counterpoint to “City of New Orleans”—though the land is viewed from the distance of a plane overhead. “The Big Country” strolls down a calming pedal steel guitar and simple guitar strumming as David Byrne describes the picturesque gamut of terrain, landscapes and buildings he sees and the people moving about. After observing the country from a bird’s eye view, he says, “I wouldn’t live there if you paid me.” Despite the happy sound of the song and the happy sights listed, Byrne is “tired of looking out the windows of the airplane” and “it’s not even worth talking about those people down there.”
“(Coming to) America” – Neil Diamond
Though having anything Neil Diamond on any list about anything needs no explanation, here’s one for “(Coming to) America.” Easy to sing along to with Diamond’s rich baritone voice, (“Everywhere around the world, they’re comin’ to America”), this patriotic anthem sings about, well, coming to America, “on the boats and on the planes.” Diamond describes the situation many immigrants faced moving to the United States, including packing light, never looking back, and seeing this “new and shiny place” as a beacon of hope, with “freedom’s light burning warm.”