- “This Land is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie (1945)
- “California Dreamin'” by The Mamas and the Papas (1965)
- “The Times They Are a-Changin'” by Bob Dylan (1964)
- “Abraham, Martin, and John” by Dion (1968)
- “America” by Simon & Garfunkel (1968)
- “The Star-Spangled Banner” by Jimi Hendrix (1969)
- “American Pie” by Don McLean (1971)
- “Man in Black” by Johnny Cash (1971)
- “Take Me Home, Country Roads” by John Denver (1971)
- “America the Beautiful” by Ray Charles (1972)
- “We’re an American Band” by Grand Funk Railroad (1973)
- “Free Bird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd (1973)
- “American Girl” by Tom Petty (1977)
- “America” by Neil Diamond (1981)
- “God Bless the U.S.A.” by Lee Greenwood (1984)
- “Born in the U.S.A.” by Bruce Springsteen (1984)
- “Pink Houses” by John Cougar Mellencamp (1983)
- “Living in America” by James Brown (1985)
- “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.” by John Cougar Mellencamp (1985)
- “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy (1989)
- “Rockin’ in the Free World” by Neil Young (1989)
- “Banned in the U.S.A.” by 2 Live Crew (1990)
- “American Idiot” by Green Day (2004)
- “Empire State of Mind” by Jay-Z featuring Alicia Keys (2009)
- “Party in the U.S.A.” by Miley Cyrus (2009)
Patriotism is visible in various forms. Not just waving a flag or putting one’s hand over the heart, but through protest to try to bring about change and fight for the rights bestowed upon us as American citizens. Music has touched on all that. Some of the most “American” songs are the ones that take a shot at our great land because that’s our right. Here are some of the best songs encapsulating what being an American is about or why our country is worth celebrating.
“This Land is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie (1945)
Guthrie’s classic is considered by many to be the greatest folk song of all time. It was his disapproving response to Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America.” Through his travels across the country, Guthrie had his take on the state of America during those times — and maybe it was a land that not everybody loved or not everything we were promised was seen through. Bruce Springsteen’s live version from 1985 is among the best covers of this legendary track.
“California Dreamin'” by The Mamas and the Papas (1965)
Not all songs about America have to be about the country as a whole; they can simply celebrate a certain region, state, or town. When the weather is cold back East, it’s the right time to long for that warm California sun. That’s what The Mamas and the Papas told us. (Barry McGuire actually recorded the song first.) And they made Los Angeles and Southern California seem like the next best thing to heaven.
“The Times They Are a-Changin'” by Bob Dylan (1964)
This is Dylan’s call, challenging the status quo and asking that there be change at a time when the civil rights and peace movements could be intertwined. Regarded as the quintessential “protest” song, it was a trendsetter in many ways for musical artists to use their platforms to get a point across and not be afraid to voice an opinion about a country that is far from perfect.
“Abraham, Martin, and John” by Dion (1968)
A tribute to the lives of assassinated public U.S. figures Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, and John F. Kennedy — plus Kennedy’s brother, Bobby. Written by songwriter Dıck Holler and first recorded brilliantly by Dion (as in Dion and the Belmonts), the song is a way to honor these fallen leaders while pointing out the work being done for social change in America should not die.
“America” by Simon & Garfunkel (1968)
One of the duo’s most memorable works is a tale about a couple hitchhiking across the country. They are trying to find a certain sense of freedom in the land of the free. The subtly and pace of the track make it one that can easily be heard while riding in the backseat of a car and looking out the window on a journey toward self-discovery.
“The Star-Spangled Banner” by Jimi Hendrix (1969)
Woodstock was a celebration of Peace, Love, and Music — and might be the defining American music moment of all time. When Hendrix and his band finally hit the stage on Monday morning, well after they were slated to close the festival Sunday night, the highlight of his set was that amazing, legendary version of the national anthem. It was simple yet completely compelling.
“American Pie” by Don McLean (1971)
Clocking in at roughly eight-and-a-half minutes in its full version, McLean’s masterpiece is kind of like a motion picture of music. One of the most popular songs ever written is basically about the loss of American innocence after the plane crash that killed rock icons Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper. While not patriotic or controversial, it just seems to epitomize life in America, the highs and lows, and everything in between.
“Man in Black” by Johnny Cash (1971)
Arguably the legend’s most personal song and anti-establishment song. As Americans, we have the right to question how things are done. Cash aims at the treatment of the poor throughout the country, the prison system, and even the Vietnam War. If anybody wants to know why Cash favored the color black, give a listen.
“Take Me Home, Country Roads” by John Denver (1971)
Denver’s signature tune is also among the state songs of West Virginia. However, as legend has it, co-writer Bill Danoff, a Massachusetts native, came up with the idea while driving along a rural road not in West Virginia. He actually had never been to the state, but the words West Virginia fit the song. Still, it’s about the images and feelings of venturing through some beautiful country. Is there anything more American than that?
“America the Beautiful” by Ray Charles (1972)
There have been many versions of this early 1900s patriotic musical hallmark. However, Charles’ version, recorded in 1972, and one that enjoyed chart success during the bicentennial four years later, is considered the best. As with everything Charles played or sang, he delivered a passionate, soulful rendition that any American can feel good about.
“We’re an American Band” by Grand Funk Railroad (1973)
Grand Funk’s biggest hit is kind of a defensive one. The British invasion of popular music had passed, but in the hard rock/arena rock sect, the English had plenty of momentum (i.e., Led Zeppelin). Grand Funk felt American rock was still alive and kicking — and the band was at the forefront and proud to be touring America with some quality rock ‘n’ roll while also not forgetting the great American rockers who paved the way and inspired such bands.
“Free Bird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd (1973)
Skynyrd’s most recognizable track might also be the official anthem of arena rock. In a famed interview, the band’s late lead singer Ronnie Van Zant stated the song is about being free — like a bird, the ultimate symbol of freedom in his eyes — and that’s what makes America special. The song is often the butt of jokes, but it remains one of the most beautiful and emotional hard-rock ballads of all time.
“American Girl” by Tom Petty (1977)
One of Petty’s most beloved tunes and the last he played live with his band, the Heartbreakers, before his untimely death in 2017. Petty has denied the song is about a girl contemplating jumping off a building in his home state of Florida but rather simply about a young American woman searching and wanting something bigger and better than the moment. That’s pretty much all of us at some point in our lives.
“America” by Neil Diamond (1981)
From the soundtrack of The Jazz Singer, Diamond sings about immigrants making their way to America, where dreams come true, theoretically, and freedom is achieved. It was a longtime favorite at Diamond concerts and a well-done song that exudes patriotism.
“God Bless the U.S.A.” by Lee Greenwood (1984)
Countless country songs praise this great land of ours. But Greenwood’s early ’80s classic should be at the forefront. It took on a new meaning and received a huge surge in popularity during the Gulf War and after 9/11. It’s perhaps the most modern patriotic song ever written.
“Born in the U.S.A.” by Bruce Springsteen (1984)
This is perhaps the most misinterpreted rock song of all time. Upon its release, one of Springsteen’s biggest hits had countless Americans waving flags and rocking out in support of our great land. In reality, Springsteen was singing about hypocrisy, especially regarding the Vietnam War. From the war’s purpose to how the war’s veterans were treated — often shunned when they came back home trying to restart their lives. It might be one of the most important songs in classic rock history.
“Pink Houses” by John Cougar Mellencamp (1983)
The first of two times we’ll hear from the king of heartland rock ‘n’ roll. The Indiana native captures the simple life of middle America. Sitting on the front porch on a summer night, cleaning the kitchen, and listening to those sounds of life. Nothing fancy, just living and enjoying the freedom America offers. Sometimes life can be hard, and dreams are not fulfilled, but there’s still probably no place better to be.
“Living in America” by James Brown (1985)
Anybody who has seen Rocky IV will never forget the song’s presence before Apollo Creed taking on the brutal Ivan Drago from Russia. It was the 1980s Cold War, and movies were fair game on the topic. This unabashed celebration of America and its freedom compared to the communist regions of the time stood out like the stars and stripes on the flag.
“R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.” by John Cougar Mellencamp (1985)
More from Mr. Mellencamp. This time, his tribute to some great American rockers from the 1960s. Mellencamp hails artists such as Jackie Wilson, Martha Reeves, and the previously mentioned James Brown, who influenced his career and continue to leave a lasting impression on his work. As we know, music has a way of shaping people’s lives, and that’s certainly true when it comes to American pop and rock ‘n’ roll.
“Fight the Power” by Public Enemy (1989)
Public Enemy’s most recognizable cut was born from the Spike Lee movie Do the Right Thing. It grew into a rap anthem for social and racial justice in America — and one that still has a place in today’s world. Think of it perhaps as urban Generation X’s version of Dylan’s “The Times They Are a-Changin’.”
“Rockin’ in the Free World” by Neil Young (1989)
The song introduced Young’s music to a new generation of angst-filled youngsters. Young, often considered the “Godfather of Grunge,” reportedly wrote it after a tour of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s was nixed, so he figured he would keep his act where freedom reigned supreme. It’s one of his biggest hits, a symbol of free America — good or bad — and a concert favorite of Pearl Jam.
“Banned in the U.S.A.” by 2 Live Crew (1990)
2 Live Crew’s artistic response to the group’s 1989 hit album As Nasty As They Wanna Be being ruled legally obscene (the ruling would later be overturned via appeal). Sampling “Born in the U.S.A.,” this rap is patriotic because it was about free speech. After all, the U.S. “is not the place where they brought down the wall.”
“American Idiot” by Green Day (2004)
Originally, punk was about challenging the establishment — or at least making fun of it. Green Day is far from a hardcore punk outfit, but it takes a serious stand on the title cut from this massively popular album from 2004. The song chides the media and tendencies to frighten Americans consistently — and the rest of the world, for that matter — into a sense of paranoia regarding how bad things are to make more money. It’s not a protest song but a tongue-in-cheek attack on propaganda and a voice for individualists and free-thinking.
“Empire State of Mind” by Jay-Z featuring Alicia Keys (2009)
The song went through plenty of re-working before reaching the point of release — Jay-Z certainly had his say — but the main point of the track is an ode to New York City. It’s become an iconic song for the area, and there is a good chance one will hear it at some point while hanging in Times Square. It even spawned a sequel by Keys titled “Empire State of Mind (Part II) Broken Down.”
“Party in the U.S.A.” by Miley Cyrus (2009)
Pop puff at its finest and a celebration of music and good times. In Cyrus’ case, she partially reflects on her move from Nashville to Hollywood as her career as an entertainer took off. Hardly patriotic, it’s just an all-American celebration of millennial life and how fun it is celebrating it all.
Source: The 25 best songs about America