It’s Monday and that means it’s time for Monday’ Music Moves Me (4M), a blog hop hosted by X-Mas Dolly, and co-hosted by JAmerican Spice, Stacy Uncorked and Curious as a Cathy. Be sure to stop by the hosts and visit the other participants.
Today’s 4M is a special 4th of July Edition in which we present songs having to do with freedom, independence, celebration and America. I was just going to put together a simple playlist and let ‘er rip, but there are so many interesting facts about many of the songs that I’m featuring I figured I’d elaborate and include some fun factoids that I discovered on Wikipedia.
So, here is my 4th of July playlist:
“R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.” – John Mellencamp
“R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.”, subtitled “A Salute to 60’s Rock,” is a rock song written and performed by John Mellencamp. It was the third single from his 1985 album Scarecrow and a top-ten hit on both the Billboard Hot 100 and Top Rock Tracks charts.
“Where the Stars & Stripes & the Eagle Fly” – Aaron Tippin
“Where the Stars and Stripes and the Eagle Fly” is a song written by Kenny Beard, Casey Beathard and co-written and recorded by American country music singer Aaron Tippin. The song reached number 2 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart for one week. In addition to this, it also peaked at number 20 on the Billboard Hot 100, marking Tippin’s first and, to date, only entry into the Top 20. In addition, it was Tippin’s last single to reach the Top Ten on the country charts. The song was released in the wake of the September 11 attacks. All proceeds from the single went to the Red Cross and its relief efforts for the families of the September 11 attacks. According to then label president, Larry Goodman, the single raised approximately $250,000.
“Philadelphia Freedom” – Elton John
Some have interpreted “Philadelphia Freedom” as an American patriotic song, owing to patriotic lyrics such as “From the day I was born I waved the flag,” the history of Philadelphia as being symbolic with American ideals of freedom as Philadelphia was the site of the Constitutional Convention, houses the Liberty Bell and served as the first capitol of the United States, along with the song’s release, which coincided with the United States Bicentennial. But in reality, it was really written to honor Billie Jean King, a good friend of Elton’s. According to Wikipedia: Recorded in the summer of 1974, during breaks between sessions for Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, the song was at the time the only song Elton John and Bernie Taupin had ever consciously written as a single, as John told journalist Paul Gambaccini. John was looking to honor Billie Jean King, and so asked Taupin to write a song called “Philadelphia Freedom” as a homage to her tennis team, the Philadelphia Freedoms.
In His Song: The Musical History of Elton John, Elizabeth Rosenthal recounts that Taupin said, “I can’t write a song about tennis,” and did not. Taupin maintains that the lyrics bear no relation to tennis, Philly Soul, or even flag-waving patriotism. Nonetheless, the lyrics have been interpreted as patriotic and uplifting, and even though it was released in 1975, the song’s sentiment, intentionally or not, meshed perfectly with an American music audience gearing up for the country’s bicentennial celebration in July 1976. (Source: Wikipedia)
Here’s Elton John performing this great hit on Soul Train in 1975:
“Livin’ in America” – James Brown
“Living in America” is a 1985 song composed by Dan Hartman and Charlie Midnight and performed by James Brown. It was released as a single in 1985 and reached number 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The song entered the Billboard Top 40 on January 11, 1986, and remained on the chart for 11 weeks.
The song was prominently featured in the film Rocky IV. In the film, Brown sings the song before Apollo Creed enters the boxing ring, in reference to the character’s patriotic image. It appeared on the Rocky IV soundtrack album. The full version of the song (nearly six minutes long) was included on Brown’s 1986 album, Gravity, and on various compilations throughout the 1990s.
“Born in the U.S.A.” – Bruce Springsteen
“Born in the U.S.A.” is a 1984 song written and performed by Bruce Springsteen, and released on the album of the same name. One of Springsteen’s best-known singles, Rolling Stone ranked the song 275th on their list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time”, and in 2001, the RIAA’s Songs of the Century placed the song 59th (out of 365). The song addresses the harmful effects of the Vietnam War on Americans and the treatment of Vietnam veterans upon their return home. It is an ironic retort to the indifference and hostility with which Vietnam veterans were met.
The song was in part a tribute to Springsteen’s friends who had experienced the Vietnam War, some of whom did not come back; it also protests the hardships Vietnam veterans faced upon their return from the war.
The song’s narrative traces the protagonist’s working-class origins, induction into the armed forces, and disaffected return to the States. An anguished lyrical interlude is even more jolting, describing the fate of the protagonist’s (literal or figurative) brother (in some recordings or live shows, the word “brother” is replaced with “buddy”):
I had a brother at Khe Sanh
Fighting off the Viet Cong
They’re still there; he’s all gone
He had a woman he loved in Saigon
I got a picture of him in her arms, now
The Battle of Khe Sanh involved the North Vietnamese Army, not the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam (Viet Cong) heard in the song lyrics. Eventually the Americans prevailed and broke the siege, only to withdraw from the outpost a couple of months later. Khe Sanh thus became one of the media symbols of the futility of the whole war effort in the States.
Two scholars writing in the journal American Quarterly explored the song as a lament for the embattled working-class identity. Structurally, they noted that “the anthemic chorus contrasted with the verses’ desperate narrative,” a tension which informs an understanding of the song’s overall meaning: the nationalist chorus continuously overwhelms the desperation and sacrifice relayed in the verses. They point out that the imagery of the Vietnam War could be read as metaphor for “the social and economic siege of American blue-collar communities” at large, and that lyrics discussing economic devastation are likely symbolic for the effect of blind nationalism upon the working class. The song as a whole, they felt, laments the destabilization of the economics and politics protecting the “industrial working class” in the 1970s and early 1980s, leaving only “a deafening but hollow national pride.” (Source: Wikipedia)
“American Pie” – Don McLean
“American Pie” is a song by American folk rock singer and songwriter Don McLean. Recorded and released on the American Pie album in 1971, the single was a number-one US hit for four weeks in 1972. The song was listed as the No. 5 song on the RIAA project Songs of the Century.
The repeatedly mentioned “day the music died” refers to the 1959 plane crash which killed early rock and roll performers Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens. (The crash was not known by that name until after McLean’s song became a hit.) The meaning of the other lyrics has long been debated, and for decades, McLean declined to explain the symbolism behind the many characters and events mentioned. However, the overall theme of the song is the loss of innocence of the early rock and roll generation as symbolized by the plane crash which claimed the lives of three of its heroes.
In 2017, McLean’s original recording was selected for preservation in the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or artistically significant.”
When asked what “American Pie” meant, McLean jokingly replied, “It means I don’t ever have to work again if I don’t want to.” Later, he stated, “You will find many interpretations of my lyrics but none of them by me … Sorry to leave you all on your own like this but long ago I realized that songwriters should make their statements and move on, maintaining a dignified silence.” He also commented on the popularity of his music, “I didn’t write songs that were just catchy, but with a point of view, or songs about the environment.”
In February 2015, McLean announced he would reveal the meaning of the lyrics to the song when the original manuscript went for auction in New York City, in April 2015. The lyrics and notes were auctioned on April 7, and sold for $1.2 million. In the sale catalogue notes, McLean revealed the meaning in the song’s lyrics: “Basically in American Pie things are heading in the wrong direction. … It [life] is becoming less idyllic. I don’t know whether you consider that wrong or right but it is a morality song in a sense.” The catalogue confirmed some of the better known references in the song’s lyrics, including mentions of Elvis Presley (“the king”) and Bob Dylan (“the jester”), and confirmed that the song culminates with a near-verbatim description of the death of Meredith Hunter at the Altamont Free Concert, ten years after the plane crash that killed Holly, Valens, and Richardson. (Source: Wikipedia)
“American Woman” – The Guess Who
“American Woman” is a song released by the Canadian rock band The Guess Who in January 1970, from their sixth studio album of the same name. It was later released in March 1970 as a single backed with “No Sugar Tonight”, which reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100. Billboard magazine placed the single at number three on the Year-End Hot 100 singles of 1970 list. On May 22, 1970, the single was certified as gold by the RIAA.
The song’s origins took the form of a live jam that emerged during a curling rink concert in Southern Ontario (various recollections include Kitchener and Mississauga, while Burton Cummings, the lead singer, recalls the curling rink was “The Broom and Stone”—a popular Scarborough location for concerts at the time). When Bachman broke a string he unknowingly played the riff to American Woman when tuning the replacement string. He played it louder and Cummings improvised the lyrics to fit what Bachman was playing. They liked what they had played and noticed a kid with a cassette recorder making a bootleg recording and asked him for the tape. The subsequent studio recording features the original almost completely unchanged; only a few lines were added.
In an interview with Randy Bachman in Songfacts he elaborated further, calling this “an anti-war protest song,” explaining that when they came up with it on stage, the band and the audience had a problem with the Vietnam War. Said Bachman: “We had been touring the States. This was the late ’60s, one time at the US/Canada border in North Dakota they tried to draft us and send us to Vietnam. We were back in Canada, playing in the safety of Canada where the dance is full of draft dodgers who’ve all left the States”.
Cummings (the song’s lyricist) insists it has nothing to do with American pride. “What was on my mind was that girls in the States seemed to get older quicker than our girls and that made them, well, dangerous.” Cummings told the Toronto Star in 2014. “When I said ‘American woman, stay away from me,’ I really meant ‘Canadian woman, I prefer you.’ It was all a happy accident.”
The song’s lyrics have been the matter of some debate, often interpreted as an attack on U.S. politics (especially the draft). Jim Kale, the group’s bassist and the song’s co-author, explained his take on the lyrics:
“The popular misconception was that it was a chauvinistic tune, which was anything but the case. The fact was, we came from a very strait-laced, conservative, laid-back country, and all of a sudden, there we were in Chicago, Detroit, New York – all these horrendously large places with their big city problems. After that one particularly grinding tour, it was just a real treat to go home and see the girls we had grown up with. Also, the war was going on, and that was terribly unpopular. We didn’t have a draft system in Canada, and we were grateful for that. A lot of people called it anti-American, but it wasn’t really. We weren’t anti-anything. John Lennon once said that the meanings of all songs come after they are recorded. Someone else has to interpret them.” (Source: Wikipedia)
Here’s The Guess Who doing a performance in the early 70s; not sure what show they were on. I saw them in concert back in my college days (early 80s) but by that time they were playing smaller venues and without all the original members. They are by far my favorite band of all time!
“Courtesy of the Red, White & Blue” by Toby Keith
This is probably my favorite patriotic song.
“Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)” is a song written and recorded by American country music artist Toby Keith. The song was written in late 2001, and was inspired by Keith’s father’s death in March 2001, as well as the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States later that year. It was released in May 2002 as the lead single from the album, Unleashed. The song topped the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart and reached number 25 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart becoming his biggest solo hit on that chart.
On March 24, 2001, Keith’s father, Hubert Keith (H.K.) Covel, was killed in a car accident. That event and the September 11, 2001 attacks prompted Keith to write the song “Courtesy of the Red, White, & Blue (The Angry American)”, a song about his father’s patriotism and faith in the USA. It took him 20 minutes to write the song. Keith declares that the song was written with reference to the war in Afghanistan, claiming to be indifferent on other conflicts, “But you don’t have to listen but once to the words to understand that the song was strictly for Afghanistan.” I have no stance on the Iraq war,” he continues, “but the second [that I say], Ι have no stance there, I’m not smart enough to tell whether we should be in there or not”. At first, Keith refused to record the song and only sang it live at his concerts for military personnel.
The reaction was so strong that the Commandant of the Marine Corps James L. Jones told Keith it was his duty as an American citizen to record the song. “It’s your job as an entertainer to lift the morale of the troops,” Jones said to Keith. “If you want to serve, that is what you can do.” As the lead single from the album Unleashed (2002), “Courtesy of the Red, White, & Blue” peaked at number 1 on the country charts over the weekend of July 4.
In a November 2003 interview with CBS, Keith gave his take on the song: “It wasn’t written for everybody. And when you write something from your heart – I had a dad that was a veteran, taught me how precious our freedom is – I was so angry when we were attacked here on American soil that it leaked out of me. You know, some people wept when they heard it. Some people got goose bumps. Some people were emotionally moved. Some cheered, turned their fists in the air.”
The song was the last song aired by the Armed Forces Radio Network in Baghdad prior to ceasing operations in Baghdad during the drawdown from Iraq. It was selected by service members who were polled. (Source: Wikipedia)
The song also has some interesting controversy:
ABC invited Keith to sing “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue” on a patriotic special it produced in 2002; however, the host of the show, Canadian-born newsman Peter Jennings, requested Keith soften the lyrics of the song or choose another song to sing. Keith refused both requests and did not appear on the special. The rift gave the song a considerable amount of publicity, which led to many national interviews and public performances of the song. During an interview with 60 Minutes, Keith spoke about his public comments about Jennings, saying “I thought it was hilarious. My statement was, ‘Isn’t he Canadian?’ to a bunch of press. They laughed and then I said, ‘Well, I bet Dan Rather wouldn’t kick me off his show,’” says Keith.” Responding to criticisms of the network decision, a representative for ABC stated that because Keith was performing in Utah when the show would broadcast, Keith could be on the program only as the opening act, and that the song was “angry” and “not the kind of tone the producers wanted to use to begin this three-hour celebration.”
Keith had a public feud with the Dixie Chicks over both the song and comments they made about President George W. Bush. The lead singer of the Dixie Chicks, Natalie Maines, publicly stated that the song was “ignorant, and it makes country music sound ignorant.” Keith responded by belittling Maines’ songwriting skills, and by displaying a backdrop at his concerts showing a doctored photo of Maines with Saddam Hussein. On May 21, 2003, Maines wore a T-shirt with the letters “FUTK” on the front at the Academy of Country Music Awards. While a spokesperson for the Dixie Chicks said that the acronym stood for “Friends United in Truth and Kindness”, many, including host Vince Gill, took it to be an obscene shot at Keith and understood the acronym to mean “Fuck You, Toby Keith.” In August 2003, Keith publicly declared he was done feuding with Maines “because he’s realized there are far more important things to concentrate on.”
Maines later admitted that the FUTK shirt was, in fact, a shot at Keith.” In the 2006 documentary Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing, backstage footage prior to her appearance wearing the F.U.T.K. shirt recorded the conversation between Maines and Simon Renshaw and confirmed that the original intent of the shirt was, in fact, a shot at Keith in response to his criticism of her: the letters stood for “Fuck You Toby Keith”. (Source: Wikipedia)
“America” by Simon & Garfunkel
“America” is a song performed by American music duo Simon & Garfunkel, which they released from their fourth studio album, Bookends, in 1968. Produced by the duo and Roy Halee, the song was later issued as a single in 1972 to promote the release of Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits.
The song was written and composed by Paul Simon, and concerns young lovers hitchhiking their way across the United States, in search of “America,” in both a literal and figurative sense. It was inspired by a 1964 road trip that Simon took with his then girlfriend Kathy Chitty. The song has been regarded as one of Simon’s strongest songwriting efforts and one of the duo’s best songs. A 2014 Rolling Stone reader’s poll ranked it the group’s fourth best song.
In 2004, Bob Dyer, a former disc jockey from Saginaw, Michigan, explained the song’s genesis in an interview with The Saginaw News. According to Dyer, Simon wrote the song while visiting the town in 1966, when he booked him for Y-A-Go-Go, a concert series hosted by the Saginaw YMCA.
“I asked Paul Simon if they were still charging the $1,250 we paid them to play and he said they were getting about four times that much then. Then I asked him why he hadn’t pulled out, and he said he had to see what a city named Saginaw looked like. Apparently, he liked it; he wrote ‘America’ while he was here, including that line about taking four days to hitchhike from Saginaw.”
In 2010, lyrics from the song began appearing spray-painted on vacant buildings and abandoned factories in the town of Saginaw, Michigan, which is mentioned in the song. The group of artists, Paint Saginaw, decided to paint the phrases after the population had dwindled vastly, noting that the song became rather “homesick” for the town’s residents. The song’s entire lyrics are painted on 28 buildings in the city, including railroad tracks and bridge supports. (Source: Wikipedia)
I’ll end my America set with the classic from Ray Charles:
“America the Beautiful” – Ray Charles
In 1976, while the United States celebrated its bicentennial, a soulful version popularized by Ray Charles peaked at number 98 on the US R&B Charts, and is included on the soundtrack for the movie The Sandlot.
Here are the lyrics to Ray Charles version:
Oh beautiful for heroes proved,
In liberating strife,
Who more than self, our country loved,
And mercy more than life,
America, America may God thy gold refine,
Til all success be nobleness
And every gain divined.
And you know when I was in school,
We used to sing it something like this, listen here:
Oh beautiful, for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties,
Above the fruited plain,
But now wait a minute, I’m talking about
America, sweet America
You know, God done shed his grace on thee,
He crowned thy good, yes he did, in brotherhood,
From sea to shining sea.
You know, I wish I had somebody to help me sing this
(America, America, God shed his grace on thee)
America, I love you America, you see,
My God he done shed his grace on thee,
And you oughta love him for it,
Cause he, he, he ,he crowned thy good,
He told me he would, with brotherhood,
(From sea to shining Sea).
Oh lord, oh lord, I thank you Lord
If you’d like to listen to my 4th of July playlist in its entirety, here you go:
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