Fourth of July Tunes

Fourth of July Tunes

Thought we’d pull this story from last year out of the attic, since once again, it’s time to celebrate  the Fourth of July holiday! 

Fourth of July#1 “Star Spangled Banner,” Jimi Hendrix

Near dawn on the final day of Woodstock 1969, legendary guitarist Jimi Hendrix took the stage for an hour-long set. Thirteen deep, Hendrix wowed the vastly hippy audience with his rendition of our nation’s anthem. But elsewhere, Hendrix’s electric guitar solo improvisation was met with resentment.

In an interview on The Dick Cavett Show, Cavett broached the topic with Hendrix, asking the musician, “When you mention the National Anthem and talk about playing it any unorthodox way, (do) you immediately get a guaranteed percentage of hate mail?”

Hendrix quickly cut him off saying, “It’s not unorthodox.”

“It isn’t unorthodox?” repeated Cavett.

“No, I thought it was beautiful,” Hendrix answered.

“I’m American so I played it,” he explained. “I used to have to sing it in school, they made me sing it in school, so it was a flashback.”

While some call it controversial, we call it a classic example of why Hendrix is known as the greatest guitar player ever.

#2 “America the Beautiful,” Ray Charles

Hundreds have sung this tribute since 1910 when church organist and choirmaster Samuel A. Ward composed the music for Katharine Lee Bates’ poem “Pikes Peak,” but none so soulfully as Ray Charles.  Charles has performed the song live many times, including Super Bowl XXXV. His unique take on the song starts off with the third verse first, after which he sings the usual first verse.

O beautiful, for heroes proved

In liberating strife,

Who more than self their country loved

And mercy more than life!

America! America! May God thy gold refine, 

Till all success be nobleness, and ev’ry gain divine! 

Hendrix’s landmark performance of the National Anthem.

#3 “This Land is My Land,” Woody Guthrie

This land is your land, this land is my land

From California to the New York Island  

From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters

This land was made for you and me.

This tune is one of the United States’ most famous folk songs. Written in 1940 by Woody Guthrie in response to Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America,” “This Land is Your Land” was one of 50 recordings chosen in 2002 by the Library of Congress to be added to the National Recording Registry.

Originally titled “God Blessed America For Me,” Guthrie used a Baptist gospel hymn, “Oh, My Loving Brother” for the melody.

Several artists have been inspired by the song over the years, particularly in the 60s when Bob Dylan, The Kingston Trio, the New Christy Minstrels, Peter Paul and Mary and The Seekers recorded their own versions.

Bruce Springsteen also released a live version of it on Live/1975-85 and sung it with Pete Seeger and his grandson at We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial on Jan. 18, 2009. 

#4 “Born in the U.S.A.,” Bruce Springsteen

Nothing gets the American blood pumping like shouting the patriotic chorus to this Boss hit.  “Born in the U.S.A., I was born in the U.S.A., I was born in the U.S.A. Born in the U.S.A.”

And every Fourth of July, whether it’s at a town parade or a family picnic, most of us crank the volume and do so.

In actuality, Springsteen wrote the song not to pay homage to the American flag but as an indictment of the way Vietnam veterans were treated after returning home from the war. Vietnam marked the first war the United States didn’t win and instead of offering a hero’s welcome, or simply an appreciation for those who served the flag, Vietnam vets were largely ignored or mistreated when they returned to our country.

Got in a little hometown jam

So they put a rifle in my hand

Sent me off to a foreign land,

To go and kill the yellow man…

I’m ten years burning down the road 

Nowhere to run, ain’t got nowhere to go 

In a 2005 interview with National Public Radio, Bruce spoke about the song.

“I make American music, and I write about the place I live and who I am in my lifetime. Those are the things I’m going to struggle for and fight for.”

As for how his song has been misinterpreted, Springsteen said, “In my songs, the spiritual part, the hope part is in the choruses. The blues, and your daily realities are in the details of the verses. The spiritual comes out in the choruses, which I got from Gospel music and the church.”

#5 “Pink House,” John Cougar Mellencamp

Mellencamp got his inspiration for “Pink Houses” while driving along an overpass on his way home to Bloomington, Ind. from the airport in Indianapolis. Mellencamp glanced over and noticed an old black man sitting outside his pink shotgun house holding a cat, completely unaffected by the interstate traffic passing in front of his home.

“He waved, and I waved back,” Mellencamp said in an interview with Rolling Stone. “That’s how ‘Pink Houses’ started.”

Given the catchy chorus “Aint that America, we’re something to see baby, Aint that America,home of the free,” it’s no surprise that Senator John McCain used the song at his rallies during the Presidential Election. (McCain was told by Mellencamp to cease and desist). But while there is a celebration of the American spirit in the song, there’s also an underlying bitterness about the treatment of the working class.   

We won’t rule this one as patriotic, but similar to “Born in the U.S.A.,” it’s definitely an American staple.

#6 “American Girl,” Tom Petty

Well she was an American girl

Raised on promises

She couldn’t help thinking that there

Was a little more to life

Somewhere else

After all it was a great big world 

Tell us you are not bouncing a little in your seat as you sing those classic Tom Petty lyrics along in your head.

“American Girl” was the second single from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers self-titled album released in February of 1977.

Many have claimed the song is about a girl who committed suicide by jumping from the Beaty Towers dormitory at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Fla., Petty’s hometown. 

But Petty denied that theory in the book Conversations With Tom Petty.

 “Urban legend. It’s become a huge urban myth down in Florida. That’s just not at all true. The song has nothing to do with that. But that story really gets around… They’ve really got the whole story. I’ve even seen magazine articles about that story. ‘Is it true or isn’t it true?’ They could have just called me and found out it wasn’t true.”

Featured in several Hollywood films, most notably Fast Times at Ridgemont High and The Silence of the Lambs, the song was also frequently played during Hillary Clinton rallies during the 2008 Democratic Primaries.

Neil Diamond sings “America.”

#7 ”America,” Neil Diamond

Everywhere around the world,

They’re coming to America.

Ev’ry time that flag’s unfurled,

They’re coming to America.

Got a dream to take them there,

They’re coming to America.

Got a dream they’ve come to share,

They’re coming to America.

This immigration themed song was written and recorded by Neil Diamond, and released in 1980 as part of The Jazz Singer soundtrack album. The hit song reached no. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Shortly after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Diamond modified the lyrics slightly during live performances. In the final chorus, instead of “They’re comin’ to America,” it became “Stand Up for America.”

#8 “Don’t Tread On Me,” Metallica

Liberty or death, what we so proudly hail

once you provoke her, rattling of her tail

never begins it, never, but once engaged…

never surrenders, showing the fangs of rage

said don’t tread on me

“Don’t Tread On Me” was a popular anthem in colonial America, and was paired up with the image of the American timber rattlesnake and printed on a famous flag commonly referred to as the “Gadsden Flag.” Use of the flag was widespread particularly during the American Revolution.

“Don’t Tread on Me” is the sixth song from Metallica’s self-title album, released in 1991. Also known as The Black Album, the cover art features the band’s logo and the coiled Gadsden Flag snake. Despite never being released as a single in the U.S., it reached no. 21 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks in the United States.

The instrumental introduction borrows the eight bar phrase from “America,” one of the popular songs from the musical West Side Story.

Metallica has never performed this song live, likely because of its dislike by Metallica’s co-founder James Hetfield, who in April of 2001 told Playboy magazine, “There are some songs on there I don’t like. ‘Don’t Tread on Me’, probably not one of my favorite songs musically.”

Hetfield might not care for the song, but it makes this list simply because Independence Day is synonymous with fighting for liberty.

#9 “Red White and Blue,” Lynyrd Skynyrd

My hair’s turnin’ white, my neck’s always been red, my collar’s still blue

We’ve always been here tryin’ to sing the truth to you

Guess you could say we’ve always been red white and blue

Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd paid tribute to America’s blue-collar work ethic in this patriotic melody.   Released in 2003 as part of their Vicious Cycle album, “Red White and Blue” debuted at no. 30 on the R&R Rock Chart.

#10 “Elected,” Alice Cooper

Senator George McGovern was in the middle of an anti-war campaign against incumbent President Richard Nixon in the 1972 Presidential Election when heavy metal rocker Alice Cooper released his song “Elected.”

I’m your top prime cut of meat, I’m your choice,

I wanna be elected,

I’m your yankee doodle dandy in a gold Rolls Royce,

I wanna be elected,

Kids want a savior, don’t need a fake,

I wanna be elected,

We’re all gonna rock to the rules that I make,

I wanna be elected, elected, elected. 

Although Cooper claimed he was throwing his hat in the ring for President, it was only a publicity stunt for “Elected,” which was written as a parody.

In fact, Cooper once called politics “treason against rock ‘n’ roll.”

“Rock should never be in bed with politics. When I was a kid and my parents started talking about politics, I’d run to my room and put on the Rolling Stones as loud as I could. So when I see all these rock stars up there talking politics, it makes me sick. …. If you’re listening to a rock star in order to get your information on who to vote for, you’re a bigger moron than they are.” -  a statement to the Canadian Press, August 2005

Honorable Mentions

We tried to offer a variety in our Top Ten, but there’s no shortage of patriotic hymns out there, particularly in the country realm.  We’ve listed some additional favorites below. 

“America Will Survive” by Hank Williams Jr.

“The American Way” by Hank Williams Jr.

“American Woman” by The Guess Who or Lenny Kravitz

“Philadelphia Freedom” by Elton John

“God Bless America,” originally performed by Kate Smith

“Living in the Promised Land” by Willie Nelson

“Independence Day” by Martina McBride

“America” from West Side Story

“Born on the Fourth of July,” John Williams

“American Music” by the Violent Femmes

“American Pie” by Don McClean 

“Courtesy of the Red White and Blue” by Angry American

“Only in America” by Brooks & Dunn

“American Made” by the Oak Ridge Boys

“This Ain’t No Rag It’s A Flag” by Charlie Daniels Band

“Have you Forgotten” by Darryl Worley

“Where Were You When The World Stopped Turning” by Alan Jackson

“This Ragged Old Flag” by Johnny Cash

“American Spirit” by Mannheim Steamroller

“4th of July” by Shooter Jennings

“Where The Stars and Stripes and The Eagle Fly” by Aaron Tippin


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