The music that reflects the beautiful juxtaposition that is America
Standard Daniel here, back at it after a little break. This list came out on the 4th, but my post is a little late. This week we have a playlist of what our teamed deemed to be some of our favorite songs about America. I want to mention this quote from American novelist James Baldwin: “I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” In my view, America is a country of dissentients, head strong spirited rebels, and that’s beautiful. I think this is the root of our greatest successes and our failures. Our music carries our voices, and those voices are a reflection of our citizens. Rock ‘n Roll is rebellious, punk rock is rebellious, rap is rebellious, and that is the spirit of country. When things aren’t going to way we feel they should, we’re not going to stay silent. And a lot of these songs capture those ideas in ways that the listener relates to, and sometimes the music can also reflect an America that exists concurrently. The America that has the Ford Mustang, Hollywood, baseball and hotdogs.
We live in a wonderful contradiction, a breeding ground for some of the most creative voices. Also Miley Cyrus.
Born in the U.S.A.
When I think of American songs, my first thought goes to the Boss. One of the most misunderstood songs, it’s not actually pro-America per se. Off of Bruce Springsteen’s 1984 album of the same name, the title track tells the story of a Vietnam veteran who has returned from war and is working in a refinery, disillusioned by the country he fought for. This song is overplayed at political rallies almost comically, and it’s often clear that they have never listened to the words of the song. The only other song that comes close to this as far as being comically misunderstood is “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival, and that’s coming later on the list.
Bored in the U.S.A.
Father John Misty looks like a mystic in some ways; he often dresses in black or dark colors, and has long hair and beard. His music is somewhat folkish mixed with a sarcastic wit. ‘Bored in the U.S.A’ is in many ways a modern take on Springsteen’s classic song, released 31 years later. It’s much darker, and reflects a mood many people of his generation probably feels. For the record, he is only 5 years older than me. The lyrics are not pulling punches. “Is this the part where I get all I ever wanted? Who said that? Can I get my money back? Just a little bored in the USA.” If you were raised during the 80’s and the 90’s, you may have been sold dreams that although are still possible, seem out of reach for a lot of us.
This Is America
Donald Glover is an amazing writer, comedian, actor, musician. His rapper alter ego is Childish Gambino, and when he started he sounded more or less like a lot of the artists at the time, but in 2016 his sound changed drastically, morphing into something that is uniquely him. The music video that accompanies this song, released in 2018, adds so much to the message of the song. I recommend watching it when listening to this song. Childish Gambino gives a different view of our country than Father John Misty, and speaks more to the black experience, moving back and forth between a heavy beat with low bass notes and a more up-tempo section with a choir of voices singing high notes.
Kids in America
This cover of Kim Wilde’s 1981 track was recorded by The Muffs and released on the soundtrack to 1995’s Clueless. It is a straight forward pop punk song, and singer Kim Shattuck has amazing vocals on this version. Her delivery has great snarl and grit, and the song’s tempo demands that you move along with it. This is a song you would play in your car with your friends in High School, when you still had some hope, and knew the power that music had to distract you from your problems.
It’s not all doom and gloom, sometimes music is just fun and infectious. Cue Gainesville, Florida’s Tom Petty. This song is straight ahead pop rock, and although the title character is aware that the odds are stacked against her, and that the American promise isn’t what it was made out to be, she’s still going to go for it. “And if she had to die tryin’, she had one little promise she was gonna keep.”
- I love Jeff Rosenstock’s “USA”; it’s more disillusionment with the country, but the way he repeats the lines “You promised us the stars (we’re tired and bored)” speaks to me on a spiritual level.
- Whenever you’re anywhere and they play “Party In The U.S.A” by Miley Cyrus, you have to party. It is law. (It’s not really law, but if it was I wonder which president would have signed it into law?)
- “Surfin’ U.S.A” by the Beach Boys reminds us that America is also great. If you were around in the 1960’s with nothing better to do other than surf. Tell that to someone born in Oklahoma.
- “American Pie” by Don McLean is a great song and a delicious desert. It is maybe a little bit a bummer when you remember the song is about a lot of rock ‘n roll artists dying though. Amazing song nonetheless.
- “Made in America” by JAY-Z, Kanye West, and Frank Ocean is an introspective rap song about climbing up the social ladder, something JAY-Z and Kanye both know a lot about.
- “The Middle” by Jimmy Eat World has an amazing cowbell part during an amazing guitar solo.
- “The Ghost of Tom Joad” by Rage Against the Machine is my favorite song about a fictional character from John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. The machine they were raging against? Yeah, that was probably America.
- “Never Meant” by American Football is a prime example of midwest emo; a genre that doesn’t get enough respect.
- “I’m So Bored With the U.S.A.” is by British band The Clash. Well, I’m so bored with the U.K. So I guess we’re even.
- “Back in the U.S.A.” by the MC5. This cover of a Chuck Berry tune is simple, snappy, and has a great chorus. “I’m so glad I’m living in the U.S.A, anything you want they got it right here in the U.S.A”