For July 4th, I wanted to create a list of songs about the US (or the 4th of July), but I didn’t want to include any overly patriotic anthems or tales about to Immigrants coming to the US (so sorry there won’t be any songs like Neil Diamond’s “America” or Simon & Garfunkel’s “America”) or any out-right protest songs. So here’s my list, hopefully you’ll enjoy them as much as I do.
“Dancing in the Street” – Martha & Vandellas
A Motown classic that sounds just as fantastic now as it did in the mid-1960s when it was released. Dancing has long been a favorite past-time of Americans, and this song is a call to get up and dance and live a little: no matter who you are or where you are.
“Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream” – Bob Dylan
Only Bob Dylan could re-image American History in a surrealistic song that begins with him sailing on the Mayflower and ends with him telling Christopher Columbus, “good luck.” In between, Dylan gets thrown in jail (for carrying harpoons no less), gets knocked over by a bowling ball, narrowly escapes a kitchen that explodes from boiling fat among other hilarious incidents (though he left without his hat). Dylan has written many songs about America, but none were this funny or inventive.
“American Girl” – Tom Petty
Tom Petty’s best song is also probably the best song that the Byrds never wrote. The chorus is practically made to be sung along to, and its classic rock meets new-wave urgency is infectious. Contrary to popular belief (and urban legend) the song is not about a girl who committed suicide at the University of Florida, close to where Petty grew up.
“Young Americans” – David Bowie
For Young Americans, David Bowie fully tapped into soul music and gave it his own distinct stamp. The title track is pure American R&B with its horn section and back-up singers. The lyrics however, are a bit more cynical with references to Joseph McCartney, Rosa Parks and Richard Nixon. Still, the result is one of Bowie’s most endearing and fun sounding songs. It’s hard not to get caught up, especially when Bowie asks if there “ain’t there one damn song that will make [him] break down and cry?”
”4th of July, Ashbury Park (Sandy)” – Bruce Springsteen
This Van Morrison inspired ballad, ranks among best work Springsteen’s prior to Born to Run. Springsteen gives one of his most affected vocals – it’s slightly nostalgic, but there’s still a hint of sadness. Springsteen’s description of the boardwalk and the locals is also some of his most vivid.
“Little America” – R.E.M.
“Little America” is one of the highlight of R.E.M.’s second album, Reckoning, and perhaps one of the band’s silliest. It seems to be about getting lost in the middle of nowhere, but as is standard with R.E.M. it’s cloaked in cryptic lyrics such as: “the biggest wagon is the empty wagon, is the noisiest” and “lighted in the amber yard, green shell back, green shell back.”
“Lower 48″ – The Gourds
If you can’t remember the Lower 48 States, The Gourds might be able to help you out: the bridge of the song mentions every single one at a rapid-fire pace. The song is rollicking fun a perfect example of the Gourds’ update on Americana and bluegrass.
“Back in the U.S.A.” – Chuck Berry
Chuck Berry apparently wrote this song after a trip overseas to Australia. It’s got all the making of a Chuck Berry classic: his trademark guitar, driving rhythm, and enthusiastic vocals. “Did I miss the skyscrapers? Did I miss the long freeway?” Berry asks. ”You bet I did, til I came back to the U.S.A.”