Fourth of July will soon be upon us, and that means celebrating with barbeques, fireworks and good music. Here are the top ten songs about America to get you in the mood (FYI, I left out “America” by Simon & Garfunkel, as I put that on another list.)
Number Ten: “Kids in America” by The Muffs. “Kids in America” is a song by The Muffs, off of the 1995 soundtrack to Clueless. Originally the song was done by Kim Wilde, off of her 1981 self-titled debut (however, I chose the version by The Muffs as it’s a bit grittier.) Lyrics include, “outside a new day is dawning / outside suburbia’s sprawling everywhere / I don’t want to go baby / New York to east California / there’s a new wave coming I warn you / we’re the kids in America / everybody live for the music-go-round / we’re the kids in America.” This song simply seems to be about how the “kids in America” are who decide what music becomes popular; it also mentions a “new wave,” which could easily be referring to the new wave music of the 80s that would become very prevalent in the music scene.
Number Nine: “American Woman” by The Guess Who. “American Woman” is a song by The Guess Who, off of their 1969 album of the same name. Lyrics include, “American woman, stay away from me / American woman, mama let me be / don’t come a hangin’ around my door / I don’t want to see your face no more / I got more important things to do / than spend my time growin’ old with you / now woman, I said stay away / American woman, listen what I say.” This is one of the more literal tracks on this list; it seems to be about the American lifestyle (“war machines” and “ghetto scenes”,) while the band has said it’s about them preferring Canadian women.
Number Eight: “American Low” by Cassino. “American Low” is a song by Cassino, off of their 2007 album, Sounds of Salvation. This is probably the most obviously dismal track on this list, as it seems to be about the homeless life in America. The song begins, “oh this hurricane’s blowing us thin / this never ending swirl of American sin / where I strayed on my knees to a bottomless cage / where they throw dollar bills and hope to be saved / the poshest scarf on the warmest day / it’s enough to make you give up, she says.” Other lyrics include, “the hardest thing next to diamond rigs / is the coats we have to wear just to make ends meet” and “let’s just lie here as they paint us black.” The song ends with, “the nervous ticks only the holy get / the country treats as the cities get sick / the lunatics and the Harlem tricks / the country treats as we all get sick.”
Number Seven: “North American Scum” by LCD Soundsystem. “North American Scum” is a song by LCD Soundsystem, off of their 2007 album, Sound of Silver. Lyrics include, “and all the kids, all the kids that want to make the scene / here in north America / when our young kids get to read it in your magazines / we don’t have those” and “New York’s the greatest if you get someone to pay the rent / wahoo north America / and it’s the furthest you can live from the government / some proud American Christians might disagree… / boo boo now we can’t have parties like in Spain where they go all night / shut down in north America.” While some may feel that this song is anti-American, moreover it seems to be about how people tend to judge one another based on the country they’re from and the government who runs it.
Number Six: “Young Americans” by David Bowie. It was between this track and “I’m Afraid of Americans,” off of Bowie’s 1997 album, Earthling. However, I felt “Young Americans,” off of his 1975 album of the same name, was a better fit. Lyrics include, “all the way from Washington / her bread-winner begs off the bathroom floor / ‘we live for just these twenty years / do we have to die for fifty more?’” Other lyrics include, “do you remember, your President Nixon / do you remember, the bills you have to pay / or even yesterday” and “have you have been an un-American / just you and your idol singing falsetto ‘bout / leather, leather everywhere and / not a myth left from the ghetto / well, well, well, would you carry a razor / in case, just in case of depression / sit on your hands on a bus of survivors / blushing at all the afro-Sheilas / ain’t that close to love / well, ain’t that poster love / well, it ain’t that Barbie doll / her heart’s been broken just like you have.” Like many songs on this list, this track seems to be about how American glamour and materialism are, for most, unattainable, and how for most over the age of twenty, life contains no thrill and it’s all downhill from there.
Number Five: “American Music” by Violent Femmes. “American Music” is a song by Violent Femmes, off of their 1991 album, Why Do Birds Sing? Lyrics include, “do you like American music / I like American music / don’t you like American music, baby / I want you to hold me / I want your arms around me / I want you to hold me, baby / did you do too many drugs / I did too many drugs / you were born too late / I was born too soon / but every time I look at that ugly moon / it reminds me of you.” Whether this fun song is making fun of American music or praising it, it’s a great tune to listen to while reminiscing about your past. In particular, the lyrics about being born too late and too soon could be a reference to liking a particular kind of music that existed long before or after you were born.
Number Four: “American Girl” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. “American Girl” is a song by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, off of their 1976 debut, self-titled album. Most Tom Petty songs are pretty straight-forward, but that doesn’t mean they lack meaning. For example, “American Girl” is definitely a feel-good song, but its lyrics express a theme of pain felt by this girl. The song begins, “well, she was an American girl / raised on promises / she couldn’t help thinkin’ that there / was a little more life / somewhere else / after all it was a great big world / with lots of places to run to / yeah, and if she had to die / tryin’ she, had one little promise / she was gonna keep.” The second verse goes, “it was kind of cold that night / she stood alone on her balcony / she could hear the cars roll by / out on 441 / like waves crashin’ on the beach / and for one desperate moment there / he crept back in her memory / god it’s so painful / something that’s so close / and still so far out of reach.” This song can be interpreted several ways, but personally I feel it’s about a girl who got her heart broken, and makes a vow to herself never to open her heart again- however, as evidenced by the chorus, she is still willing to share her body, although she probably isn’t proud of it.
Number Three: “Born in the U.S.A.” by Bruce Springsteen (Acoustic Version.) “Born in the U.S.A.” is a song by Bruce Springsteen, off of his 1984 album of the same name. I personally prefer the acoustic version, as it relays the song’s message a bit more strongly than the original. While many think, because of the chorus and title, that this song is patriotic, it’s actually the opposite; anti-war themes are prevalent throughout the track, describing a soldier who returns home to a country that is unwelcoming. Lyrics include, “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” and “down in the shadow of the penitentiary / out by the gas fires of the refinery / I’m ten years burning down the road / nowhere to run, ain’t got nowhere to go.” While this track makes various references to the Vietnam War, it can still be applied to our country today.
Number Two: “American X” by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. “American X” is a song by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, off of their 2007 album, Baby 81. Running at about nine minutes, it’s not only the longest song in the record but also one of the best. The song begins, “close your eyes to the world that you see / and open wide to the one in your dreams / there’s nothing left that you wanna believe / foreign eyes have been torn at the seams.” The song continues, “no one needs what they think to survive / you’re pulled inside with an appetite blind / you feast your eyes on American sex / you sleep in shores of American bliss” and “growing wings from the sorrowless excess / your frozen eyes cut the cord to their last depth / you share your young with the wolves of a nation / there’s nothing left till you pray for salvation.” Whatever your take on this song, it seems to be about the death of the American Dream, while the guitar at the conclusion is magnificent.
Number One: “American Pie” by Don McLean. “American Pie” is a song by Don McLean, off of his 1971 album of the same name. Is it really a surprise that this song is number one? After all, it’s littered with references of American life, despite McLean not revealing too much about the song until 2015 when he stated, “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.” “But February made me shiver / with every paper I’d deliver” is a reference to McLean hearing about Buddy Holly’s death in 1959; “when the jester sang for the king and queen / in a coat he borrowed from James Dean / and a voice that came from you and me” is a reference to Bob Dylan; “oh, and while the king was looking down / the jester stole his thorny crown” is a reference to Elvis Presley. Of course, many associate “the day the music died” with the tragic plane crash of Holly, The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens. And then there’s the memorable chorus: “Bye, bye Miss American Pie / drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry / them good ole boys were drinking whiskey and rye / singin’ this’ll be the day that I die / this’ll be the day that I die.” Other memorable lyrics include, “do you believe in rock and roll / can music save your mortal soul” and “the three men I admire most / the Father, Son and the Holy Ghost / they caught the last train for the coast / the day the music died.”