I always recoil at how many awful, patriot-type songs people allow into their Fourth of July barbecue iPod mixes, especially when there are so many great anthems to choose from. This year was no different. What follows is a list of songs commonly heard on Independence Day. I will analyze each and determine whether you should include or exclude them from your barbecue playlist next year.
“God Bless the USA” by Lee Greenwood (Exclude): This song is a perfect storm of sub-mediocrity: It's got a bland melody, mundane vocals and syrupy lyrics, such as this line, which would make better jelly-donut filler than a song lyric: “I would gladly stand up next to you / and defend her still today / ‘Cause their ain't no doubt I love this land / God bless the U.S.A.”
Question: If Lee Greenwood would “gladly” fight alongside our soldiers, why hasn't he done so in any of the four wars during which he's been of legal fighting age? I guess when he says “gladly,” he really means, “drag me kicking and screaming.” I'm just sayin'.
“Have you Forgotten?” by Darryl Worley (Exclude): The lyrics are an attempt to validate the Iraq war: “Have you forgotten / When those towers fell?”
Have I forgotten? Yeah, sure, dude, I forgot. Remind me, please, which towers were those again? When did that happen? Oh yeah, now I remember, World Trade Center on Sept. 11, duh. Know what else I remember? I remember how the attack was used to justify a bullshit war. I remember how it was used to strip our rights and expand the power of the Bush administration. And I remember how it was used by dozens of lazy songwriters to cheaply evoke an emotional response and sell tons of records.
“Blowin' in the Wind” by Bob Dylan (Hell yes, include!): This is the Everlasting Gobstopper of protest songs because it doesn't identify which war or act of oppression it defies—only a subtle call for peace, integrity and good will in general, which makes it timeless.
“Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue” by Toby Keith (Hell no, exclude!): Lyrically speaking, you can't go two lines without running into one of those gushy, excessively patriotic, flag-wavey buzzwords or phrases, like: “Salute,” “Old glory,” “Uncle Sam,” “The eagle will fly,” “Mother freedom,” and about halfway through it, you're thinking, Hey, Toby, while you're down there, why not just go ahead and blow U.S.?
He also brags about America's response to the 9/11 attacks: “Soon as we could see clearly / through our big black eye / Man, we lit up your world / like the Fourth of July.”
If Mr. Keith was referring to the innocent citizens of Afghanistan and Iraq, then, yeah, we lit them up pretty good. However, if he meant al-Qaeda—the sumbitches who actually attacked us—well, then, not so much.
“Back in the USA” by Chuck Berry (Include): Considering the plethora of ways America has shit on blacks, if a brotha can still sing its praises, well, then, there must be something good about it.
“America” by Neil Diamond (Toss up): This is actually an otherwise excellent song about America being a beacon for the oppressed. But then he starts that whole “My country 'tis of thee” routine and, before you know it, bratwurst and beer are bubbling out your nose.
“Song of the Patriot” by Johnny Cash (Exclude): As much as I love Johnny Cash, I have to say no because it's an anti-flag-burning song. There should never be an anti-flag-burning song in your Independence Day mix. The right to torch the Stars and Stripes—also known as “free speech”—is one of America's greatest principles. As Country Dick Montana once remarked, “Because we may burn our flag is reason enough not to.”
“Born in the USA” by Bruce Springsteen (Include): Self-deprecation, introspection and personal responsibility is what America is, or should be, about—not to mention that the song rocks. Even Ronald Reagan knew that. He may not have known what the song meant, but he certainly knew it kicked ass. Play it loud!
“This Land is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie (Hell yeah, include this mutha!): It was written as a response to the gawd-awful “God Bless America” (Exclude), which Woody thought was “unrealistic and complacent.” And he nailed it.
“This Land is Your Land” is a realistic portrait of America's beauty and elegance against a backdrop of ambivalence and greed. It should be in your mix several times. Start with the Woody Guthrie version, then go to Pete Seeger's. Later that night, when everyone is starting to get boozy, play the Mojo Nixon rendition to kick them in the ass.
“Philadelphia Freedom” by Elton John (Include): When a gay man can sing America's praises, you know there's got to be something good about it.
“Full Metal Jackoff” by Jello Biafra and D.O.A. (Include): There should always be at least one angry, frenetic, America-hating punk-rock tune on your Fourth of July Barbecue Mix. May I present “Full Metal Jackoff”? This is a song that is or was:
1. Specific for its time: “The folks might get just a little upset / if they knew where that dope comes from / From Columbia, to the Contras, to our Air Force bases / where we trade it for guns.”
2. Relevant today: “Wall Street or Crack Dealer Avenue /The last roads left to the American dream.”
3. Relevant for years to come: “As the noose of narco-militarism tightens 'round our necks / we worry about burning flags....”