People have been writing songs about America before we were the United States of America. From the early minstrel-type song-wielding storytellers to today’s modern artists, music about America has been a part of our heritage.
Of course all songs are not about the best parts of our country and our history. The protest songs and songs questioning or challenging what has occurred in our country have also played a part in our nation’s history. Some are written more indirect while others are direct on the message the songwriter is sharing.
With the events coming to our area next week I felt the need to share some songs written throughout our history that, for the most part, are positive in nature. In the future I may pen a Listen Up column that talks about some of my favorite protest songs, but for now and to keep a positive vibe around the president's visit, here are a few songs, many that I Listen Up to regularly, about America.
"America the Beautiful" — This is one of my favorite patriotic songs. While the lyrics were written by Katharine Lee Bates, the music was composed by a church organist and choirmaster named Samuel A. Ward at Grace Episcopal Church in Newark. I love that the song has a connection to our Garden State. My favorite version of the song was recorded in 1976. During the United States’ celebration of our bicentennial, Ray Charles recorded the song.
"The Star-Spangled Banner" — Our national anthem. The lyrics come from a poem written in 1814, by Francis Scott Key. I have heard this song, as most of us have, thousands of times. Almost every event or public gathering of size and scope has provided a version of this song. Some of the versions have been performed by the most famous artists (Super Bowl) as well as local youth and citizens (local community events). The instrumental interpretation by Jimi Hendrix's famous rendition at the Woodstock music festival in 1969 is still one of my all-time favorites.
"Living in America" — The 1985 James Brown song, composed by Dan Hartman and Charlie Midnight, was prominently featured in the film Rocky IV with Brown actually singing the song during Apollo Creed’s ring entrance. The song was released in 1985 and reached number 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. It was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Rhythm and Blues Song and won Brown a Grammy Award for Best Male Rhythm and Blues Vocal Performance.
"America" — In 1968, Simon and Garfunkel released this song off their fourth studio album titled “Bookends.” With its popularity and appeal, the song was included in the duo’s 1972 “Simon and Garfunkel's Greatest Hits” album, which is still a popular selling album today. Written and composed by Paul Simon, the song tells the story of young lovers hitchhiking their way across the United States, in search of America. Many critics list this song among the top Simon and Garfunkel tunes.
"An American Trilogy" — In 1972 country composer Mickey Newbury created this song medley and it was made popular by The King, Elvis Presley. The song become a staple at Elvis concerts and includes a medley of three songs including "Dixie," "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" and "All My Trials." Elvis performed the song on his 1973 satellite telecast “Aloha from Hawaii.”
"America" — This Neil Diamond song was featured on the soundtrack album of Diamond's 1980 film "The Jazz Singer." The song became a hit and cracked the top ten of Billboard’s Hot 100 in 1981. It may be the song’s more positive take on the history of immigration to America that helped the song gain popularity. Diamond’s use of the phrasing and some lyrics from "My Country, 'Tis of Thee" in his song “America” also brought a more patriotic feel to the song.
"Land of Hope and Dreams" — How can I write about America songs and not include a Bruce Springsteen song. While the song does not mention America by name, America is our land of hope and dreams. This Springsteen song was written by the Boss in 1999 and performed and also released as live versions until a studio version was included on the album "Wrecking Ball" in 2012. I was fortunate to have heard the song live back in 1999 during the E-Street Band Tour. The song is inspired by The Impressions' "People Get Ready," written by Curtis Mayfield. Along with enjoying the song live, another of my favorite performance moments was during the final episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart when the Bruce and the E Street Band showed up and play a few songs including “Land of Hope and Dreams” and Stewart called it his "Moment of Zen".
So Listen Up! and enjoy some of these songs about America!