Patriotic Songs We Love: Part 1

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Woody Guthrie/Library of Congress Woody Guthrie/Library of Congress In honor of Independence Day, let’s hear it for the good old USA and the music that conveys our love for our country.

Here are our editorial staff’s favorite patriotic songs – the words and music that stir us to the soul and fill us with American pride. Read the stories, watch the video clips, and celebrate American freedom with a song in your heart. 

Check back later this week for Part 2.

“This Land Is Your Land”

This is Woody Guthrie’s love song to the USA – from sea to shining sea, from rolling dust clouds to “diamond deserts.” The lyrics are just about perfect: plain, simple, transcendent, with the ringing refrain: “This land was made for you and me.”

As I went walking that ribbon of highway
I saw above me, an endless skyway
I saw below me, the golden valley
This land was made for you and me.

Many listeners have never heard the whole song, written in 1940, with its references to the relief office and signs that keep people off the land. But that’s Guthrie, brother! I can just see him, the ultimate American troubadour, tramping all over the map, guitar slung across his back, whistling or humming or singing this great anthem.

The song describes an America that must always struggle to live up to her stated principles – a country that sometimes falls short, but is hopefully bound for glory. Here's a video of Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen, the natural heirs to Guthrie, singing this classic. The backdrop is perfect: the Washington Monument.

 Marjorie Preston

“God Bless America”

I picked “God bless America” by Irving Berlin because of the personal nature of the song. The lyrics say America is the land that I love, that it’s my home sweet home.

Berlin, as a Russian Jewish immigrant to the United States, was grateful to the country that took him in. He had written the song in 1918, but didn’t rework and release it until 1938 as the Nazi Party was rising in Germany and the world was preparing for a dark time in history.

The song became popular when a young Kate Smith sang it on an Armistice Day celebration radio show.

She made it famous again for local sports fans when she belted out the tune live before Game 6 of the Stanley Cup playoffs in 1974. The Philadelphia Flyers won the Cup that night. The song personified the character of the city where liberty was birthed and toughness is a virtue. It’s a song that every American can sing with pride.

God bless America,
Land that I love,
Stand beside her, and guide her
Through the night with a light from above.

From the mountains, to the prairies,
To the oceans, white with foam
God bless America, My home sweet home
God bless America, My home sweet home. 

 Carl Price

“Abraham, Martin and John”

It was 1968, and America was still reeling from the back-to-back assassinations of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy just two months apart – and only five years after President John F. Kennedy had been shot. Add to that the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, and you had four charismatic leaders – all advocates for racial equality and social change, all gunned down. Like the song says, we just looked around … and they were gone.

Songwriter Richard Holler’s dreamy, melodic ode captured the mood of a wounded America, grieving for our lost heroes and all the good who die young. I can’t hear it without being taken back to that turbulent time, and yet between the pained lines there is hope, and the belief that America would find its way back on the path toward freedom for every man, woman and child.

Didn’t you love the things that they stood for?
Didn’t they try to find some good for you and me?
And we’ll be free
Some day soon – it’s gonna be one day.

The song was first sung by the rocker Dion and since then has been covered by dozens of artists from Andy Williams to Bob Dylan to Whitney Houston. Dion’s is my favorite, but stand-up comedian Jackie “Moms” Mabley recorded an emotional rendition in 1969 at the age of 75. After listening to Dion, check out her performance on “The Merv Griffin Show.”

– Joan Kostiuk

 

“The Stars and Stripes Forever”        

I never had a favorite patriotic song until I heard the Boston Pops play this one during a concert at Tanglewood in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts. It was listed in the program as “The Stars and Strips Forever,” and I wondered as I watched and listened if I was going to see the fat tuba player strip down and perform the song naked.

It was a misprint, of course. “The Stars and Stripes Forever” was written by John Philip Sousa, who had led his musicians in Cape May many years earlier. Since my introduction to the song I have seen the title misspelled several times in the media, whether by design or error.

I liked the music, especially the part where the flutist comes forward and plays a solo and where everybody in the audience stands up and cheers and waves American flags. I did it too, not only because I enjoyed the music but also because I was tired of sitting so long in my starched underwear.

And yes, the tuba player and all of the other musicians were always fully clothed.

 Jacob Schaad Jr.

“The Star Spangled Banner”

It was the height of the ’60s. I was 14 years old, and yet I can still hear the plaintive wail of Jimi Hendrix’s guitar as he worked his way through those impossible chords.

The tune still gives me chills.

 Dave Benson

 

“You’re a Grand Old Flag”

I doubt George M. Cohan, the composer of “You’re a Grand Old Flag,” wrote this piece for the preschoolers who are typically heard singing it today at school assemblies. But the simplicity of the lyrics and the tune make it a natural choice for teaching the youngest Americans about patriotism.

You’re the emblem of
The land I love,
The home of the free and the brave.

Pretty straightforward and uplifting words that anyone can grab hold of. The toe-tapping beat is also catchy. I remember loving to sing this song as a kid, and loving my country as a result.

 Laura Stetser

“Battle Hymn of the Republic”

I will never forget covering the 2012 Miss America competition in Las Vegas when Miss New Jersey Lindsey Petrosh of Egg Harbor City, my hometown, sang a shortened version of “Battle Hymn of the Republic” during the talent competition. Although she didn’t wear the big red ball gown that she wanted to wear, Petrosh commanded the stage in a beautiful red chiffon dress as her big voice echoed throughout the showroom at Planet Hollywood. I had goosies, and still get them whenever I listen to this video clip.

 Nanette Galloway

“Born in the USA”

I’m not a huge fan of most patriotic songs. But I am a fan of songs about New Jersey, because I happen to love it here, despite the Garden State’s shortcomings.
Not surprisingly, that means I love Bruce Springsteen, like almost everyone else who drives a car with that ugly yellow license plate.
“Born in the USA” is a widely misunderstood anthem that is, in my opinion, one of the most American songs ever recorded. The lyrics are about Vietnam veterans and their experience after the war, set to a powerful rock beat that is now a classic.
What is most American about the song isn’t the repetitive chant of “Born in the USA,” but rather the authentic story about the chase for the American Dream, which is central to so many of Springsteen’s songs. He never sugarcoats that it is a chase – not a guarantee.
Like The Boss said in a 1984 Rolling Stone interview, “I think people got a need to feel good about the country they live in.” His honesty does it for me. 

 Christie Rotondo

"The Liberty Song"

Coined by John Dickinson in 1768 and updated in 1770, “The Liberty Song” captured the heartfelt spirit of independence that spread thoughout the American Colonies in the years before the Revolutionary War.

Come, join hand in hand, brave Americans all,
And rouse your bold hearts at fair Liberty's call;
No tyrannous acts shall suppress your just claim,
Or stain with dishonor America's name.

“The Liberty Song” is famous for being the first song to include the phrase, “United we stand, divided we fall.”

Listen to the words and you can imagine our patriots braving the darkness of night to drop tea into the Boston Harbor, or Colonial soldiers meeting the British Redcoats face to face on Lexington Green.

The chorus’s first line says it all: “In freedom we're born and in freedom we'll live.”

Hear the song and feel the passion:

 R.J. Liberatore

 


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