Patriotic Songs We Love: Part 2

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Patriotic songs speak to our love of country. Patriotic songs speak to our love of country. 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.

“Coming to America”

This 1980 Neil Diamond song captures America’s spirit of independence. It is about people coming from all over the world to start their lives in America and the blended spirit that is celebrated on the Fourth of July. I always enjoyed the song, but a few summers ago I listened to it blaring while the fireworks in Stone Harbor were crashing overhead, and it was a perfect mix that had me humming for a few days.

– Suzanne Marino

 

“Semper Paratus”

The U.S. Coast Guard anthem is “Semper Paratus” (Always Prepared). I grew up the child of parents from what Tom Brokaw called “The Greatest Generation.” Military anthems were always being heard on television and in movies that came out following the second “War to end all wars.” However, I do not recall hearing the Coast Guard anthem until I joined the Congress Hall Community Festival Choir, which performs at Christmas and July 4. The Independence Day programs have featured a medley of the military anthems, but the director always includes a full verse of “Semper Paratus.”

Cape May has a significant connection to the Coast Guard since it is home to the only Coast Guard enlisted recruit training center in the nation. When there are Coast Guard members in the audience, they will stand at attention for this beautiful song.

– Christopher South

 

“America”

“America” was written by Paul Simon and recorded by Simon and Art Garfunkel for their fourth album, “Bookends,” in 1968. However, I like the Josh Groban cover of the song better.

The lyrics speak to the adventurous side of people and the wanting to explore where we live and come from. It also alludes to the idea that there may be bigger and better opportunities elsewhere in the country; that if you just set your mind on something you can accomplish what you set out for. Here is Groban’s cover, followed by the Simon and Garfunkel original. Which one do you like best?

– Emily Lingo

Josh Groban version:

Simon and Garfunkel:

 

“The Star Spangled Banner”

I chose "The Star Spangled Banner" because of the unique relationship we have with our national anthem. While it has the power to stir the heart, it’s so hard to sing well that it also causes us to pay attention to each performance with a kind of morbid curiosity.

A lifetime watching sports has taught us that failure is but a missed note or flubbed lyric away with every performance. That rare combination of convoluted lyrics and almost impossible octave range make singing it a task best left to trained professionals. Unfortunately there seems to be a greater demand for the song than qualified singers to sing it, as this blooper video demonstrates.

That’s also why when a really good rendition comes along, like that performed by the incomparable Whitney Houston, it is a thing to behold.

– James FitzPatrick

 

“An American Tune”

At first glance this Paul Simon classic doesn’t seem like it fits the criteria of a “patriotic” song – it’s certainly not a rah-rah song draped in red, white and blue. Simon’s unique vision of the American experience, written from a Watergate-era perspective of cynicism and hangover, is all about confusion and weariness, of souls “battered,” and an American Dream gone wrong, “shattered or driven to its knees.” Just when you think it can’t get any more depressing, Simon dreams that he’s dying – but he rises up and sees the Statue of Liberty “sailing away to sea.” Then he puts it all in historical perspective:

Oh, we come on the ship they call the Mayflower
We come on the ship that sailed the moon
We come in the age’s most uncertain hour
And sing an American tune

The song ends on a hopeful note, with the idea that hard work and a tough but free spirit can make everything “all right.” So maybe it does fit the criteria. After all, what’s more patriotic than yearning for the ideal of how this country – with all its problems and differences and conflicting interests – could someday fulfill its founders’ original hopes and dreams?

– Bill LeConey

 

“Land of Hope and Dreams”

So many of us are descendants of immigrants whom came from various places across the globe seeking a better life for themselves, their children and their children’s children and grandchildren.

It’s one of the things that makes this country great: that so many from so many different places and backgrounds came together in one nation to form this great melting pot we call America.

The first time I traveled to Ireland I was shocked to see how small the boats were that loaded hundreds of people hoping to leave a place where they no longer had hope. Those boats were called “coffin ships” because so many people never made it to America alive due to starvation and disease.

When I think of Fourth of July and how great it is to be American, I think about people I never knew who made a leap of faith and hope by leaving their native Irish soil to settle here, build a life and give their descendants a better chance. I am one of those recipients.

Bruce Springsteen’s “Land of Hope and Dreams” vividly depicts the journey so many took to come to this great nation. It begins with the trepidation of leaving your home behind: “Grab your ticket and your suitcase/Thunder’s rollin’ down this track/Well, you don’t know where you’re goin’ now/But you know you won’t be back …We’ll take what we can carry
Yeah, and we’ll leave the rest.”

The song finishes with the promise of a great new home: “Leave behind your sorrows/Let this day be the last/Tomorrow there’ll be sunshine/And all this darkness past … I said this train.../Dreams will not be thwarted/This train.../Faith will be rewarded.”

– Brian Cunniff

 

“We Didn’t Start the Fire”

Billy Joel wrote “We Didn’t Start The Fire” in 1989 when, just after celebrating his 40th birthday, he had a discussion with a younger friend about all the things that happened in his life. It isn’t a flag-waving patriotic song by any means but it outlines what Joel experienced in America from his birth in 1949 through 1989. It reminds us, in rapid delivery, about all the great things that happened in those 40 years that Americans celebrated and all the challenging things that were overcome.

– Tom Williams

And here's a version produced online by SubHero that includes images of those mentioned in the lyrics:

 

 


“America the Beautiful”

It will surprise exactly no one that reporters are, on the whole, a bunch of knee-jerk contrarians. So when the news crew was asked to come up with their favorite patriotic songs, I immediately thought I’d kick together something from Gil Scott-Heron or Erykah Badu, maybe find something from Public Enemy.

Dissent is patriotic, I was all set to argue. It’s as American as nachos.

But this whole project started with Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” – an angry song as much as a paean to the land and its people, it was a deliberate response to Kate Smith’s popular version of Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America” from one of America’s premier contrarian patriots.

So instead, I went with “America the Beautiful,” based on a poem called “Pikes Peak” first published in the July 4 edition of The Congregationalist in 1985, written by Katherine Lee Bates and set to music by church musician Samuel A. Ward.

Bates was a lifelong Republican who left the party for the Democrats because the GOP opposed the League of Nations. She lived in what was then called a “Boston marriage” with Katharine Coman, and helped popularize Mrs. Claus. 

She was 36 when she wrote the first version of the verses.

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

It’s one of those songs that seems like it was just always there, sung by school choirs and played with the fireworks each year, accepted and sometimes even enjoyed. But it was Ray Charles who taught me to love it. That voice, that cadence, singing about the beauty of a country he hadn’t seen since childhood, let me really listen to the song in a way I never could from a brass band.

One of the marks of a classic is its flexibility. Wildly divergent people can connect on a personal level. That’s clearly “America the Beautiful.”

It is embraced by the left and the right, sung by Mitt Romney (a little off key, but certainly with sincerity), and Willie Nelson just used it to protest mountaintop removal mining. Charlie Rich brought it to the country charts in the 1970s. And the Coca-Cola Company somehow ignited a huge controversy with a lovely multilingual version at the Super Bowl this year.

Those versions and more are out there on the ’net, but the one to share here is Nelson singing it with numerous other stars, from the television production “America: A tribute to Heroes,” which aired in 2001, 10 days after the worst terrorist attack in American history. Introduced by Clint Eastwood, accompanied by Stevie Wonder and too many others to list, Nelson sang the song to a scared and broken nation, imploring God to shed his grace.

– Bill Barlow

 

 

“American Soldier” by Toby Keith

– Madelaine Vitale

Click here to see Patriotic Songs we Love Part 1.


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