If you’re scrambling around trying to think of the most suitable soundtrack for the 4th of July, then, first of all, congratulations on your forward planning. Second of all, stop scrambling. From Jimi Hendrix to Metallica, Kiss to James Brown, almost every American rocker worth their salt has dedicated a track to the good ole’ U-S-of-A. Sure, not all of them are great. Some are schmalzy, sugary, and far, far too obvious to deserve a mention, let alone a listen. But some are epic. If you’re struggling to separate the saccharine from the sublime, stay tuned as we count down the 10 best patriotic rock songs of all time.
10. Miley Cyrus – Party in the U.S.A.
Back before she twerked her way into the headlines, Miley Cyrus was a sweetie pie from Tennessee singing about feeling lost in LA. It was her love of a great song that managed to save her, and it’s our love of one that sees her kick off our list in style with the banging ‘Party in the U.S.A.’
9. Kim Wilde – Kids in America
If the mood of the party is starting to slump, what better than some 80s bubblegum pop to crank up the energy? Ranked by The Hollywood Reporter as one of the most patriotic songs of all time, ‘Kids in America’ is a bright, cheery ditty all about a new generation of Americans taking over the country from ‘New York to East California.’ Those kids are now old, bitter and wise enough to see the irony of those words being sung by the very British Kim Wilde. Still, it’s a great little song.
8. Bruce Springsteen – The Ghost of Tom Joad
‘The Ghost of Tom Joad’ might not be the first patriotic Bruce Springsteen song that springs to mind. That honor usually goes to ‘Born to Run.’ The problem is, ‘Born to Run’ isn’t patriotic. It might be about America, but the Ameria it’s portraying isn’t the kind of country you’d want to raise a Budweiser to and get teary-eyed over. ‘Born to Run’ is scathing, bitter, sarcastic, utterly fabulous, and very, very far from patriotic. ‘The Ghost of Tom Joad’ is none of those things (apart from utterly fabulous). Sure, the patriotism is subdued, and The Boss is clearly not making any big boasts about America being the greatest country in the world. But he does hint it could be.
7. Kiss – Rockin’ in the U.S.A
Named by bestrocklist.com as one of the best patriotic songs of all time, “Rockin’ in the U.S.A.” is a straightforward ode to the joys of returning home after touring the world. There’s no big message, no subtlety, and precious little nuance. But it is what it is, and what it is a very decent tune.
6. Toby Keith – Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)
There nothing nuanced about ‘Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American),’ a song written by Toby Keith in the aftermath of 9/11. Dixie Chic Natalie Maines went so far as to call it ignorant. Whole swathes of fist-pumping, flag-waving middle America disagreed. Ultimately, it’s not intellectual or profound or deep. But Kelly wasn’t trying to appeal to the philosophers. He was singing for the patriots. Clearly, they appreciated his efforts, buying enough copies of the single to send it to the top of the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart.
5. Lee Greenwood – God Bless the USA
Time Out claims that Lee Greenwood’s ‘God Bless the USA’ has been played during every 4th of July fireworks display since 1984. We see no reason not to take their word for it. Neither will you after listening to what amounts to a sweetly sincere (some say sappy, but haters gonna hate) ode to classic American values. If you love your home, support your troops, and think that God truly did bless America, you’re going to love it. If you found yourself shouting ‘Amen’ at the TV during Jeff Daniel’s ‘Newsroom’ rant in which he makes a very eloquent case for why America is not the greatest country in the world, you’ll find the song at number two on our list a much more appetizing prospect.
4. James Brown – Living in America
The Godfather of Soul is at his funky best on this track from the soundtrack of ‘Rocky IV.’ It’s not complicated, and there’s no point wasting time trying to find any deep, subliminal meaning to the lyrics. The song is simply about living in America – a state of affairs that, judging by the amount of strutting, yelping, and peacocking he treats us to, is one Brown is more than happy with.
3. Grand Funk Railroad – We’re An American Band
Grand Funk Railroad may never have won the critics over, but they did manage to convince vast swathes of America that their brand of Arena Rock was worth shelling out for. In their prime, they shifted millions of albums, regularly selling out tours and giving us all a taste for gutsy, crowd-pleasing rock. They were, at heart, an all-American band, as they highlighted on the Don Brewer-penned 1973 single ‘We’re An American Band.’ It may have had the subtly of a sledgehammer, but it had enough groove to keep the nation’s collective foot tapping for years.
2. Simon and Garfunkel – America
The vocals may be as mellow and sweet as a summer breeze, but the lyrics to ‘America’ cut deep. Hugely personal and yet undercut with themes of universal import, it’s a song of complex beauty that manages to capture the full human experience in just three and a half glorious minutes. Whether Paul Simon ever found the America he was looking for, who knows? What we do know is that the song has found a place in everything from commercials and film soundtracks to Bernie Sanders’ campaign ad. It’s also won a very deserved place in our hearts, and on our list.
1. Jimi Hendrix – The Star Spangled Banner
There are amazing guitarists, and then there’s Jimi Hendrix. His performance of ‘Star Spangled Banner’ at Woodstock didn’t just go down as one of the defining moments in music history, it went down in legend. Feedback might usually be a foe of musicians but here it was a friend, adding an extra layer of electricity to an already tingling performance. It was loud, it was proud, and as Hendrix later said when questioned on ‘The Dick Cavett Show’ about his unorthodox approach to the national anthem, it was ‘beautiful.’