Not nearly enough Americans are aware that much of what the country considers our most patriotic music was created by artists and writers of decidedly left-wing sympathies. Four years ago, I posted a list of what I called the Top Twelve Most Patriotic Songs Ever. I’ve rethought those selections, consulted with experts coast to coast, and can now present my revised, yet still debatable list of Top Ten July 4th Songs, presented in random order. These songs, taken together, help distill the American experience and make clear both what’s great about the US and what still needs critical attention.
Top Ten July 4 Songs
1. Los Lobos with Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir, This Land is Your Land
This rambling version of the iconic Woody Guthrie song was performed in July 1989 backstage at Alpine Valley in East Troy, Wisconsin between sets on that summer’s Los Lobos/Grateful Dead tour.
2. Bruce Springsteen, Chimes of Freedom
Sony Music has made it impossible to watch Bob Dylan performing his classic ode to “the refugees on their unarmed road of flight.” Fortunately, Bruce Springsteen acquits himself well in this live 1988 cover.
3. Paul Robeson, The House I Live In
Written in 1943 by Abel Meeropol under the pen name Lewis Allen and the blacklisted Earl Robinson, this tune became a patriotic anthem during World War II with its populist evocation of everyday American life.
4. Phil Ochs, The Power and Glory
One of the songs that established Ochs’s reputation, he saw it as a patriotic hymn combining the American dream with selfless faith-based ideals.
5. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, The Battle Hymn of the Republic
The Battle Hymn of the Republic was written in 1861 by abolitionist, social activist and poet Julia Ward Howe, set to a tune written several years before by William Steffe.
6. Loretta Lynn, Dear Uncle Sam
This Vietnam-era plea on behalf of soldier-husbands everywhere resonated far beyond the traditional, antiwar crowd when it was first released in 1968.
7. John Mellencamp, Pink Houses
This 1985 song distills the essence of Mellencamp’s popularity as the bard of the Midwest giving voice to the dreams and disappointments of small communities coast to coast.
8. Rosanne Cash, 500 Miles
This song, originally written by Hedy West, became popular in the US during the 1960s folk revival and was part of a list of 100 essential American songs that Johnny Cash famously gave his daughter Rosanne in 1973. In 2009, she produced a brilliant album featuring her versions of 12 of the 100.
9. Leontyne Price, America the Beautiful
Written in 1893 by Katharine Lee Bates, an English professor at Wellesley College, this song not only speaks to the natural beauty of America but also expresses Bates’s view that US imperialism undermined the nation’s core values of freedom and liberty. In this version, opera star Leontyne Price sings it at a 1992 benefit.
10. Gil Scott-Heron, Winter in America
One of Scott–Heron’s most well-received compositions, this bluesy lament mouns America’s lost promise: “And ain’t nobody fighting, Cause nobody knows what to save.”
Bonus Track: Sarah Ogan Gunning, Come All Ye Coal Miners
Giving voice to the frequently forgotten workers who built the foundation of America, this song makes clear the trials of the mining life.