After a year of Tennessee living, I continue to have mixed feelings about America as it is today. That statement isn’t directed at The Volunteer State in particular; it’s just that with defense spending out of control and with an ever-widening partisan divide, I cannot help but feel as if this nation of mine is falling woefully short of its potential for greatness.
Although I wasn’t alive at that time, it seems to me that America’s general fall from grace occurred during the late 1960’s, when we fought in the streets over the color of our skin while politicians escalated an overseas war that didn’t really concern them in the first place. And all of this not long after we lost a president, his brother, and a civil rights leader to assassins’ bullets.
In compiling a list of the ten best songs about “America,” I kept coming across songs that were unflinching in their portraits of America coming apart at the seams. Credence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son” comes to mind, as does “Let’s Get Together,” by the Youngbloods. Other, later songs echo the sentiment but update the anger to reflect the Iraq War and the big bank-orchestrated financial crash of 2008. I am thinking of “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” by Bruce Springsteen, or of Neil Young’s damning “Let’s Impeach the President.” Even more songs pay tribute to our hardworking rail splitters and truck drivers. “Driving the Last Spike,” by Genesis, strikes a chord, as does “Cold Shoulder,” by Garth Brooks. Fortunately, there are fun songs about the American experience as well. These tunes, Johnny Cash’s “I’ve Been Everywhere” and Randy Newman’s “I Love L.A.,” to name just two, are not to be discounted.