American Music: Songs In The Key Of U.s.a.

Songs In The Key Of U.s.a.

6 min read
American Music
“Pick up the cry.”
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The Declaration of Independence contains one of my favorite sentences in the history of American establishment documents: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” On July 4, 1776—or, as Thomas McKean maintained, within a fortnight of that date—56 delegates inked their John Hancock on the Declaration of Independence. Whatever else the Fourth of July signifies for you, Independence Day is a prime opportunity to consider the concepts of independence, patriotism and human rights. I would personally like to tip my feather-macaroni cap to my heroes du jour, Wendy Davis and the women of Texas. Whoever your heroes are, let your friends, family and fellow citizens know their names.

Our playlist for the Fourth runs amok—from folk to no-wave to southern rock and punk—and it pretty well sums up my feelings about America at this moment in time. That’s what a good mixtape does. It says something you can’t quite find the words to express.

P.S. And please—for goodness’ sake—leave the fireworks to the experts.

Aural Fixation

“Texan Love Song” • Elton John • Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player

Bernie Taupin’s acerbic wit coupled with Elton John’s honeyed vox make this redneck parody a keeper.

Aural Fixation

“I.G.Y. (What a Beautiful World)” • Donald Fagen • The Nightfly

Steely Dan frontman Donald Fagen wraps a tongue-in-check futurist manifesto in International Geophysical Year metaphor.

Aural Fixation

“Little America” • R.E.M. • Reckoning

Referencing the iconic’60s and ’70s hotel chain—and perhaps the Confederacy—this R.E.M. anthem excels at evoking nostalgic, cryptic imagery.

Aural Fixation

“Jesse” • Scott Walker • The Drift

Inimitable avant composer Scott Walker wraps a surrealistic vision of Elvis Presley’s dreams of his stillborn twin brother (Jesse Garon Presley) and 9/11 up in a decidedly trippy bow.

Aural Fixation

“America” • Simon & Garfunkel • Bookends

The American dream gets the S&G treatment—resulting in one of the most achingly beautiful odes to the land of the free ever laid to tape.

Aural Fixation

“The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” • Joan Baez • “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down / When Time is Stolen” 7-inch

Joan Baez’s cover of The Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”—a story of the Civil War’s last days—surpasses the original with its sublime, poignant delivery.

Aural Fixation

“This Land is Your Land” • Woody Guthrie • Bound for Glory

“As I went walking, I saw a sign there / And on the sign, it said ‘No Trespassing’ / But on the other side, it didn’t say nothing / That side was made for you and me.”

Aural Fixation

“The Battle of New Orleans” • Johnny Horton • Johnny Horton’s Greatest Hits

Johnny Horton’s cover of a Jimmy Driftwood-penned tune offers a jocular account of the last major battle of the War of 1812 from the perspective of an American soldier.

Aural Fixation

“Volunteers” • Jefferson Airplane • Volunteers

“Got a revolution / Got to revolution.”

Aural Fixation

“Fortunate Son” • Creedence Clearwater Revival • Willy and the Poor Boys

Celebrate the second annual year of CCR—as decreed by yours truly—with this oft-covered blue-collar critique of the Vietnam War and the draft’s impact on lower socioeconomic classes.

Aural Fixation

“American Music” • Violent Femmes • Why Do Birds Sing?

“Do you like American music? / I like American music.”

Aural Fixation

“Rocket U.S.A.” • Suicide • Suicide

No wave, protopunk ditty plays Cassandra for late-’70s America.

Aural Fixation

“Surfin’ U.S.A. (April Out-Take)” • The Jesus & Mary Chain • “Darklands”

No disrespect to the Beach Boys, but this discordant reenvisioning of a sunny SoCal tune exemplifies what a sour ode to sand and sea should sound like.

Aural Fixation

“Mom & Pop Democracy” • Sado-Nation • Sado-Nation

Early Portland punk rock band rails against greed and sadistic leaders.

Aural Fixation

“We’ve Got a Bigger Problem Now” • Dead Kennedys • “In God We Trust, Inc.”

“Don’t forget our house special / It’s called a Trickie Dick Screwdriver / It’s got one part Jack Daniels, two parts purple Kool-Aid and a jigger of formaldehyde from the jar with Hitler’s brain in it. …”

Listen to our American Music mixtape here:

American Music

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