Every Fourth of July, Americans all across the country break out the boombox and blast some red, white, and blue jams. But other than the national anthem, are any of those perennial barbecue favorites really that celebratory? Take a look at any U.S.A.-themed playlist, and you'll find some seemingly patriotic songs that are pretty down on America.
There are plenty of harsh songs about the political and social climate of the United States, but most of them are pretty straightforward about it. For every patriotic country song, there are critical anthems like Green Day's "American Idiot," Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come," and NWA's "F*ck tha Police." But then there are the surprising anti-America songs - you might not realize how harsh they are without giving the lyrics a closer listen.
You probably love some of these patriotic songs that aren't really patriotic. Who doesn't love "Born in the USA" by Bruce Springsteen, or "American Pie" by Don McLean? Whether they're critiquing the powers that be or subtly poking fun at the American dream, these secretly not-so-patriotic songs might surprise you.
Bruce Springsteen's less-than-pro-America anthem "Born in the U.S.A." is one of the most misunderstood songs in pop culture. Even though Springsteen is an outspoken liberal, Ronald Reagan used it during his 1984 re-election campaign. With lyrics like this, it's clear that no one in his camp actually listened to the song before approving it:
"Got in a little hometown jamCome back home to the refinery
So they put a rifle in my hand
Sent me off to a foreign land
To go and kill the yellow man...
Hiring man said 'son if it was up to me'
Went down to see my V.A. man
He said 'Son, don’t you understand.'"
"Fortunate Son" opens with the line, "Some folks are born made to wave the flag / Oh, they’re red, white and blue," and if you stopped listening there, you might assume it was patriotic. You would be wrong - Creedence Clearwater Revival actually wrote it as a protest song about the Vietnam War. Check out these choice lyrics:
"Some folks inherit star spangled eyes
Ooh, they send you down to war, Lord
And when you ask them, 'How much should we give?'
Ooh, they only answer More! More! More!"
"Ain’t that America / Home of the free, yeah / Little pink houses / For you and me." Although the chorus feels pleasantly patriotic, the verses of "Pink Houses" tell the story of the death of the American dream, and criticizes widespread segregation. Despite Mellencamp crooning, "just like everything else / Those old crazy dreams / Just kinda came and went," John McCain used the song during his political campaign in 2008. Mellencamp had to ask him to stop.
You might think "This Land Is Your Land" is a harmless children's tune, but that's ignoring the incredibly dark lyrics. Woody Guthrie originally penned the song in 1940 as a radical commentary on America's treatment of immigrants:
"There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me
The sign was painted, said 'Private Property'
But on the backside, it didn't say nothing
This land was made for you and me."
Apparently the U.S. Government didn't mind the lyric; "This Land Is Your Land" was selected by the Library of Congress to be included in the National Recording Registry in 2002.