On the occasion of the Fourth of July, it’s time for a reckoning, as we as a nation reflect on the freedom we hold so dear, and all the wonderful things that make the United States the land of the free and the home of the brave. For all the perks of this daily comfortable existence that we sometimes take for granted, such as the right to equality or the freedom of speech, there’s also civil unrest and riots on the streets as our fellow American citizens protest police brutality, racism, and systemic oppression that is still deeply entrenched in the machine of our own making.
The events of the past few months, from the recent Black Lives Matter protests to celebrating Pride Month 2020 with the LGBTQIA++ community has proved that as a democratic, patriotic nation, we are better and stronger when we unite against a common enemy, be it corruption, hatred, injustice or discrimination. For today’s Independence Day celebrations, its only fitting we cherish and pay tribute to some of the brilliant musicians who have given us such disparate, kaleidoscopic, and ultimately beautiful artistic versions of America.
‘This Land Is Your Land’ – Woody Guthrie
Let’s kick things off with this soothing classic from Woody Guthrie, one of the nation’s great folk music heroes. First recorded in 1944, Guthrie wrote the lyrics as a response to Irving Berlin’s patriotic anthem ‘God Bless America’ while borrowing the melody from a Carter Family tune called ‘When the World’s on Fire’. The original lyrics were actually far more political in nature before it was modified to become the picturesque narrative of the United States we all know and love today.
“When the sun come shining, then I was strolling / And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling / The voice was chanting as the fog was lifting / This land was made for you and me.” This treasured anthem is also notable for being adopted by many other countries and cultures, from Canada and Mexico to Sweden and the United Kingdom, with the lyrics adjusted to make it more in tune with the heritage of those nations.
‘Kids In America’ – Kim Wilde
This synth-heavy vintage hit from 1981 is incredibly catchy and helped define the energy and sound of the decade that followed. It was characterized by its buoyant charm and lyrics that had its finger on the pulse of a nation destined to be enamored by disco, malls, and late-night TV talk shows. Besides launching Kim Wilde’s popstar career, the song also became an anthem for the newly liberated Generation X, who was already hungrily eyeing a brave new world of seemingly unlimited possibilities and bright lights.
The lyrics also touch on the ever-present “music-go-round” that served as a heady distraction from the pressures and uncertainties of adolescent life, serving as a rallying cry for ambitious and headstrong teens everywhere. “Outside a new day is dawning / Outside suburbia’s sprawling everywhere / I don’t want to go, baby / New York to East California / There’s a new wave coming, I warn ya / We’re the kids in America.”
‘Star-Spangled Banner’ – Jimi Hendrix
With all due respect to Whitney Houston, another treasured African-American music icon, this instrumental cover by Jimi Hendrix remains probably the most celebrated and definitive version of the US National Anthem. Already recognized as a freakish alien-like guitar god by many of his contemporaries, Jimi Hendrix held an entire crowd spellbound when he first launched into a visceral, howling, feedback-drenched version of the Star-Spangled Banner at Woodstock in 1969. The experienced six-string wizard managed to perfectly convey the horrors of the ongoing Vietnam War (the first televised, highly-publicized war in America) with his howling dive bombs and hysterical tones, while still capturing the tangible pride of a patriotic yet shell-shocked nation. As one awestruck viewer put it, “You finally heard what the song was about. You can love your country but hate the government.” It was the greatest political statement ever made without a single word being uttered, and it remains one of the greatest electric guitar moments of all time.
‘This Is America’ – Childish Gambino
When Donald Glover aka Childish Gambino first dropped his seminal sociopolitically-charged music video for ‘This Is America’ in 2018, it was hailed as a modern masterpiece and a landmark moment for African-American culture. Still startingly relevant and prescient in the wake of the recent Black Lives Matter protests, this groovy hip-hop/trap/gospel/afrobeat number managed to both beguile and shock us to our core as it provocatively explored the realities of gun violence, racism, and discrimination in this country while dissecting the contradictions of mainstream entertainment culture in our modern age.
As one critic put it: “You’re not supposed to feel as if this is the standard fare opulence of the music industry. It’s about a counter-narrative and it really leaves you with chills.” Both joyous and menacing in equal measure, this song has been hailed as a “beautiful nightmare” and even won Record of the Year and Song of the Year at the 61st Grammy Awards, making it the first rap song to win in those categories.
‘God Bless The USA’ – Home Free, Lee Greenwood, US Airforce Band
The legendary country music icon Lee Greenwood has long been celebrated for his signature patriotic hit ‘God Bless The USA’. But the 77-year-old recently amped up the epic patriotism in this song by several notches when he decided to collaborate with the a capella group Home Free and members of the United States Airforce Band. The result is a stunning and moving rendition filled with dazzling harmonies, with Lee Greenwood admitting, “This is ‘God Bless The USA’ like you’ve never heard it before.” Austin Brown of Home Free also revealed, “When we sing this song, everyone in the audience, no matter where we are in this country, everyone stands up… It’s going to be in the American culture forever.” The lyrics are still as emotive and soul-stirring as ever – “And I’m proud to be an American / Where at least I know I’m free / And I won’t forget the men who died / Who gave that right to me /And I’d gladly stand up next to you / And defend Her still today / ‘Cause there ain’t no doubt / I love this land / God Bless the USA.”
Destination Jam is a daily list of songs that will keep you entertained and grooving up top in lieu of feeling drained and losing the plot. Look out for a fresh selection of great tunes from MEAWW to refresh your mood every day!