I know many of you will be playing patriotic songs this weekend, everything from “God Bless the USA” to “California Girls” to “Living In America.” But I thought you might like to expand your patriotic party playlist to include some songs that you don’t hear too often, or ever. Some were hits that don’t get played much anymore, others are obscure singles and album cuts, but all will make you proud to be an American. You can make a Spotify playlist or use the YouTube links below.
From our “Huckabee” musical guests:
Some of our “Huckabee” guests have blessed us with terrific new patriotic songs, and here are two recent examples. Country legend Clint Black performed a new song he wrote with Steve Wariner called “America (Still in Love With You),” and you can hear him perform it with Tre Corley and the Music City Connection right here:
We had the astonishing George W. Bush impressionist John C. Morgan on recently. He’s also a singer/musician, and he has a new song out to counter all the efforts to divide Americans on racial lines. It’s called “America…My Brother and Me,” and you can catch the video here:
Now on to some oldies but goodies…
“Johnny Freedom” – Johnny Horton
Johnny Horton’s career was cut short at age 35 in a tragic car crash. But he left behind a legacy of great songs, many inspired by historical events, such as “Sink the Bismarck” and the immortal “Battle of New Orleans” (which inspired the hilarious Homer & Jethro parody, “The Battle of Kookamonga.”) You can learn more about American history from Johnny Horton’s Greatest Hits than you can from a public high school these days. Here’s a patriotic Horton tune for the 4th that you might not know, “Johnny Freedom.”
“The Americans” – Gordon Sinclair
Gordon Sinclair was one of the most unlikely recording stars of all time. A Canadian writer/reporter, he was so annoyed in 1973 at hearing that the Red Cross was out of funds, he wrote an editorial about all that America does for the world. He didn’t think it was anything special, but public reaction was overwhelming. WWDC-AM in Washington, DC, started playing a reading of it with “Bridge Over Troubled Water” in the background, which inspired the release of Sinclair’s own recording, a 45 on Avco under the title, “The Americans (A Canadian's Opinion.)” All proceeds went to the Red Cross. It rose to #24 on the charts, making Sinclair, at 73, the second-oldest artist ever to make the Billboard Top 40, behind 75-year-old Moms Mabley’s “Abraham, Martin and John.” It was revived for a bit after 9/11 and Hurricane Katrinia, but it needs to be heard again now.
By the way, you might be more familiar with this version by Byron MacGregor of CKLW radio, which got higher on the charts. It was an unauthorized version that Sinclair wasn’t happy about. Still, the sentiments can’t be repeated too many times.
“Back In The USA” – Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers
Everyone loves Chuck Berry’s classic original that lists all the cool things we've got here in the USA, but this low-fi version is one of my favorite records of all time. Linda Ronstadt had the hit, but I always thought hers was kinda stiff. This version captures the freedom of playing in a garage band with your friends on a sunny Saturday afternoon as hamburgers sizzle on the grill nearby. It’s so spontaneous, you can hear Jonathan turning off-mic and directing the band as he goes along. This is just over two minutes of the pure joys, large and small, of being an American. If you can listen to this without smiling, I don’t want to know you.
And for the purists, here’s Chuck Berry’s original. This actually has 10 thumbs-down on YouTube. I assume they’re all communists:
“Paul Revere” – Johnny Cash
How can we salute America in song without including the man who is known as the voice of America, Johnny Cash? So much to pick from (the obvious choice might be “Ragged Old Flag”), but here’s a cool obscurity from his 1970 LP, “America: A 200-Year Salute in Story and Song.”
The album covers everything from the Revolution to the Space Age, including songs about the Alamo (whose defenders were HEROES!!!), the Gettysburg Address and possibly the only song you’ll ever hear about the assassination of President James Garfield. It’s all great, but for this week, what could be more appropriate than Johnny Cash singing the story of Paul Revere?
“Rockin’ In The USA” – KISS
Typically for KISS, the lyrics aren’t very profound, but they make the indisputable though grammatically-puzzling point that there’s nowhere else you’d rather stay than rockin’ in the US. If you’re surprised that these shock rockers would do something so unabashedly patriotic, then you probably didn’t know that Gene Simmons is an Israeli immigrant, the son of a concentration camp survivor, and very grateful to America for his success as a music entrepreneur.
“America, Why I Love Her” by John Wayne and “Pledge of Allegiance” by Red Skelton
Since these are both patriotic recitations by beloved 20th century showbiz giants, I thought I’d make them a two-fer.
The iconic 1973 album “America, Why I Love Her” by John Wayne has its own chapter in my book about celebrity records, “Hollywood Hi-Fi.” There are other celebrity connections as well: the words were written by John Mitchum, the actor/writer brother of Robert Mitchum, and the idea of Wayne recording it came from Forrest Tucker ("F Troop.")
Mitchum had a role in Wayne’s 1970 movie “Chisum,” and during a break, he read his co-stars his tribute to the US military, “Why Are You Marching, Son?” Wayne was moved to manly tears, and Tucker said if he liked it that much, why didn’t he do something about it? So on a handshake deal (more binding than a contract when it’s the Duke’s mighty handshake), they agreed to make an album.
It took Wayne three years to finish the recording (he’d lost a lung due to his six-pack-a-day cigarette habit), but the results were worth it. The LP of patriotic recitations sold 100,000 copies in its first two weeks, scored a Grammy nomination, inspired a companion book, and became a hit all over again when it was reissued after Wayne’s death in 1979. It finally fell out of print, but a revival of interest after 9/11 helped Mitchum’s daughter finally get it rereleased on CD. The entire album is now available 24/7 on YouTube, Amazon and other digital platforms.
I particularly wanted to share this on the 4th of July because of the recent whining from the snowflake brigade about some non-PC things Wayne said in the early 1970s. The Duke is the only deceased star to rank in the Harris Poll of America's Top 10 most popular movie stars every year, even 40 years after his death. The crybullies think they can cancel John Wayne. That’ll be the day!
On January 14, 1969, Red Skelton performed a recitation that he wrote himself on his CBS variety show, “The Red Skelton Hour,” which you can now stream on Amazon Prime when the current TV offerings seem as funny as a root canal. It relates how a beloved teacher once explained the meaning of the Pledge of Allegiance to his class. Trivia: The backing music is titled “Red’s White and Blue March” and is one of Red’s many compositions.
After it aired, CBS was flooded with 200,000 requests for copies, and a month later, it was released on a Columbia 45. Red performed it for the rest of his life, including at the White House for the newly-inaugurated President Nixon. It has become an American classic and been used as a teaching tool for many years by schools that aren’t afraid of being sued for exposing students to the words “Under God” or, now, even saying the Pledge of Allegiance.
“What Is America To Me” – Frank Sinatra
In case you’ve never seen it, this is a link to "The House I Live In," the entire 10-minute short film that this song came from (it begins at the 6:45 mark, for those with Internet-shortened attention spans.) This film was produced at the end of World War II to help fight anti-Semitism, and perhaps should still be required viewing for certain Democratic Congress members. The notes on YouTube have a lot of interesting history of the film and song, if you’d like to know more.
“Bumper of My SUV” – Chely Wright
This song written and performed by country singer Chely Wright is about a snotty person's rude reaction to the Marines sticker she put on her SUV in honor of her brother who was serving in the Middle East. It was extremely personal to her, but it was universally embraced by the troops when she performed it during a series of shows in Iraq. This brings home how some people are intensely ungrateful for the safe, comfortable lives that they owe to the US military, as well as their freedom to be obnoxious, ungrateful jerks. I’m linking to a live clip where she tells the story of how the song came about before singing it. Any US Marine vets will especially appreciate this.
“Only in America” – Jay and The Americans
A moderate hit in 1963, this ode to the American Dream was originally intended for the Drifters but seems a better fit for a band called “Jay and The Americans.” This was from a time before the left made people think it was shameful to want to succeed and get rich. The singer informs us that only in America can a boy become a millionaire, get a classy girl and maybe grow up to be President – or if you’re Donald Trump, all three.
“American Faces” – John Conlee
Nashville has sadly forgotten what real country music sounds like, or else one of the most distinctive country voices of all time, John Conlee, would still be topping the charts. Known as the singing mortician for his pre-music career, Conlee landed 32 singles on the charts between 1978 and 2004. Fourteen made the top 10, including “Common Man,” “Backside of 30,” “Lady Lay Down,” “Miss Emily’s Picture,” “Busted,” and one of the greatest country songs of all time, “Rose Colored Glasses.”
Fans should know that he recently appeared on “Huckabee” and he’s still out there touring (Laura and I have tickets to see him in September.) You can find his tour dates, music and merchandise at http://www.johnconlee.com. You should also check out his latest CD, “Classics 3,” which includes a very powerful pro-life song called “Unborn Voice.”
For the 4th of July, here’s the moving title track from Conlee’s 1987 album, “American Faces,” a salute to some of the unsung people in “Flyover Country” who make America what it is.
“Red, White & Blue” – Lynyrd Skynyrd
There are a lot of seemingly patriotic rock songs that get played on the Fourth of July, like Springsteen’s “Born in the USA,” whose creators actually meant them as critical or sarcastic and who get bent out of shape when they are “misconstrued” as flag-wavers. To them, I say, “Get bent.” Here is a rock song that is unambiguously pro-American, by the ultimate working class band, Lynyrd Skynyrd. This is by the post-crash version of the band, from the 2003 album, “Vicious Cycle.”
“Ask Not Waltz” – President John F. Kennedy
Finally, my writing partner and fellow musicologist George Gimarc and I were very pleased to be able to haul this record out of obscurity for both our celebrity records book “Hollywood Hi-Fi” and its companion CD on Brunswick. This record was historic on a number of levels.
Not only does it set one of the most inspiring and iconic speeches in American history to a tune you can really skate to, but it was also one of the earliest examples of what later became mainstays of pop music: sampling and rapping. The idea was hatched by “Bullwinkle” writer George Atkins and Nashville producer Hank Levine as they were sitting by the pool, trying to come up with an idea for a JFK comedy record. Levine told us that in those pre-digital days, setting JFK’s actual words to music required a massive, painstaking tape editing job.
The album (“Sing Along With JFK”) was released in summer, 1963, but radio resisted because it was disrespectful to the President (can you imagine such a thing?!) But college stations started playing it and it was climbing the charts until November when JFK jokes suddenly became verboten. Don’t feel guilty about enjoying it, though, because Kennedy family insider Peter Lawford said it was the only JFK comedy record that JFK actually liked.