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List Words : Graeme Green | 07 November

10 of the greatest ever songs about America

As Trump and Clinton go head to head in the election, we celebrate the United States – one of the world’s most exciting travel destinations - in song, from James Brown to Father John Misty


America by Neil Diamond

“Far, we’ve been travelling far, without a home but not without a star,” sings a finely sequined Neil Diamond on one of his biggest hits.” America is a song about immigrants coming to the “sweet land of liberty… on the boats and on the planes”, a reminder that the United States wasn’t made great by building walls or closing borders.


Bored In The USA by Father John Misty

Father John Misty’s finest moment is about as bleak as it gets, a melancholic anti-anthem for an America of debt, bad education, subprime loans and prescription drugs. A mighty tune, with the dark message made more blackly ironic with the sound of canned laughter.

 

Living In America by James Brown

The Godfather of Soul, or the Father of Funk, celebrates the wide land of America, easy to access by railroad or road trip, and the “promised land” of the ‘real America’ to be found in cities like New Orleans, Detroit and New York.


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America by Simon & Garfunkel

“All come to look for America,” sings Paul Simon, on this sweet wistful tune. A real traveller’s tale, Simon writes about boarding Greyhound buses and getting lost while searching for ‘America.’

 

America, The Beautiful by Ray Charles

The ultra-patriotic traditional song of heroism, God and a land of “amber waves of grain” and “purple mountain majesties” is given the soulful treatment by the voice and keys of Ray Charles.

 

Ragged Old Flag by Johnny Cash

The American flag is looked a little ragged, holey and bedraggled in this story-song by Johnny Cash, a short burst through the history of America’s politics and conflicts. “She's been burned, dishonored, denied and refused / And the government for which she stands / Has been scandalized throughout the land / And she's getting thread bare, and she's wearing thin / But she's in good shape, for the shape she's in / Because she's been through the fire before / And I believe she can take a whole lot more.”


Check out: Billy Bragg's railroad journey across the USA

 

Made In America by Kanye West and Jay-Z (The Throne)

“Mama told me no more slavery / Look at your ankles and wrists, no more chains on me…” goes Kanye West, Jay-Z and Frank Ocean’s celebration of Sweet King Martin and Sweet Brother Malcolm and all those who helped make, or made it in, America.

 

American Pie by Don McLean

Don McLean’s most famous, and epic, song is a melancholy tribute to the America of yesteryear and the heyday of rock’n’roll, before “the day the music died" with the deaths of Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and other musicians in a 1959 plane crash. 


Check out: America's Greatest Road Trip


Frijolero by Molotov

The Mexican band mix humour, wit and anger on Frijolero, playing with angry voices and racism on both sides of “the river” that divides Mexico and the United States.

 

Star Spangled Banner by Jimi Hendrix

America’s national album has never been more mangled as when Jimi Hendrix took the tune apart and put it back again on his howling electric guitar.

 

And, just for good measure, a poem…

America by Allen Ginsberg

“America, why are your libraries full of tears?” asks the Beat poet on his masterful epic, which switches between humour, insight and rage from line to line, tackling the big issues of race, war and politics in ways that still resonate today. 

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Which songs did we miss? What would you have chosen? Tell us about your favourite songs about America in the Comments section below...