Top Protest Songs Hijacked by Patriots

Woody Guthrie
Woody Guthrie

There are many things we do to celebrate our nation's birth. We drink, of course. We set off fireworks. We eat red meat. And during all of this, we have patriotic tunes in the background. But this year, we suggest you take a closer listen to some of the songs you may put on. Not all are as pro-American as you may think. 

1. "This Land is Your Land" by Woody Guthrie

This is one of the first "patriotic" songs taught to youngsters to illustrate why our nation is the best. Interestingly, most of us only learn the chorus, but if you listen to the whole song, you'll come to this last verse which Woody left to us as the parting message of his American anthem:
"In the squares of the city- In the shadow of the steeple,
Near the relief office- I see my people,
And some are grumblin' and some are wonderin',

If this land's still made for you and me."

Now Woody was a patriotic man who traveled the land from coast to coast with his guitar that famously killed fascists. Unfortunately, this anthem for the working class and letter of contention to the privilege fell on deaf ears. It has since been used by the people it was meant to mock, such as Ronald Reagan who used it in his 1984 re-election campaign. Bruce Springsteen, no stranger to this subject, began playing the song at concerts in an attempt to reclaim it's message. 

2. "Born in the USA"- Bruce Springsteen




Down in the shadow of the penitentiary 
Out by the gas fires of the refinery 
I'm ten years burning down the road 
Nowhere to run ain't got nowhere to go

Here's one where people don't bother to read beyond the title (the original title was Vietnam). Check out this stripped-down version of the song above. After the removal of the catchy, sing-a-long styled chorus, you're able to hear the protest song that it was meant to be. It's about how terrible America treats our veterans once they return home from duty (Went down to see my VA man, He said son, don't you understand).

In an interview with NPR, Springsteen said it's the fact that people don't listen intently beyond the chorus that leads them to believe this as a patriotic song. "In my songs, the spiritual part, the hope part is in the choruses. The blues, and your daily realities are in the details of the verses. The spiritual comes out in the choruses, which I got from Gospel music and the church," he said.

3. "Rockin' in the Free World" by Neil Young 



Though it's easy to want to claim a song that starts off naming the colors of our flag as America's own, this song was written in response to Neil Young's disgust with Bush Sr. Some of the most identifyable lyrics of the song were mockeries of Bush Sr.'s campaign speeches such as: "We got 1,000 points of light, for the homeless man," and "We got a kinder, gentler machine gun hand." 

4. "Like a Rock" by Bob Seger


Chevrolet, the carmaker of America, has forever claimed this song with their near decade long ad campaign use of this song. You envision a big truck riding through the mud and over the American terrain with a large American flag flying high in the back. But it isn't about a truck being built Chevy-tough or American pride, it's about an aging man reflecting on his life.

"Twenty years now 
Where'd they go?   
Twenty years I don't know 
Sit and I wonder sometimes 
Where they've gone"


5. "Fortunate Son" by Creedence Clearwater Revival


Here's another one that spouts of the good old red, white and blue at the beginning of the song. It's hard to hear this song and not think of helicopters flying over Vietnam filled with troops pumped and ready to kick some ass. Uber-American brands like Wrangler Jeans who use this song in ads perpetuate the idea that the lyrics "Some folks are made to wave the flag, Ooh that they're red white and blue," were not meant to be ironic. Fogerty wrote this song in response to Nixon and the privileged children of his administration who would never go to the war that this country started.

"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! yoh"

Honorable Mention:



Three wisest words ever spoken.


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