America is the third largest country in the world both in terms of area and population. Like many nations, its citizens have created odes to their country. Some praise the countries’ best qualities, including themes like freedom, the wide variety of natural beauty, and the possibility of achieving the American dream. Others are more critical of the government and American culture. Still, others celebrate the simple pleasures of American life.
The following songs are not the only great songs about the United States. This is just a selection of top songs about the USA. Also, these songs are not in order of best to worst. All of these songs are equally great. They come from many different genres and perspectives, so your favorite may depend on your personal taste.
1. This is America – Childish Gambino
Childish Gambino is the musician stage name of actor Donald Glover. The song This is America was released in 2018 amid the growing awareness of systemic racism and high rates of gun violence in the US. The accompanying song and video critique American culture through Childish Gambino’s lens. It explores the relationship between what we are fed on social media and society’s reality. Music analysts say it also explores what it means to be a Black person in today’s United States, the American relationship to gun violence, and Childish Gambino’s own relationship to fame and success. While both the song and video have dark undertones, it is a great listen, and experts agree. The song won four Grammy Awards in 2019 for Song of the Year, Best Music Video, Best Rap/Sung Performance, and Record of the Year.
2. Born in the USA – Bruce Springsteen
This classic song about the United States is often misunderstood. Though it was recorded in 1982, it was not released until 1984. Many believe the song is celebratory about being proud to be “Born in the USA.” Perhaps in a way it is, but the verses’ lyrics are critical of the United States. Springsteen sings about being “born down in a dead man’s town,” having few other options than to go to war (specifically to the Vietnam War), and essentially being forgotten about when he returns. The song critiques American poverty, war, and veterans’ affairs. However, both things can be true. The singer could be both proud of being American and critical of his experiences in the United States.
3. American Idiot – Green Day
American Idiot is the name of both a song and an album by the pop-punk band Green Day. The song was released in 2004, in the post-9/11 atmosphere. The song criticizes the media for sensationalizing war coverage and turning it into entertainment for the masses. Some believe the “American Idiot” directly refers to then-president George W. Bush. However, while the song’s writer, Billie Joe Armstrong, has said it is a critique of the second Bush administration, he has never said it was directly a call-out to the former president. Others believe the term American Idiot could represent Armstrong’s view of people who believe everything they see in the media. The song’s vibe is upbeat yet angry.
4. American Girl – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Even though it wasn’t super popular when it was first released in 1977, American Girl become one of the most loved songs by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. The song’s meaning is highly contested. Some people believe it references a college girl’s suicide in Petty’s hometown of Gainesville, Florida. However, Petty denied this rumor. Instead, he says the song is simply about a character. She’s a small-town girl who wants to find something greater out there but gets in trouble.
5. American Pie – Don McLean
American Pie is part epic poem, part ode to American culture, and part classic American folk song. For many years, Don McLean, the song’s writer and singer refused to divulge what the song was really about. However, in 2015 he finally let the cat out of the bag. The song, which was released in 1971, cryptically mentions many pop culture references from the 1960s, like the rise of Bob Dylan, the first moon landings, and a 1959 plane crash that killed three famous musicians: Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and JP Richardson AKA The Big Bopper. This crash is now known as “The Day The Music Died”, due to the lyrics of American Pie. Other parts of the song refer to Don McLean’s own personal experiences, such as feeling lonely in childhood and the 1960 death of his father. A documentary called The Day The Music Died reveals even more background information on this song, which became a huge hit despite being over eight minutes long.
6. This Land is Your Land – Woody Guthrie
Folk singer Woody Guthrie wrote the folk song This Land is Your Land in 1940 but didn’t release it until 1945. He wrote the song as a response to and critique of God Bless America by Irving Berlin, which was released in 1938 before World War II. The poetic lyrics in the first few verses represent an idealized vision of how Woody Guthrie wants to see the United States, including beautiful vistas, plentiful fields of wheat, and the knowledge that “this land was made for you and me.” However, it is most often sung without the last two verses, which are more directly critical of the United States, and ends with the singer wondering if “this land’s still made for you and me.”
7. Pink Houses (Ain’t That America) – John Mellencamp
The song Pink Houses was released in 1983. John Mellencamp was first inspired to write the song when he saw an older man sitting casually on the porch of a pink house holding a cat while driving by. The song extrapolates a fantasy from this experience, envisioning what this person’s life might be like. The song explores a few other tropes of American life, including a young “greaser,” people who work in high-rise office buildings, and the “simple man” who pays the bills. The song’s chorus asks, “Ain’t that America?” and echoes Woody Guthrie’s song This Land is Your Land when it says, “Little pink houses for you and me.” Some people believe this song is a sarcastic or ironic critique of the United States, while others believe it simply celebrates different ways of life in the US.
8. Party in the USA – Miley Cyrus
Pop star Miley Cyrus released the song Party in the USA in 2009. It is about a girl arriving at LAX from Nashville to experience a new kind of party. The girl wonders if she will fit into the faster pace of LA and gets nervous. But when she hears her song on the radio, she knows she’s gonna be OK. Hearing her favorite song by Jay Z or Britney Spears is a universal experience that she can have anywhere in the USA, so she knows she can let her hair down and have a good time. The song became a huge party anthem and went diamond according to RIAA certification standards, meaning it sold 10,000,000 units. Fewer than 150 songs in history have that honor!
9. God Bless the USA – Lee Greenwood
Lee Greenwood’s country tune God Bless the USA was originally released in 1984. However, it regained popularity in 2001 after 9/11 and again when it was re-recorded in 2003. This is one of the few songs about America that truly supports the country without any critique or hint of irony. Greenwood sings that even if everything was gone from his life, he would be happy to be an American and know he is free. He gives credit to all the soldiers who have fought for the country and says that he, too, would defend the United States to protect the value of freedom in the country. He originally wrote the song after the Soviet Union shot down a Korea Air flight that was headed from New York to Seoul. The event made him want to write a song to unite Americans.
9. America, The Beautiful – Homeboy Sandman
While many modern hip-hop songs offer more critique of American culture, Homeboy Sandman offers up some gratitude in this tune which shares a name with a classic patriotic tune written in the 1800s. The song acknowledges that even though there are things to work on in America, there is much to be grateful for. Homeboy Sandman mentions gratitude for everyday things like running water, public defenders, corner stores, cough drops, religious freedom, and paved roads. He reminds people that while many Americans are part of the lower or middle class, compared to others in the world, most Americans have access to many resources.
10. America – Neil Diamond
Neil Diamond’s song America, which was released in 1981, tells a classic story of immigration to America. It mentions families “hanging on to a dream,” traveling in boats and planes to the US, sometimes through dangerous conditions. They are attracted to the United States by “freedom’s light.” They want to come here for the opportunity to share their dreams with other people. The song ends with a rendition of the patriotic tune My Country ‘Tis of Thee. Neil Diamond’s America has been used several times in political campaigns and patriotic events.
11. Banned in the USA – 2 Live Crew
This 1990 song, released on the album of the same name, is a critique of censorship in the United States and directly references the hip-hop group’s experiences. Their 1989 album, As Nasty As They Wanna Be, was officially declared to be obscene by a Florida district judge. The group’s three members were then arrested in 1990 after performing material from the album. The group was eventually released and acquitted, and the obscenity decision was later overturned. The song includes news recordings about the trial and uses part of Springsteen’s song Born in the USA (with his permission). Instead of Springsteen’s iconic line, they say Banned in the USA.
12. Only In America – Brooks & Dunn
Only in America was released in June of 2001 and became even more popular after 9/11. The song discusses various scenes of common Americans living their lives with their hopes and dreams. Most of the characters in the song have dreams of a positive future, and the chorus states that in America, “we all get a chance” and “everybody gets to dance.” The song refers to the American dream: everyone has opportunities to succeed in The United States.
13. God Save the USA – Pennywise
Punk band Pennywise’s song God Save the USA strongly critiques America’s version of capitalism. It criticizes factories that cause pollution and the media that sensationalizes events. However, it also criticizes the average American for becoming apathetic and pushing blame onto others, like the president, rather than doing what they can to help the situation. The song was released on the band’s album From the Ashes in 2003.
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