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David Carroll: 5 Great USA Songs: 4th of July!

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It isn’t easy narrowing down a list of great “America” songs to just five.  We can all think of ten or fifteen without trying very hard.  On this 4th of July weekend, here are five of my USA favorites.  Some are fairly recent, while others are fabulous vinyl flashbacks.  Get out your red, white and blue, and sing along:

“America the Beautiful” by Ray Charles  - Growing up, I remember thinking this song should be the National Anthem.  I could never quite understand the words of “The Star Spangled Banner,” and I sure couldn’t sing it.  To this day, I admire the singers who can hit all the notes.  “America the Beautiful,” on the other hand, spoke to me.  It made me proud of our country, and the freedoms we enjoy.  Ray Charles made it a part of his live shows for decades, and never sang it the same way twice.  Now that’s freedom, and here’s a beautiful performance from 1972.

“Back In the USA” by Chuck Berry - Chuck Berry recorded it in the 1950s, and Linda Ronstadt covered it two decades later, and I liked both versions so much, I didn’t know which one to include here.  Thankfully, both are in this 1987 performance video (along with Keith Richards!) Not only is it a great rock song, but it celebrates America: “Anything you want, we’ve got it right here in the USA.”  Plus, our town gets a shout-out along with the big cities like New York and LA: “Detroit, Chicago, Chattanooga, Baton Rouge.” And both Chuck and Linda knew how to pronounce Chattanooga.  This was part of a film in honor of Chuck’s 60th birthday. Reportedly, Linda was upset that the band played in a different key than they had rehearsed. I’d have never known, she sounds great to me.

“Party in the USA” by Miley Cyrus - In the summer of 2009, 16-year-old Miley Cyrus had already experienced success on TV and the radio, but this song seemed to get everyone’s attention.  It’s become a mainstay of fireworks shows each 4th of July, along with Katy Perry’s “Firework” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA.”  Chances are you’ll hear it sometime this weekend, so why not now?

“America” by Simon and Garfunkel - There were some great songwriters on our radios in the 1960s, for sure.  It was the decade when mindless rhymes were replaced by songs that had stories to tell, something to say.  These songs captured real life experiences, raw emotions, even protests.  No one did it better than Paul Simon.  If he lived it, he wrote about it with depth, wit and feeling.  “America” is a 1966 recounting of a five-day hitchhiking, bus riding journey he had taken with his girlfriend Kathy Chitty.  It reflects on the people, the highways, the cities, our successes and failures.  With Art Garfunkel, Simon scored a lot of hit singles, and this wasn’t one of them.  Good radio stations found it on the “Bookends” album and played it anyway, and it still sounds fresh today. “Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike, they’ve all come to look for America.”

“God Bless The USA” by Lee Greenwood - Among my proudest tidbits of personal trivia is this: I attended Lee Greenwood’s wedding in 1992.  He married Kimberly Payne, who I had gotten to know when she was named Tennessee’s Junior Miss in a live telecast I emceed on WDEF in 1984.  Kim was kind enough to invite Cindy and me to their wedding, which was beautiful.  Almost 25 years later, Kim is still my friend, and she and Lee have raised two great sons.  I met Lee a couple of times over the years, and was impressed by his devotion to his fans.  He’s one of those guys who’s had plenty of peaks and valleys in his long career, and he appreciates those who have bought his records and attended his concerts.  It’s safe to say that if you attend one of Lee’s shows, he will close it with his self-written 1983 song that made him a household world.  It speaks for itself.  Happy 4th of July!

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