FARGO — Fill up the cooler, fire up the grill, grab a lawn chair and prepare to watch the fireworks on the Fourth of July. The only other thing you’ll need is a soundtrack.
But when it comes to what some think of as patriotic songs, a closer look shows that some popular titles aren’t the flag-waving anthems some thought they would be.
Two years ago, YouTube listed the top 10 songs that see the biggest jump in clicks on July 4. While the top song was Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA,” No. 2 was Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” While the title suggests American pride, the lyrics show a blue collar man who feels left behind after returning home from the Vietnam War.
Here are some other seemingly patriotic songs with lyrics that belie their titles.
'Pink Houses' by John Cougar Mellencamp
Similar to “Born in the U.S.A.,” Mellencamp’s blue collar ballad comes in 10th on the YouTube list and has confounded listeners for decades.
"As the hook with 'Ain't that America' and 'Home of the Free' sure sounds patriotic, the story that the song tells is more about the struggles and death of the American dream,” says John Austin, operations manager at Radio FM and co-host of the morning show on BOB 95 FM.
The video is even more pointed, showing a man on a motorcycle in an American flag-festooned trailer park dealing drugs.
Mike Waters, drive time announcer on the rock station 107.9 The Fox, agrees and points out how the John McCain presidential campaign in 2008 used the song until Mellencamp told them to stop. Then the singer turned around and played it at President Barack Obama’s 2009 inaugural party.
'Rockin’ in the Free World' by Neil Young
If you listen to any other lyrics in the song other than the titular chorus, it’s hard to see how this could be perceived as anything but an indictment of American policymakers turning a blind eye to drugs, poverty, violence and environmental issues in the late 1980s. Yet, then-candidate Donald Trump used it when he announced his presidency.
'Fortunate Son' by Creedence Clearwater Revival
This CCR classic opens with the lines, “Some folks are born made to wave the flag / Ooh, they’re red, white and blue,” but after that it’s more finger wagging than flag waving.
“It was a song about how the poor were sent to fight in Vietnam while the rich were spared,” says Travis Hopkins, a DJ on Radio Free Fargo, 95.9 FM.
'Independence Day' by Martina McBride
Well, this certainly has to be about the Fourth of July. Just look at the title, right?
“It sounds very patriotic until you really listen to the story, which is that of domestic abuse,” Austin says.
The song looks at a woman who finally frees herself from her abusive husband by burning down the house and presumably him. After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Sean Hannity would use the the song and its "Let freedom ring" chorus on his radio show.
'American Woman' by Lenny Kravitz
If a song written by Canadians as a slam on Americans is covered by an American, is it really an American song? The Recording Academy website, www.grammy.com, thinks so and included Lenny Kravitz’ cover of “American Woman” on its list, “15 songs to celebrate the Fourth of July”. The factor that made this cover of Guess Who’s 1970 dig on American imperialism as a red, white and blue treasure? “The video... which features an American flag backdrop, actress Heather Graham and a bevy of other scantily clad models.”
'Party in the U.S.A.' by Miley Cyrus
“Basically it is all about the party scene in LA but has been adopted as an America song,” says Terry “Rat” McMahon, who just left Y94 after almost 17 years with the station.
Cyrus’ song took on new life in 2011 when celebrations following the death of Osama bin Laden erupted in blasting out her 2009 hit.
'God Bless America' by Kate Smith
Finally a song where the lyrics live up to the title, a song worthy of playing on America’s holiday. Hold on a second. While there’s no questioning the sincerity of Irving Berlin’s lyrics, the New York Yankees and Philadelphia Flyers recently distanced themselves from Kate Smith’s iconic version after it was discovered the singer had performed racist songs in the 1930s.
'This Land is Your Land' by Woody Guthrie
Smith’s version of “God Bless America” got under the skin of some long before this year. Woody Guthrie was so annoyed by it that he wrote “God Blessed America for Me”. That tune would eventually become “This Land is Your Land,” but some of the cynicism remains in two often overlooked verses in which he criticizes treatment of the poor and hungry.
'Philadelphia Freedom' by Elton John
It would be strange for British star Elton John to sing about America’s Founding Fathers — and indeed, that’s not what this song is about at all.
“Elton John's 'Philadelphia Freedom' was about gay rights and Billie Jean King. But it’s still a great fireworks song,” says Dave Jacobs of the morning show on 107.9 The Fox.
The song is not only a tribute to John’s friend and tennis legend King, a member of the Philadelphia Freedom tennis team, but also the city’s “Philadelphia sound,” heard in the Delfonics and the Spinners.