The United States of America has always been fodder for musicians – whether it’s singing the praises of the country (“God Bless the U.S.A.”) or questioning its treatment of veterans (“Born in the U.S.A.”).
There have been songs about American culture, American women, American idiots, American boys, American teens, American soldiers, and even American spirits. That’s not counting the hundreds of songs that mention freedom, liberty or patriotism.
Discogs.com lists 17,895 singles that either have the word America in them (“America” by Neil Diamond) or are by a band with the word America in its name (like, um, America). Another 21,650 listed USA in the title (Surfin’ USA) or band name (USA for Africa).
Everyone has their own list of America songs, and they’re all the same. So for this July 4, here are 10 little-known songs about America—not the usual ones you hear. They’re songs from my collection, and I promise there will be no Springsteen, Simon & Garfunkel or Toby Keith on it.
“America” – Prince. Probably the most popular song on this list, the opening cut on Side 2 of Around the World in a Day is a rocker, with lyrics taken from “America the Beautiful.” The rest of its lyrics are anything but patriotic, referencing aristocrats, people in poverty, and mushroom clouds.
“Dreams in America” – Luka Bloom. The second track from his debut album finds the Irish guitarist creating a picturesque landscape with sights and sounds, with the reverb set to 11.
“I’m Afraid of Americans” – David Bowie. Well, pretty much most Americans are afraid of Americans as well, so I give Bowie a pass on his title in this day and age.
“My American Blues” – Kelly Jones. After her pop-influenced Shebang!, Jones went for a more subdued, rootsy sound on Alta Loma. This is one of the tracks from that EP.
“Queen of the USA” – Jellyfish. “Queen of the USA” was a candidate for the group’s first album, Bellybutton, but the demo didn’t make it. It sounds more like a missing link between the group’s earlier incarnation, Beatnik Beatch, and the Bellybutton days of the world’s greatest power pop band.
“The King and Queen of America” – Eurythmics. From the album’s last album for 10 years, We Too Are One, this is vintage Eurythmics – powerful pop rooted in Annie Lennox pure voice.
“Elvis Presley & America” – U2. U2’s experimental phase plateaued with this song, which is a slowed-down version of “A Sort of Homecoming.” Producer Daniel Lanois got Bono to improvise some lyrics while Bono listened to the track for the first time. That’s why it sounds like a train wreck at times.
“This is Not America” – David Bowie. This used to be my favorite Bowie song, taken from the movie “The Falcon and the Snowman” and performed with the Pat Metheny Group. It still sounds stark and brooding – exactly the way I was at 17, and once again Bowie nails people’s sentiments about this country 35 years later.
“American Pipe” – Umajets. A perfect song by Rob Aldridge and former Jellyfish bassist Tim Smith. This album could be the lost Jellyfish LP.
“Little America” – R.E.M. This album closer to Reckoning is classic R.E.M., from Peter Buck’s arpeggioed guitar sound to Michael Stipe’s mumbling. “Jefferson, I think we’re lost,” he exclaims at one point. Yep.