As America celebrates it’s independence from, well, us lot, we look at what some very different artists have to say about Uncle Sam. Here are five essential tastes of Americana, both new and old and everywhere in between.
5. Beck – Loser
America may always be verging towards (and recently teetering into) a krypto-fascist exclusionary nightmare, but it was here that our modern concept of ‘counter-culture’ originated. By the early 90s Generation X was bringing the cliché of the stoner washout back into the public conciousness.
Beck’s ‘Loser’ is probably the whitest hip-hop song ever written, but it perfectly summarises what it means to be at sea in a country committed to a shared experience. A bong-hazed and bleary-eyed account of life as a young waster, ‘Loser’ is a track as quintessentially American as apple pie.
4. John Denver – Country Roads
Americans really wank off on the whole ‘Land of the Free / Home of the Brave’ stuff, but with dedications as gorgeous as ‘Country Roads’, you can start to see why. John Denver’s classic is an unashamed, heart-on-sleeve ode to small town America with it’s lovely opening couplet – “Almost heaven, West Virginia.”
It may seem quaint now, especially given the shocking poverty that lies around rust belt America, but it’s power hasn’t diminished a little. Virginia has never looked, or sounded, so good.
3. Rihanna – American Oxygen
New America was officially sworn in by a singer from Barbados in 2015. Given what’s happened since, it’s clear America is indeed a changed country. Rih reflects on her adopted home at a point of peak division; a country that a year later would vote in an elderly racist as President in a desperate attempt to dislodge their elites.
Oxygen might be the perfect metaphor for the intangible sense of opportunity that is so central to the ideal of the American Dream. However, it may yet be a reference to the death by choking of Eric Garner at the hands of police.
It’s no surprise it didn’t chart well – a song that champions America and lambasts it’s failing may be too tonally vague. It’s hard not to feel pumped though, even as a European: it’s a conflicted anthem for a conflicted society.
2. Madonna – American Pie
It’s a rule that you can’t talk about Americana without bringing up Don McLean’s ‘American Pie’, and so be it. Though I actually prefer the Madonna version. No, I’m not joking.
I love the disco touches and kitshy effects all over this and the way the glossy production actually hums benevolently, and yet Madonna is still able to tap into that sense of sadness. You can’t help but feel uplifted by the slow build into a classic chorus, which Madonna infuses with her own sense of everygirl charm. Hate me if you want, I think this is great.
1. Bruce Springsteen – Born in the U.S.A.
This may as well be the national anthem at this point. It’s obvious to reference this song here, but inescapable. The Boss sums up everything that America is at heart: fairness, opportunity, glory, hope, and the failure of institutions and administrations to honour these ideals. Whether you think burying a protest song beneath near impenetrable layers of pomp and jingoism is smart of a sell-out is down to you, but it’s certainly shrewd. It doesn’t get much bigger than this. ‘Born In The U.S.A.’ is an anthem for baseball games and college graduations.