In the days since September 11, like most Americans, I have felt a renewed sense of patriotism. I first really noticed it a day or two after the World Trade Center attack, when I heard Ray Charles sing his incredible version of “America the Beautiful” on the radio. It filled me with emotions that had been bottled up since the attack, and brought forth a stream of tears from my eyes.
This experience made me think about other patriotic songs that give comfort during these trying times, and I compiled a list of them. I limited myself to those that made the Top 40 list during my lifetime. Following are my Top 10 picks in reverse order of popularity, as measured by their peak position on the pop chart.
(10) Chuck Berry, “Back in the U.S.A.” Last, but far from least, is this classic from one of rock music’s founding fathers.
Typical are these lyrics: “Well, I’m so glad I’m livin’ in the U.S.A./Yes, I’m so glad I’m livin’ in the U.S.A./Anything you want, we got right here in the U.S.A.” Although not one of Chuck’s top hits, rising only to No. 37 in 1959, it was a much bigger hit for Linda Ronstadt in 1978. Her version went to No. 16.
(9) Lee Greenwood, “God Bless the U.S.A.” This song was originally released in 1984, rising to No. 7 on the country chart. But in 1991, in the wake of the Gulf war, it was re-released and crossed over to the pop chart, where it reached No. 30.
(8) Mickey Newbury, “An American Trilogy.” This is a medley of classic American songs, including “Dixie” and “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” It rose to No. 26 in 1971.
(7) Jay and the Americans, “Only in America.” This patriotic hit is heavy on “Horatio Alger.” Typical is the line, “Go to sleep a pauper and wake up a millionaire.” It reached No. 25 on the chart in 1963.
(6) Johnny Burnette, “God, Country and My Baby.” This song tells the story of a soldier going off to war and his last night at home. Although he desperately wants to stay with his wife, he tells her he must go. “I’ll go for God, country and my baby,” Mr. Burnette sings. This hit went as high as No. 18 in 1961, during the midst of the Berlin Wall crisis.
(5) Charlie Daniels Band, “In America.” In 1980, patriotic fervor was high due to the Iran hostage crisis and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Mr. Daniels responded with this aggressively patriotic anthem. The following lines show just how aggressive: “This lady may have stumbled/But she ain’t never failed/And if the Russians don’t believe that/They can all go straight to hell.” This song peaked at No. 11. I suspect it would go to No. 1 if re-released today and Mr. Daniels changed “Russians” to “Osama.”
(4) Neil Diamond, “America.” In 1981, Mr. Diamond remade Al Jolson’s “The Jazz Singer.” Among the new songs he wrote for that movie was this one. It is stirring and exciting and my favorite of Mr. Diamond’s many hits. It went to No. 8 on the chart, but the movie didn’t do as well.
(3) Kenny Rogers & the First Edition, “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town.” Although originally a hard rocker, Mr. Rogers was already moving toward country music in 1969. Coming in the midst of the Vietnam War protests, it was courageous of him to sing these lines: “It wasn’t me who started that old crazy Asian war/But I was proud to go and do my patriotic chore.” This song reached No. 6 on the chart.
(2) Elton John, “Philadelphia Freedom.” Prolific hitmaker Elton John wrote this song for the American Bicentennial. “From the day I was born, I’ve waved the flag,” he sings. It was a big hit, reaching No. 1 for two weeks in December 1974.
(1) SSgt. Barry Sadler, “The Ballad of the Green Berets.” An improbable hit, this song came out during that brief period when the Vietnam War was going well and still had broad public support. It is unabashedly pro-military. Even more amazingly, it was a massive hit, staying in the No. 1 position for five straight weeks in 1966, making it one of the biggest hits of the entire decade. I bet it would chart again today if re-released.
This list does not exhaust the number of openly patriotic songs to make the Top 40 list over the years. Connie Francis charted with “God Bless America” in 1959. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir even made the Top 40 with “Battle Hymn of the Republic” that same year. There are others as well. But I think these 10 are the best of the best. I’ve been listening to them a lot lately.