12 patriotic pop songs of the 1960s
Put together a vintage Fourth of July playlist with these hits by Jay & The Americans, James Brown, Jimmy Dean and more.
Top image: James Brown, King of Soul
The 1960s were known for protest songs, but the decade produced a good number of patriotic tunes, too. As the 4th of July approaches, we wanted to spotlight some vintage Sixties songs about America that go under the radar.
Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Fortunate Son" and Simon & Garfunkel's "America" get all the airplay, but here are some hidden gems to go with the stars and stripes.
1. The Valadiers / The Monitors - "Greetings (This Is Uncle Sam)"
1961 / 1966
The Valadiers were the first white act signed to Motown and their doo-wop ditty about being drafted snuck onto the lower reaches of the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 89. It was an interesting conceit, positioning the U.S. government as a lonely lover. Half a decade later, the Monitors improved the cut, yet gave the drill sergeant spiel in the coda more of a Full Metal Jacket feel. Though it barely edged into the Hot 100, the latter version is probably better known, as it took a somewhat comedic notion into mournful protest territory.
Image: Motown via Discogs
2. Johnny Burnette - "God, Country and My Baby"
Publicity tried to convince the public that this Memphis-born rockabilly singer was a former classmate of Elvis, which was unfortunately bogus. The two were not too far off, stylistically, though. This bittersweet tale about a soldier going off to perform his duty hit No. 18 on the pop charts.
Image: Liberty Records via Discogs
3. Jimmy Dean - "P.T. 109"
With its battlefield drum rolls and marching flute, there is no mistaking the American pride of this country classic, which tells the tale of John F. Kennedy's time in the U.S. Navy.
Image: Columbia Records via Discogs
4. The Shirelles - "Soldier Boy"
While not explicitly patriotic, this loyal love song certainly supports the troops and undoubtedly served as a balm to young men heading off to Vietnam. The song went to No. 1.
5. Jay & The Americans - "Only in America"
Next to Paul Revere & The Raiders, no group sported a more patriotic name than this New York quintet. The Americans kept up the theme with this ode to the American Dream, which praised a land where "kids without a cent" can grow up to be president.
Image: United Artists via Discogs
6. Ssgt. Barry Sadler - 'The A Team'
Sadler is best remembered for "Ballad of the Green Berets" today, but the vet was more of a two-hit wonder at the time. "The 'A' Team" broke into the Top 30 fifty years ago, as well. No, it has nothing to do with Face, Murdock and B.A.
Image: RCA Victor via Discogs
7. Senator Everett McKinley Dirksen - "Gallant Men"
The Illinois Senator (and former Congressman) was known as "the Wizard of Ooze" for his oratorical skills. The politician did indeed have a rich voice that was well suited for this upbeat, stentorian military anthem. At 71 years, three days, Dirksen became the oldest performer to crack Billboard's Top 40 when his single reached No. 33. It peaked at No. 29 early that same year, and his album climbed to No. 16, as well.
Image: Capitol Records via Discogs
8. Harpers Bizarre - "The Battle of New Orleans"
Johnny Horton's smash version of this War of 1812 tale became the top song of 1959, and it continued to resonate with folkies throughout the following decade. California sunshine pop band Harpers Bizarre gave the tune a psychedelic glaze, complete with banjos and canon fire.
Image: Warner Bros. via Discogs
9. James Brown - "America Is My Home"
James Brown was sporting the stars and stripes long before he danced through Rocky IV singing "Living in America." The Godfather of Soul praises the virtues of our nation, proclaiming, "America is still the best country without a doubt… Name any other country you can start as a shoeshine boy and shake hands with the president. It ain't gonna happen." Preach, James.
Image: Polydor via Discogs
10. Dion - "Abraham, Martin and John"
Dion was considered old hat by some when he dropped this lush, plaintive folk song that paid tribute to our assassinated leaders. It led to a new phase in his long career.
Image: Laurie Records via Discogs
11. Jimi Hendrix - "Star Spangled Banner"
Jimi's electric take on our National Anthem remains the iconic moment of Woodstock, if not the end of the 1960s as a whole. Yet the moment was hardly a spontaneous jam. The guitarist had been performing the anthem at earlier gigs. The lesser-heard studio version is worth digging up, with its bumblebee guitar noodling. Check it out here. It would turn up as the B-side to "Dolly Dagger" in 1971.
12. Chuck Berry / MC5 - "Back in the U.S.A."
1959 / 1970
Chuck Berry's rollicking original and MC5's cover version technically bracket the decade of the 1960s. The latter came out a couple weeks into 1970 — though, the band had been playing it at gigs in the '60s. The tune did also inspire the Beatles to record their tongue-in-cheek "Back in the U.S.S.R." Besides, it rips up the joint as it kisses the ground of our native land. "I'm so glad I'm living in the U.S.A.!"
Image: Atlantic via Discogs