HEARD

thefederalist.com Prince’s ‘America’ deserves to be one of the handful of classicsplayed every Independence Day and as crowds mill around waiting forpoliticians to speak. thefederalist.com April 22, 2016


America’s two greatest patriotic pop songs of the rock and roll erawere released within two months of each other in 1985. One you know:James Brown’s “Living in America.” The other — “America”by Prince and the Revolution — deserves to be lifted from obscurityand showcased as one of the great musical tributes to the country thatmanaged to produce both James Brown and Prince Rogers Nelson.Jimi Hendrix played “The Star Spangled Banner” like no one had


ever played it before, and Ray Charles sang “America theBeautiful” like no one had ever sung it before. But they didn’t



write those iconic songs. Remarkably, both Brown and Prince released write those iconic songs. Remarkably, both Brown and Prince released


new patriotic masterpieces in the final months of the first year ofRonald Reagan’s second term.Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” had been released in May1984, and he performed it at that year’s Republican NationalConvention. It has since become the singular staple of Republicancandidate events. Even candidates who hate country music have itrotated into the warm-up music before their speeches. Yet its musical


and lyrical weaknesses are so evident that it should have beendethroned the following year, when two monumentally superior patrioticsongs were released back to back.But in politics cultural branding trumps musical quality (among otherthings), and Greenwood’s saccharine coated tripe remains the go-topatriotic tune, a safe, soft country ballad that offends onlyAmericans cursed with both Republican sympathies and musical taste.




GREAT MUSIC, HOKEY LYRICS



“Living in America” is a classic that needs little explanation. Itmay be the greatest musical expression of American pride ever written.It may be possible to remain seated and unmoving while listening tothe song, but it is impossible to _want to_. The music is meant tolift the listener up, to express unrestrained joy.As an expression of American exceptionalism, it falls short of what


any moderately gifted high school civics student could do.“I live in America!” Brown exclaims before trumpets punctuate thepoint. _This is what it feels like to live in my country_, the musicsays behind him. Lyrically, however, Brown falls short of rousing usbehind American ideals. “You might not be looking for the promisedland, but you might find it anyway,” is the best he can muster.Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” is even worse, for it tries and


fails to do lyrically what Brown does musically. Greenwood has saidhe’d always wanted to write a patriotic song and when he justcouldn’t hold his patriotism in any longer he crafted “God Bless



the USA.” Yet as an expression of American exceptionalism, it falls


the USA.” Yet as an expression of American exceptionalism, it fallsshort of what any moderately gifted high school civics student coulddo.The chorus, which is intended to rouse the listener into a spasm ofpatriotic zeal, manages to declare, “I’m proud to be an American,where at least I know I’m free.” Replace “American” with“Canadian” in that sentence, and its accuracy would not change.


This is the sentiment of the drunk at the end of the bar who suspectsAmerica isn’t such a great country because the system is designed tokeep him down, but hey, at least he’s free.




PRINCE’S COMPLETE AMERICA PACKAGE



With “America,” Prince gave us the complete package. It is amusically brilliant, uplifting dance song that turns the chorus of“America the Beautiful” into a fabulous funk riff while expressing


a more thoughtful lyrical patriotism.Here are the lyrics to “America,” as best as I can decipher(I’ve long since lost my cassette liner notes to “Around the WorldIn A Day”):Aristocrats on a mountain climbMaking money, losing timeCommunism is just a word


But if the government turn overIt’ll be the only word that’s heardAmerica, AmericaGod shed his grace on thee



America, America Keep her children freeLittle sister making minimum wageLiving in a one-room jungle-monkey cageCan’t get over, she’s almost deadShe may not be in the blackBut she’s happy she ain’t in the redAmerica, AmericaGod shed his grace on theeAmerica, AmericaKeep her children freeFreedomLoveJoyPeaceJimmy Nothing never went to schoolThey made him pledge allegianceHe said it wasn’t coolNothing made Jimmy proudNow Jimmy lives on a mushroom cloudAmerica, AmericaGod shed his grace on theeAmerica, AmericaKeep her children freeAmerica, AmericaGod shed his grace on theeAmerica, AmericaKeep her children freeFreedomLoveJoyPeaceboom, boom, boom, boomthe bomb goboom, boom, boom, boomthe bomb go boom.Teacher, why won’t Jimmy pledge allegiance?The song’s Wikipedia entry calls it a “sardonic attack on themid-1980s United States,” which is utter nonsense. In a 1986interview with MTV, Prince called the song “straightforwardlypatriotic.” But that is evident from the lyrics.





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