In a recent column, I listed the top 10 patriotic songs of my lifetime (i.e., the rock era). It generated more mail than I have ever gotten before, with many good suggestions. It has stimulated me to do a follow-up on some songs that missed the first cut.
I should say at the beginning that my earlier compilation was composed solely of those hits that made the Billboard Magazine's Top 40 list. This excluded a lot of good songs that were not released as singles. I also limited myself to songs that made the pop chart, which left off a number of country and western hits that never crossed over to the pop chart. And I left off those that were hits before I was born (1951).
However, the quality of many songs that did not meet my earlier criteria has encouraged me to add a supplemental list of patriotic classics. Again, I limited myself to songs that were hits during my lifetime, but relaxed the constraint that they had to make the Top 40 list. Following are some of these "honorable mentions" in no particular order.
I'll begin with a song that should have been on my first list, Whitney Houston's "Star Spangled Banner." In the midst of the Gulf war in 1991, Houston was asked to sing our national anthem at Super Bowl XXV on Jan. 27. So stirring was her rendition that it was released as a single, which rose to No. 20 on the pop chart. It's great to hear someone sing that song who can actually hit the high notes.
A late addition to my list would have been Aaron Tippin's "Where the Stars and Stripes and the Eagle Fly." A well-known country and western singer, Tippin released this song on Oct. 2, just days after the World Trade Center/Pentagon attacks. In the wake of that tragedy, it quickly crossed over to the pop chart, where it was No. 24 as of Billboard's Dec. 1 issue.
A number of people recommended the inclusion of Merle Haggard's "Fightin' Side of Me." I left it off because it never made the top 40. But it certainly is one of the most patriotic songs ever written by a contemporary artist. Aimed at America's critics, following is the refrain: "When they're runnin' down our country, man/They're walkin' on the fightin' side of me." Country and western legend Haggard is also the singer/composer of other patriotic classics, including "Amber Waves of Grain" and "Okie from Muskogee."
Another country hit often suggested for inclusion is Johnny Cash's "Ragged Old Flag." More spoken than sung, Cash tells the American flag's story from when "Washington took it across the Delaware" to "Korea and Vietnam." Although "threadbare and wearing thin," "she's in good shape for the shape she's in," Cash tells us. As true today as in 1974, when he wrote those words.
"America the Beautiful" certainly belongs on everyone's patriotic hits list. I am partial to the Ray Charles version. But I recently listened to Charlie Rich's rendition from 1976, and it comes in a close second.
Among the more surprising songs that came to my attention after my first column is "Don't Tread on Me" by the heavy metal group Metallica. (If you don't know what "heavy metal" means, I can't explain it, except that it is really, really loud music.) Being from a contemporary rock group, I found this song to be especially interesting. Following are the initial lyrics:
"Liberty or death, what we so proudly hail/Once you provoke her, rattling of her tail/Never begins it, never, but once engaged/Never surrenders, showing the fangs of rage/Don't tread on me/So be it/Threaten no more/To secure peace is to prepare for war/So be it/Settle the score/Touch me again for the words that you'll hear evermore/Don't tread on me."
Sounds like an anthem perfectly written for the times. George W. Bush should get Metallica to perform this at the White House. The guests may need earplugs, but if they listen to the lyrics, I think they will find them to their liking.
In coming months, there probably will be more patriotic hits on the pop chart. On Oct. 16, Columbia records released an album of patriotic songs by contemporary artists, including Canadian singer Celine Dion doing "God Bless America." It quickly reached No. 1 on Billboard Magazine's album chart.
Patriotic music is not solely the province of the World War II generation and those earlier. My generation and those younger have also found ways of expressing their patriotism musically in ways that have found commercial success. The best may be yet to come.