by Brian Clarey



“America the Beautiful” 

Face it: Our National Anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner,”is the Hummer of national anthems: clunky and hard to sing, a paean to war with the bombs and the rockets and whatnot, and hopelessly out of date. A more fitting tribute would be “America the Beautiful,” written by Katharine Lee Bates in 1895, which pays homage to the natural splendor and geographic diversity of our country.

“Battle Hymn of the Republic”

If you like your anthems religious and warlike — and you see no inherent contradiction therein — you might want to go with “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” written to the tune of “John Brown’s Body” by Julia Ward Howe during the height of the Civil War and first published in the Atlantic Monthly. It starts with a bang, citing the “grapes of wrath,” “fateful lightning” and a “terrible swift sword.”

“This Land is Your Land”

Folkster Woody Guthrie penned this one in 1940 in response to Irving Berlin’s syrupy “God Bless America,” seeking to inject a dose of realism into the conversation. This one is actually a protest song — the last verse, often omitted from performances, goes, “In the squares of the city, in the shadow of a steeple/ By the relief office, I’d seen my people./ As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking/ Is this land made for you and me?”

“Lift Every Voice and Sing”

Known as the “Black National Anthem,” this one was written at the turn of the 20th century to celebrate Lincoln’s birthday. It was set to music and quickly adopted by civil rights pioneers and African-American churches. It’s a song about hope, unity and perseverance, all of which can seem in short supply these days.

“Living in America”

What is more American than this tribute as performed by James Brown, notably in the film Rocky IV, where he struts around the ring before Apollo Creed’s fatal bout against Drago?

“US Blues”

Admittedly, the Grateful Dead were at the height of their drug use in the mid-1970s when this one came out on the From the Mars Hotel album, so the song doesn’t have a clear message. But it cites Uncle Sam, rock and roll, blue-suede shoes, chicken shacks and the lyric, “I’ll drink your health/ share your wealth.”


Neil Diamond’s 1980 ode to the thing that makes America great — namely, the immigrants who have traditionally constituted our population — might not play well in, say, Arizona these days. But it would be hilarious to have a rendition of this one before baseball games.


This one, written by Paul Simon and performed by the duo Simon & Garfunkel, is about a road trip inspired by love. Referencing Saginaw, Mich; Pittsburgh; and the New Jersey Turnpike, it speaks to all who have discovered this country — and themselves — while cruising its highways and byways.

“Born in the USA”

It doesn’t get much more American than Bruce Springsteen, who released this song on the eponymous album in 1984. The song is actually a tragic memoir to veterans of the Vietnam War, but that didn’t stop President Ronald Reagan from referencing it — and completely misunderstanding its message — during his ’84 re-election campaign tour.

“One Nation Under a Groove”

Okay, it sounds crazy but hear me out: George Clinton’s 1978 opus with his band Funkadelic may be a bit psychedelic and undeniably funky, but it speaks about togetherness, unity and “a chance to dance our way out of our constrictions.” It’s a little long — the 12-inch clocks in at almost 12 minutes — but it would sound awesome when played by the right marching band.