Well… it’s coming up to Independence Day Weekend here in the United States. That means illegal fireworks, bar-b-ques on Weber grills, little children wearing patriot garb, and the sounds of the “most recognizable patriotic song” in the nation blaring from pickup trucks with gun racks from coast to coast. If you think I am talking about “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” or Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A”… think again. This weekend FMD turns its attention to that modern classic of red states everywhere – Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless The USA”.
As Lee Greenwood points out in his personal bio on his website, his musical career has “humble beginnings” on a farm outside of Sacramento, CA (that is the state capital of California and new hometown to that other great American – Gov. Arnold “I’ll Be Back” Schwarzenegger). After “years of struggling to gain recognition in the music industry” working the lounges of Las Vegas, Lee Greenwood got that one hit that would change his life forever in 1983 —”God Bless The USA.” As I have mentioned in past FMDs, 1983 remains a stellar year for pop culture – “Dallas” and “The A Team” were tops on the TV, U2‘s “War”, REM’s stunning “Murmur”, The Police released their last album – “Synchronicity“, and Run-D.M.C.‘s eponymous debut album hit the charts. But it was the gift of Ronald Reagan’s revisioning of America that transported Lee Greenwood far beyond the ranks of stardom to a niche in America’s pop culture that is seemingly reserved for he and he alone.
Every movement needs a soundtrack, and Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless The USA” fit the bill.
If any doubt existed of Greenwood’s “forever imprint” on America, it was dispelled in 2003—the 20 year anniversary of its release—when “God Bless The USA” was voted online by Americans as the “most recognizable patriotic song” in the nation. The song that Lee Greenwood wrote bested competition that included “God Bless America” and the “National Anthem” as a modern national anthem of the common man.
As Lee Greenwood states on his website:
“Since the tragedies of September 11, Lee has seen his signature hit “God Bless The U.S.A.” take on yet another incarnation. Since the attack on America, airplay has increased ten fold, skyrocketing “God Bless The U.S.A.” back into the top 20 of the Billboard country airplay chart, and sending Lee’s 1992 album “American Patriot” to the top of the sales charts. The album was certified gold in October 2001 & platinum in December 2001. In January of 2002, Lee signed a long-term recording contract with Curb Records. As 2003 marks the 20th Anniversary of the patriot hymn, its emotional impact was proven yet again, as American’s nationwide embraced it’s message in March 2003 when the United States engaged in Operation Iraqi Freedom.”
Needless to say, the song has legs to run and continues to do so 20+ years after its release. As an unofficial patriotic anthem, it is certainly one that argues for a joining of church and state in ways that the Declaration of Independence doesn’t seem to allude to:
I’m proud to be an American
where at least I know I’m free,
And I won’t forget the men who died
who gave that right to me,
And I gladly stand up next to you
and defend her still today,
‘Cause there ain’t no doubt
I love this land
God Bless the U.S.A.
Granted, Greenwood’s lyrics are a prayer for blessing and remembrance rather than an invocation of triumph, but the sense of ‘favored nation status’ is hard to ignore. Can we sing songs of overt patriotism – especially a song that so expressly evokes God’s favor – when nationalism is dispelled under Christ’s vision of the Kingdom of God in the Sermon on the Mount? If I stand anywhere on this topic, I stand closest to Karl Barth and The Barmen Confession of 1933 where Barth and other leaders challenged the Church to make a stand against nationalism as the defining feature of authentic faith. Something to think about as we remember what it means to celebrate so-called “independence”.
There are numerous options on the Web to hear the “most recognizable patriotic song”. If you interested in listening to “God Bless the USA” as sung by Brownielocks and the 3 Bears, you stream this fine performance here.