“From California, to the New York Island/ From the redwood forest, to the gulf stream waters/ This land was made for you and me”
Gurthrie wrote the song to combat what he believed to be an unrealistic and overly romanticized interpretation of the United States in Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America.”
'Back in the U.S.A.': Chuck Berry
“Where hamburgers sizzle on an open grill night and day/ Yeah, and a juke-box jumping with records like in the U.S.A.”
The song's lyrics were reportedly based on Berry's return to America following a trip to Australia, where he witnessed the poor living standards of Australian Aborigines.
'Surfin U.S.A': The Beach Boys
“You'd see 'em wearing their baggies/ Huarachi sandals too/ A bushy bushy blonde hairdo/ Surfin' U. S. A.”
The summer song makes reference to multiple American surf spots, including Del Mar, Swami’s and Trestles. Interestingly, only one member of The Beach Boys, Dennis Wilson, actually surfed.
'America': Simon and Garfunkel
“So we bought a pack of cigarettes and Mrs. Wagner pies/ And we walked off to look for America”
The song describes the cross-country trip of two hitchhikers, whose initial hope gives way to sadness as they attempt to find “themselves” as they discover the country. The “Kathy” referred to in the song was Kathy Chitty, Paul Simon's one-time love-interest.
'American Woman': The Guess Who
“American woman, get away from me/ American woman, mama, let me be”
The song was conceived from a live jam during a Kitchener, Ontario, concert with the studio recording featuring the original improvised lyrics in their entirety. Though the song often is thought of as anti-American and chauvinistic, Jim Kale, the groups’ bassist, has said, “A lot of people called it anti-American, but it wasn't really. We weren't anti-anything.” Lenny Kravitz famously covered the song for the Mike Myers film, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.
'Born in the U.S.A.': Bruce Springsteen
“I was born in the U.S.A., born in the U.S.A./ Got in a little hometown jam/ So they put a rifle in my hand”
Though it is often misunderstood as a nationalistic anthem, Springsteen intended the song to call attention to the negative effects of the Vietnam War. The song ranked 275th on the Rolling Stones’ “500 Greatest Songs of All Time.”
'American Girl': Tom Petty
“Well, she was an American girl/ Raised on promises/ She couldn't help thinkin'/ That there was a little more to life somewhere else”
The song was rumored to be written about a girl who committed suicide by jumping from a residence hall at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Fla., where Petty grew up. The singer has rebuffed these allegations.
'American Pie': Don McLean
“We were singin' bye-bye, Miss American Pie/ Drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry.”
This song is best known for its cryptic lyrics that have led to much speculation and a slew of interpretations. It is believed to be about the late singer Buddy Holly, who died in a plane crash and to whom McLean dedicated his American Pie album.
'Kids in America': Kim Wilde
“New York to East California. /There's a new wave coming I warn you. /We're the kids in America.”
Though the song says different, Wilde was not actually a kid in America. She grew up in west London, the daughter of rocker Marty Wilde.
'Fortunate Son': Creedence Clearwater Revival
“Some folks are born made to wave the flag/ Ooh, they're red, white and blue/ And when the band plays 'Hail to the chief'/ Ooh, they point the cannon at you, Lord”
John Fogerty told Rolling Stone that the song was inspired by David Eisenhower, grandson of President Eisenhower, and Julie Nixon, the daughter of President Nixon, saying, "you just had the feeling that none of these people were going to be involved with the [Vietnam] war.”
'American Idiot': Green Day
“Don't wanna be an American idiot./ Don't want a nation under the new media.”
With its scathing criticism of the American media and national values, Green Day lead vocalist Billy Joe Armstrong never intended the song to be another “America the Beautiful.” Armstrong was inspired to write "American Idiot" after hearing the Lynyrd Skynyrd song "That's How I Like It" on his car radio and strongly disagreeing with its pro-redneck sentimentalities.
'Jack and Diane': John Cougar Mellencamp
“Little ditty about Jack and Diane/ Two American kids growin' up in the heartland”
According to Mellencamp, "Jack & Diane" was written about a relationship he had with a girl that lived near his hometown of Seymour, Ind.
'Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue': Toby Keith
“Man, it’s gonna be hell/ When you hear Mother Freedom/ Start ringin’ her bell”
Keith’s father’s death in a car accident and the tragedy of the 9/11 terrorist attacks prompted Keith to write a song about his father’s faith in the United States. Keith initially refused to record the song and only sang it live at his concerts for military personnel.
Keith would go on to write another patriotic song about his father, 2011's "Made in America."
'White America': Eminem
“Country of ours, the stripes and the stars for the rights that men have died for to protect/ The women and men who have broke their necks for the freedom of speech the United States”
The Detroit native wrote the song to combat allegations from parents and politicians, including the Second Ladies Lynne Cheney and Tipper Gore, that he had influenced criminal behavior in young white Americans.
'Party in the U.S.A.': Miley Cyrus
“So I put my hands up/ They're playin' my song/ I know I'm gonna be OK/ Yeah, it's a party in the U.S.A.”
Cyrus has stated that she feels that the song does not properly reflect her musical capabilities and background, citing that when the song was recorded, she had never actually listened to a Jay-Z song -- an artist who is referenced in the lyrics.
'Made in America': Kanye West and Jay-Z
“I pledge allegiance to my Grandma/ For that banana pudding, our piece of Americana/ Our apple pie was supplied through Arm and Hammer”
Off of Jay-Z and West’s Watch the Throne album, the inspirational ballad deals with themes of family, childhood and the American Dream. R&B singer Frank Ocean wrote the vocals for the track.