Wednesday, 5 December 2012

My Top Ten American Music Songs

Back to my tour of the USA. There are hundreds of songs with "America" in the title, so I needed to narrow the focus. Here's ten about American music, some by American bands... others decidedly not.

Some Brits get sniffy about American music, citing the Beatles (yawn, among others) as a reason to keep it homegrown. Me, I've always had one foot on either side of the Atlantic when it comes to my listening habits.

10. The Beautiful South - The Sound of North America

The lyrics of "New York"
May have Frank Sinatra singing
But the rhythm and the melody
Were dead black men swinging

See what I mean? Paul Heaton at his most cynical.

9. Silver Sun - American Metal

A rare b-side from one of the great, lost power pop bands of the 90s. Can't find it anywhere online, but trust me - it's ace.

8. Denim - American Rock

Lawrence spoofs the Velvet Underground... flawlessly.

7. Violent Femmes - American Music

Do you like American music...

Did you do too many drugs?
And they're Americans.

6. The Auteurs - American Guitars

On the other hand, I never know whether archetypal Englishman Luke Haines is being serious here or not.

5. The Indelicates - America

From the album American Demo, still one of my favourite records of the 21st Century... so far. 

How many British bands made the lyrics below their mission statement... no matter the consequences?

When they pin me to the wall I'll say:
I'm with America
With godless America, I'll stand and I'll fall
Though it cuts me to my soul that
It must be America
It must be America
Or nothing at all.
4. Don McLean - American Pie

Could well have been Number #1, but I like to be unpredictable.

Best thing about American Pie? All the insane, crackpot interpretations that read hidden meanings into every single line. If you've got a spare year, google them for a laugh.

3. John Mellencamp - ROCK In The USA

And now we reach the more celebratory part of our countdown. The Cougar's tribute to 60s American rock. Never fails to make me happy.
There was Frankie Lyman-Bobby Fuller-Mitch Ryder
(They were Rockin')
Jackie Wilson-Shangra-las-Young Rascals
(They were Rockin')
Spotlight on Martha Reeves
Let's don't forget James Brown
2. Jim Steinman - Love & Death & An American Guitar

Quite possibly the maddest "song" (spoken word narrative) in my record collection. Jim Steinman at his most insane. He doesn't even have Meat Loaf to temper / translate his craziness here. It's just pure Steinman loony-genius. With the best punchline in the history of rock.

Or something.

On the original, ill-fated Steinman solo album (originally supposed to be Meat's follow-up to Bat Out Of Hell, but Meat had a sore throat so Captain Barking decided to record it himself), this leads straight into the classic Stark Raving Love, the melody of which JS would later disembowel to create Holding Out For A Hero for Bonnie Tyler. Just in case you're one of the two people reading this blog who looks at more than just the artist and song title.

1. Grand Funk Railroad - We're An American Band

Does exactly what it says on the tin. 
We're coming to your town
We'll help you party it down
We're an American band  

So, these are the rules - it has to be a song about America and about music. Which is top of your Billboard Hot One Hundred?


  1. Dear Mr Bojangles

    I envy your ability to straddle the Atlantic with your red, white and blue legs akimbo. Such sweet land of liberty and pilgrims pride.

    Am struggling with this tight musical-across-the-shiny-ocean agenda you've set.

    What about that punchy immigrants fight back song from West Side Story? 'La la la la la America' .. 'If you can fight, and if you're white' etc.

    I like 'Breakfast In America' for it's grass-must-be-greener-over-there approach. But as it's not so much about music as about having breakfast kippers in Texas and 'not much of a girlfriend', then it fails to meet the strict criteria you've laid down.

    Bowie's 'Young Americans' might be closer, as it's his plastic soul muzak reflecting squashed ethnic remains period ... and all that.

    'American Music' by the Pointer Sisters fits - but is a bit crap. 'Rockin In The Free World' may not get past the Rotweiller stewards.

    Should prob add a sprinkling of Dylan and a pinch of Woody Guthrie; but I can't pretend I know a lot about their music. Can't help think that a star-spangled Neil Diamond should be in there somehow; but would draw the line at Garth Brooks.

    The Ould Irish-Young American influence shouldn't be forgotten, but I'll have to give some thought to any musical examples! The hod-carrying immigrant and his fiddle, yearning for mountains and rivers and healthy potatoes.

    On another tack, is the US National Anthem sung to the tune of an olde English drinking song?

    1. Is it?

      Breakfast In America will, of course, find its moment in my inevitable Breakfast Top Ten.

      Young Americans, being one of my favourite Bowie songs, gets extra marks.

      Couldn't find any Dylan or Guthrie that fit the bill and I have a fair smattering of both. I suppose Mr. Tambourine Man gets close. But there's no evidence it was an American tambourine.

      The Pogues singing Body Of An American is as close as I can get to your penultimate request.

      As for Neil Diamond, there's plenty of time for him to have his moment on this blog. Got a lot of time for Neil. Not as much for Garth Brooks: I prefer his brethren.

  2. I like two kinds of music: Country and Western

    1. Thank you. I knew that was a quote; I had to google from where.

  3. Killing Joke - America. Though in all honesty it is not their finest hour.


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