Many of the most successful global artists of all time are from the USA. From Johnny Cash and Bruce Springsteen to Miley Cyrus and Demi Lovato, these artists all have rich and diverse catalogues that speak on many different topics. But what they have in common is the fact that they have all paid tribute to their home country in their music.
The USA has been an inspiration to many artists over the years. Some have written songs about their love and admiration for the country, whilst others have reflected on the country’s failings and called for change.
From love letters to specific places such as Miami or New York, to explorations of what it means to be a modern American, the USA has been written about hundreds of times, in hundreds of ways. Here are 21 of the best songs about the USA.
Top Songs About the USA
“Party In The U.S.A.” – Miley Cyrus
Cyrus is the daughter of a famous country musician, Billy Ray Cyrus, who himself has paid tribute to the USA in his music. It felt fitting in 2009 when Miley did the same. ‘Party In The U.S.A.’ describes the young singer flying from Nashville out to LA and being overwhelmed by how different an environment she finds herself in. “Am I gonna fit in?” she wonders.
However, Cyrus soon realises that an American party is pretty much the same everywhere, where it counts. Everyone might be wearing stilettos out here, but the music is still good, and Cyrus still knows how to have a good time.
“Ragged Old Flag” – Johnny Cash
Cash describes a conversation with a stranger in a small town courthouse. After Cash comments on the ragged flag hanging on the flagpole, the stranger tells him when the town is proud of every rip and hole in the flag, as each has a piece of American history in it.
The track reminds the listener how much the nation has been through, and that even though “the government for which she stands has been scandalized throughout the land,” Cash still has hope for what the flag represents. The track was written after the resignation of Nixon as an uplifting message to an uncertain country.
“Courtesy Of The Red, White and Blue” – Toby Keith
In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, Toby Keith wrote this patriotic track about his love for his country and his belief in its ability to fight back. His plan was not to release it commercially but to play it for troops on tours, until a Marine Corps commandant told him that releasing the song was the best way Keith could serve his country.
“This Is America” – Childish Gambino
On this politically-charged rap track, Childish Gambino addresses institutional issues in America such as gun violence and rational inequality. What began as a satirical Drake diss turned into what has been considered one of the most important pieces of music about the American political climate.
After playing around with creating the diss track, Glover realised that he had something powerful on his hands and focused his energy on portraying the climate in the country during the Black Lives Matter protests.
“American Heart” – Faith Hill
Hill tells the story of a young American woman trying to make something of herself in this country track. Even though her life is challenging, she faces every obstacle with bravery and grit. “You can’t break an American heart,” sings Hill. The song was written by Jonathon Singleton and Jim Beavers to reflect the working class Americans they saw grafting to make something of themselves.
“Born In The U.S.A.” – Bruce Springsteen
Springsteen loves his country, but he’s not afraid to criticise it in ‘Born In The U.S.A’. The track tells the story of Vietnam veterans returning to the country and not finding the support they need as they attempt to adjust to normal life.
It was inspired by countless real life accounts of soldiers going without treatment for PTSD and other disorders and conditions after returning from war. In particular, Springsteen was inspired by the story of soldier Ron Kovic, who had been confined to a wheelchair after serving in Vietnam. The two happened to meet at a Los Angeles hotel, where Springsteen was moved by Kovic’s story.
“American Dream” – MKTO
“Do something with your life!” comes the command in the intro of ‘American Dream’. The group wonder where the traditional white picket, two-kids-and-a-dog fits in the modern world. It seems that the new American dream is heading to LA to make something of yourself, and it involves navigating a lot of pitfalls. “Tell me, whatever happened to the American dream?” wonders the group.
“American Pie” – Don McLean
Don McLean’s musical epic explores many aspects of American culture, but is particularly focused around “the day the music died”. This is February 3, 1959, when Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper were killed in a plane crash. The song begins with a thirteen-year-old McLean delivering papers and learning about the news by reading one of the headlines in his hand.
The sprawling story, which comes to over eight and a half minutes in length, made McLean instantly famous at 26. He was often called to explain the meanings behind the various verses in the song, which he very rarely did.
“American Idiot” – Green Day
Green Day’s furiously-paced political punk rock track was released during the re-election of George W. Bush. It criticises the controlling, biased media and the “redneck agenda”, and asserts that listeners should rage against the idea of being ‘American idiots’ and learn to think for themselves. The song was parodied by Weird Al Yankovic as ‘Canadian Idiot’.
“American Girl” – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
This was a sleeper hit for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers; not a massive radio track for them, but one of their most enduring and beloved tracks. The intriguing and mysterious story that Petty weaves focuses on a stereotypical ‘all-American’ girl, who has been made certain promises by the nation due to her virtue and American looks. However, when she finds herself standing out on her balcony overlooking a busy street, it seems as if she may have lost the path she was on.
“I’m American” – Billy Ray Cyrus
“Thank god I’m American,” sings Billy Ray Cyrus. He’s patriotic “from my head down to my boots” and he wants to sing about. Cyrus feels that being American has made him who he is, from the traditional family values that were installed in him to the pride he feels in his identity.
‘I’m American’ was the title track of Cyrus’ twelfth studio album, which was overwhelmingly patriotic in theme. Cyrus was inspired to make an album honouring troops and veterans after playing shows for those serving in Afghanistan.
“Sweet Home Alabama” – Lynyrd Skynyrd
An instantly recognisable guitar riff opens this jaunty tune about the state of Alabama. Despite how fondly the group sing about Alabama – even defending the state against slights made by Neil Young – they’re actually from Florida.
They were inspired to write the song to pay tribute to studio musicians at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, pouring into it their impressions of life in Alabama. After three members of the band died in a plane crash, Neil Young performed the track live as a tribute.
“Something American” – Jade Bird
British singer Jade Bird uses her impressions of America to tell a story of lost love in this powerful guitar ballad. She remembers her ex and herself being “high school sweethearts or something American”, but now realises that his new girlfriend is much more suited to that ideal couple found in American movies.
“I’m not nice like her, won’t wear white like her,” she acknowledges. Bird is just looking for a love like she sees in these films. “We’re all reaching for something American,” she sings.
“Take Me Home, Country Roads” – John Denver
Denver sings about driving down the country roads of West Virginia – despite never having been there. Actually, neither had songwriters Bill and Taffy Danoff, who started writing the track whilst driving to Maryland.
The married couple, who can be heard singing backing vocals on the track, got their inspiration from postcards. Originally hoping to give the song to Johnny Cash, the duo eventually offered it to Denver, who made it a classic.
“Nashville Grey Skies” – The Shires
British country duo The Shires don’t live anywhere near Nashville. But even though the conditions aren’t exactly the same in the UK, they’re keen to “build our own Nashville underneath these grey skies.”
The duo are frustrated with being so far from the heart of American culture and country music, and feel “it’s about time” that the UK have their own hub for the genre – even though it might be a little cold for cut off jeans.
“American Boy” – Estelle, Kanye West
This track about one of Estelle’s exes sees the singer explaining how her ex introduced her to American culture – and gave her a taste for American men. A chance meeting with Kanye West and John Legend, who produced Estelle’s album, brought this track about – Estelle bizarrely ran into the two of them in a Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles and introduced herself. The track was also produced by another prominent American musician, Will.I.Am.
“American Honey” – Lady A
This coming of age track about an American girl from country group Lady A tells a sweet story about growing up in the U.S.A. The song is a nostalgic look at an American childhood and how the group misses being that age, particularly lead singer Hillary Scott. “Nothing sweeter than summertime and American honey,” she sings wistfully.
The music video for ‘American Honey’ was debuted on The Oprah Winfrey Show. It marked the first time the talk show host had ever debuted a video on her show.
“Kids In America” – Kim Wilde
Wilde’s classic track about the younger generation in American was written for her by her father and brother, despite the fact that Wilde’s whole family is from Chiswick in England. In fact, Wilde was still living with her parents at the time, in the bedroom next to her brother’s. A cover of the track, sung by the Muffs, is famously used in the opening of the film Clueless starring Alicia Silverstone.
“Made In The USA” – Demi Lovato
Lovato celebrates her American roots in this upbeat country pop track. Referencing chevy trucks, the west coast and sky rises, she celebrates a love that will always remain strong despite difficulties because it was “made in the U.S.A”.
Lovato released the track shortly ahead of 4th of July in 2013, weaving in details about her own personal love story as well as drawing inspiration from great American romances.
“American Teen” – Khalid
Khalid celebrates youth culture in America on the titular track from his 2017 album. ‘American Teen’ is an upbeat R&B track that sees the singer discuss the insecurities and pitfalls of this stage of life, as well as the excitement of being young in the U.S.A and going out with your friends. He’s “high off my American dream” and ready to seize every opportunity. “My youth is the foundation of me,” he sings. “Oh, I’m proud to be American.”
“American” – Lana Del Rey
Del Rey is in love with everything about her man – particularly how he epitomises Americana and the Hollywood ideals she holds dear. “Be young, be dope, be proud like an American,” she tells him. She references Bruce Springsteen, driving fast towards L.A. and spinning records, painting a picture of the U.S.A. in Golden Age cinema that compliments the love she feels.
The U.S.A. is a large, complicated, multi-faceted country, and thousands of stories can and will be told about it. These songs capture just a few different faces of America, but they are some of the most skilful, thoughtful and honest depictions of the nation to date. Which is your favourite song about the U.S.A?
Caitlin Devlin is a music, entertainment and lifestyle writer based in London. When she’s not creating playlists for Repeat Replay, she’s reviewing gigs and interviewing artists for Ticketmaster UK and thinking about what her Spotify Wrapped will look like this year.