American Songbook


‘America the Beautiful,’ lyrics by Katharine Lee Bates, to music
by Samuel Augustus Ward. This love song to America’s charms has
been the chief competitor of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ for nearly
100 years. But its popularity, at least in schools, appears to be

‘God Bless America,’ lyrics and music by Irving Berlin. A
favorite after 9/11, this song needs a singer like Kate Smith to
make it inspiring. In the hands of mere mortals, it sounds

‘This Land Is Your Land,’ lyrics and music by Woody Guthrie
(with musical inspiration from the Carter family). Written in
response to the smugness of ‘God Bless America,’ this song lacks
the weight of a national anthem yet still embodies the ideals of a
large swath of America.

‘We Shall Overcome,’ a gospel song, origins unclear. A
mesmerizing and powerful work that has already led the country
through adversity and continues to sustain Americans in difficult

Long Shots

‘Columbia, Gem of the Ocean,’ by T. Becket and D. Shaw. Once a
true rival of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner,’ this rousing song grows
less familiar with each passing generation.

‘Ashokan Farewell,’ by Jay Ungar. Ken Burns used this entrancing
tune in his PBS documentary series The Civil War.

‘My Country ‘Tis of Thee’ (also known as ‘America’), lyrics by
Samuel Francis Smith to an English melody. Long a schoolchildren’s
favorite, this song is slowly fading from our collective memory.
The tune is the same as ‘God Save the Queen.’

‘American Anthem,’ by Gene Scheer. A lovely contemporary song,
to be featured in Ken Burns’ forthcoming television documentary
about World War II.

‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic,’ lyrics by Julia Ward Howe to
the traditional tune of ‘John Brown’s Body.’ A fierce and grim song
with strong religious overtones, sung at the funerals of Ronald
Reagan and Robert Kennedy.

Bringing Up the Rear

‘America,’ lyrics and music by Neil Diamond.

‘Don’t Tread on Me,’ by James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich.

‘We Are the Champions,’ lyrics and music by Freddie Mercury.

‘Theme from Hawaii Five-O,’ music by Morton Stevens.

‘Don’t Fence Me In,’ lyrics and music by Cole Porter.

‘Louie Louie,’ lyrics and music by Richard Berry.

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