Don't Tread on Me: The Top 10 Musical Celebrations of American Might
Rock and pop music in the United States has earned a distinguished reputation for quality protest anthems and anti-war songs, from Country Joe and the Fish all the way up to friggin' Green Day. And that's great; it really is.
Not only are many of the tunes timeless, but criticism of our society's more destructive tendencies is a necessary function of art. If you can listen to "Fortunate Son" without feeling anything, chances are you haven't been paying attention for the past 40 years.
When July 4 rolls around, however, we don't particularly wanna hear any of that pussy shit. We've got 364 other days of the year to feel guilty, conflicted and torn with regard to U.S. foreign policy and aggression. What harm is there in taking a day off from all that to revel in America's unchallenged military supremacy? Stealth bombers are fucking cool!
Luckily, American artists also have a glorious legacy of unabashed jingoism, providing us with the perfect soundtrack for celebrating our nation's deadly might. Before we commemorate 236 years of learning democracy on the job this holiday, take a few minutes to crank up the volume and bask in America's violently obscene awesomeness. Just don't overdo it--a few of these songs have previously been weaponized.
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10. Slayer, "War Ensemble"
The songs that defined the Vietnam experience have been drilled into our heads by 40 years of Hollywood movies, but what are the soldiers of our modern wars listening to on the battlefield? A lot of Slayer, as it turns out. In 2004, Professor Jonathan Pieslak, a composer and an associate professor of music at New York's City College, interviewed young soldiers and vets about their wartime playlists. Slayer popped up again and again.
Slayer guitarist Jeff Hanneman grew up in a military family where war stories were commonplace. Horrific versions of those stories became songs like 1990's "War Ensemble," and it's easy to see their value to soldiers facing combat. At its best, heavy metal makes the listener feel indestructible, and if Dave Lombardo's bass drums can't psyche you up to blast a machine gun from the back of a Humvee, nothing will.
9. Eminem, "Soldier"
According to Pieslak's data, Eminem is far and away the most popular rap artist among our troops in the field. That's easy to believe, considering Em is one of the popular rappers anywhere ever, but even a cursory listen to his more aggressive tracks such as "Soldier" make it clear how this music could help keep a young private going when he'd much prefer curling up into a ball. The supreme confidence, determination and fury in Eminem's voice are exactly what a soldier needs to stay mentally strong in the face of danger.
8. Randy Travis, "America Will Always Stand"
In the aftermath of 9/11, dissent was not looked upon kindly in mainstream Country music. One of the genre's biggest acts, the Dixie Chicks, were more or less ruined by singer Natalie Maines' criticism of everybody's favorite War President. Many Americans were looking for songs to reassure them of America's greatness, not remind us of our mistakes.
Luckily, Randy Travis was on the spot, boy. The country crooner salutes Old Glory, the troops and the eternal rule of freedom in this by-the-book patriot polemic, the first of many such songs to come in 2001. It's kind of a cash grab, sure, but it comes from a sincere place. Right? Probably.
7. Iced Earth, "When the Eagle Cries"
Country artists weren't the only musicians spoiling for a fight after 9/11. American history-obsessed death metallers Iced Earth managed to record an only slightly overwrought ballad about the Founding Fathers' response to English tyranny that nicely (and non-coincidentally) paralleled the nation's mood after the Sept. 11 attacks. "If need be/ We'll die free," sings former Judas Priest seat-warmer Tim "Ripper" Owens. Or at least, our unmanned drones will.
6. Murphy's Law, "America Rules"
"We take what we want, we do what we please/ That's why it's called the land of the free!" Murphy's Law sums up the appeal of being born in the USA rather elegantly in this classic hardcore cut from 1989. They'll never take away our baseball, pretty girls or rock and roll away, and they'll damn sure never take our steroids, breast implants or cover bands.
5. Canibus, "Draft Me"
It's pretty rare in general for pro musicians to give up the stage for a barracks, but we're pretty sure Canibus was the only rapper in history to volunteer for duty. After delivering this track requesting that the draft be reinstituted so that he could be shipped overseas to "murder those monkeys," Canibus enlisted in the Army in 2002 at age 28.
The rapper claimed he wanted to reinvent himself outside of the music business, but he didn't turn over a new leaf entirely. He was discharged two years later after being busted for smoking (surprise!) cannabis. As far as we know, he never murdered anybody.
4. Toby Keith, "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)"
9/11 really pissed Toby Keith off, and he wanted terrorists to pay. That's why he wrote this song about putting a boot up their asses. It tapped directly into the wounded thirst for vengeance that a great many people felt in 2002. A firm reassurance of American military potency, the song hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country chart in 2002 and made Keith the beloved (and reviled) face of the "I Support Our President!" movement for a while.
Now that the costs of war are a little clearer and the reasons for it a little murkier, the song's over-the-top tone is harder to take seriously. Americans are still angry these days; just about different stuff. At the time, however, "The Angry American" was a powerful statement that if you weren't with us, you were against us.
3. Metallica, "Don't Tread on Me"
Let's face it: Americans don't like to be fucked with. Be it by government, foreign powers, or shadowy boogiemen, we've never hesitated to lash out when we feel provoked. The settling of scores with extreme prejudice is the lyrical theme of this song from Metallica's "Black Album," and it's seen more than its fair share of wartime action.
While Metallica has been a favorite of soldiers (and civilians) in Iraq, their music wasn't exclusively used to get pumped before battle. They were also one of many bands whose songs were used to wear enemy combatants and prisoners down psychologically through repeated, ear-splitting playbacks.
Those controversial methods didn't sit particularly well with Team Hetfield, but the music of Metallica nevertheless remains deeply embedded with the modern U.S. military.
2. Drowning Pool, "Bodies"
Drowning Pool's "Bodies" is a pure, brainless adrenaline rush that's useful for psyching yourself for anything from working out with weights to escorting a caravan of supply trucks through Afghanistan. It was inevitable that the song would find its way into Humvees from Gitmo to Pakistan.
If you hadn't noticed, "Bodies" also sets some people's teeth on edge, a fact that has been exploited by military personnel in attempts to break the wills of enemy combatants and captives. "Bodies" was played incessantly to prisoners at Guantanamo Bay in an effort to "soften them up" for interrogation.
Whether you consider the song a guilty pleasure or not, we can all agree that that is torture. *shudder*
1. Team America, "America, Fuck Yeah!"
This over-the-top jingoist tune from the Team America: World Police soundtrack may be a vicious parody of Hollywood patriotism, but screaming "America, FUCK YEAH!" feels so good that it's hard to feel guilty about our nation's troubling foreign policy legacy. Don't fight it -- Freedom is the only way!