I have already mentioned the songs from the Civil War, but even before that the US has been blessed with people with such talent. Ever since Stephen Foster sailed the Swanee Riba the US has been able to find writers with great tunes to express their views on life, love and places.
It seems likely that some were unappreciated at the time and meanings altered to suit. For example, I think that the Woody Guthrie anthem, "This land is your land" is, in fact, a radical expression of public ownership, rather than a flag waver. ' This machine kills Fascists.' No fence-sitter he.
Jimmy Carter used to quote Dylan, who was a giant and recognised even as a very young man. Not by me though. My sister bought a record that had this guy murdering the Peter, Paul and Mary classic. My later problem with him was that the stunners "Blowin' in the Wind" and "Masters of War" were written during the year when the US was not at war. There were few peace songs during the actual fighting years. I forgive him though. The tunes for me, as much as the words.
They also had Elvis. "Before Elvis there was nothing"...Lennon. No, we had the astonishing contribution of so-called rhythm and blues which is simply rock and roll without the kiss curl. Some say it was all over for Elvis after the first 18 months but his Southern Trilogy despite his size, the corniness and the whiteness, can still startle.
Places in song. A lot of my geography of the States comes from lines in songs, ..the Mississippi... to New Orleans...Route 66 and a million others. These are not embarrassing tributes, as they would be in Britain and it is hard to think of a decent Brit song about a place. "Streets of London" maybe, but that is critical of London and hackneyed, sung to death by earnest Christians. "Flower of Scotland" is a beautiful tune, but you really need to be experimenting with spirits to sing it properly.
I saw Chuck Berry when he was 72. He won't be any good, but I'll go and pay tribute to the man. He'll have a slick white guitarist cringingly adoring him, but that's OK, he will need help remembering the leads. He certainly won't do the duck walk and the pensioner's backing band will also include a nurse to help him offstage.
He blew the place apart. He did everything. Lead guitar, rhythm, singing, ducking.
The story I heard is that he was hated by "the man." He was no safe, blind, gentle blues boy. He had an automobile to go ridin' around in. He was arrested for transporting a prostitute across a state line. Code for having a white woman in his car. No respectable white woman would be in a car with no black. Even a brown eyed handsome man. He was rescued by the Stones and the Beatles who sang his songs and made him real money, when their records took off.
Bobby Womack described his unhappiness at the Stones version of "Its All Over Now" They did not do it well. A little too bourgeois. No real sound of hard working people. He then described his reaction when the mailman struggled to push the gigantic cheque through his letterbox. "I grew to like the record."
Sam Cooke was knocked out by "Blowin in the Wind" but "Chain Gang" was also a socially-aware masterpiece. His life should be made into a film. Handsome, cool, he wrote amazing, hugely influential songs, but was hated by his own for selling out gospel. He had come to Britain in the 60s and discovered Brit racism and silly hotel rules about no guests. "Another Saturday night and I ain't got nobody", was the result.
People who saw him, said his recordings did not do him justice and that his live performances were mesmerising. However, no film exists of his legendary shows. Any evidence vanished. Finally he was murdered in a hotel by a woman. If that's not a story. . ...."Don't know much about history...." ...So what?
Protest Songs RIP