To celebrate the release of his new album ‘Songs To Break America’, released just a few days ago, yee-haw aficionado Alan Power has curated a very topical playlist: songs that have broken America. From Childish Gambino’s smash hit ‘This Is America’, to pop classics from the likes of Britney and TLC, to old faves from Hank Williams and Bob Dylan et al, give it a listen below – and read about some of his picks, too, from the man himself.
“[It’s] a collection of songs that have influenced, changed or made a lasting impression on the culture and history of America,” says Alan. “No doubt I have missed out many and perhaps included entries that some might feel are undeserving of the accolade. This list is compiled entirely from my own narrow perspective, growing up in the UK and interpreting things I saw them then, and remember them now. You won’t find many playlists with Townes Van Zandt, Britney Spears and Rage Against The Machine in the same place.”
The Carter Family – Wildwood Flower
The Carter Family personify America in many ways. They are hailed as the first country music stars as they were among the very first to record country music in the late 1920s. Their Daughter, June Carter later married Johnny Cash, and so their legacy was cemented in American history. This song is one of the most famous of those recordings. Like many of the songs they made famous, they did not write Wildwood Flower. In fact, it was published in 1860 with lyrics being added later. Most songs in those days were not bought and sold, they travelled and evolved through time-space. The origins were not considered, much like a joke or a story.
Woody Guthrie – This Land Is Your Land
Perhaps one of the most famous American songs. Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen sang it at Barack Obama’s presidential inauguration.
Little Richard – Tutti Frutti
‘Tutti Frutti’ was released in 1955. Black artists like Little Richard, and many more who were less well known received minor success in comparison with their white male counterparts. And yet they paved the way for artists like Elvis Presley who ripped them off shamelessly. Elvis had his first hit with Heartbreak Hotel in 1956 and despite his contribution and, no doubt, massive influence on American music and culture, I prefer to include the Architect of rock’n’roll rather than the King in this list.
Creedence Clearwater – Fortunate Son
Protest song and soundtrack to the Vietnam war. I first came across this song in the movie Forest Grump. Solid entry.
Micheal Jackson – Bad
Micheal Jackson’s influence on American culture and the world over is perhaps unrivalled. This song was the one that probably stuck with me the most. The video that featured a young Wesley Snipes was incredible. My memory is checkered, but outside of Disney, this was perhaps my first glimpse into the pop charts.
Lauryn Hill – Ready Or Not
For me, this was a total game-changer. Pop music was undergoing a weird transition in the late 90s. This song and album was a welcome break. Lauryn Hill’s solo record that followed is maybe one of my all-time faves. Pure magic. It is also worth mentioning that her performance in Sister Act 2 is one of, if not THE main reason I became a musician.
Childish Gambino – This is America
That video. I don’t need to say anymore.
Beyonce – Crazy In Love
I was finishing school around the time this song came out. I feel like it marked a new era in pop music. After the bubble gum acts that pre-dated it, this felt like something a bit more legitimate with JAY Z featured. You couldn’t not like this song at the time.
TLC – Waterfalls
This song was so massive when I was a kid. You couldn’t get away from it. I was so in love with all three members of the group. I still don’t know what ‘Chasing Waterfalls” even means.
Rage Against The Machine – Killing In The Name
Every band in my school wanted to play these songs better, harder and faster than everyone else. For me, aged 13, it was all about that one line, one line that he screamed so perfectly, the line that I was far too inhibited to ever emulate even though the desire to do so was somewhere deep inside me dying to get out… “FUCK YOU I WON” T DO WHAT YOU TELL ME”. I make my sons listen to this in the car on the way to school, and they scream it with all their might! They’re 6 and 4.