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Veteran's Day Songs
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The best Veterans Day songs

Reflect on the meaning of the national holiday with this curated playlist of the best Veterans Day songs

Written by
John Marshall
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Veterans Day is a holiday dedicated to honoring those who have served in the United States Armed Forces. But like 4th of July, Memorial Day and, to an extent, Labor Day, it’s also a time to reflect on what it means to be American. This list of the best Veterans Day songs touches on those themes of patriotism and sacrifice, reflecting the breadth of the American experience, past, present and future.

Some of these songs are anthemic and exuberant, whereas others offer a more thoughtful (and perhaps even slightly critical) meditation on what it means to be an American. They’re songs to play with a kind of conscious pride as we celebrate the USA without glossing over its faults and inequalities. Quite simply, the best Veterans Day songs will make you feel something deep inside.

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Best Veterans Day songs, ranked

‘Ragged Old Flag’ by Johnny Cash

1. ‘Ragged Old Flag’ by Johnny Cash

This spoken-word song, the title-track on Cash’s 47th album, is a heartfelt nod to the patriotism that persisted during the Watergate scandal. Cash is an American legend and his message here packs a hefty punch.

 

‘The Star Spangled Banner’ by Jimi Hendrix

2. ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ by Jimi Hendrix

It may be a staple at sports events all over the country, but it’s arguable that no musician since Hendrix has injected such raw iconoclasm into the National Anthem.

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‘Pink Houses’ by John Mellencamp

3. ‘Pink Houses’ by John Mellencamp

Mellencamp sings honestly about racial inequality in America, a patriotic gesture that asks America to live up to its promise of liberty and justice for all. File this under ‘Veterans Day songs to make you think’.

 

‘Living in America’ by James Brown

4. ‘Living in America’ by James Brown

Brown’s 1985 comeback track (from Rocky IV, no less) packs funk and pride into a slick, groovy jam about a vast and gorgeous country full of our bad selves. Woo—get up now!

 

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‘The Fightin' Side of Me’ by Merle Haggard

5. ‘The Fightin' Side of Me’ by Merle Haggard

In 1969, this seething country song struck a chord with the nation’s good ol’ boys, providing a counterpoint to the idealism of the Summer of Love.

 

‘Kids in America’ by The Muffs

6. ‘Kids in America’ by The Muffs

This angst-laden number – a cover of a new wave classic by British singer Kim Wilde – was memorably featured in the film Clueless. Tough and spunky, it’s sure to resonate with the sulky, sneering kids of America for a long time yet.

 

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‘Born in the USA’ by Bruce Springsteen

7. ‘Born in the USA’ by Bruce Springsteen

Don’t be fooled by this song’s bombastic and anthemic sound: here, The Boss is actually lamenting the poor treatment afforded to Vietnam War veterans. It’s a stellar piece of heartfelt social commentary that remains stirring today.

 

‘American Pie’ by Don McLean

8. ‘American Pie’ by Don McLean

Despite many attempts at clarification, McLean refuses to explain what the lyrics to this iconic 1971 song actually mean. You might say such explanation-seekers are driving their Chevys to the levy and finding it dry. Madonna’s shimmering 2000 cover version, produced by electro wiz William Orbit, is definitely worth revisiting. 

 

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‘America’ by Neil Diamond

9. ‘America’ by Neil Diamond

Diamond’s sweet crooning gets to the core of what America is at its best: a shiny refuge for the huddled masses that yearn to be free. It’s a quietly affecting listen.

 

‘Merican’ by Descendents

10. ‘Merican’ by Descendents

This punk track attempts to jibe the narrator’s patriotism with America’s conflicted history: As the song goes, ‘You’ve got to know the truth, before you say that you’ve got pride.’

 

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‘America’ by Simon & Garfunkel
Photograph: Uncredited/AP/REX/Shutterstock

11. ‘America’ by Simon & Garfunkel

As this beautifully wistful song describes, there’s nothing more American than searching for the country’s soul on the open road. It’s an essential addition to any road trip playlist.

 

‘American Music’ by Violent Femmes

12. ‘American Music’ by Violent Femmes

If you like American music (baby), then you should bump this gentle acoustic ode to a quintessentially American dilemma: not having a date for prom.

 

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‘Smoke on the Water’ by Red Foley

13. ‘Smoke on the Water’ by Red Foley

In 1944, this folk classic foretold the fall of the Axis powers at the hands of ‘the great destroyer / made of fire, flesh, and steel.’ (That’s us.)

 

‘American Girl’ by Tom Petty
Image: MCA

14. ‘American Girl’ by Tom Petty

In America, the promise of possibility intoxicates most of us, notably here, one American girl described by Tom Petty. It’s a song that only seems to grow more resonant with each passing year. 

 

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‘Party in the USA’ by Miley Cyrus

15. ‘Party in the USA’ by Miley Cyrus

Maybe Miley Cyrus didn’t write this song but then, what’s more American than paying someone else to do it for you? There’s no doubt, though, that she’s the one driving this timeless ditty about carefree teenage Americana.

 

‘The Presidential Suite’ by Say Anything

16. ‘The Presidential Suite’ by Say Anything

Part of being American is enjoying freedom of speech—that includes the liberty to loudly disapprove of its government, a right that Say Anything frontman Max Bemis exercises in this obscure but truly rocking lambasting of the then-president.

 

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‘Made in America‘ by Kanye West & Jay Z, ft. Frank Ocean

17. ‘Made in America‘ by Kanye West & Jay Z, ft. Frank Ocean

This inspirational ballad deals with the difficulty of coming of age in America and ways in which we can overcome that struggle. The fact it features three bona fide American icons only adds to its gravitas.

 

‘Sweet Home Alabama’ by Lynyrd Skynyrd

18. ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ by Lynyrd Skynyrd

If this song’s iconic guitar riff doesn’t make you feel patriotic, it’s likely that nothing will – whether you hail from Alabama or any one of the other 49 states.

 

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‘American’ by Lana Del Rey

19. ‘American’ by Lana Del Rey

As this sweet ditty instructs, ‘be young, be dope, be proud—like an American.’ Del Rey is a fascinatingly ambiguous figure in pop culture, but few write about small-town American life with as much panache and affection.

 

‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ by Bob Dylan
Photograph: Courtesy Bob Dylan

20. ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ by Bob Dylan

One of Dylan’s finest moments, this iconic song exists at the exact point where pop music meets poetry. More than 50 years later, his queries about freedom and justice are as relevant as ever. 

 

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