SONGS OF AMERICA

October 13, 2019


Songs of America is a marvelous new book by Joh Meacham and Tim McGraw.   The subtitle is “Patriotism, Protest, and the Music That Made a Nation”.  You may think this “dynamic duo” is mis-matched but the book’s eight chapters speak to an American era — such as the Revolutionary War, the Civil War and the civil rights movement — and tie in songs that represent that period, from “The Liberty Song,” (a little known pre-Revolutionary War song written in 1768 by founding father John Dickinson) to “Yankee Doodle Dandy,”  “The Star-Spangled Banner,” Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind,” Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” and Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.” The tunes, often in support or protest of a movement, give shape to the way that music tells the history of America as much as wars, economic instability and social agitation do.  The chapters are as follows:

CHAPTER 1: THE SENSATIONS OF FREEDOM

CHAPTER 2: LAND WHERE OUR FATHERS DIED

CHAPTER 3: MINE EYES HAVE SEEN THE GLORY

CHAPTER 4: MARCH, MARCH, MANY AS ONE

CHAPTER 5: AS THE STORM CLOUDS GATHER

CHAPTER 6: WE SHALL OVERCOME

CHAPTER 7: ARCHIE BUNKER V. THE AGE OF AQUARIUS

CHAPTER 8: BORN IN THE U.S.A.

Meacham provides the history of each era while McGraw furnishes information on specific songs very popular in each time period.  This provides an intersection between history and music which, in my opinion, really works.

These inserts by McGraw are “breakout” boxes that make us remember the time a historical situation in which they were popular.  McGraw wrote about the songs that inspired and moved him. Many of the tunes he knew; others, especially from the 1700s and 1800s, he researched as he picked which ones to dive into. “When I first started writing the sidebars, the first text I got back from Jon was ‘Look, Tim, don’t try to be a history writer,’” he laughs.  

The remarkable speed with which the project came together didn’t allow time for an audio accompaniment. However, the pair are touting it through a six-city theater tour that kicked off Monday in New York and runs through June 24 in Raleigh, N.C.  They discuss the chapters and then McGraw performs songs discussed in the text. They have also added in some of McGraw’s tunes that address themes in the book. “‘If You’re Reading This’ is the showstopper,” Meacham says.

Though McGraw performs some of his songs, they were intentionally left out of the book. “I wanted it to be more voyeuristic in my approach to looking at this,” he says. “I wanted it to come from being a musician point of view, but not from a successful artist point of view. I wanted to [show how] this music impacted me as a musician and as a history buff.”

I’m sure you know these guys, but if not, given below are their pictures. 

The book is two hundred and thirty-four (234) pages in length and provides an “easy read” for those of you needing to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  If you have ever read a book by Jon Meacham you know he uses numerous references and publishes those references.  This book is no different with thirty -four (34) pages of notes and reference material given.   

The book costs $30.00 U.S. and in my opinion is a must read.  Really good book if you enjoy history and/or music.

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