1. "America" by Prince and the Revolution: A kind of cross between Jimi Hendrix's "Star-Spangled Banner" and Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A.", what this anthemic, pseudo-protest song lacks in subtlety (subtlety was not His Purple Majesty's strong suit) it makes up for in imagery and sheer artistic bravado (who else but Prince would attempt to rewrite "America the Beautiful"?). A great opening track to any July 4th playlist.
2. "Ignoreland" by R.E.M.: Boasting a megaphone vocal and lyrics that reference Dubya's vomiting on the Japanese Prime Minister's shoes (according to Wikipedia, "the only documented occurrence of a U.S. President vomiting on a foreign dignitary"), this glorified rant is, as Michael Stipe has pointed out, exactly that, adding credence to the uniquely American claim that it's better to have ranted to no or little effect than to never have ranted at all.
3. "Fourth of July" by Galaxie 500: This song reminds me of the time I too decided to have a Bed-In but forgot to invite anybody. Quintessential G5, with Dean Wareham's sometimes surreal, always clever lyrics. And what's more American than a Ford Galaxie?
4. "My Hometown" by Bruce Springsteen: Aside from the woefully misunderstood mega-hit referenced above, this song seems the epitome of modern American folk music, circa Born in the U.S.A., the album. The imagery is so rich, it's like a 4-plus minute short story. Perfect little protest song about the economy, unemployment, family.
5. "Independence Day" by Ani DiFranco: Speaking of perfect protest songs, few in recent years have done them better than the self-proclaimed "Little Folksinger" and longstanding Righteous Babe. As usual, the lyrics are so sharp any red-blooded American could cut a finger on them. Some people believe it's wrong to be (constructively critical) of something (or someone) you love, when in fact the opposite is true. But hey, this here's a love song, or rather a break-up song (though she still wants to slip her "big hot cherry bomb" through the "mail slot of your front door." Yeah, it's that kind of break-up). Sometimes freedom is the last thing you want, or need.
6. "Cherry Bomb" by The Runaways: Ahem. This too is a song about a very specific kind of independence. It's the opposite of a break-up song. More like a breakaway song. Ah, youth.
7. "Boom" by Wild Flag: This song by "supergroup" Wild Flag (Carrie Brownstein, Mary Timony, Rebecca Cole, Janet Weiss) is focused on that moment when you meet someone and, at least metaphorically, "things go boom." What things? Fireworks, heartbeats, preconceived notions of lust and love? Listen and learn.
8. "Bored in the USA" by Father John Misty: The title says it all. Rewatching Madmen recently I was reminded of the adage, delivered by Betty Draper to her young daughter Sally, that only boring people get bored. I like to think it's true. And yet...
9. "Free" by Prince: Okay, so I'm biased. This patriotic, overblown ballad is far from my favorite Prince tune, but he wears his heart on his purple sleeve here, and I love him for it. Among the freedoms listed is the freedom to change one's mind, reminding me of Emerson's Self-Reliance and his claim that "a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds" (maybe this is the "lonely monster" Prince refers to). American Transcendentalism via early-eighties pop music. More muffin pan than melting pot, perhaps, but still.
10. "Freedom '90" by George Michael: Sure, he's a Brit. But so were the founding fathers (and mothers) for a time. Besides, I'm a sucker for a song about personal and creative freedom. Plus, more Emerson via the "That's what you get for changing your mind" lyric! Sometimes the clothes do not in fact make the man.
Bonus Track: "America" by Allen Ginsberg: Not a song, but a poem. Aside from Whitman, maybe even the poem. America when will you be angelic indeed?