Classic-Rock Songs for Progressive Patriots

Classic rock, cook-outs, and flag-waving patriotism aren’t only for right-wing yahoos who keep a copy of Cat Scratch Fever tucked next to their Beanfield Sniper Remington Sendero SF II. I know it feels that way in an age when the Nuge and Kid Rock are snapping selfies in the Oval Office. But trust me: There’s plenty of us on the left who jump at the chance to blast big, shaggy riffs and slather grub in barbecue sauce (even if the grub being slathered is veggie burgers). And it’s for you, my fellow classic-rock lefties—like the proud American down my street with the “End the War on the Middle Class” sign in his window and a pickup truck covered in union stickers—that I’ve put together what, in my humble opinion, is one hell of a Fourth of July playlist stuffed with songs fighting the good fight.

A lot of the tunes you know and love, like Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” (though maybe not everybody has cracked open the howling, wall-of-guitars rendition from 1975’s Rolling Thunder Revue) and Jefferson Airplane’s muddy-ass, piano-banging, Woodstock anthem “Volunteers.” (“Hey, I’m dancing down the streets! Got a revolution!!!”). And as should be expected of any patriotic playlist worth its salt, you’re bound to find some Springsteen (whose original, acoustic version of “Born in the U.S.A.” is a bloody, brooding anti-war cry that sounds more like the dread-stained “State Trooper” than the high-gloss “Dancing in the Dark”) and Seger. (If you know only the Night Moves era—which isn’t bad, mind you—then his 1969 anti-Vietnam War psych-raver “2 +2 =?” will have you burning flags by its second verse.)

But listeners will also run into a bunch of obscure nuggets. Detroit’s megaton demolition of The Velvet Underground’s “Rock ’n’ Roll,” from 1971, should’ve been a massive hit for lead singer and perpetual underdog Mitch Ryder, who around the time of its recording had joined the fight to release White Panther revolutionary and all-around awesome guy John Sinclair from prison. Ditto for Relatively Clean Rivers’ “Easy Ride,” a smoothly rolling evocation of rural hippie ethos that will totally appeal to those pro-legalization types in love with Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty.

There’s also a ton of soul and funk to be heard, and that’s because all true lefty rock fans don’t see any difference between rock ’n’ roll and R&B. It’s all righteous people making righteous groove music to battle the forces of oppression and tyranny that now, more than ever, are bearing down on our beloved United States. On the deliriously punchy, horn-stabbing “You Haven’t Done Nothin’,” Stevie Wonder rails against Tricky Dick, but it may as well be 45. Aretha Franklin’s “Spirit in the Dark” isn’t overtly political but rather serves as a gorgeous and uplifting example of the sublimely redemptive vibrations emanating from African-American spiritual music. Another powerhouse is the proto-disco “I Want to Take You Higher” recorded at Woodstock. For just shy of seven minutes, Sly & the Family Stone make good on the American dream: full equality and integration riding some of the most ecstatic funk ever laid down.

So, this Fourth of July, crank these jams, eat a ton of great food, maybe even set of some explosives. But come Wednesday morning, let these songs inspire you to crawl into the trenches to fight all the anti-union, anti-universal healthcare, anti-Black Lives Matter, anti-LGBTQ, anti-climate change, anti-public education, anti-abortion, pro-corporate, pro-war, pro-Koch forces hijacking our country.