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Songs of America: Patriotism, Protest, and the Music That Made a Nation

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A celebration of America and the music that inspired people and illuminated eras, from the Revolutionary War to the present, by Pulitzer Prize winner Jon Meacham and Grammy winner Tim McGraw.   From "The Star Spangled Banner" to "Born in the U.S.A.," Jon Meacham and Tim McGraw take us on a journey through the eras and the music that helped to shape a nation. Meacham writes A celebration of America and the music that inspired people and illuminated eras, from the Revolutionary War to the present, by Pulitzer Prize winner Jon Meacham and Grammy winner Tim McGraw.   From "The Star Spangled Banner" to "Born in the U.S.A.," Jon Meacham and Tim McGraw take us on a journey through the eras and the music that helped to shape a nation. Meacham writes a celebration of the history and songs of the eras, and McGraw reflects on these songs as an artist and performer. Beginning with the battle hymns of the Revolution, and taking us through songs from the defining events of the Civil War, the two World Wars, the Great Depression, the Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam War, into the twenty-first century, Meacham and McGraw explore the songs that defined generations and the cultural and political climates that made them. The songs of America remind us where we've been, who we are—and what we can be.


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A celebration of America and the music that inspired people and illuminated eras, from the Revolutionary War to the present, by Pulitzer Prize winner Jon Meacham and Grammy winner Tim McGraw.   From "The Star Spangled Banner" to "Born in the U.S.A.," Jon Meacham and Tim McGraw take us on a journey through the eras and the music that helped to shape a nation. Meacham writes A celebration of America and the music that inspired people and illuminated eras, from the Revolutionary War to the present, by Pulitzer Prize winner Jon Meacham and Grammy winner Tim McGraw.   From "The Star Spangled Banner" to "Born in the U.S.A.," Jon Meacham and Tim McGraw take us on a journey through the eras and the music that helped to shape a nation. Meacham writes a celebration of the history and songs of the eras, and McGraw reflects on these songs as an artist and performer. Beginning with the battle hymns of the Revolution, and taking us through songs from the defining events of the Civil War, the two World Wars, the Great Depression, the Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam War, into the twenty-first century, Meacham and McGraw explore the songs that defined generations and the cultural and political climates that made them. The songs of America remind us where we've been, who we are—and what we can be.

30 review for Songs of America: Patriotism, Protest, and the Music That Made a Nation

  1. 5 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    3.5 From George Washington and the American Revolution to the present, Meacham charts the music and what it meant during that time period. Music has the ability to make one recall a specific time and place, to elicit sadness and joy, pride and pain. When a song is played it sparks a memory, and often, at least for me, I can remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when the don't was played. Washington recognizes the importance of song, and used it to keep his men marching on. My country 3.5 From George Washington and the American Revolution to the present, Meacham charts the music and what it meant during that time period. Music has the ability to make one recall a specific time and place, to elicit sadness and joy, pride and pain. When a song is played it sparks a memory, and often, at least for me, I can remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when the don't was played. Washington recognizes the importance of song, and used it to keep his men marching on. My country this of thee, written to the tune of Britains, God save the Queen. Even Bruce Springsteen's album, the Rising, is mentioned. Meacham narrates the explanation for a certain town, placing it in its historical context, and then Tim McGraw reads the song. Silly me, I was hoping McGraw would sing the songs. Alas, that didn't happen. It was the chapter on the slave songs that most interested me, and though I have read other books on the subject, this provided me with further information. Sorrow songs, expressing the human experience of the slaves. "The highest joy and deepest sadness." What I had never realized it that many of these songs carried messages, codes of a sort. Tubman used a song to tell the others she was leaving, escaping. Not a in-depth study, but a nice, interesting introductory to meaningful songs through the ages. ARC from Edelweiss.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jenny

    Tone deaf. Unable to “ carry a tune in a bucket.” Doesn’t matter. We sing. We sing in church. We sing at concerts. We sing in the car. Music is important to us. Historian Jon Meacham and country artist Tim McGraw look at the role music has played throughout the development of the U.S. in Songs of America: Patriotism, Protest and the Music that Made a Nation. From the Liberty Song in 1768 to Only in America in 2005, we have relied on songs to make our views known, to inspire others to join u Tone deaf. Unable to “ carry a tune in a bucket.” Doesn’t matter. We sing. We sing in church. We sing at concerts. We sing in the car. Music is important to us. Historian Jon Meacham and country artist Tim McGraw look at the role music has played throughout the development of the U.S. in Songs of America: Patriotism, Protest and the Music that Made a Nation. From the Liberty Song in 1768 to Only in America in 2005, we have relied on songs to make our views known, to inspire others to join us and our cause, and to ease the pain of unbearable crises. As the authors point out The Battle Hymn of the Republic was sung by one faction in our nation during the Civil War. I Wish I Was in Dixie land, by the other. These songs mirrored our debates and dissensions. These songs also gave comfort to their respective side. Meacham provides context for the music of each period detailing the events, conflicts and controversies there within. McGraw gives the viewpoint of a performer and artist. He looks at the more personal effect of music. As he said singing Lift Every Voice and Sing helps ease the pain of spirituals and hymns. This is a sweeping survey of music in America’s story. Many interesting pairings are discussed. Happy Days are Here Again and Brother Can You Spare a Dime are certainly diverse. There are many interesting stories told in relation to the songs that are highlighted. I found it sad to think that Meerapol wrote Strange Fruit because he “really hated lynching.” How sad to think that there was even lynching to hate. This book might just give you a new insight into what you are currently listening to.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Betsy

    For an audiobook, what a missed opportunity! This had the potential to be a truly great audiobook. Given the format, I was expecting that excerpts of the songs would be added to the audiobook recording. To my surprise, Tim McGraw read the lyrics. Without performances of the songs, this is sadly a pretty lackluster audiobook. I returned on Libby before finishing because this just didn't live up to its potential.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    Oh, I so enjoyed reading this book! From the beginning with the beautiful and inspirational Overture on The History of Music by Jon Meacham, I did not want to stop reading this history of America through music. Music brings a deep association with the events and places I have experienced. When I hear a song I can place myself in a specific place and point in time. The Green Berets by Barry Sadler came out when I was fourteen. It had pride of country and was an appealing march. I bough Oh, I so enjoyed reading this book! From the beginning with the beautiful and inspirational Overture on The History of Music by Jon Meacham, I did not want to stop reading this history of America through music. Music brings a deep association with the events and places I have experienced. When I hear a song I can place myself in a specific place and point in time. The Green Berets by Barry Sadler came out when I was fourteen. It had pride of country and was an appealing march. I bought a ceramic green beret pin at a drug store counter. But the patriotic support of the war was short-lived and the backdrop of my teenage years was filled with anti-war music including Turn, Turn Turn, Where Have All the Flowers Gone? and Give Peace a Chance. The music of my life tracked the social changes going on. The songs about women waiting for men became feminist anthems. Love of country was replaced by calls for justice and equity. Love songs were still popular, but cooler were the protest songs for social change with messages of universal love, peace, inclusion, anti-authority, and dropping out of the system. The music of patriotism is inevitably the music of protest, Meacham writes, adding that history is not just read, but is something we also hear. And he notes that history is a continual process. He holds hope that we "can overcome fear, that light can triumph over darkness, that we can open our arms rather than clench our fists." Music reminds the nation of where we have been and points to what we can become. The authors begin with pre-Revolutionary songs such as John Dickinson's 1768 The Liberty Song which rallied the colonies to unite in a righteous cause and move through history to Bruce Springsteen's protest anthem Born in the U. S. A. Each song placed in its historical and cultural setting. Over There was George Cohen's "bugle call" evoking the American Revolution's Yanke Doodle in its patriotism. "Johnny get your gun...show the "Hun" you're a son-of-a-gun" "And we won't come back till it's over, over there." The music discussed by Meacham and commented on by McGraw includes the well-known and well-beloved but also lesser-known songs that were influential in their day. They all represent America at a specific historical era: The Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, slavery and abolition, the Civil War, minstrel shows and racism, WWI and WWII, the social movements of Civil Rights and equal rights and voting rights, the reactive rise of the Klan and Jim Crow, the cultural division of the 1970s, and the political divisions of the last fifty years. WWI saw patriotic music like America, Here's My Boy with a mother offering her 'boy' to the cause... and anti-war protest music like I Didn't Raise My Boy to be a Soldier. McGraw's contributions are inserted in text boxes. He addresses the songs from a musician's viewpoint and from a personal, emotional response. Songs of America is a book of history, filled with stories that trace the complicated American experiment in democracy. In 1938 Irving Berlin's God Bless America was debuted on Kate Smith's CBS radio show. Woody Guthrie's This Land Is Your Land was originally titled God Blessed America and questioned the inequality behind the American promise. History is an argument without end, Meacham shares. Americans have argued and fought, and dissent and protest continue, but this book offers the promise that "America is not finished, the last notes have not yet been played," and calls us to lift every voice and sing in the continuing great national conversation. I received an ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Lorna

    Songs of America: Patriotism, Protest, and the Music That Made a Nation was a delightful book to read over the Independence Day weekend, as it was a journey of America's history brought to life through its songs. From the music during the American Revolution and the War of 1812 to songs of the Civil War and the fight for civil rights and the abolition of slavery, featuring Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Also explored in music was the long struggle for the cause of women's suffrage and equal r Songs of America: Patriotism, Protest, and the Music That Made a Nation was a delightful book to read over the Independence Day weekend, as it was a journey of America's history brought to life through its songs. From the music during the American Revolution and the War of 1812 to songs of the Civil War and the fight for civil rights and the abolition of slavery, featuring Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Also explored in music was the long struggle for the cause of women's suffrage and equal rights. It continues to highlight the music in the wake of World Wars I and II, wonderful patriotic and moving songs capturing the mood and economics of the country at that time. There is a wonderful section told through music of the continuing struggle for civil rights as fought by Martin Luther King and Presidents John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson during the tumultuous 1960's and the escalation of the Vietnam War. This book concludes with the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, featuring the music of the times, including Bruce Springsteen as well as old favorites like Irving Berlin's God Bless America and Katherine Lee Bates, America the Beautiful important in our healing process. It is a patriotic look at the historical context of music in our sometimes tumultuous history at a time that we may need it. "Such are the sounds of our history, whispers from the American pageant. They are glimpses and glimmers from our common story, a story of promises made and broken, of reform and reaction--a story fundamentally shaped by the perennial struggle between what Abraham Lincoln called 'the better angels of our nature' and our worst impulses."

  6. 5 out of 5

    Monnie

    Let's be clear about one thing: This is not a songbook. Lyrics, when they appear, accompany the historical narrative written by co-author Jon Meacham with occasional sidebar insights by country music star Tim McGraw (a friend and neighbor of Meacham). Some of the songs mentioned are of praise, others of protest - but all (ahem!) underscore what was happening at various times of crisis from the Revolutionary War to the Great Depression, 9/11 and more. Personally, I'm a huge fan of musi Let's be clear about one thing: This is not a songbook. Lyrics, when they appear, accompany the historical narrative written by co-author Jon Meacham with occasional sidebar insights by country music star Tim McGraw (a friend and neighbor of Meacham). Some of the songs mentioned are of praise, others of protest - but all (ahem!) underscore what was happening at various times of crisis from the Revolutionary War to the Great Depression, 9/11 and more. Personally, I'm a huge fan of music; history, not so much. But brought together here, they make for a very interesting, enlightening book from which I learned quite a bit (one of the more surprising facts being that the lyrics of quite a few of the songs we all know and love were added to already-written tunes). I also did not know that there's an Abolitionist version of "My Country 'Tis of Thee" in which the line "Sweet land of liberty" became "Stronghold of slavery." I was unaware that the lyrics of some well-known spirituals were used as signals to those seeking freedom in other lands like Canada (in the "Coming for to carry me home" line of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," home is not a reference to Heaven). And "Dixie" was written specifically to be sung by white men in blackface, perhaps in minstrel shows which, for the record, remained popular in my small home town till not long before I graduated from high school in 1959. Particularly since the book is a relatively short 289 pages (nearly half of the length is comprised of notes and reference material), I'm not even going to try to offer up more in-depth information. The authors do caution that many songs that have the potential to be mentioned here are not. One of those omissions most notable by me, for instance, is Pete Seeger's "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" - a long-time favorite that makes my eyes tear up every time I hear it. While I'd like to have seen a couple more examples to accompany each of the significant events of history, I understand that what's here is meant to be representative, not all-inclusive. As such, it is well worth reading. And if you're like me, it'll stick with you for a while. Days after finishing the book, I can't get Woody Guthrie's catchy "This Land is Your Land" out of my head. Oh, but did you know the original version of this popular rah-rah America anthem contains rarely sung verses of political protest? Imagine that!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Erik

    From "The Liberty Song" of John Dickinson, to "Born in the USA" by Bruce Springsteen, this book goes through the highlights of America's political history in song. Music, as it turns out, was as important to the political theory of George Washington as it was to MLK. Music may not start a movement, but no movement can succeed long or against great odds without powerful songs to motivate and inspire its followers, and sometimes, even convert its opponents. In the 1950s, when Civil Rights activist From "The Liberty Song" of John Dickinson, to "Born in the USA" by Bruce Springsteen, this book goes through the highlights of America's political history in song. Music, as it turns out, was as important to the political theory of George Washington as it was to MLK. Music may not start a movement, but no movement can succeed long or against great odds without powerful songs to motivate and inspire its followers, and sometimes, even convert its opponents. In the 1950s, when Civil Rights activists in the South were getting arrested, they would sing songs like "We Shall Overcome." The tunes were so compelling that even the policemen making the arrests would start swaying their heads, tapping their toes or even humming along, until they caught themselves doing it. Movements today should take note. Where's a song about the Green New Deal?

  8. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    A fantastic book! It surprised me how much I enjoyed the history lesson that this book really is. It kept the stories entertaining and basic enough to not bore anyone. The photos were fantastic and I loved learning about all the songs too.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Bamboozlepig

    This was kind of a dud for me. I love music and I always love learning about a song's history, but this fell flat (pun intended). Some songs had tons of info about them, others had just brief mentions. Protest songs of the Vietnam era were largely limited to CCR's "Fortunate Son", despite there being several other anti-war songs from that time. The Kent State shootings were mentioned, but not the "Ohio" song by Crosby, Stills and Nash, at least not that I could see. Even older patriot This was kind of a dud for me. I love music and I always love learning about a song's history, but this fell flat (pun intended). Some songs had tons of info about them, others had just brief mentions. Protest songs of the Vietnam era were largely limited to CCR's "Fortunate Son", despite there being several other anti-war songs from that time. The Kent State shootings were mentioned, but not the "Ohio" song by Crosby, Stills and Nash, at least not that I could see. Even older patriotic songs were given short shrift. So we find out "Yankee Doodle Dandy" came from an English tune, but that's it. Nothing on the lyrics to it or their meaning. Irving Berlin's "God Bless America" was limited to two paragraphs and more attention was given to "The White Cliffs of Dover". Both were good WWII songs, but "God Bless America" seems a little more important than the "White Cliffs of Dover". And some of the songs didn't even have the full lyrics. Where Meacham starts talking about "The Star-Spangled Banner", he omits the opening lyrics. It was also haphazardly put together. Sections jumped around and seemed to lack focus. Tim McGraw's commentaries were interesting and it was cool to learn some of the tidbits about the different songs, but a lot of it just seemed tone deaf and not music to my ears.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    Now a days we take music and the meaning for granted. This book was kind of the history of music and some songs that impacted our country all these years later. The authors did an amazing job at doing research and telling the story of some well known songs and how they came about. Some of these songs I grew up singing and can’t ever remember where they came from. Like most some of the stories told in this book we were taught in school and others I don’t ever remember hearing. It gives me a whole Now a days we take music and the meaning for granted. This book was kind of the history of music and some songs that impacted our country all these years later. The authors did an amazing job at doing research and telling the story of some well known songs and how they came about. Some of these songs I grew up singing and can’t ever remember where they came from. Like most some of the stories told in this book we were taught in school and others I don’t ever remember hearing. It gives me a whole new appreciation for those who came before us and paved the road for us in one way or another. The authors also manager to right a story or those lives and how their lives where impacted by the times and what took place. I have always loved history and I feel like this book gives you a whole other look into the history of music and how poetry was just as important to song writing even in the 1700's when America was found. With everything going on in our government it was a reminder of what our forefathers intended for our country, and how even some of this men failed at their best intention. Over all if you like music of any kind or like history I would recommend this book if gives you a whole new respect for both. I received an advance copy from the publisher via NetGalley. I was under no obligation to post a review and have given my honest opinion.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Tammy Buchli

    What a fun book! I enjoyed reading about the songs, some familiar to me and others not, which made our country. The format of the book was accessible, moving more or less chronologically from the American Revolution to the aftermath of 9/11. I appreciated the diversity of songs discussed - songs by indigenous peoples, the spirituals sung by enslaved people, anthems sung by suffragists and civil rights activists, patriotic songs and protest songs. I also enjoyed he sidebars by Tim McGraw, which b What a fun book! I enjoyed reading about the songs, some familiar to me and others not, which made our country. The format of the book was accessible, moving more or less chronologically from the American Revolution to the aftermath of 9/11. I appreciated the diversity of songs discussed - songs by indigenous peoples, the spirituals sung by enslaved people, anthems sung by suffragists and civil rights activists, patriotic songs and protest songs. I also enjoyed he sidebars by Tim McGraw, which brought a professional musician’s sensibility to the discussion. Thanks to NetGalley for providing an ARC copy for my review.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Kathryn

    I thought this book was going to delve more deeply into the particular history of American songs, but I found myself enjoying it quite a bit (and the archival photos are fabulous). Meacham is a great writer and it's clear that he was attempting to find something with which to connect us in the turmoil of America's current dangerously divisive climate. His own political opinions seep through from the Reagan years onward, but even those chapters are written with a gentle, nearly bipartisan touch. I thought this book was going to delve more deeply into the particular history of American songs, but I found myself enjoying it quite a bit (and the archival photos are fabulous). Meacham is a great writer and it's clear that he was attempting to find something with which to connect us in the turmoil of America's current dangerously divisive climate. His own political opinions seep through from the Reagan years onward, but even those chapters are written with a gentle, nearly bipartisan touch. An excellent and enjoyable read.

  13. 4 out of 5

    J.J. Lair

    There were things I thought this would be that it isn’t. I thought they would pick a dozen songs and tell how they tell the bigger picture. They actually mention many more songs and dozens of artists. I also thought musician Tim McGraw would dissect lyrics or why songs are played the way they are. Is this better on guitar vs. piano? Fast vs. slow. From the format of the book, McGraw has these asides where he really adds fluff. There was a lot of good here. I looked up and discovered some new son There were things I thought this would be that it isn’t. I thought they would pick a dozen songs and tell how they tell the bigger picture. They actually mention many more songs and dozens of artists. I also thought musician Tim McGraw would dissect lyrics or why songs are played the way they are. Is this better on guitar vs. piano? Fast vs. slow. From the format of the book, McGraw has these asides where he really adds fluff. There was a lot of good here. I looked up and discovered some new songs. I loved the song, Our Day Will Come by Ruby and the Romantics. The bossa nova melody, the harmony and the simple beauty of the lyrics. After this book, the song has a new dimension I never heard. I loved that insight. I want to find more of these songs on the web and these artists. This was a good intro to some and details into others I really liked.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Ilene Harris

    What a wonderful book, reading it slowly, so much great stuff, we really need this when the politics are so bad today.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Anna Paula

    I loved to learn about the history of some of my favorite songs as well as to learn more about American history.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Linda

    3.75 stars Very interesting look at the history of music in America (got a bit dry in spots, especially early parts of the book discussing the Revolutionary War). I was surprised how many songs I wasn't familiar with, but found most of them on UTube.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Liz

    Disappointing - I expected more (or different). Too much history, not enough music.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Art

    “… music as an unsung force in our nation’s history.” — Doris Kearns Goodwin, blurb, back cover Fun. This book falls between a coffee-table book and a history book. Wherever you fall on the political spectrum, you will find something to like in here. The great standards, folk and protest music drew me to the book. In all, we learn about a couple hundred songs with their roots, context and influences. The book published in June without a word about the songs or the coarsening culture over the pas “… music as an unsung force in our nation’s history.” — Doris Kearns Goodwin, blurb, back cover Fun. This book falls between a coffee-table book and a history book. Wherever you fall on the political spectrum, you will find something to like in here. The great standards, folk and protest music drew me to the book. In all, we learn about a couple hundred songs with their roots, context and influences. The book published in June without a word about the songs or the coarsening culture over the past three years. In these pages we can listen to our history. Music, tunes and lyrics shaped our deeds, writes Jon Meacham. The book begins with long-forgotten tunes popular before the Revolution. A few favorite comments and observations along the way: “The Star-Spangled Banner” focused on the flag rather than on abstractions as did earlier songs. The difficult melody came from a well-known English song. So here we were, an English tune for a song that became our anthem. “My Country ’Tis of Thee.” Samuel Francis Smith wrote a hymn to the nation about the American experiment, which unfolded as the living embodiment of the Enlightenment ideals of education, exploration and invention to advance humanity. The power of the song comes from the strength of first-person writing: “My country 'tis of thee …” not our country tis of thee. Meanwhile, African spirituals filled the air in the South. Mahalia Jackson told Studs Terkel that gospel songs were not about Heaven but about getting to Canada or a safe city in the North, a liberation here on earth. That would have been heaven. (The New York Times Magazine published an excellent seven-page article on Aug 18, 2019 about black music in America, tracing its roots to the first slave ship that arrived here four hundred years ago. The country’s music became an amalgamation of interracial collaboration over these many years. ) Katherine Lee Bates wrote the poem “America The Beautiful” after going to Pikes Peak. Obama described the version by Ray Charles as “the most patriotic piece of music ever performed because it captures the fullness of the American experience, the view from the bottom as well as the top, the good and the bad and the possibility of synthesis, reconciliation, transcendence.” I drove up to Pikes Peak a few times during my Colorado days. An awe-inspiring view. Easy to see how it would inspire “America The Beautiful.” “Happy Days Are Here Again” published before the stock market crash that began The Great Depression. FDR adopted it as his campaign theme song at the Democratic National Convention, a decision that fit his optimism that he gave to the country in a difficult time. Meacham, the author, concedes that every reader will wonder some songs did not make the book. “Appalachian Spring,” by Aaron Copland in the mid-forties, comes to mind. Also, songs of America can include songs from England. Vera Lynn, during World War II, sang “(There’ll Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs of Dover” as well as “We’ll Meet Again,” a couple of fine sentimental tunes that spoke to us and our friends across the Atlantic. Then we come to the modern era. Vietnam dominated the culture for ten years with the war in Nam and a war at home as protesters resisted and clashed with the older generation. Music spoke to us and for us. “Fortunate Son,” by John Fogerty and Creedence, bemoans the ability of the rich and well-connected to elude military service. “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” became an anthem for those of us who went to Nam. But the song also spoke to/for protesters because “we” all needed to get out of that place. A few good paragraphs here about that period. For a book-length discussion, read We Gotta Get Out of This Place: The Soundtrack of the Vietnam War. Springsteen came later. He described “Born in the USA” as a protest song, a “GI blues.” Our hearts fell to the floor while we all walked around dazed and slack-jawed on 9/11. Ten days later, music made sense as musicians consoled and inspired us on that great telethon. Neil Young sang and played “Imagine.” Dixie Chicks “I Believe in Love.” The final three songs capped the program. Paul Simon “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” Celine Dion gave us “God Bless America, fronting a gospel choir. Willie Nelson led the company to close the program with “America The Beautiful, the only performance that night that drew applause.” This book inspired me to see again the two-hour program, carried on thirty-five television networks and eight thousand radio outlets. A fine moment of American music in all its manifestations. Something for everyone. A fine book with an unusually good appendix that runs for eighty pages, including a useful index and bibliography as well as excellent endnotes.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Sean Soard

    I "read" this book as an audiobook, though that made it only slightly more musical. A few of the songs are played in the audiobook file, but most are not (likely due to the nightmare of licensing the number of songs discussed in this book). Listing Meacham and McGraw as co-authors of this book is a little deceptive. Meacham does the heavy lifting here, banging out a surprisingly thorough recitation of American history shortly after his "The Soul of America." As you'd expect, Meacham heavily reli I "read" this book as an audiobook, though that made it only slightly more musical. A few of the songs are played in the audiobook file, but most are not (likely due to the nightmare of licensing the number of songs discussed in this book). Listing Meacham and McGraw as co-authors of this book is a little deceptive. Meacham does the heavy lifting here, banging out a surprisingly thorough recitation of American history shortly after his "The Soul of America." As you'd expect, Meacham heavily relies on his knowledge of American history generally, connecting popular songs to the popular sentiment driving American socio-political movements and confrontations. If you're reading this as a history buff, you'll find it fascinating. If you're reading this from an interest in music, however, I'd suggest starting in the second half of the book (WWII and beyond). In the first half of the book, the history vastly outweighs the music, which is understandable given that the popular music of the time was largely spread through newspapers. In the second half, the readers assumed knowledge of recent history allows the songs to take center stage. For a general audience, this is where the book shines: connecting well-known songs to both the times in which they were released and their historical foundations. McGraw's role in the narrative is minimal; he provides short commentaries on selected songs throughout the book. McGraw's commentary seems out of place in the early portions of this book, where he crafts a persona of super patriot rather than offering any substantive discussion. He finds his footing in the latter sections of the book, however, reconciling his personal experiences with songs like "I wish I was in Dixie" and "Born in the USA" with their origins (McGraw's reconsideration of the former in light of the fact that it was written for blackfaced actors hits particularly well). The narrative moves roughly temporally, though exceptions are made to draw out connections between different time periods/actors. Two particularly confusing aspects of this temporal jump are Meachams discussion of the early 1900s through WWII and Elvis's influence, although both are ultimately resolved and the reader is returned to the timeline. Conspicuously missing from the book is much in-dept discussion of the gilded age, and WWI. If you're looking for any mention of an F. Scott Fitzgerald Zoot Suit Riot, look elsewhere. The Great Depression is discussed, but only at face value, comparing "Sunny Days Are Here Again" with "Brother Can You Spare A Dime" and leaving it mostly at that. Overall, this is a quick read for history lovers filled with a number of interesting tidbits. The second half of this book I read while switching between the audiobook and a youtube clip of whatever song was being discussed (the effect was especially powerful reading Meacham's discussion of Jim Crow lynching's while listening to "Strange Fruit"). As Meacham admits in the afterword, the songs were made to be listened to, not read.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Bob

    Don't simply read "Songs of America." Have YouTube close by so you can listen to U.S. history while you relive it — and sometimes learn that history — through its music. Author Jon Meacham colors the highlights of America's past with anecdotes and insight, plus lessons that needed to be learned — and in some cases still need to be learned. It's anything but the boredom inducing tomes of history class. And songster Tim McGraw adds context from the musical world to many of the key p Don't simply read "Songs of America." Have YouTube close by so you can listen to U.S. history while you relive it — and sometimes learn that history — through its music. Author Jon Meacham colors the highlights of America's past with anecdotes and insight, plus lessons that needed to be learned — and in some cases still need to be learned. It's anything but the boredom inducing tomes of history class. And songster Tim McGraw adds context from the musical world to many of the key pieces that played a part in America's development and ongoing story. His writing is joyfully tight and poignant; don't skip a single one of his sidebars. What I found enlightening was going to YouTube to listen especially to songs with which I was unfamiliar. Pieces like: • "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" • "I Didn't Raise My Boy to be a Soldier" (a WWI protest song) • "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" (the Great Depression era, sung by, unexpectedly, Bing Crosby) • Woody Guthrie's "Dust Bowl Blues" • "Strange Fruit" (sung by Billie Holiday, about the lynching of black people) • "You'll Never Know" (a WWII favorite sung by Vera Lynn). Music becomes markers in U.S. history, with songs like "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" doting the war between the states; "Over There" denoting WWI and "Born in the USA" in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. Elvis is there, and Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash with his "Singing' in Vietnam Talkin' Blues," one you won't want to miss hearing. Aretha, of course, Peter, Paul and Mary, Lee Greenwood, The Animals and SSgt. Barry Sadler with his "The Ballad of the Green Berets." Marian Anderson, Irving Berlin Mahalia Jackson, Duke Ellington, Sam Cooke and many more. I'd heard the phrase "Okie from Muskogee" but didn't know it was a song. It would play well again in the Red States today. It's counterpoint could very well be "Mississippi Goddam," written and sung by Nina Simone, shortly after the assassination of Black civil rights advocate Medgar Evers and the bombing of a church in Birmingham, Alabama, that took the lives of four black children. A personal favorite: "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy." Pete Seeger wrote that as anti-war song while the U.S. was embroiled in Vietnam. Listen to it, and see if you find it might be about current times as well.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Ted Hunt

    This book takes on a very large task: providing an overview of American protest music from the time of the American Revolution to the period of the 21st century culture wars. I think that this was a bit too much for a book of 230 pages, as its treatment of the subject matter was rather uneven. There were snippets of political history, but not enough to always provide a good backdrop for the music. Some, but not all, singers had short biographies provided. Some songs had their lyrics included in This book takes on a very large task: providing an overview of American protest music from the time of the American Revolution to the period of the 21st century culture wars. I think that this was a bit too much for a book of 230 pages, as its treatment of the subject matter was rather uneven. There were snippets of political history, but not enough to always provide a good backdrop for the music. Some, but not all, singers had short biographies provided. Some songs had their lyrics included in the text, but many did not. The book was convincing in its contention that music has always been a central part of American life, but the book often veers off to the analysis of examples of prose, like famous speeches and sermons. As a life-long music aficionado, I was familiar with a lot of the songs that were highlighted, but there were some new songs, or new interpretations of old songs that I was introduced to, so reading the book was a worthwhile endeavor. (And it only took two days to read.) This might have been a book for which it would have been worthwhile to listen to an audio version, which I gather included Tim McGraw singing some of the songs. For me, song lyrics on the printed page are not nearly as powerful as the song being sung. In short, I think that the book would have been more effective had it focused more exclusively on a narrower time frame and then had gone into much greater detail about the events and circumstances that provided the backdrop for the songs.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    Disclaimer: I received this book as part of GoodReads' First Reads program Songs of America is a telling of American history with popular songs. The first chapter takes us back to the days up to and including the revolution, when songs like "Yankee Doodle" and "Hail Columbia" were popular. The second chapter takes us through the War of 1812, when the "Star Spangled Banner" was written (it didn't become the national anthem until the early 20th century). This chapter also takes us throu Disclaimer: I received this book as part of GoodReads' First Reads program Songs of America is a telling of American history with popular songs. The first chapter takes us back to the days up to and including the revolution, when songs like "Yankee Doodle" and "Hail Columbia" were popular. The second chapter takes us through the War of 1812, when the "Star Spangled Banner" was written (it didn't become the national anthem until the early 20th century). This chapter also takes us through the antebellum era, when slavery was rampant and abolitionism began, with songs like "John Brown's Body" and "America" (My Country 'tis of Thee). The Civil War era introduced songs like "Dixie" and "The Battle Hymn of the Republic". Later chapters discuss World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, The first Gulf War and 9-11. Each step of the way, the author introduces songs, both supporting and protesting, what was going on. Among those are "Over There", "Blowin' in the Wind", "Born in the USA" and many, many more. There are many color illustrations, and sidebars by Tim McGraw where he talks about what certain songs mean to him. Personally, I could do without McGraw's comments, but I'm sure his fans would disagree. Overall, I enjoyed the book, and found it a quick read. It may look like a text book, but don't let that dissuade you from picking it up and enjoying American history told through the songs of each era. ..........................................................................................................................................

  23. 4 out of 5

    Denise

    I was randomly selected by Random House to receive a free copy. This did not impact my review. First of all, the publisher did not stint on this book. The cover is sturdy and the paper is heavy weight glossy - don't drop this one on your foot. To be honest, I was expecting songs with some history thrown in for perspective. Instead, I read a book on American politics. I learned things I had not known so the time was not wasted but this was not the book I had anticipated reading. From the notes to I was randomly selected by Random House to receive a free copy. This did not impact my review. First of all, the publisher did not stint on this book. The cover is sturdy and the paper is heavy weight glossy - don't drop this one on your foot. To be honest, I was expecting songs with some history thrown in for perspective. Instead, I read a book on American politics. I learned things I had not known so the time was not wasted but this was not the book I had anticipated reading. From the notes to readers at the beginning, there is repeated material from some of Mr. Meacham's earlier works. I appreciated the insight from Tim McGraw and wished he had a larger footprint within the book.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jim Keating

    Meacham is a really good author, but I think the book was compiled from previous history books he had written and republished in Songs of America. McGraw added some anecdotal comments that were pretty inciteful but bottom line for me was it was sold as a collaboration and it was really a redo plus 10% McGraw add-on. I still kinda liked it for the historical recap.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Susan Jessup

    I normally don’t listen to Tim McGraw music and I’m normally not attracted to historical novels for pleasure reading, but after listen to Meacham talk in the spring I figured I’d check this book out. I throughly enjoyed the historical synopsis paired with music based on these periods bringing the sentiment of the people’s stories to life. It was like reading a novel that paired delicious meals with fine wines. A very enjoyable read.

  26. 5 out of 5

    victor harris

    Heavy on narrative, light on song. Often has so much commentary and historical background, it buries the songs it is trying to illustrate. Way too many quotations that are extraneous to the music itself.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

    I have not read this book cover-to-cover yet. To me, it's more of a "coffee table book" as it's such a comprehensive compilation of music in America, starting from the Revolutionary War era, up to the present day. I am going through the chapters, out of order, and reading what appeals to me on any given day, and, what I have read has been thoroughly enjoyable. It's very well written, and has a lot of heart.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Sjervey

    This is a magnificent short history of our country told through the popular songs of the various periods and movements. Jon Meacham tells the history and Tim McGraw adds side notes for many of the songs which address from a musician's perspective how the song is constructed and how it achieves its goals musically and thematically. It is a useful collaboration, particularly when two songs are contrasted with each other, but I most enjoyed Meacham's history. Now this is a short book so the history This is a magnificent short history of our country told through the popular songs of the various periods and movements. Jon Meacham tells the history and Tim McGraw adds side notes for many of the songs which address from a musician's perspective how the song is constructed and how it achieves its goals musically and thematically. It is a useful collaboration, particularly when two songs are contrasted with each other, but I most enjoyed Meacham's history. Now this is a short book so the history is not a deep study. It is rather a study of the surface of each period as reflected by the popular music. Still, I found the review of recent American history to be honest but gentle and I hope that this kind of discourse could become a model for more temperate debate of issues and problems. When we are attacked, we are all one nation. Perhaps the Russian attempts to manipulate our elections could become a source of reunification for our country. A review of our songs is esentially a reminder of hope because that is who we are.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Catherine

    I'll start off, first, by saying that I am in no way, shape, or form a history buff. Back in high school and college, I sort of checked out of history classes except for the ones that were of particular interest to me. I know that it's horrible and I really should have paid attention to everything instead of the select few things that caught my interest, but what's done is done. I also don't make it a habit of reading that much on history now that I am no longer in school. However, when Barnes a I'll start off, first, by saying that I am in no way, shape, or form a history buff. Back in high school and college, I sort of checked out of history classes except for the ones that were of particular interest to me. I know that it's horrible and I really should have paid attention to everything instead of the select few things that caught my interest, but what's done is done. I also don't make it a habit of reading that much on history now that I am no longer in school. However, when Barnes and Noble sent me an email suggesting this book (how? - I don't know because it seems a highly unlikely suggestion), I figured that this might be a good time to take a look at history in terms of something that I do enjoy a great deal - music. I'll be honest and say that I'm not in love with this book. The majority of the book is focused during that part of history that I always struggled with - America's early years - which was very, very hard for me to get through. That's not to say that every last bit of that portion of the book was awful because it wasn't and I was definitely better able to understand that part of history in this book as opposed to any of the dry texts back in high school and college. However, I probably would have liked this book a little more if it were more focused on 1900 and forward. That's just my personal preference more than anything. That being said, it was an interesting read and gives me hope that I can delve more into non-fiction material in the future. I can say that I paid more attention to Jon Meacham's portion than I did Tim McGraw's in the book. After awhile, I just skipped over the grey boxes denoting McGraw's view and focused in on the main portion of text. I would have loved to have read more about recent history from the 1940s onward and explore more of the music from this time period, but maybe that'll be a different book for a different day. Otherwise, very solid, enjoyable read. Recommended to history buffs that happen to enjoy a good song or two!

  30. 4 out of 5

    Geoffrey Kelley

    In an era where pessimism and division reign, it is enjoyable to read about moments when Americans were brought together through music and song. Whether the songs were of a patriotic nature (“America the Beautiful”) or to protest injustices (“We Shall Overcome”), the key chapters of American history have often been reflected in the music of the day. Historian Jon Meacham ably takes us through the stories behind songs of the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the Civil War, the World Wars and In an era where pessimism and division reign, it is enjoyable to read about moments when Americans were brought together through music and song. Whether the songs were of a patriotic nature (“America the Beautiful”) or to protest injustices (“We Shall Overcome”), the key chapters of American history have often been reflected in the music of the day. Historian Jon Meacham ably takes us through the stories behind songs of the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the Civil War, the World Wars and Vietnam, plus the rich vein of music protesting against slavery and promoting civil rights through the ages. Musician Tim McGraw gives a performer’s appreciation of the song, and why it connects so effectively with audiences. The book is also beautifully illustrated. The book reminds us that unity and finding a common purpose are possible. It also reminds us to listen carefully to the voices of protest and dissent, because often they are on the right side in American history.

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