No. 34: Neil Young, ‘Rockin’ In The Free World’ – Top 100 Classic Rock Songs
Do politics belong in rock ‘n’ roll?
When you’ve got Ted Nugent making vaguely threatening statements about a sitting President…eh, maybe not so much. But when the result is a barnburner like Neil Young’s ‘Rockin’ in the Free World,’ it’s hard to deny the value of self-righteous rage when it comes to penning a classic rock tune.
Whatever your political leanings, there’s plenty to love about ‘Rockin’,’ not least of which is the simple gutpunch guitar riff that churns throughout the tune. Young shreds away at his guitar with the ferocity of a pissed-off teenager in his garage, spitting out words that were a scathing indictment of America under George Bush the First, but seem timeless twenty-plus years later, especially when his attention turns to a baby in the arms of a poor drug addict living on the streets:
“There’s one more kid / That will never go to school / Never get to fall in love / Never get to be cool”
Artists like Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan have woven politics seamlessly into the fabric of their music, chronicling the American condition over decades. And anger has always been part of the backbone of rock music, whether the singer’s angry at the government, the man, or a girl who’s done him wrong.
Young captured that anger perfectly with ‘Ohio’ in the wake of the Kent State shootings in 1970, and he did it again in 1989 with this Top 100 Classic Rock Songs entry.
In fact, short of Springsteen’s own ‘Born in the USA’ or Dylan’s ‘Masters of War,’ there may be no better explosion of rage on record than ‘Rockin’ in the Free World.’ It feels like decades of rage over every betrayal of the American promise, spitting out line by line and lick by lick over three and a half minutes.
Watch Neil Young’s ‘Rockin’ in the Free World’
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