Readers with long memories and short tempers may recall Staff Sergeant Barry Sadler, who at the height of the folk-rock boom in 1966 spent five weeks at the top of the US singles chart with "Ballad of the Green Berets", a song that rebuffed youthful anti-war sentiments and glorifiedits subjects' military endeavours. Whatever Sadler's motives, to the youthful protesters of the era it was as if someone had sung "Give War A Chance". Like so many one-off novelties, the song died along with the demise of its immediate concern, rarely, if ever, resurfacing on oldies compilations.
Toby Keith is the Barry Sadler of his era, and Keith's song "Courtesy Of The Red, White And Blue (The Angry American)" its "Ballad Of The Green Berets"; one can but hope that his time in the spotlight will be as brief as Sadler's. You may not have heard Keith's song, which doesn't play well outside his homeland. And no wonder: this ghastly piece of red-neck jingoism is quintessentially American, but Keith is doubtless too stupid to realise in what way. A knee-jerk response to "the events of 9/11", it features the most belligerent of sentiments aimed – and here's the giveaway – at no one in particular, concluding with the thoughtful lines, "And you'll be sorry you messed with/ The US of A/ 'Cause we'll put a boot in your ass/ It's the American way."
Toby's problem, betrayed by his failure to find anyone specific to blame, is his ignorance: to him, as to many of his countrymen, this whole business is simply something that happened to America, and started on the 11 September last year. The rest of the world knowsthe terrorist attacks were the latest, highest-profile episode in a dispute that has been going on for decades in lands with names most Americans can't even spell, and which has been funded and fought primarily with US money.
Would that Toby had chosen to ponder the rationale and results of his country's foreign policy, a duty that so far seems beyond every US songwriter except Steve Earle. But that would entail something more onerous than mere outrage. Keith's response is just more tiresome flannel about "old glory", and how there's gonna be hell to pay, and so on.
The only saving grace is that Keith's career will be forever marked (and hopefully concluded) by this appalling song, which so overshadows the rest of what is a drab-to-average big-hat country-rock album that it's a wonder they even bothered recording the other tracks. But since they did, shame, too, on Willie Nelson for duetting on Keith's "Beer For My Horses", a song of equivalent intemperance regarding criminals ("It's time the long arm of the law put a few more in the ground"), which finds him hankering fondly after his grandpappy's lynch-mob ways. What a lovely bloke, eh?
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies