You know your National Anthem… But do you know your Male Anthem? Andrew Smiler labored over readers’ suggestions, and finally narrowed it down to 10. Did your favorite make it into the top 10?
Three weeks ago, I asked readers to suggest songs that would make a good male anthem. The (mostly) complete list consisted of more than 50 songs; a few more were made in comments after the initial list was compiled, and I’m almost certain that I missed some suggestions left in Facebook comments or in Twitter replies. I’m sorry about the omissions.
Musically and lyrically, the suggestions were all over the board, ranging from blues to country to rock. Some were fast and up tempo, while others were much slower. Lyrical content ranged from fairly simple to complete and lengthy story songs.
My decisions were based on two criteria. The first is about the purpose of an anthem. According to Wikipedia, an anthem is “a song of celebration, usually acting as a symbol for a distinct group of people.” When I offered Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” and Shania Twain’s “Man! I Feel Like a Woman” as examples, that’s where I was coming from. And let me say that some of the songs celebrate both the good and the bad, including the struggle and the pain; they’re not entirely happy.
The second criteria was …popularity. Well, not exactly. It was more about getting a “yes” to the question “do most guys know this song.” Working from Wikipedia’s definition, this is about that symbolic function; people have to recognize a symbol for it to be meaningful.
I’ll admit that my list is certainly influenced by my taste. I’m also pleased that Mark Ellis’ list contains several of the same songs.
There’s one lyrical theme that links many of my choices: songs about responding to challenge and overcoming difficulties. Call it perseverance, guts, or fortitude if you want. I can’t tell you if that actively guided my decision making or if that’s just part of how I think about masculinity. The idea that a guy has to prove his masculinity gets discussed often enough here at GMP. As I look at those songs, none of them really specify what the challenge is, just that there is something that needs to be overcome. And maybe that’s what all this “good men” stuff is really about: struggling to overcome. That could be overcoming the day-to-day stuff, overcoming prior abuse, overcoming “programming” that says men should act only in certain ways, or something else.
Enough about me. Let’s get to the music.
Honorable Mentions: Stray Cat Strut (The Stray Cats), It’s My Life (Bon Jovi), A Boy Named Sue (Johnny Cash), Fight for Your Right to Party (Beastie Boys), and The Gambler (Kenny Rogers)
10. U Will Know by Black Men United. Letting go of childhood’s dreams and working through the pain, there’s plenty of resilience and inspiration here. And a good funky bass line to boot.
9. My Way by Frank Sinatra. Perseverance, resilience, failure, and success: all on theme. One of Ol’ Blue Eyes signature tunes, and probably some of the best known lyrics on the planet.
8. YMCA by The Village People. The lyrics explicitly talk about the importance of getting help, especially from other men. Of all the songs suggested, it’s also probably the best one for dancing.
And yeah, I get it that some people think this song is really about gay men talking about getting laid. I suspect having a gay lead singer doesn’t influence your interpretation of the songs in the #3 and #1 spots.
7. Free Bird by Lynyrd Skynyrd. As J P McMahon said when he suggested the song, “The lyrics are about being an asshole, but completely taking responsibility for it. And ultimately, it is about being, and doing, anything you want.” Things just wouldn’t be the same without it.
6. Man In Black by Johnny Cash. Another signature tune, and the most complex lyrics in my top 10. The song recognizes and reminds us of a myriad of cultural problems, and tells us that we must remember those who are suffering.
5 Mannish Boy/I’m a Man by Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters, and many others. The lyrics and sound are very similar for these two titles, so I’m including them as one. It’s a declaration of the entry into manhood and adulthood, with some self-aggrandisement. Unlike many such songs, the singer’s greatness doesn’t diminish anyone else.
4. Eye of the Tiger by Survivor. Yes, it’s a Rocky song. And yes, it’s another song about struggling to overcome the odds. If this doesn’t get you ready for the fight, what will?
3. You’ve Got Another Thing Coming by Judas Priest. Don’t give up, and don’t underestimate anyone. Go kick some ass.
2. The Boys are Back in Town by Thin Lizzie. It’s happy, celebratory, and gets you ready for some testosterone fueled mayhem.
1. We Are the Champions by Queen. On theme, lyrically and musically. As Freddie said: I consider it a challenge before the whole human race and I ain’t gonna lose.
Image of a musical superhero courtesy of Shutterstock