Track of the Day: 'Power and the Glory'

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Our latest song of complicated patriotism—a ‘60s protest song from Phil Ochs, “one of the harshest critics of the American military and industrial establishment”—was recommend by this reader:

Thanks for doing this series. When I was young, I was kind of the “patriotic” type, at first just because I liked fireworks on the Fourth of July and thought history and war were cool. When I was maybe 11 or 12, I remember my dad playing “Power and the Glory” by Phil Ochs and telling me while tearing up (very unusually for him) that “This is what real patriotism is.”

Ever since then, that’s what my understanding of patriotism has become. Countries, after all, aren’t anything more than all of their people together, and the point of this song is that we have responsibilities to each other. Put another way, the only way to make America glorious (or great) is to build each other up, help your community, and so forth. Otherwise, you’re just dealing with appearances and mythology. Like the landscape, those can look beautiful, but real glory is in people.

An interesting bit of trivia about the song:

A fourth verse, not added to the final production release, but confirmed to exist by Ochs’ sister Sonny contains a call to action:

Yet our land is still troubled by men who have to hate
They twist away our freedom and they twist away our fate
Fear is their weapon and treason is their cry.
We can stop them if we try.