Brooks & Dunn’s ‘Only in America’: Story Behind the Patriotic Song Released Shortly Before 9/11

by Emily Morgan
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When Brooks & Dunn released “Only in America” just a few months before the 9/11 terrorists’ attacks, little did they know Americans would cling to the patriotic song to help mend their broken hearts. 

The loss suffered by millions of Americans was undeniable, yet the song, in a way, acted as a way type of remedy for people everywhere. As the nation struggled to find answers surrounding the tragedy, people found comfort and healing in songs to bring healing, and “Only in America” became the refuge many were hoping to find. 

Along with writers Don Cook and Ronnie Rogers, Kix Brooks wrote “Only in America,” with no idea that the song would be a necessary antidote in many Americans’ grief. 

With its opening line of “Sun comin’ up over New York City,” it quickly became a hymn of healing in the aftermath of the attack. 

Kix Brooks on Crafting The Patriotic Track

During an interview with Dan Rather on The Big Interview in 2017, Brooks discussed the anthem’s origin and evolution. 

“That was a song that caught a really strange place in time, Brooks said. ” I wrote that with a couple friends of mine, Ronnie Rogers and Don Cook … We’d been four-wheelin’ in the woods one day and got all caught up in our patriotism, grown men getting’ really sappy about how fortunate we are to have been born in America and to make songs rhyme and live the life that we live … I said, ‘We gotta write this, boys.’ And we got it probably at least half done or so.”

The country duo released the song as the second single from the album Steers & Stripes and became their second of three consecutive No. 1 hits from the same album. It also reached its peak on the “Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks” one a month after 9/11. 

“Well, you know, the songwriter in me, I’ve got this ‘Only in America’ thing half-done, so I spent all night in my hotel room. I finished the song, and we’re about to go onstage and I pulled Ronnie over before we went on, I go, ‘Hey, I gotta play you this song man.’ And I played it and he goes, ‘That’s cool, better than anything I got.’ And I go, ‘You wanna cut it tomorrow, you wanna sing it?’ And he goes, ‘Yeah, I like it.’ So we cut those two songs.”

In the song, listeners hear the stories of a bus driver, a welder, and a banker’s daughter, all of whom live their own versions of the so-called “American dream.”

Kix Brooks On ‘Only in America’ Post 9/11: ‘Our True Patriotic Hearts Started Pounding’

“Because of the patriotic nature of ‘Only in America’ we called the album Steers and Stripes. And then it starts goin’ up the charts. It was about somewhere in the Top 10 … when 9/11 happened. And our country woke up to a morning that we had never seen before. And our true patriotic hearts started pounding. To see our country just rally in a way where people are just huggin’ policemen, and anyone in the service is all of a sudden is respected for what they were and their commitment to our country. And that song all of a sudden took on a life of its own.”

“Only in America, dreamin’ in red, white, and blue
Only in America, where we dream as big as we want to
We all get a chance
Everybody gets to dance
Only in America”

The song would also go on to be a rallying cry for presidential candidates in elections years later. George W. Bush was known for laying the tune during his re-election campaign in 2004. “We played that song at George W’s inauguration,” Brooks said, “which is a whole story unto itself.”

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