Forty-seven years ago, country music legend Johnny Cash released “Ragged Old Flag” as a moving political statement.
As a pioneer of the outlaw country genre, Johnny Cash was never afraid to voice his opinion, especially through music. In 1964, Cash released the song “Battle of Ira Hayes.” The song is about a real-life man, Ira Hayes who was a Pima Native American and one of the Marines in the famous photo from Iwo Jima. He was one of six men to return from that battle. However, after his heroic deeds during World War II, Hayes faced discrimination back in the US. In 1971, Johnny Cash released the anti-Vietnam War song, “What Is Truth?” Cash wrote the song in support of young people who questioned authority and who chose to go against societal norms.
Furthermore, in 1974, Johnny Cash released the album, “Ragged Old Flag.” The title track was a tribute to the American flag. During the song, Cash sings, “She waved from our ships upon the briny foam. And now they’ve about quit waving her back here at home. In her own good land here she’s been abused. She’s been burned, dishonored, denied, and refused. And the government for which she stands is scandalized throughout the land. And she’s getting threadbare and wearing thin. But she’s in good shape for the shape she’s in.”
The song spent a week on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart and peaked in the number 17 spot.
What’s the Story Behind Johnny Cash’s ‘Ragged Old Flag’
1974 was one of the most significant years in American history and politics. The country was on edge waiting for updates on the Watergate scandal. Johnny Cash, no stranger to making political statements, wrote “Ragged Old Flag” after President Richard Nixon’s resignation. The song is about the essence of American values surviving and thriving despite enduring years of war, government corruption, and other events. Cash showed that he believed that America could get through anything with the line, “And I believe she can take a whole lot more. So, we raise her up every morning. We take her down every night. We don’t let her touch the ground and we fold her up right. On second thought, I do like to brag, because I’m mighty proud of that ragged old flag.”
The song quickly became a fan favorite and Johnny Cash performed it frequently during his shows. Additionally, he often introduced the song by saying, “I thank God for all the freedom we have in this country. I cherish them and treasure them – even the right to burn the flag. We also got the right to bear arms, and if you burn my flag- I’ll shoot you.”