I once heard someone say there are three kinds of songs: Ballads, Dancers and Anthems. This one is definitely an anthem.
“American Kids,” written by Rodney Clawson, Shane McAnally and Luke Laird, is a celebration of being a kid in a small town – and by the end – any town. The song does this by focusing on the items and imagery we all relate to in a rapid-fire barrage of iconography.
Granted, the video looks like Kenny Chesney ran headlong into a group on a road trip somewhere between 1960’s Haight Ashbury and Burning Man – but hey – they’re American Kids!
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And – the neat thing is the video really does focus on tight imagery, like the song, which uses as much concrete imagery as possible. Notice how the words have texture and emotional ties that connect with a wide group’s memory of growing up. It’s not just a list, it’s a list you can smell, touch and relate to as a listener.
What Makes It Work? No Real Story Line!
The other interesting thing is – there’s no real story. Lyrically, it’s like traveling through someone’s scrapbook or photo album.
Often when you get critiques back for country songs the first thing it says is – “the story needs to be . . .”. And while in many cases there should be a linear story line, this song proves – the song should be what the song wants to be. If it’s an anthem, then yell it from the roof tops! Which doesn’t always require a story!
Verse 1: Mom and Dad landed here, and two snapshots from childhood.
Verse 2: Messing around in a church parking lot, lying to friends and loving that your sibling got in trouble.
All standard stuff for kids, and pretty relatable for most across the country – chorus lines “from New York to LA” emphasize the inclusiveness.
This is a great song to learn some pretty cool tricks from, and help you create awesome songs.
According to Shane McAnally the song came about this way (Rolling Stone, February 19, 2015):
“”None of us had a hook or anything to go on. We sat there for two hours listening to grooves and I came across a page of titles way down in my notes and I started reading them off all together: ‘Trailer Park, Truck Stop, Map Dots.’ The guys had similar things and we all started digging through our notes for titles that went with that and that is why it feels like snapshots, because there wasn’t a linear idea. It was more about feeling like you were watching a slide show.”
McAnally, Laird & Clawson’s “American Kids”
This song is driven by the images being used throughout, and relies on them to engage the listener. The song’s main idea is presented as a final statement in the last line of the chorus: “A little messed up, but we’re all alright!”
Notice how the chorus uses four lines to get you to the statement, and it uses contrast in the music to give you a heads up that something’s about to come your way. Neat device.
“American Kids” Song Analysis Worksheet Now!
Those four lines summarize the common things all “American Kids” did – then says, but it’s OK – and so – we’re all OK. In just four lines!
It’s important to note that it’s first person and “we” in the last line of the chorus. It’s hard to have a sing-along chorus if people don’t feel included!
What Else Makes It Work? Rhyme Artistry . . . Yes – Artistry!
I love the rhyme craft here! This is a lesson in how to make close rhyme work to (1) kick butt as a rhymer, and (2) initiate and maintain pace in a song.
I’m a big Shane McAnally fan – his song craft is chops are pretty spectacular, and any song he co-writes on tends to have very strong rhyme patterns.
I have no idea if he’s the driver or the best back-seat-rhymer in the world, but it’s pretty consistent:
Shane McAnally = Strong, clever rhymes and rhyme schemes
Note how the internal rhyme allows this song to zip!
It’s core to the momentum through the song – keeps it moving to the next line.
And, it uses no less than 16 different rhymes. The lack of perfect rhyme also helps maintain the song’s pace.
Perfect rhyme would cause two lines to be tied together – stopped because of the sound connection. This rhyme pattern avoids that problem.
In the lyrics below I’ve highlighted internal rhyme (yellow) and the end rhymes (blue) to give you a sense of just how many there are, and what the ends of the lines look like.
A good trick to see if your rhymes are too predictable/common, is to look at only your end rhymes down the whole lyric. If they’re too perfect – change them up!
“American Kids” Lyrics
Doublewide, Quick Stop , midnight, T- top ,
Jack in her Cherry Coke town .
Momma and Daddy put their roots right here
‘Cause this is where the car broke down .
Yellow dog school bus kickin’ up red dust
Pickin’ us up by a barbed wire fence .
MTV on the RCA, no A/C in the vents .
We were: Jesus save me , blue jean baby – Born in the USA .
Trailer park truck stop, faded little map dots – New York to LA .
We were teenage dreamin’ , front seat leanin’ – Baby, come give me a kiss
Put me on the cover of the Rolling Stone – Uptown down home American kids .
Growin’ up in little pink houses ,
Makin’ out on living room couches ,
Blowin’ that smoke on Saturday night ,
A little messed up, but we’re all alright !
Baptist church parkin’ lot , tryin’ not to get caught ,
Take her home and give her your jacket .
Makin’ it to second base , but sayin’ you went all the way
Monday afternoon at practice .
Sister’s got a boyfriend daddy doesn’t like
Now he’s sittin’ out back , 3030 in his lap
In the blue bug zapper light .
We were Jesus save me, blue jean baby – Born in the USA.
Trailer park truck stop, faded little map dots – New York to LA.
We were teenage dreamin’, front seat leanin’ – Baby, come give me a kiss
Put me on the cover of the Rolling Stone – Uptown down home American kids.
Growin’ up in little pink houses,
Makin’ out on living room couches,
Blowin’ that smoke on Saturday night,
A little messed up, but we’re all alright!
Songwriters: Rodney Clawson, Shane McAnally and Luke Laird
More About “American Kids”
Read More: Full Rolling Stone Article