Rockin' in the Free World (4:40)

Cover of Greatest Hits

From Greatest Hits and 33 other releases

The song was first performed live on February 21, 1989 in Seattle with Young’s band The Restless.

The book Shakey by Jimmy McDonough claims the song originated when Young was on tour in the late 1980s. He and Frank “Poncho” Sampedro saw newspaper photos of the Ayatollah Khomeini’s body being carried to his grave as mourners were burning American flags in the street. Sampedro commented, “Whatever we do, we shouldn’t go near the Mideast. It’s probably better we just keep on rockin’ in the free world.” Young asked if Sampedro intended to use this idea as the basis of a song and when Sampedro said no, Young said that he would do so instead. However Khomeini’s death occurred months after the first live performance of the song.

The lyrics criticize the George H. W. Bush administration and the social problems of contemporary American life, directly referencing Bush’s famous “thousand points of light” remark from his 1989 inaugural address.

An edited version of the song accompanies the end credits of Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11; the phrase “That’s one more kid that’ll never go to school / Never get to fall in love, never get to be cool,” which originally referenced the second verse’s abandoned child, now appears to reference a US soldier killed in Iraq.

The song is rated number 214 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time


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Theres colors on the street, red, white and blue
People shufflin' their feet, people sleepin' in their shoes
There's a warnin' sign on the road ahead
There's a lot of people sayin' we'd be better off dead

MetroLyrics Full lyrics at MetroLyrics


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