Songs of America

Patriotism, Protest, and the Music That Made a Nation
Narrated by: Jon Meacham, Tim McGraw
Length: 7 hrs and 40 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (246 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLER • 

A celebration of American history through the music that helped to shape a nation, by Pulitzer Prize winner Jon Meacham and music superstar Tim McGraw

“Jon Meacham and Tim McGraw form an irresistible duo - connecting us to music as an unsung force in our nation's history.” (Doris Kearns Goodwin)

Through all the years of strife and triumph, America has been shaped not just by our elected leaders and our formal politics but also by our music - by the lyrics, performers, and instrumentals that have helped to carry us through the dark days and to celebrate the bright ones.

From “The Star-Spangled Banner” to “Born in the USA”, Jon Meacham and Tim McGraw take listeners on a moving and insightful journey through eras in American history and the songs and performers that inspired us. Meacham chronicles our history, exploring the stories behind the songs, and Tim McGraw reflects on them as an artist and performer. Their perspectives combine to create a unique view of the role music has played in uniting and shaping a nation. 

Beginning with the battle hymns of the revolution, and taking us through songs from the defining events of the Civil War, the fight for women’s suffrage, the two world wars, the Great Depression, the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, and into the 21st century, Meacham and McGraw explore the songs that defined generations, and the cultural and political climates that produced them. Listeners will discover the power of music in the lives of figures such as Harriet Tubman, Franklin Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Martin Luther King, Jr., and will learn more about some of our most beloved musicians and performers, including Marian Anderson, Elvis Presley, Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, Duke Ellington, Carole King, Bruce Springsteen, and more.

Songs of America explores both famous songs and lesser-known ones, expanding our understanding of the scope of American music and lending deeper meaning to the historical context of such songs as “My Country, ’Tis of Thee”, “God Bless America”, “Over There”, “We Shall Overcome”, and “Blowin’ in the Wind”. As Quincy Jones says, Meacham and McGraw have “convened a concert in Songs of America”, one that reminds us of who we are, where we’ve been, and what we, at our best, can be. 

©2019 Jon Meacham and Tim McGraw (P)2019 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

“From hymns that swelled the hearts of revolutionaries to the spirituals that stirred citizens to spill blood for a more perfect Union and the blues- and country-infused beats that aroused change in the 1960s, Jon Meacham and Tim McGraw form an irresistible duo - connecting us to music as an unsung force in our nation's history. Songs of America is not just a cultural journey - it strikes our deepest chords as Americans: patriotism, protest, possibility, creativity, and, at the root of it all, freedom of expression enshrined in our founding document.” (Doris Kearns Goodwin)

“The civil rights movement couldn’t have happened without its music, and Jon Meacham and Tim McGraw have written a wonderful and moving account of how the sounds of America helped lead us toward what Dr. King called ‘the Beloved Community’. This book brings it all back for me - the struggles and the triumphs, the tough days and the transcendent ones.” (John Lewis) 

 “From the songs of the enslaved to the sounds of the civil rights movement, from ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ to Springsteen's ‘The Rising’ after 9/11, Jon Meacham and Tim McGraw have convened a concert in Songs of America. It is a glorious celebration of our diversity - and of the strength that comes from the myriad voices of all races that make us who we are." (Quincy Jones) 

What listeners say about Songs of America

Average Customer Ratings
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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Great Book & Storytelling, Wish Songs Were Sung

I love this audiobook and the narration by Meacham and McGraw. The story and purpose is important and I appreciate the work they have done. Meacham is a true storyteller that really draws you in. My only complaint is that the songs are read by Tim McGraw, where my expectation would have been that they were sung in the audiobook version. In the sample, McGraw sings but that is not carried out throughout the book.

I was lucky enough to attend the book tour and Tim McGraw performed renditions of some of the songs and from that experience, it would have been really great to mimic that experience with the audiobook.

That being said, I still thoroughly enjoyed the book and would recommend it.

25 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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SO TIMELY TO HELP HEAL OUR COUNTRY.

This was a heart felt journey through America's historical challenges. Hopefully today's artists can cross the divide and help us heal.

10 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Audible Needs a Better Presentation

Meacham and McGraw present an historical review of the musical and political synchronicity that gives voice to our national experience. Highly recommended in this polarizing time of problematic communication. A novel method for reviewing our shared experience in the USA. The only improvement would be to play the musical examples, have Tim McGraw sing some, and to provide a "soundtrack" listing the songs played.

8 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Well done!

This is a well-done work of historical significance. It feels a little incomplete or maybe I was enjoying it so much that i didn't want it to end so soon. Of course there are songs that popped into my head instantly when it was over that I believe were just as significant as these in modern times, but I totally agree with the songs these gentlemen chose, very well done. Jon Meacham is a brilliant writer and narrator. Eventhough, I may not always agree with him politically, he leaves room for my opinion and seems to even respect it. Tim McGraw lends his talent and opinion in a whole different way, from an artist and fan's point of view. Once again you may not always agree with his opinion but he gives it in such a respectful manner that you understand from where he's coming because he even bares his soul about growing up in the deep South. The songs that you grow-up admiring or even still move you, the ones I call the wallpaper of your childhood, are great but only if you put their meanings in perspective. If you have a few hours that you want to spend learning a slice of not just music history but history in general, this is a good listen. That's my two cents worth.

5 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Huge missed opportunity

This is a frustrating audio book where the main character, music, is lauded but not allowed to appear.
As the narrator is describing the power of song beyond simply the lyrics, he delivers just the lyrics. A very talented singer-song writer is included in the narration to read the lyrics but does not sing. It felt as if music had been handcuffed and held hostage by the dominance of the written word. Seems nonsensical in an audio book, to not take advantage of the medium to deliver a complete performance. Let the listener hear the songs as you take us through the history!

Although the stories are very important, the entire listening experience felt sadly empty. This is the perfect opportunity to weave together song and voice, history and the culture of music. It could be much like a stage performance, for which this material would be amazing.

3 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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No music in this music book

This came out in June in time for the summer patriotism season. I was optimistic and decided to listen to the book under the assumption they might play some of these songs. They don’t. I also was under the assumption that Meacham and McGraw would make good narrators. Meh. It’s an interesting book, but the narration adds nothing and there is essentially no music. Rather than play the songs, McGraw’s primary role is to read the lyrics of the songs. Let me repeat/rephrase that: much of the book is McGraw reading poetry. I’ll assert poetry interpretation is not McGraw’s strength. Meacham is Meacham and ranges from interesting to not. One final comment on the audible version, it is poorly produced. Each time they change narrators the first word or two of the narration is lost. This is unfortunate. Now, let’s talk about the content: I did not find the first 100 years interesting at all. Some might, but they basically talked about songs I’d never heard before and I thought the history from that early era was rather pedestrian. From the Civil War until WW II, I thought the book was credible. From the civil rights movement to the present, I thought it was pretty good, providing some interesting perspectives on how the songs emerged from and influenced existing culture. I will also note that the book overemphasizes war. I tend to think American history is more than a story of war, but I will also admit that a book on patriotism and protest reasonably would focus on our many wars. In summary, a disappointing book to listen to, but a good portion of the book is interesting.

3 people found this helpful

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  • JR
  • 07-30-19

Opportunity missed

As usual, I appreciated Jon Meacham's perspective of American history. Looking at the songs of America in the journey through history is informing and inspiring. Jon Meacham and Tim McGraw did it well. However, I had hoped that with the Audible version, there would be songs heard, not just talked about or the lyrics quoted. This is the opportunity missed. What a wonderful work this would have been had the music been included!

2 people found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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Major Disappointment

I heard a lot about this and was looking forward to hearing all these great songs, whether sung by the artist who made them famous or by Tim McGraw. this is Audible, right. as in what you hear, right? but none of either. I appreciate the book but thought the Audible version should have been a special treat. not. fine story but a waste on Audible where it could have been outstanding. maybe cut another version the right way.

2 people found this helpful

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Psalms Of America

Don't be misled by the title and co-reader Tim McGraw the country music star, This is not "Hamilton".
Jon Meacham is a great teller of stories and that is what history consist of bygone stories.
It's almost impossible to view history with an unbiased comparison to current events but Mr.Meacham
does his best.
I'm not sure of Mr.Mcgraw presence although from television interviews they fans of each other
and it does give the book star power,so it's a good thing to have a more famous name on a book.
Full disclosure: I've listened to only 1 hour or 1/7 of the book so it's possible McGraw makes his
musical appearance later in the book still Mr. Meacham would have benefited with a piccolo
and drum in the background.
But the most important part of a book is a good read or in Audible case a good listen and
this is an excellent story from a great teller of stories.
P.S. The reason for my headline is that Psalms were originally songs but
the arrangements have been lost so I don't know how they sounded
when played or sang. This is MY problem with the TITLE of the book,
not the book itself.

2 people found this helpful

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Really? No singing? Epic fail.

This is an insightful and comprehensive review of the songs of America and is successful as a book. As an audiobook, it fails dramatically. In this book about the songs of America, the authors emphasize how important melody and rhythm are in creating the spirit of the songs that changed our nation. However they completely ignore this and present the "songs" as poetry throughout. In only two instances are any of the songs sung at all and in both they are extremely abbreviated snippets. Really? They had Tim McGraw in the studio, recording, and he didn't sing anything. We know he can sing so why not sing the songs. As an audiobook, this is a grand failure.

4 people found this helpful