Indeed, the tragic event changed just about everything in the country, including the kind of music we wanted to listen to. As the nation struggled to understand the disaster that day, we searched for songs to bring healing, unity, and comfort – and “Only in America” is just the perfect song.
With an opening line of “Sun comin’ up over New York City,” the song quickly became the city and the United States’ unofficial anthem of healing.
“It just fell in place. It was working its way into the top 10 when September 11 occurred. It just breathed a whole different life and new meaning into what it was saying. It was so unbelievably relevant to what was going on or what had happened,” Dunn said. “The reaction afterward from the crowds was very emotional. Stunning. Overpowering.”
Released as the second single from the album Steers & Stripes, “Only in America” became the duo’s second of three consecutive No. 1 hits from that album. It reached its peak on the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks just a month after becoming more vital to the nation.
When The Song Became The City’s Anthem of Healing
Written by Kix Brooks with songwriters Don Cook and Ronnie Rogers, “Only in America” tells the tale of working-class Americans: a bus driver, a welder, and a banker’s daughter – all of whom are living the so-called “American dream” in their own way.
“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 goes.
In 2017, Brooks talked about the song’s birth and evolution in an interview with journalist Dan Rather on The Big Interview.
“That was a song that caught a really strange place in time. I wrote that with a couple friends of mine, Ronnie Rogers and Don Cook,” he explained. “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.”
Brooks then spent the whole night in his hotel room finishing the half-done “Only in America.” When he played it to Dunn, the other half of the duo immediately liked it and thought it was cool, “better than anything I got.”
The song would go on to be a valuable part of presidential campaign events on both sides of the aisle for several years after it was released. George W. Bush often played it 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.”
John Kerry also had it played during the 2004 Democratic National Convention while Obama played it in 2008 when he announced Joe Biden as his vice president in Springfield, Illinois, among others.
Tune in and watch one of Brooks & Dunn’s best performances of “Only in America” in the video below.
Brooks & Dunn