"Ragged Old Flag": Johnny Cash's Tribute to Patriotism 1

Photo: Screen grabbed from Youtube

In the early 1970s, during the time the United States faced a political turbulence, the country legend Johnny Cash wrote the “Ragged Old Flag.” Considered a tribute to patriotism, this spoken song was the only single recorded on Cash’s 47th album. The album, which bears the same title as the single, was released in 1974, the same time the country was involved in the Watergate scandal. Unlike his many other releases, this record apparently addresses political as well as ethical issues.

Through the “Ragged Old Flag,” Cash asserted his faith in the country and his belief in the goodness of the American people. 

In this tribute, Cash narrates an account of an old man in a town square. The said elderly was describing what the flag and the country have endured together. The song has completely captured Cash’s appreciation for his homeland, his fellowmen, and the intricacies in the US. From the opening lines alone, one can already attest how powerful this tune is.

“I walked through a county courthouse square

On a park bench, an old man was sitting there.

I said, ‘Your old court house is kinda run down.’

He said, ‘Nah, it’ll do for our little town.’

I said, ‘Your old flag pole is leaned a little bit,

And that’s a ragged old flag you got hanging on it.’

He said, ‘Have a seat,’ and I sat down

‘Is this the first time you’ve been to our little town?’

I said, ‘I think it is.’

He said ‘I don’t like to brag,

But we’re kinda proud of that ragged old flag.'”

Critical Acclamation

The audience has divided views over the song. Many of the loyal followers of Cash showed favorable acceptance of it.  On the other hand, some expressed dislike toward the record. During live performances, the tune gains huge popularity. In spite of such, it seems that the song’s success wasn’t meant to thrive for a longer period of time. On the country chart, it peaked only at No. 31. After the September 11 attacks, the song became famous anew.

To show our support for patriotism, let’s watch Johnny Cash’s live performance of the “Ragged Old Flag” below.  This was recorded at the Billy Graham Crusade in Anaheim, California in 1985.

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