In 1974, Johnny Cash revealed his admiration for the American flag in his single “Ragged Old Flag,” which eventually became one of his career’s most meaningful songs. It was released as the only single off Cash’s album of the same name.
During live performances, Cash would usually introduce the song with the following:
“Of all the places we’ve been overseas, it don’t matter where, when we come back to this country, we love it a whole lot more than when we left and went somewhere else. I thank God for all the freedoms we’ve got in this country. I cherish them and treasure them – even the right to burn the flag. We also got the right to bear arms, and if you burn my flag – I’ll shoot you.”
Once he is done with his introduction, Cash would begin reciting “Ragged Old Flag” without missing a beat. His performance bled red, white, and blue, with great passion in his voice.
However, despite the song’s popularity, it wasn’t a major hit for Cash, and its success was short-lived. The patriotic tune only reached No. 31 on country music charts. Still, it is a frequently-played song around the Fourth of July and other holidays.
Johnny Cash Aims To Revive Patriotism In The Country
Written by Johnny Cash himself, “Ragged Old Flag” tells the tale of an old man in a town square who described what the flag and country have been through together over the years – from crossing Delaware with Washington, to being burned by protesters.
“So we raise her up every morning. We take her down every night. We don’t let her touch the ground, and we fold her upright. On second thought, I do like to brag. ‘Cause I’m mighty proud of that ragged old flag,” the song goes, which he recorded as a spoken word piece. So Cash would speak the lyrics more often than he sang them.
Johnny Cash was inspired to write the song to revive patriotism in the country following the political turbulence resulting in then-President Richard Nixon’s impeachment and the Watergate scandal.
Years Later, The Song Still Maintains Its Power
In 2017, the song served as the backdrop to a patriotic tribute that aired before the Super Bowl in Houston, Texas. The video was introduced by singer Harry Belafonte and U.S. Olympic gymnast Simone Biles.
“Our forefathers got it right 240 years ago. Equality, freedom, they belong to us all. And in case we falter in our ways, they wrote it down for us to always remember and cherish. We, as Americans, have a duty to uphold and protect those rights. That is what unifies us. And the symbol of our unity has 50 stars and 13 stripes,” Biles said.
Belafonte then went on to introduce a video soundtrack by Cash’s “Ragged Old Flag.”
“In 1974, the great American artist Johnny Cash wrote of a ragged old flag. Ragged, old from the conflict, the suffering that came from our fight for freedom. Pride in our flag, freedom’s symbol, should now inspire us to keep striving to become a more perfect union,” Belafonte said.
In a behind-the-scenes look at the tribute, Fox Sports Coordinating Producer Jennifer Pranksy explained that the sports channel would like to “use that platform to actually promote the things that matter to us. And, for us, that’s really our country and America.”
Indeed, Johnny Cash’s “Ragged Old Flag” is a work of art that is truly touching to watch. You can enjoy it in the clip below.