What Toby Keith Taught Us About the Songs We Need

Angry Christians require angry songs—or better yet, angry psalms.

This piece was adapted from Russell Moore’s newsletter. Subscribe here.

He should’ve been a cowboy. He should’ve learned to rope and ride. But he didn’t. Toby Keith learned instead how to sing and to write and to perform.

He was so good at it that when he sang “How Do You Like Me Now?!” (about how an old girlfriend who never thought he would make it gets to hear him every morning on the radio), one couldn’t help but feel there might be a real story behind it. After decades of playing on country stations around the nation, Keith died this week of cancer. Lots could be said about his life and craft, but what strikes me is that he just might remind us of why we need the Psalms.

When people think of Toby Keith—especially those who don’t actually listen to his kind of music—they typically think of one song: “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American),” which went to the top of the charts after the jihadist terrorist attacks on the US on September 11, 2001. Keith sang:

Now this nation that I love has fallen under attack
A mighty sucker punch came flyin’ in from somewhere in the back
Soon as we could see clearly through our big black eye
Man, we lit up your world like the Fourth of July.

The song builds in defiance:

Hey, Uncle Sam, put your name at the top of his list
And the Statue of Liberty started shakin’ her fist
And the eagle will fly, man, it’s gonna be hell
When you hear Mother Freedom start ringin’ her bell
And it feels like the whole wide world is raining down on you
Oh, brought to you courtesy of the Red, White and Blue.

I was embarrassed by how much I loved that song. After all, though I was as hawkish …

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