The Unabashed Meaning Behind Toby Keith’s Patriotic Hit “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue (The Angry American)”

For years, Toby Keith‘s father “begged” him to go out on USO Tours. “I was so busy,” said Keith. “We were doing 130 shows a year that I just didn’t have in my schedule.” On March 24, 2001, Keith’s father, Hubert K. Covel Jr., an Army veteran who fought in the Korean War, died in a fatal car accident at the age of 67. “Finally, he passed away in March [of 2001],” said Keith, “and then 9/11 happened. I was like, ‘Now I have to go honor him.'”

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“The Angry American”

Several months later, following 9/11, the chain of events prompted Keith to write one of his biggest hits, “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue,” the opening track on his 2002 album Unleashed.
Within 20 minutes Keith wrote the lyrics to the song on the back of a Fantasy Football sheet with the working title “The Angry American.”

“When I turned it in, they said, ‘Well, it really doesn’t say ‘angry American’ in there. Why don’t you call it ‘Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue?”” recalled Keith. “So, I did.”

A Polarizing Poll

An homage to Keith’s father, who lost an eye while serving in the Korean War and always flew the flag in their yard, “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue (The Angry American)” was also unapologetically patriotic.

Keith’s lyrics follow the American dream, freedom from the sacrifices of troops, and his idea of the prowess of America: And you’ll be sorry that you messed with The U.S. of A. / We’ll put a boot in your ass / It’s the American way.

American girls and American guys
We’ll always stand up and salute
We’ll always recognize
When we see Old Glory flying
There’s a lot of men dead
So we can sleep in peace at night when we lay down our head

My daddy served in the army
Where he lost his right eye but he flew a flag out in our yard
Until the day that he died
He wanted my mother, my brother, my sister and me
To grow up and live happy
In the land of the free

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

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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
Brought to you courtesy of the red white and blue

Justice will be served and the battle will rage
This big dog will fight when you rattle his cage
And you’ll be sorry that you messed with
The U.S. of A.
‘Cause we’ll put a boot in your ass
It’s the American way

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 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
Brought to you courtesy of the red white and blue

Along with “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue,” which went to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, Keith also earned two more chart-toppers from Unleashed with “Who’s Your Daddy” and “Beer for My Horses,” his duet with Willie Nelson, along with “Rock You Baby,” which peaked at No. 13.

Though “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue” topped the charts it was not without some controversy when some found the lyrics too “angry.” Keith even refused to appear on an ABC special after reporter Peter Jennings asked him to tone down the lyrics of “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue” or pick something else to perform.

The song also led Keith into a brief feud with The Chicks‘ singer Natalie Maines, who called the song “ignorant, and it makes country music sound ignorant.” He also shut down Maine’s criticisms of then-President George W. Bush and the Iraq War.

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“I knew it would be polarizing,” said Keith of the lyrics. “I knew it would be a lightning rod, and I prayed about but [at the] end of the day, it was a battle cry for our guys to go win and get back home safely and go do what Americans really do and that’s kick butt.”

Keith added, “This song was bigger than I could ever imagine and it was more polarizing than I could ever imagine, but I don’t care. It meant so much to so many people and it came from the heart. Godspeed.”

Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images for ACM

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