Among the songs that achieved legendary status for being anthems of protest, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son” is right at the top. Written at a time when Americans were being conscripted to the Vietnam War, this song was an in-your-face political commentary on reality. That is if you’re rich and powerful enough you could get away from pretty much everything.
“Fortunate Son” was recorded in 1969 – at the height of US involvement in Vietnam – and released as a single from the CCR album ‘Willy and the Poor Boys’. This track, like many of CCR’s greatest hits, was penned by the band’s songwriter John Fogerty. In a 1993 interview with Rolling Stone, he explained the inspiration for this momentous rock number that was at the heart of 1960s counterculture;
“It was written, of course, during the Nixon era, and well, let’s say I was very non-supportive of Mr. Nixon. There just seemed to be this trickle down to the offspring of people like him. I remember you would hear about Tricia Nixon and David Eisenhower… You got the impression that these people got preferential treatment, and the whole idea of being born wealthy or being born powerful seemed to really be coming to the fore in the late-Sixties confrontation of cultures.”
His frustration is definitely justified; Fogerty alongside CCR drummer Doug Clifford were both drafted. They were among many other 18-year-olds who would be shipped out to fight a war not of their own making, while the rich were avoiding it through draft deferment. It is that sense of helplessness and anger in the face of a government that did not just care, that gave birth to “Fortunate Son” – which was more of a political statement than entertainment.
Leaving aside the sheer impact it had on a society that was crying out against injustice, “Fortunate Son” was also a commercial hit. The track is featured on Rolling Stone’s The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. It was certified 3x Multi-Platinum by RIAA in December 2020 and Platinum by BPI in March 2021 attesting to continuous success. The track also secured the #3 spot on Billboard Hot 100 and #20 on Billboard Hot Rock & Alternative Songs. In 2013, “Fortunate Son” was also awarded the high honor of being entered into the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress.
Over 50 years have gone by since “Fortunate Son” was released. But it remains relevant even in this day and age.
Listen to “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival
Creedence Clearwater Revival “Fortunate Son” Lyrics Review and Song Meaning
“Fortunate Son” follows a pretty clear-cut structure; three verses broken by a refrain. The fast pace of the song is complemented by the lyrics, where anger is given musical expression. Fogerty once mentioned that he thought of “Fortunate Son” as a confrontation between him and President Nixon and this song definitely spits out facts as one would in an argument.
“Some folks are born made to wave the flag
Ooh, they’re red, white and blue”
The song starts off with a nod toward the patriotism that America is famous for. The colors of the American flag, the red, white, and blue, were symbolic of the undying patriotism and loyalty of the American people. Yet it is easy to misuse this patriotism and that was definitely becoming a concern when this song was written. While the morale of the troops was high at the time, CCR and young men of Fogerty’s generation saw trouble brewing. As they viewed it, the common man was left footing the bill for the wars fought by the rich. And when they rise up in protest against this injustice, the State itself would turn against you. The poor man was always the first to sacrifice and became a victim while the rich got away scot-free. This fact has remained true over the years. American people have gone through state suppression many times, where the state “point the cannon at you” for daring to speak up and oppose authority. It is pretty clear that “Fortunate Son” is a stab at authorities that leaves the common man with no choice.
“It ain’t me, it ain’t me
I ain’t no senator’s son, son”
“Fortunate Son” is an embodiment of class consciousness. And nothing makes it more obvious than the repeated refrains of this track. At the end of each verse, Fogerty claims that he – like many others – is not of the privileged class. They were not born as sons (or grandsons) of senators, millionaires, or even military men. These were simple men, trying to make a living in hard times. They stood miles apart from men like David Eisenhower, grandson to a former President, son to an Army officer, and dating the current President’s daughter. So Forgety lashes out in anger at men like Eisenhower, who through their affluence got away from fighting at the front lines through preferential treatment. Fogerty does this through simple but effective lines; “I ain’t no fortunate one”.
A powerful statement voicing the anger and frustration of the common man.
“Some folks are born silver spoon in hand
Lord, don’t they help themselves, no”
Fogerty continues to call out the young rich kids and draws a clear line between them and the common man. These are the folks with money and power, but they still cheat the system. Again, Fogerty brings to the forefront another persistent issue. Where the rich find ways to evade tax, it is the common man that bears the burden. He expresses his disappointment at a state that seems to favor the rich over the poor. It is the rich that end up enjoying the fruits of poor man’s labor, beginning with the taxes and ending with war.
Fogerty, if he ever confronted Nixon, wanted to say out loud that they recognize the injustice that is forced upon the common man. His political stance is made evident; the millionaires and the trust fund babies are the true “fortunate” in America, the bloated top trodding down on the less fortunate at the bottom.
“Yeah, some folks inherit star-spangled eyes
Ooh, they send you down to war”
This verse features one of the best-written lines of Fogerty. “Star-spangled” is probably a phrase that seems impossible to incorporate into a song. Yet Fogerty did it with a flair! He chose these lines to describe those who idealize war and the glory it brings. However, what these men fail to understand is that it is easy to call the shots while you’re unaware of the reality. It is the common man that goes out to the trenches and fights the battles of the rich.
“Fortunate Son” resonated with the counterculture movement at the time because Fogerty does not dishonor the troops, but rather criticizes those who sent them to war. He accuses their greed; of never being satisfied and sacrificing the lives of the masses to achieve their selfish goals.
It is only at the outro of the song that we hear the title of the song “fortunate son”. This phrase certainly sums up those rich young kids that lived in the lap of luxury while the poor man suffered. It was indeed their fortune – being born rich – that allowed them to be so oblivious to the plight of the poor. No wonder Fogerty was incensed at the audacity of the rich while he himself and any others like him had no choice but to obey the law. And so “Fortunate Son” fades out with Fogerty singing passionately that “It ain’t me”.
The song has re-emerged over and over again, as one that protests the authoritarianism, capitalism, and the military involvement of America. In fact, the relevance of “Fortunate Son” was refreshed when a controversy arose as President Trump chose the song to be featured in one of his campaign rallies. Fogerty himself was utterly confused by this choice, as he believed Trump represented everything the song stood against. Set to some of the best rock tunes played by CCR, “Fortunate Son” left a mark in the music scene – not just for its raging tune but also for its content that would probably be relevant in no matter what era it is being played.
Let us hear what you think about the song in the comments below. Check out the complete lyrics on Genius.