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"Rockin' in the Free World" is a song by Neil Young,[1] released on his 1989 album Freedom.[2] Two versions of the song were released, similar to the song "Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)" of Young's Rust Never Sleeps album, one of which is performed with a predominantly acoustic arrangement, and the other with a predominantly electric arrangement.


The song was first performed live on February 21, 1989 in Seattle with Young's band The Restless.[3]

In Jimmy McDonough's book Shakey, McDonough claims the song originated in one of Young's tours in the late 1980s. Young and Frank "Poncho" Sampedro purportedly saw newspaper photos of the Ayatollah Khomeini's body being carried to his grave as mourners were burning American flags in the street. Sampedro commented, "Whatever we do, we shouldn't go near the Mideast. It's probably better we just keep on rockin' in the free world." Young asked if Sampedro intended to use this idea as the basis of a song and when Sampedro said no, Young said that he would do so instead.[4] However Khomeini's death occurred months after the first live performance of the song.

The lyrics criticize the George H. W. Bush administration,[5] then in its first month, and the social problems of contemporary American life, while directly referencing Bush's famous "thousand points of light" remark from his 1989 inaugural address and his 1988 presidential campaign promise for America to become a "kinder, gentler nation." [3] Despite this, the song became the de facto anthem of the collapse of communism, because of its repeated chorus of 'Keep on rockin' in the free world'.Template:Fix

The song is rated number 216 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and is included on Young's Greatest Hits (2004) release.


  • German singer-songwriter Gerhard Gundermann, who lived in communist East Germany at the time Young released the song, recorded "Alle oder keiner" ("Everyone or no-one") a version of the song with new lyrics, on his 1991 album Einsame Spitze.
  • Progressive metal legends Queensrÿche performed an acoustic version of the song on 27 April 1992 in LA, part of the MTV Unplugged series.
  • Finnish rock singer-songwriter Hector has covered the song in Finnish language as Vapaa maailma kun bailaa ("As the Free World Is Partying"). The lyrics follow almost verbatim the original. He hasn't recorded the song, but performs it on concerts.
  • Pearl Jam regularly covers this song in concert, playing it along with "Yellow Ledbetter" as the closer on election years. The band played the song as part of the 1992 MTV Unplugged performance and also alongside Young at the 1993 MTV Video Music Awards. The band played the song at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto as part of their 20th anniversary tour. Neil Young joined them onstage to play with the band.[6][7]
  • Van Halen performed a version of the song as an encore on their 1993 Right Here Right Now Tour.
  • The Alarm recorded a version of the song on their album Raw and a Welsh Language version on their album Tân.
  • The Leningrad Cowboys performed a version of the song on the album Global Balalaika Show.
  • Hayseed Dixie included a version on the 2005 album A Hot Piece of Grass.
  • Simple Minds recorded it for the 2009 studio album Graffiti Soul.
  • In the G3 Live in Denver tour, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, and Yngwie Malmsteen played it to close out the tour, in a similar style to a 3-way guitar battle.
  • Jeff Walker, the singer and bass guitarist of the grindcore band Carcass recorded a version of the song on his 2006 solo album Welcome to Carcass Cuntry.
  • Bon Jovi performed this song live in Johannesburg, South Africa on December 1, 1995. The performance was recorded in their live album One Wild Night Live 1985–2001.
  • Stephen Stills, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Barry Goldberg (aka The Rides) included a version on the 2013 album Can't Get Enough.
  • Pidżama Porno included a version on the 2004 album Bulgarskie Centrum
  • The song was used in Donald Trump's announcement that he will run as a Republican candidate for the 2016 presidency.[8] Young, a longtime supporter of Bernie Sanders, said that Trump's use of "Rockin' in the Free World" was not authorized.[9] Sanders has since used the song at his own political rallies.

In popular culture

  • An edited version of the song accompanies the end credits of Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11. In the film, the phrase "That's one more kid that’ll never go to school / Never get to fall in love, never get to be cool," which in the song references the second verse's abandoned child, is used in reference to a young US soldier killed in Iraq.
  • The song is featured as a playable track in Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock.
  • Canadian interviewer Nardwuar the Human Serviette closes his interviews by telling the subject, "Keep on rockin' in the free world," During a press conference with Mikhail Gorbachev in Vancouver on March 23, 1993, the first thing Nardwuar said to him was "Keep on rockin' in the free world" translated into Russian, before asking, "And I was wondering, of all the political figures that Dr. Gorbachev has encountered, who has the largest pants?" This earned him a questioning and ejection by an RCMP officer.[10]

External links


  1. Buckley, Peter (2003). The Rough Guide to Rock. Rough Guides. ISBN 1-84353-105-4.
  2. Buckley, 1206
  3. 3.0 3.1 "History and Commentary on "Rockin' In The Free World" lyrics by Neil Young".
  4. McDonough, J. (2002). Shakey: Neil Young's Biography. New York, Random House.
  6. "Concert Review: Air Canada Centre, Toronto - Sept. 11, 2011". 2011-09-11. Retrieved 2011-09-11.
  7. "Pearl Jam and Neil Young's Surprise Duet". 2011-09-11. Archived from the original on 2012-10-01. Retrieved 2015-11-15. Unknown parameter |deadurl= ignored (|url-status= suggested) (help)
  8. "Neil Young to Donald Trump: Don't Rock in My Free World". Mother Jones. 16 Jun 2015.

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