Written by the Brill Building songwriters Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, this song was first recorded by The Drifters, with lead vocals by Rudy Lewis, who sang their hits "On Broadway
" and "Up On The Roof
." The song was written at a time before integration, and the lyrics were originally about racism. It had the following chorus: "Only in America, land of opportunity, can they save a seat in the back of the bus just for me. Only in America, Where they preach the Golden Rule, will they start to march when my kids go to school." Atlantic Records had a problem with the lyrics, so the songwriters changed them to be a satiric message of patriotism. The Drifters recorded the song with these new "patriotic" lyrics, but refused to release it because they did not believe that message.
The songwriters Mann and Weil were also upset with the changes to the song, and they started taking more control of how their songs were recorded, with Mann taking on more production duties.