This is an antiestablishment song of defiance and blue-collar pride, both anti-Washington and against the Vietnam War. John Fogerty and Doug Clifford both enlisted in the Army Reserves in 1966 (to avoid being drafted and shipped to Vietnam) and were discharged in 1968 after serving their military commitments. "The song speaks more to the unfairness of class than war itself," Fogerty said. "It's the old saying about rich men making war and poor men having to fight them."
This is one of three political songs on the Willy And The Poorboys album. The others were "It Came From the Sky" and "Don't Look Now (It Ain't You or Me)."
Richard Nixon was president of the US when group leader John Fogerty wrote this song. Fogerty was not a fan of Nixon and felt that people close to the president were receiving preferential treatment.
This song spoke out against the war in Vietnam, but was supportive of the soldiers fighting there. Like many CCR fans, most of the soldiers came from the working class, and were there because they didn't have connections who could get them out. The song is sung from the perspective of one of these men, who ends up fighting because he is not a "Senator's son."
Creedence performed this on The Ed Sullivan Show
, probably because the show's producers didn't realize it was a protest song. The show tried hard not to offend anyone, and usually had bands perform their least controversial songs or alter the lyrics for the show (see "Let's Spend The Night Together" and "Light My Fire
Fogerty recorded a bunch of vocal takes for "Down On The Corner" before singing this. As a result, his voice was strained, which he thinks is apparent on the song.
This is one of those songs that came together very quickly. Fogerty recalled to American Songwriter magazine in January 2013: "When I felt it was about ready to hatch, I went into my bedroom and just sat down to write. The whole thing happened in about 20 minutes. That just poured out."
Like Bruce Springsteen's "Born In The U.S.A.
," this is often misinterpreted as a patriotic anthem, when it is the opposite.
Wrangler jeans used this in commercials in 2001. They used only the first two lines: "Some folks are born, made to wave the flag, Ooh, that red, white and blue," implying the patriotic misinterpretation. The next lines are: "And when the band plays "Hail to the Chief" Ooh, they're pointin' the cannon at you," but those lyrics would not sell jeans very well.
Fogerty does not own the publishing rights to this song. He lost them, along with all the other songs he wrote for CCR, in his contract with Fantasy Records, which the band signed when they were struggling. Fantasy's boss at the time, Saul Zaentz, controls the rights and can use the songs any way he wants, as long as it isn't performed by any member of CCR. Fogerty hates that his song is constantly misused, but has no choice. He expressed this frustration on his solo track "Vanz Kant Danz
This has been covered by U2, Bruce Springsteen, Kid Rock, Dropkick Murphys, Sleater-Kinney, Corrosion Of Conformity, Minutemen, Uncle Tupelo, Bob Seger, Circle Jerks, Joe Lynn Turner, Bunny Foot Charm, Death Cab For Cutie, Undead, Raccoon, and 38 Special.
When interviewed by Rolling Stone
magazine, John Fogerty was asked: "What inspired 'Fortunate Son'?" His response: "Julie Nixon was hanging around with David Eisenhower, and you just had the feeling that none of these people were going to be involved with the war. In 1969, the majority of the country thought morale was great among the troops, and like eighty percent of them were in favor of the war. But to some of us who were watching closely, we just knew we were headed for trouble."
Wyclef Jean's slow, passionate cover of this was the theme song for the 2004 political thriller The Manchurian Candidate
. Another popular political film from the summer of '04 was the controversial documentary Fahrenheit 9/11
, of which John Fogerty remarked: "With the Michael Moore movie, certain conservative talk show hosts call him un-American. Him and anybody else who says anything about the war... To question your country's policy, especially in a war that kills people, is definitely not un-American. It's probably the most patriotic thing you can do."
This is one of the first protest songs that makes the point that it's the poor who are most likely to fight the wars. During the Iraq war, System Of A Down covered this topic with their song "B.Y.O.B.
Former United States president George W. Bush is often considered a "Fortunate Son," as he reaped the benefits that came with growing up in a powerful political family, which may have helped him avoid combat. This is covered in a book called Fortunate Son
On November 6, 2014, Fogerty performed this at the White House as part of the A Salute to the Troops concert that was broadcast the next day on PBS ahead of Veteran's Day. Fogerty wasn't sure how the song would be received at an event honoring military personnel, but it got a great reaction from the crowd, including many of the veterans and President Obama.