Johnny Cash wrote the title song for his album Ragged Old Flag in the wake of President Richard Nixon's resignation. Cash had supported Nixon, but he'd started to feel some doubts because of Nixon's policies regarding the Vietnam War.
It was 1974, and Cash was in Binghamton, New York. The country was in turmoil over Nixon's resignation, with deep political divisions, distrust, and resentment. Cash wrote "Ragged Old Flag" right there with these ideas and emotions still crackling in the air.
This spoken-word song finds Cash talking with an old man in a town square; most of the lyrics are the words of that old man. He's talking about the "ragged old" American flag, with each observation symbolizing all that the nation has gone through.
The song has been described by some as sentimental and jingoistic, but this is kind of strange because Cash doesn't disregard the negative aspects of American life or history. He seems to be trying to push forward a message of hope that the flag has seen a lot and is still flying, and it will continue to fly, even as new challenges are met.
And the government for which she stands
Has been scandalized throughout out the land.
And she's getting thread bare, and she's wearin' thin,
But she's in good shape, for the shape she's in
Cause she's been through the fire before
and I believe she can take a whole lot more
Cash performed the song in September 2002 at the Americana Music Awards. For this performance he changed some lyrics to include Operation Desert Storm and Afghanistan.
In the pregame coverage of 2017 Super Bowl between the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons, this song played in its entirety as part of a feature celebrating American history
. Various real-life veterans appear in the feature, which closes with a shot of the original "Ragged Old Flag" - the one at the Smithsonian Museum of American History that inspired the "The Star-Spangled Banner