Laura Nyro wrote this song in reaction to Robert Kennedy's assassination on June 5, 1968 - she composed the song within 48 hours of hearing the news, and it was released by the end of the month. Her version garnered traction on local radio stations in Detroit and Los Angeles (where the murder took place). That August, LA radio station KRLA spun the record every hour while the turbulent Democratic convention unfolded in Chicago. Still, the song didn't gain national attention until the 5th Dimension released their soulful rendition.
Nyro recorded a version of this song with just a piano accompaniment for her album New York Tendaberry. Other artists to record the song include Julie Driscoll, Rosanne Cash and Brian Auger.
It was the height of irony that the 5th Dimension's year that began by celebrating the Age of Aquarius ended with them recording Laura Nyro's desperate call to "Save the Country," a song she'd written in '68 soon after Bobby Kennedy was assassinated and put on her thrilling New York Tendaberry album, released in 1969. To Bones, however, it represented an opportunity missed to produce a hit single for one of his favorite people. "Clive (Davis) wanted me to record 'Save the Country' with Laura as a single and I was able to record it in LA using my rhythm section," he said. "Laura was a good friend and I used to visit her in New York whenever I was there and she made me tuna fish sandwiches. She was great and I was a huge fan and I recorded enough of her songs so that there could be a 5th Dimension album of all Laura Nyro songs. I believe she was really an important songwriter and brought poetry to her work that kept it from being just pop. But she went where she went and the world didn't follow. The difficulty with Laura was when the record was finished and she listened to it… she didn't say it to me then, but I found out later that she wasn't going to include it in the album. She was excited about it when she did it. But when she stepped back she said, wait a minute, that's not me. It was too produced, too pop for her. She wanted to do 'Save the Country' just sitting at the piano. She said 'you make records that sock it to the people. I can't sock it to the people. I just don't do that.'"
At the end of the song, the instruments are dropped to showcase the group's a cappella vocals and add power to the final plea, "Save the country, save the country, save the country - now!"
Kanye West sampled Nyro's version on "The Glory," from his third album, Graduation (2007).