Tribal Rhythms! Top 10 Native American Rock Songs for Thanksgiving

Native American posing behind dark background

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Centuries before rock-and-roll, America’s fiercely courageous indigenous peoples faced up to foreign invaders and genocidal oppression with pounding drums, battle chants, and war-whoops that fired up their braves for combat and liquefied their enemies with fear.
Native Americans may not have directly invented rock music, but their culture, creativity, and fortitude has long embodied the music’s spirit. Rock, in turn, has drawn inspiration from Native Americans from the get-go, and that admiration has generated numerous anthems in tribute to the people of North America’s tribes.
Thanksgiving provides an occasion for all of us to express gratitude to the Native Americans who saved and assisted the first European settlers, thereby paving the path to our modern society, rock-and-roll included.
The Natives, of course, paid horrifically for those first good deeds, and no amount of thank-you’s can ever begin to make that right. In lieu of that, though, let’s play some songs that acknowledge the atrocities and then inspire us all to unite as one—and rock out. So celebrate everybody’s rockin’ heritage with the Top 10 Native American-Inspired Rock Songs for Thanksgiving….

“Run to the Hills”—Iron Maiden

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=geHLdg_VNww]
Iron Maiden’s best-known song is also rock’s greatest tribute to Native Americans. With a thunderous bassline that mimics the charge of Cree horsemen, “Run to the Hills” perfectly capture’s the tribe’s fighting spirit: “White man came across the sea/He brought us pain and misery… We fought him hard, we fought him well/Out on the plains, we gave him hell.”


“Indian Reservation”—Paul Revere and the Raiders

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zQ6RjP7MlXk]
Fully titled “Indian Reservation (The Lament of the Cherokee Reservation Indian),” garage rock legends Paul Revere and the Raiders scored a #1 hit in 1971 with this recounting of the Trail of Tears and a pledge from the wronged people to persevere. “They took the whole Indian Nation, locked us on this reservation/Though I wear a shirt and tie, I’m still a red man deep inside.”


“Pocahontas”—Neil Young

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QS4t-a-w8ug]
Neil Young’s most notable musical ode to indigenous injustice is the blistering, electric “Cortez the Killer,” about the Spanish conquest of Mexico. His acoustic ballad “Pocahontas” is weird, as you might expect, but undeniably moving, even as it ends with him wanting to hang out with the famous Indian princess and Marlon Brando to “sit and talk of Hollywood… the Astrodome, and the first teepee.”


“Castles Made of Sand”—Jimi Hendrix

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LMGYAkUtKQw]
Guitar god Jimi Hendrix had Cherokee blood from both his mother and father’s lineage, and he paid tribute to those roots in “Castles Made of Sand,” where he sings, “A little Indian brave who before he was ten, played war games in the woods with his Indian friends/ and he built a dream that when he grew up, he would be a fearless warrior Indian Chief.” The story doesn’t end will for the young warrior.


“Great White Buffalo”—Ted Nugent

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2L3dA6pfTIw]
As a hunting enthusiast (to put it way mildly), Ted Nugent has always stressed mindfulness, responsibility, and paying respect that must be paid to the creature that gets killed. The volcanic “Great White Buffalo” details how Indians and the great beasts of the plain productively coexisted until, “The came the white man, with his thick and empty head/He couldn’t see past billfold, he wanted all the buffalo dead.” The ghostly animal of the title then rises and leads a battered heard in vengeance against wasteful palefaces.


“Half Breed”—Cher

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z6E98ZRaU1s]
Call it campy crap, call it “cultural appropriation,” call it an amazing music video starring young Cher’s hot body on horseback in white feathers, but the 1973 bubblegum hit “Half Breed” does manage to sneak in some potent references to the real-life struggles of mixed-blood individuals. “My father married a pure Cherokee, my mother’s people were ashamed of me/The Indians said that I was white by law, The White Man always called me “Indian Squaw.”


“Indians”—Anthrax

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RzpRU347BDU]
Building on a powerful Native American rhythm, heavy metal maniacs Anthrax whip up a mosh-pit of sympathetic rage for the people of the tribes. “Forced out, brave and mighty/ Stolen land, they can’t fight it/Hold on, to pride and tradition/even though they know how much their lives are really missin’, we’re dissin’ them.”


“Kings of the Wild Frontier”—Adam and the Ants

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5hEn_rEDzp0]
British new wave loon Adam Ant proclaimed a kinship with Native Americans from his use of face-paint, fur, and feathers to this dance number that plainly spells it out. “I feel beneath the white/There is a redskin suffering/From centuries of taming… A new royal family/ a wild nobility/we are the family (yeah!)”


 “Trail of Tears”—Testament

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MGl14mgUoIg]
Bear-sized frontman Chuck Billy of Bay Area thrash powerhouse Testament is a proud and outspoken Native American who has paid tribute to his background through songs such as “Native Blood” and “Allegiance.” Testament’s top Native-themed number, though, is “Trail of Tears,” which features the lyrics, “All their lives, they live it well/ red man proud and giving hell/some will stand, shining tall/Can you hear them call?”


“Running Bear”—Johnny Preston

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1PfrpcqLyzY]
Teen pop idol Johnny Preston went to the top of the charts in 1959 with the musical tale of star-crossed Native American lovers, Running Bear and Little White Dove. The pair belong to warring tribes and are physically separated by a rampaging river, prompting a Romeo and Juliet-like ending. “Running Bear dove in the water, Little White Dove did the same… The raging river pulled them down/Now they’ll always be together, in their happy hunting ground.”


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