Rockin' in the Free World

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"Rockin' in the Free World"
Rockin in the Free World single cover.jpg
Rockin in the Free World by Neil Young
Single by Neil Young
from the album Freedom
B-side "Rockin' in the Free World"
Released November 14, 1989
Format 45 RPM Record
Recorded The Barn, Redwood Digital, Woodside, California, March 10, 1989
Genre Hard rock, heartland rock, folk rock
Length Acoustic version: 3:38
Electric version: 4:40
Label Reprise
Songwriter(s) Neil Young
Frank Sampedro
Producer(s) Neil Young
Niko Bolas

"Rockin' in the Free World" is a song by Neil Young,[1] released on his 1989 album Freedom.[2] Two versions of the song were released, similar to the song "Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)" of Young's Rust Never Sleeps album, one of which is performed with a predominantly acoustic arrangement, and the other with a predominantly electric arrangement.


The song was first performed live on February 21, 1989 in Seattle with Young's band The Restless.[3]

In Jimmy McDonough's book Shakey, McDonough claims the song originated in one of Young's tours in the late 1980s. Young and Frank "Poncho" Sampedro purportedly saw newspaper photos of the Ayatollah Khomeini's body being carried to his grave as mourners were burning American flags in the street. Sampedro commented, "Whatever we do, we shouldn't go near the Mideast. It's probably better we just keep on rockin' in the free world." Young asked if Sampedro intended to use this idea as the basis of a song and when Sampedro said no, Young said that he would do so instead.[4] However Khomeini's death occurred months after the first live performance of the song.

The lyrics criticize the George H. W. Bush administration,[5] then in its first month, and the social problems of contemporary American life, while directly referencing Bush's famous "thousand points of light" remark from his 1989 inaugural address and his 1988 presidential campaign promise for America to become a "kinder, gentler nation." [3] Despite this, the song became the de facto anthem of the collapse of communism, because of its repeated chorus of 'Keep on rockin' in the free world'.[citation needed]

The song is rated number 216 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and is included on Young's Greatest Hits (2004) release.


In popular culture[edit]

  • An edited version of the song accompanies the end credits of Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11. In the film, the phrase "That's one more kid that’ll never go to school / Never get to fall in love, never get to be cool," which in the song references the second verse's abandoned child, is used in reference to a young US soldier killed in Iraq.
  • The song is featured as a playable track in Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock.
  • Canadian interviewer Nardwuar the Human Serviette closes his interviews by telling the subject, "Keep on rockin' in the free world," During a press conference with Mikhail Gorbachev in Vancouver on March 23, 1993, the first thing Nardwuar said to him was "Keep on rockin' in the free world" translated into Russian, before asking, "And I was wondering, of all the political figures that Dr. Gorbachev has encountered, who has the largest pants?" This earned him a questioning and ejection by an RCMP officer.[10]
  • In The Dark Tower the final book of The Dark Tower series by Stephen King, a banner is stretched between two deserted guard-towers of Le Casse Roi Russe (The Castle of the Crimson King). Written on this banner are the words, "Welcome Roland and Susannah! (Oy, too!) Keep on Rockin' in the Free World!". A reference to the Neil Young song


  1. ^ Buckley, Peter (2003). The Rough Guide to Rock. Rough Guides. ISBN 1-84353-105-4. 
  2. ^ Buckley, 1206
  3. ^ a b "History and Commentary on "Rockin' In The Free World" lyrics by Neil Young". 
  4. ^ McDonough, J. (2002). Shakey: Neil Young's Biography. New York, Random House.
  5. ^
  6. ^ "Concert Review: Air Canada Centre, Toronto - Sept. 11, 2011". 2011-09-11. Retrieved 2011-09-11. 
  7. ^ "Pearl Jam and Neil Young's Surprise Duet". 2011-09-11. Archived from the original on 2012-10-01. Retrieved 2015-11-15. 
  8. ^ "Neil Young to Donald Trump: Don't Rock in My Free World". Mother Jones. 16 Jun 2015. 
  9. ^
  10. ^