The Meaning of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son”
Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son” is a classic Vietnam War-era protest song. Appearing on the band’s 1969 album Willy and the Poor Boys, it was released as a single along with “Down on the Corner” in September of 1969 and quickly became an anthem of the anti-war movement dominating the counterculture.
With lyrics penned by John Fogerty, “Fortunate Son” takes a jab at the rich and privileged who were exempt from being drafted into the military because of their status. It’s a song for the everyday, common man who disagreed with the war but may have been forced to fight in it when their number was called.
Fogerty explained his inspiration behind the song in his memoir Fortunate Son: My Life, My Music:
Julie Nixon was dating David Eisenhower. You’d hear about the son of this senator or that congressman who was given a deferment from the military or a choice position in the military. They seemed privileged and whether they liked it or not, these people were symbolic in the sense that they weren’t being touched by what their parents were doing. They weren’t being affected like the rest of us.John Fogerty on the meaning of “Fortunate Son”.
While the intent of the song has always been pretty clear, there have been many times since its release where the message has been overlooked, and almost seemed to fall on deaf ears. One example of this came in 2002, when blue jean company Wrangler used “Fortunate Son” in an advertisement for their clothing.
Donald Trump also famously used “Fortunate Son” repeatedly during his rallies, an ironic occurrence, because as Fogerty told the Los Angeles Times in 2020, “The song is decrying the kind of person he is. He’s absolutely that person I wrote the song about.”
With all of this in mind, let’s take a closer look at the lyrics. Starting with the first verse:
Some folks are born made to wave the flagFirst verse to “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival.
Ooh, they’re red, white and blue
And when the band plays “Hail to the Chief”
Ooh, they point the cannon at you, Lord
In the first verse, Fogerty sings about patriotism, and how some people are seemingly born with red, white, and blue in their blood. When they hear “Hail to the Chief”, the official song of the United States President, they are ready to fight and go to war, expecting everyone else to join in with them.
Given the context of the song, Fogerty is essentially saying that not everybody agrees with the Vietnam War, or feels patriotic even in the slightest at the time. As we can see in the chorus, Fogerty himself is not one of these patriots:
It ain’t me, it ain’t meChorus to “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival.
I ain’t no senator’s son, son
It ain’t me, it ain’t me
I ain’t no fortunate one, no
The iconic chorus, which has been shouted out during many anti-war and anti-aggression gatherings over the years since its release, leaves no question about Fogerty’s stance on the United States involving itself in the Vietnam War.
Fogerty also suggests that the only people who were still patriots during the time of the Vietnam War were the “Fortunate Sons” who didn’t have to fight in it. The rich sons of senators, congressmen, and other people with high social status.
Fogerty digs into this some more in the second verse:
Some folks are born silver spoon in handSecond verse to “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival.
Lord, don’t they help themselves, no
But when the taxman come’ to the door
Lord, the house lookin’ like a rummage sale, yeah
This verse directly addresses the rich who are “born with a silver spoon”, a popular idiom for folks who are rich from the day they’re born, and never have to work for anything in life. In fact, if they were required to work for anything, they wouldn’t know where to begin.
Then, to put the icing on the cake, the rich then partake in tax evasion by getting rid of expensive possessions and extravagancies in the case of an audit. Fogerty is pointing out the ironic fact that the same people who claim such patriotism and love for the USA will do anything to avoid paying taxes.
Following this verse is another hit of the chorus followed by a swamp-rock-laden guitar solo, before Fogerty dives into the third and final verse:
Yeah, some folks inherit star-spangled eyesThird verse to Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son”
Ooh, they send you down to war, Lord
And when you ask ’em, “How much should we give?”
Ooh, they only answer, “More, more, more, more!”
In the third verse, Fogerty again points to the patriotic as well as the politicians, who are willing to send their people off to fight in a senseless war. They don’t care how much their people give, as they always demand more of them.
Here, Fogerty is suggesting that the government uses people as pawns, and no matter how much they claim to look out for the best interests for the American people, it is all in deceit.
This incendiary verse is followed by two more choruses, sung with conviction in case there was anybody remaining who didn’t understand what Fogerty was trying to express.
Hear it for yourself by listening to “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival below, complete with a modern music video released in 2018.