The song was first performed live on February 21, 1989 in Seattle with Young's band The Restless.
The book Shakey by Jimmy McDonough claims the song originated when Young was on tour in the late 1980s. He and Frank "Poncho" Sampedro 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…
Theres colors on the street, red, white and blue
People shufflin' their feet, people sleepin' in their shoes
There's a warnin' sign on the road ahead
There's a lot of people sayin' we'd be better off dead